Norwegian Breakaway Review, Girls Cruise 2020

Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Two weeks ago, my best friend Keri and I returned home from our annual girls cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. I stalled on writing this recap, as the week we returned home, the first USA Coronavirus was recorded. This blog post is not about the Coronavirus, or my personal opinion on the current state of the travel industry. However, it didn't feel right writing a recap on the most amazing cruise I've been on without addressing what is going on. On Sunday night, the state department released a warning, urging US citizens not to travel by cruise ship. There are ships being denied access to port. I'm watching people on multiple Facebook groups freak out, or in reverse choose to book a cruise on a whim because rates are the lowest we will ever see. If you're wondering what side I am on, I am currently trying to figure out how many cruises I can book this year.

To date, I have been on 19 cruises, a mix of NCL, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. After being on NCL during the Coronavirus breakout, I can personally attest that they are taking every precaution for their guests, including not allowing guests to serve themselves in the buffet, or refill individual bottles of water. The NCL Breakaway just scored a 99 out of 100 from the CDC for cleanliness.

Here are the current travel alerts & health updates for the cruise lines I've been on:
NCL Coronavirus Travel Alert
Carnival Travel and Health Update
RCL Travel Advisory Update

We did our annual sailing on the beautiful Norwegian Breakaway out of Port Canaveral. This 7 night cruise visited the Caribbean and we had one of the best trips to date. This was my third sailing on a NCL ship but the Breakaway was a class of her own. I have never experienced such amazing customer service as we did on our week long sailing. The Breakaway's General Manager Joao, and his team was outstanding. The ships interior and exterior is jaw dropping gorgeous. Famed artist Peter Max designed the hull art, and his artwork was displayed throughout the ship.
One of the reasons we love NCL for our girls cruises is their Freestyle Cruising, which allows us  customize our trip based on what we want to do. Freestyle Cruising is NCL's tiered upgrade program  based on the level of room you book, which allows you to do a semi all inclusive trip. You can choose from specialty dining, drink package, wifi, shore excursion and at certain cruises includes air fair. We always book ocean view (or higher) which gives you at minimum two upgrades. We opted for specialty dining package and the drink package.  Right now, NCL is offering a limited time promotion, allowing you to receive all upgrades for all state room categories. Meaning someone who books an interior room will receive the same perks as someone booking a suite. 
The Breakaway was the first ship introduced from the Breakaway class. It is a massive ship, with so much to do onboard, you will never go bored. We didn't get a chance to experience everything we wanted to, even with 7 nights and 3 sea days. The 6th, 7th, and 8th floors are called 678 Ocean Place, where you will find all of the restaurants, bars, shops, entertainment and the casino, all connected by a spiral staircase.
The NCL Breakaway features 12 specialty dining options. We dined at Cagney's Steakhouse, Teppanyaki Japanese Steakhouse, and Ocean Blue Seafood Restaurant (by celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian). Also onboard is Moderno Churrascaria Brazilian Steakhouse, The Raw Bar, Wasabi Sushi, American Diner (recently Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville), La Cucina Italian Restaurant, Le Bistro French Restaurant, Along with specialty dining, The Breakaway also has a wide array of complimentary dining, including 3 dining rooms - The Manhattan Room, Taste and Savor. We had one meal at Manhattan Room and I was very impressed at the quality of the food, plus there was live entertainment. I did not once feel like we were in a dining room on a cruise ship. Savor was one of the sit down restaurants open for breakfast and lunch. We probably ate breakfast or lunch there 6 out of the 7 days we cruised.
You will never go thirsty with all the bars on NCL Breakaway. Keri and I upgraded our drink package to Premium Plus Beverage Package, which gave us dozens of wines by the bottle, including bottles of Moet (which we consumed daily), and pretty much any of the top shelf liquors we wanted. This is an upgrade from the standard Beverage Package which is included with Freestyle. If you like quality wines and liquors, I strongly suggest upgrading your drink package.

The Breakaway has the only SKYY Vodka Ice Bar at Sea, a Starbucks, Shakers martini bar, Maltings Whiskey Bar, O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar, and my favorite bar at sea, Syd Norman's Pour House.  The Breakaway has a quarter-mile oceanfront promenade called The Waterfront, which has a boardwalk like feel, allowing you to check out the multiple restaurants and bars onboard in a casual setting.
Entertainment was definitely something the Breakaway does not lack in. There was so much to do, and we would've needed 10 days to get everything in. We went to a Broadway show, saw Velvet (similar to a Cirque style show), watched Comedy shows, and spent tons of time at Howl at the Moon (dueling pianos).
One of my favorite parts of the Breakaway was the Vibe Beach Club, a limited access area with two jaccuzi's, a private bar and tons of lounge chairs. Vibe is available only once you board the ship and is an extra cost. The extra charge is totally worth it, as you never have to fight for a lounge chair!

One day, we decided to be kids and give the Aqua Park a whirl, which has five major water slides. One of the slides is a twin "free fall", where you stand inside a capsule and the bottom drops, then catapults you, surging straight down several stories before making an upside down loop). The slide is so serious, you couldn't wear any jewelry, not even studs. I got Keri to agree on going down this slide, only if I "walked the plank", an 8 foot ledge, that hung over the vessel's edge. Thankfully it was too windy on the days we were poolside so it was off limits (I got out of that one!).
We spent plenty of time at the Casino (and won!). Half of the Breakaways Casino is non-smoking!! This was such a nice change. The slot machines are spread around the 7th floor, with the center being the staircase of 678. It never felt overly crowded, even during the days at sea. Bliss night club is located right outside of the Casino, which was perfect for us - Keri could go check out the dance floor, while I gambled. I mentioned Syd Norman's Pour House, which was by far the coolest experience I have seen on a cruise. It was like being in a Hollywood Rock Club, 80's bar, while being part of an interactive live concert. We witnessed a 1980's cover band who took over Syd Norman's, and each night, the act changed up, but kept a continued a story line, ending with a 80's prom. Entertainment, Talent, and tons of fun.
Although we were scheduled to visit 4 ports, we ended up going to 3. We were unable to tender for Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas due to the weather. This made me very sad as I was looking forward to swimming with Pigs.

I will do a full post on our port days, but a quick recap:

Ocho Rios Jamaica
We purchased an all inclusive day pass at RIU Ocho Rios. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful resort. I would definitely suggest going there if you find yourself Jamaica.

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
We spent our day in the Cayman's hanging out with my former boss and friend Brad. He lives there now (truly living the dream!) and had a place on the beach. Cayman is one of my favorite ports, so it was awesome catching up with an old friend, while on our cruise!

Cozumel, Mexico
We have been to Cozumel more times than I can count. The last two trips, we've done the same excursion, a build your own private jeep tour. This gives us the flexibility of doing what we want, when we want, and having a private tour guide!

New Menu Offerings at The Rez Grill, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa

Thursday, February 27, 2020
The Rez Grill  at Seminole Hard Rock Tampa recently updated their menu offerings. Creative Culinary Director Frank Anderson and his team’s motivation for the new menu highlights southern influences. This is in addition to an the existing elevated comfort food dish offerings (get the Chicken and Waffles, trust me!).

One of the things I love about all of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa's restaurants is that they are always evolving and changing their menus. Below are a few of the things we tried during our last visit to The Rez Grill, our favorite item was the fried green tomatoes with jumbo lump crab.
Fried Green Tomatoes with Jumbo Lump Crab
Hushpuppies with Pimento Cheese

Shrimp Po Boy

Crispy Pork Shanks
You can check out The Rez Grill's dinner menu here. Also, they have a great Social Hour which takes place Wednesday - Saturday from 3-6, where you can get Happy Hour pricing on select small bites and drinks!

Here is a list of the entire new menu offerings at The Rez Grill.

Heirloom Tomato ($13) bacon, cornbread croutons, fried red onions, buttermilk dressing

Grilled Quail ($19) collard greens, bacon, caper brown butter
Hushpuppies ($10) pimento cheese
Fried Green Tomatoes ($19) jumbo lump crab, field greens, tomato vinaigrette

Grilled Meat Loaf ($28) Yukon mash potatoes, mushroom gravy, crispy fried onions
Shrimp Po’ Boy ($19) fried shrimp, remoulade, lettuce
Red Snapper ($39) basmati rice, crawfish creole cream, scallion

Smokin’ S’mores Jar ($12) brownie, marshmallow, graham cracker mousse, heath bar pieces

Cipresso Italian Restaurant now open at Seminole Hard Rock Tampa

Monday, December 23, 2019
Over the last few years, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa has gone through a massive 700 million dollar renovation. My husband and I watched all the changes happen in front of our eyes. There are plenty of new restaurants and elevated experiences to check out while visiting Tampa's only Casino, but our new favorite is Cipresso, Hard Rock's brand new Italian restaurant featuring menu items inspired by old-world classics to new favorites.
While I love going to Hard Rock's Council Oak Steakhouse for one of the best steaks you can find in the state, most of the time a dish of homemade pasta or hand stretched pizza is all I want. Pair that with a glass or two of Italian red wine and I'm a happy girl. .
Margarita Pizza
Since Cipresso opened a few months ago, it has quickly become our most frequented restaurant in the Bay area. It's elegant while affordable and always delicious. I strongly suggest the margarita pizza ($14), Cacio e Pepe ($19), assorted antipasta ($15-$21). If you go with a group of people, get a few things and share family style (their Lasagna is big enough to feed a small army).
Squid Ink Pasta with Uni and Unit Butter
Everything we've tried on the menu has been beyond impressive. Cipresso also has nightly specials which also worth checking out. We took my parents a few weeks ago and the pasta special was homemade squid ink pasta with uni and uni butter. It was one of the most incredible dishes I have ever consumed.
Bistecca alla Fiorentina (Bone-In Ribeye)
If you want to sit in the main dining room, I strongly suggest making reservations (regardless of what night of the week it is). There's always the option of sitting at the bar which offers full service.
Nonna's Meatballs
A few weeks ago, Cipresso's Bar started offering Social Hour, from 3pm-6pm. You will find select glasses of wine and craft cocktails along with pizzas and appetizers offered at a reduced price. On Sundays, they are going family style with Cipresso Sunday Supper where for $45 a person, you will get a 3 course meal with wine pairings.
Homemade Pasta with Fresh White Truflfes
Cipresso Hours: Monday, Thursday & Sunday, 5pm-11pm and Friday & Saturday, 5pm-Midnight
Cipresso Bar Hours: Monday, Thursday & Sunday, 3 pm-Midnight and Friday & Saturday, 3pm-1am (Social Hour 3pm-6pm)
Cipresso is closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Cannoli and Limoncello
If you find yourself at Cipresso, I strongly encourage you to end your meal with a glass of homemade Limoncello and Cannolis. I would never usually be one to suggest a Cannoli for dessert, however Cipresso's are unlike any I've had in the past. Trust me!
Homemade Tiramisu
Be sure to follow Seminole Hard Rock Tampa online to be kept in the loop for all it's exciting changes, live shows and special events!

Follow Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Online | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Brunch at Haven, Tampa Bay

Sunday, December 22, 2019
Last week, one of my best friends from Daytona came into town for the John Travolta & Olivia Newton John Grease Sing-a-Long in Tampa. After a late night out, we found ourselves Sunday morning with one goal - brunch and adult beverages. It's been quite a few years since Darlynn last visited Tampa and I knew exactly where to take her to  Sunday Brunch - Haven in South Tampa.
A few months ago, Haven introduced Sunday Brunch and invited a few local influencers to check it out. As always, Executive Chef Chad Johnson knocked the brunch menu out of the park. Where else can you eat brunch with an offering of over 60 cheeses and drink a cocktail named after Kelly Kapowski (more on that below)?
Foie Gras French Toast
Lobster & Avocado Causa
Haven's Brunch menu has a wide variety of unique options. Everything from Foie Gras French Toast to Hangover Fried Rice, I promise you that anyone will find something to kick off their Sunday Funday in spirit.
Tri Tip Steak and Eggs with Kimchi Hollandaise 
Ahi Tuna

Loco Moco
One of the best dishes I tried was the Loco Moco, a dry aged ground beef served over sticky rice and a sunnyside egg.
Broiled Oysters
There's an entire section of the menu dedicated to sausage and bacon. I'm talking to you Bacon eggrolls! I never imagined myself dining on a dish of oysters... followed by Corned Beef & Potato Pierogies.

In terms of adult libations, this past trip, I stuck to bubbles (a glass of Ste Michelle champagne is only $6) but the quarterly drink menu was themed after Saved by the Bell!! My last visit - it was Sex and the City (Cocktails in the City). The Saved by the Brunch Cocktail menu includes all our friends - Kelly Kapowski (cucumber vodka, strawberry, fresh lemon), The Screech )Milagro Silver Tequila, Grand Marnier, Velvet Falernum, lime, prickly pear), Jessie Spano (Hendricks Gin, watermelon, lime, thyme, absinthe), A.C. Slater (Old Forester Bourbon, Averna, white peach, lemon, mint), Lisa Turtle (Champagne & white peach puree), Zack Morris (George Dickel bottled in bond 13yr, fresh pineapple, orange, coconut, lime, nutmeg).
Also worth noting, Haven was one of the first restaurants in the Tampa Bay area to be a certified Ocean Friendly restaurant!

You can find Haven in off Howard Ave: 2208 W Morrison Ave, Tampa

Thank you Haven for hosting me for Brunch. As always, all opinions are my own.

New Social Hour Menu at Council Oak, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa

Thursday, December 5, 2019
If you haven't been to Seminole Hard Rock Tampa over the last 2 months, you will be in for quite a surprise on your next visit. I can't say enough about the amazing job they did on their $700 million expansion. It's not quite complete though, as more stores and restaurants will be opening soon (Sugar Factory, I'm looking at you!).
Although a lot has changed at Hard Rock, including the Social Hour menu at Council Oak Lounge.  Council Oak Lounge is one of our favorite places to grab dinner. While we love sitting down for a meal inside of Council Oak, it is more of an upscale experience where the lounge is a bit more relaxed. You can listen to live music and it's also the perfect location for people watching. Last year, Council Oak announced their first ever Social Hour, their take on Happy Hour, and made it available 7 days a week. It's almost unheard of to find a Happy Hour over the weekend in Tampa, especially of Council Oaks caliber.
Years ago, before there was a Social Hour, Council Oak had a lounge menu. It wasn't publicized like a happy hour and it was almost a hidden secret. Social Hour took place of the lounge menu and although it was exciting to see a 7 day a week discounted menu, it removed most of the classics to introduce new flavors. When the new Social Hour Menu was released, I think I jumped for joy, as the Council Oak Burger was brought back! There are some new stars such as Japanese Wagyu Carpaccio. You can also get a 8oz filet mignon with sides for $40, which is a great deal at Council Oak.

We had the opportunity to check out the new menu the other night. Council Oaks Social Hour menu is available 7 days a week from 3pm-6pm and you are able to use Seminole Wild Card Comp Dollars on the promotion.

Social Hour Bites
Wagyu Carpaccio
N.Y. Strip Sandwich and Truffle Fries
Council Oak Bacon $14 (Frisée & Green Apple Salad, Balsamic Reduction)
Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail $21 (Horseradish Cocktail Sauce)
Japanese Wagyu Carpaccio $15 (Black Peppercorn-Champagne Vinaigrette, Grated Manchego, Maldon Salt)
Tuna Tartare $15 (Avocado, Lemon, Cucumber-Radish Salad, Grilled Ciabatta)
Caesar Salad $11 (Caesar Dressing, Shredded Parmesan, White Anchovies, Croutons)
Council Oak House Salad $11 (Salami, Prosciutto, Bacon, Tomatoes, Egg, Mozzarella, House Dressing)
Council Oak Prime Burger $22 (8 oz. Dry-Aged Prime Beef, Fried Egg, Truffle Parmesan Steak Fries)
N.Y. Strip Steak Sandwich $25 (Sautéed Mushrooms & Onions, Brioche Bun, Truffle Parmesan Steak Fries)
Beef Tenderloin $40 (8 oz, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Asparagus)

Social Hour Drinks
Improved Manhattan
Vanilla Paloma $10 (Camarena Tequila, Velvet Falernum, Vanilla, Lime Juice, Grapefruit Juice)
Improved Manhattan $10 (Bulleit Rye, Sweet Vermouth, Tawny Port, Walnut and Chocolate Bitters)
Council Oak Oak Rum Runner $10 (Monkey Spiced Rum, Monkey Coconut Rum, Banana Liqueur, Guava Nectar, Pineapple Juice, House-Made Sour)
Red Sangria $10 (Orange Vodka, Orange Liqueur, Guava and Peach Nectar, Pineapple and Lime Juice)
Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc $10 (Marlborough, New Zealand 2018)
Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay $10 (Monterey, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, California 2017)
Meiomi Pinot Noir $12 (Monterey, Santa Barbara, Somoma, California 2017)
Vina Cobos Felino Malbec $12 (Mendoza, Argentina 2017)
J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon $12 (Paso Robles, California 2016)
Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai IPA $5
Stella Artois $5

Thank you Seminole Hard Rock Tampa for hosting Gabe and I to experience the updated Social Hour menu at Council Oak. As always, all opinions are my own.

The 46th Annual Daytona Turkey Run

Tuesday, November 26, 2019
The 46th running of the Daytona Turkey Run is returning to my hometown on Thanksgiving! I spent all of my teenage years working this event with my best friend Keri (we sold coffee and donuts to the vendors). The Turkey Run will always be big piece of my Thanksgiving childhood memories.

Here is what you can expect in 2019:
Meet Rick & Kelly Dale from “American Restoration” on the History Channel. Stop by to say hello and get an autograph on Friday, Nov 29th & Sat, Nov 30th from 10am-2pm.

Meet Butch Patrick, Eddie Munster from iconic show “The Munsters.” Check out the Munster Koach & Dragula Tribute Hot Rod Display on Thursday, Nov 28th - Sunday, Dec 1st, during normal show hours.

Enjoying the Hops & Hoods Craft Beer Festival. Keep the party going and sample more than 120 different craft beers from 48 different breweries. Saturday, Nov. 30th from 12pm-4pm. Samples are 4 for $5 or 10 for $10 and can be purchased in advance at or inside the show. Must be 21 years of age.
The Mecum Auctions Mobile Experience. Experience first-hand what it feels like to be in the middle of a fast-paced Mecum auction through simulations and hands on activities!

The Little Gobbler’s Play Zone. Kids will have a blast in bounce houses, an obstacle course, inflatable games and more. All Play Zone activities are free of charge.
The Daytona Turkey Run is the largest combined swap meet and car show in the US. It is open to the public and features more than 6,000 vintage, classic and custom, muscle cars, race cars and trucks on display and for sale, as well as a massive swap meet in which vendors sell and trade hard-to-find auto parts and accessories. There is also an Artisan Alley with fashion and art and a full midway of delicious food vendors. More than 150,000 people attended the 45th Daytona Turkey Run.

Hours and Ticket Prices:
Thursday 11/28 Admission $15 hours 8am-4pm Friday 11/29 Admission $15 hours 8am-4pm Saturday 11/30 Admission $10 hours 8am-4pm Sunday 11/31 Admission $10 hours 8am-2pm
Daytona Turkey Run offers FREE parking during the event and Children under 11 are free!

For more information, visit

How to visit Aruba Flamingo Beach while on a Cruise

Tuesday, October 15, 2019
I crossed another item off my bucket list! While on our five year anniversary cruise aboard the Carnival Horizon, we visited Aruba! I've wanted to go to Aruba for a very long time, especially ever since I heard about Renaissance Aruba Flamingo Beach. This 40-acre tropical paradise is Aruba’s only private beach and is home to Flamingos, Iguanas and the most beautiful beach I have ever seen.
Flamingo Beach is a private island owned by Renaissance. You have to have a room key to get onto the water taxi which will take you to and from the island. Once off the water taxi, you are almost blinded by beauty. I don't know how to explain what we saw and even photos don't describe the post-card like setting. It's truly an oasis.
On the island, you will find two private beaches, Flamingo Beach and Iguana Beach. Flamingo Beach is adults-only and Iguana Beach is for families. If you have little ones who want to see the Flamingos, they can feed them at 10am. After taking quite a few pics of the Flamingos, we spent the majority of our time on Iguana Beach. The family side of the Island was a little less busy without everyone trying to get the perfect instagram shot with a Flamingo.
In between the two beaches is a store and rental booth, where you can get complimentary towels, floats, snorkel sets, paddleboards, kayaks and more. Plus each beach is supplied with tons of complimentary chaise lounges.
If you find yourself in Aruba while on a cruise, I would 100% suggest finding a way to visit Renaissance Aruba Flamingo Beach. It was the best part of our 8 night cruise and we are trying to figure out when to go back to Aruba for a longer stay.

Here are three ways you can get visit Aruba Flamingo Beach while on a cruise 

Getting to Aruba Flamingo Beach Option 1: Book a room at Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino
This is what Gabe and I did. I had enough Marriott points to cover a one night stay, which if I paid cash for, would have set us back roughly $250. Being a guest of the resort gave us all the perks including the complimentary water taxi to the Island. Obviously we didn't use the room, but it was nice to take a shower and freshen up off prior to getting back on the boat. With my Marriott Bonvoy status, I also received $25 free play in their Casino, 10% off all food and drinks at the Private Island, and a few other perks. Even if we didn't have the points, I would have still booked a room paying cash as it was the most affordable option while we were visiting.

Getting to Aruba Flamingo Beach Option 2: Book a Spa Cove Treatment at Renaissance Aruba Flamingo Beach
Booking a treatment at Spa Cove will give you guest access to Flamingo Beach. However, your whole party will need to book a treatment and each person will have $25 added to their treatment for the water taxi. When we inquired, a 50 minute couples massage would have set us back $290 (per couple), then the taxi fee and tax would have been $357.40. Sometimes Aruba Resort does have a 2 night minimum so if this were the case when we went, the Spa option would have been the better option.

Getting to Aruba Flamingo Beach Option 3: Buy a Renaissance Aruba Flamingo Beach Day Pass
This is not a guaranteed option and I would only suggest this if you were staying in Aruba vs. going on a cruise. Renaissance Aruba Flaming Beach Day passes are available for purchase only on days that the hotel is not above 80% occupancy. You can only call a day prior to visiting to secure your pass, so if you are on a cruise ship, this will be rather difficult. If we weren't using Bonvoy points, a day pass for two people is the most affordable option. We would have spent $250 which included a  meal and a drink. However, not having the guarantee of visiting crossed this off as an option.

Special thanks to Carnival for hosting me on this sailing. I was not required to write this post and all opinions are my own.
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