Tuesday, November 14, 2017

2017 runDisney Wine and Dine Half Marathon Recap

So let's start this post off by saying 2 things: The Wine and Dine Half was my was my 22nd half marathon......and I haven't ran more than 3 miles since March, 2017.

I  am a seasoned idiot. OK now that I got that off my chest, I must say that I do not suggest my lack of training to anyone. I will be honest throughout this long recap in hopes that others don't make my ignorant mistake.
Disney's Wine and Dine Half Marathon is my absolute favorite runDisney event. It is a combination of all my favorite things (Disney, Wine, Food, Running) and it is the only race that runDisney puts on which gives runners access into a park for an after party. When runDisney cancelled the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in January, my best friend Keri and I switched our registration to the 2017 Wine Dine Half since it is our favorite race to run together.....well Keri ended up getting into the NYC Marathon so I was tackling on Wine Dine Half alone.
I had full intentions properly training for this event. Well that didn't happen and I am not going to bore you with excuses. My work schedule conflicted with half marathon training and I will leave it at that. I had to take the red-eye in from Portland to get my bib on time. I was Jet lagged and beyond exhausted.

My Outfit:
ASICS Women's Gel-Nimbus 19 Running Shoe (on sale)
ASICS Women's Printed Capri (on sale)
Mary Poppin Bottles tank (similar)

At 3:15am, I was up and ready to go. I read the digital runner guide the night before and I read that the race started at Pocahontas Magic Kingdom Parking Lot. My big mistake for not questioning what I read. I missed an important part - where it said to park at Epcot and take a bus over. I had to turn around, drive back to Epcot, and be one of the final people to board the bus back to where I was just at. This was my mistake, but not having a printed out version of the runner guide really screwed me up and I beg runDisney to bring those back.
By the time my coral (D) started, I was in a foul mood. Nothing was going right, I was tired, I was untrained and everything I love about runDisney was annoying me. Next thing I know, it was time to start. I crossed the start line with the 2:30 minute run walk coral and made the decision to stay with them. Being untrained and used to this run walk ratio, I knew this was something that I could accomplish. Within a few steps, I was in a bad way. The humidity was impacting my breathing. I missed the last 8 weeks of Orange Theory due to work travel and I was starting to mentally doubt myself on all levels.

We passed a "parade bus" at mile 3.1 and I seriously thought about quitting. Then I thought to myself, Keri will have 23.1 miles to go when she reaches this point. Carry on.
I was very excited to run through Pandora, the new Avatar land in Animal Kingdom. I have only been to Pandora once during a media sneak peek. Upon entering Pandora, I left the 2:30 pace group so I could get some photos. This is where my downward spiral became a landslide.
Upon exiting Animal Kingdom, I wanted to quit again....and again...and again. At this point, I had not taken any character photos, so I stopped at the first one I saw which happened to be chef Pluto. I waited in line for a few minutes and when it was time to start running again, I felt positive for the first time all day - OK I can do this.
That is when I decided to stop at all the photo stops along the course. The next one - of course - was the one group of Disney Characters I hate....the Country Bear Jamboree. This is somewhat of an inside joke between my mother and I so I stopped, just for her. Awkward photo much?
Next up was the penguins from Mary Poppins. Given my shirt said "Mary Poppin Bottles", I was really hoping for a photo on the course with her, but penguins I will take.
I believe at this point, we were nearing mile 8-9. I honestly had a mental battle going on at this point. I was pissed off at myself for the lack of training. My ego got a hold of me, knowing how many half's I have completed. I thought no big deal, been there done that - and no ma'am, that is not what happened. Just smile for the cameras....
When I entered Hollywood Studios, I saw Oswald the Rabbit - and was stoked. I have always wanted a photo with him! On to the next character, which was tourist Genie, I skipped him as this photo already belongs in my runDisney collection.
Once leaving Hollywood Studios (which is beautifully decorated for Christmas, already), I found myself with the 3:00 run walk pace group. By the way, I was walking pretty much at this point. Hating life. This group was doing 30:30 which is what saved me during the Inaugural Dopey Challenge. I decided to stay with them through the end - that was until I saw Remy & Emile from Ratatouille which is my runDisney bucket list photo. I was grateful for that pace group as I would've ended up walking the last 2 miles if it weren't for them.
After my photo with Remy & Emile, I ran pretty much the rest of the course. My Mom was at the finish line - and believe it or not, this was her first opportunity to be able to watch me cross the finish line since my first 5K at Princess weekend in 2012.
I found my Mom, she graciously stood in line to get me a corndog (at 8:45am) from the Fantasy Fare Food Truck while I stood in line to get us 2 glasses of Moet Champagne. Cordogs and Champagne yall!
Then we took a couple of photos together. It was a treat having my Mom there at the finish line. Especially considering the mental and physical condition I was in.
This race was not fast. I don't even know (or want to know) my finish time. My accomplishment was only the fact that I finished 13.1 miles totally untrained (although it is an ignorant accomplishment). I learned a huge lesson in terms of training.

Our next race is the Key West Half Marathon in January and you can guarantee I will be training over the next few months!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Visiting Cozumel Occidental Grand Beach Resort, Carnival Conquest

Never in a million years did I think I'd be back in Cozumel this year. When we went in January, I was very sick (and it wasn't from drinking). I had a fever, flu symptoms and didn't want to look at Mexican food or margaritas, which is how you know I'm truly sick. Although I made the best of the day, truth be told I was pretty miserable.
Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria put me on a path to visit Cozumel twice in a year. On our recent cruise on board the Carnival Conquest, we were supposed to stop at Turks and Caicos for our last port - instead we were Mexico bound (in the meantime, Turks is close to reopening their port)! I personally love Cozumel and was excited that Gabe would get to visit it for the first time.
Since this was Gabe's first visit to Mexico, we decided to book an all inclusive. I did quite a bit of research and found the Occidental Grand Beach Resort. Since we had a last minute port change, the only way we were able to book excursions through Carnival was on the ship - so we ended up booking through Shore Excursioneer.
I am usually a little hesitant about all inclusive resorts. They water down the drinks, the food is not great, they're over crowded. NOT the case at Occidental Grand Beach Resort. There were multiple pools to lounge at if the beach wasn't your thing (including an adults only pool).
The food was good!!! There was a wide variety of options including Mexican food, pizza, salad bar, hot dogs, fresh fish and grilled burgers. I was very impressed. We consumed more margaritas than we probably should have. They were delicious and made with premium tequila. Although we both took a 3 hour nap and missed dinner, neither of us woke up with a headache.
We nearly had the beaches to ourselves. We went swimming and could have gone snorkeling - but preferred more margaritas. Overall, Occidental Grand Beach Resort WAS GORGEOUS. The staff was beyond polite and we had a really great time and we would consider coming back and staying for an extended period of time. The only negative, which became a positive, was no wifi. We would have had to pay for a package. This annoyance turned into a blessing as we were able to 100% shut off, something I haven't done in a very long time.
The taxi ride was $20 each way and this isn't a common place for cruisers to visit. We paid $60 a person for the excursion. Considering the amount of margaritas we consumed, we more than got our money back. I strongly suggest Occidental Grand Beach Resort as an all inclusive option while visiting Cozumel!
Once we got back to the Puerta Maya, before we headed back to the boat we made a quick stop to  stopped at Pancho's Backyard for a margarita. I am quite partial to the margarita's at Pancho's, made with fresh lime, cointreau and premium tequila. Their food is pretty decent too. On my first visit here, we were hesitant it was a tourist trap with the proximity of the pier, but it isn't. I suggest a stop in here if you are at the port.
Special thanks goes out to Carnival for hosting me and my husband on this cruise. I was not compensated to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Chefs Table on Carnival Conquest - 3rd Anniversary Dinner

4 years and 6 cruises ago, I first learned of the Chefs Table on Carnival Cruise Lines. The Chef's Table is limited to only 14 patrons and it books up quickly (which is why I've never been able to experience it - I was always too late). When we booked the Carnival Conquest, I instantly sent an email for reservations, and we got in!!!

Even more exciting, we got a letter on the first day at sea telling us which night we would be experiencing Chef's Table and it was the night of our 3rd Wedding Anniversary. This couldn't have been any better.
We each paid $75 for Chef's Table which includes wine. Being it was our anniversary, we would have easily spent that at dinner if we weren't on a cruise.

Our night started with a glass of champagne and visiting the galley. It was a bit mind blowing seeing how people prep for dinner service in mass quantities. We also learned how to make the famed Chocolate Melting Cake, which I will do a separate blog post on when I stop traveling for work!
Once our tour was over, we headed to a private dining room and was offered red or white wine. We both went with the red.

The Multi-course dinner showcases the talents of the chefs on-board. You won't find these amazing appetizers, entrees and desserts on Carnivals regular dining menus. When have you seen the words olive snow, bone marrow souffle, passion caviar or fried popcorn pudding on a cruise ship menu?

I would do this again in a heartbeat. In fact, I will try to get Chefs Table on every cruise we go on. It was an amazing experience, between the incredible food to the experience of going behind the scenes. To my Tampa friends - think Berns Steakhouse tour at sea!

Without further ado, here's a photo recap of what we were enjoyed. Every dish was delicious.

Chef's Table Reception:

Mango Sphere with Rosemary Biscuit


Salmon Tartar Cornets

Beef Carpaccio on Air Pillow with Chocolate Bacon and Apple Ribbons

Double Cooked Lamb with Tapioca

Chef's Table Menu

Beet Blanket with Spiced Grape Tea
Asparagus, Cauliflower, Honey Carrot Tian, Mache, Lemon Streusel

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


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

Bisque Our Way
Two  Tomatoes, Three Basil, Crisped Brioche, Garlic Chip

Sea Bass
Chorizo Crust, Fried Pop Corn Pudding, Lemon Macaroon, Lobster Foam

Wagyu
Bone Marrow Souffle, Scallion & Garlic Panisse, Gremolata Crisp

Dessert

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

Special thanks goes out to Carnival for hosting me and my husband on this cruise. I was not compensated to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Visiting Grand Cayman Stingray City - Carnival Conquest

So I'll start this blog post off by saying I was not expecting to be visiting Grand Cayman again so quickly. The Cayman Islands are my absolute favorite place to visit by cruise ship. After Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, our itinerary while on the Carnival Conquest changed. Instead of going to Dominican Republic, we ended up at Grand Cayman. I instantly booked an excursion to do Stingray City. While I typically would suggest others to book excursions through their cruise ship, we didn't have the option due to being in two new ports. We had to wait until we got on board - and the excursion desk was bananas. You can book a similar Stingray City excursion through Carnival.

We booked a tour that brought us to Stingray City then snorkeling at Coral Gardens and Barrier Reef. The weather was AWFUL. When we got there, the city had already sold out of ponchos as there were 4 ships in port that day. I honestly didn't think we'd be able to do the excursion.....but after a 30 minute boat ride:
You guys!!!! I was freaking OUT. The waves were pushing these giant sting rays all over. They were very friendly but omg. We did our photo shoot, fed them then I quickly went back on the boat waiting for our next stop.
We did purchase the photo packet for $50 which came on a USB card. When else will I be up close and personal with a sting ray of this size! I strongly suggest a visit to Stingray city while in the Caymans.
We were unable to visit Barrier Reef due to the weather which bummed me out but I was happy to at least snorkel in the Caymans. The coral gardens were very pretty and it was nice and relaxing while in the water.
There wasn't much time from the end of our excursion to getting back on the boat. Our visit to Stingray City was an experience we will always remember.

Sadly, it rained pretty much all day while at Grand Cayman and Gabe didn't get to see the beauty of 7 mile beach. Looks like we will be planning another trip back so he can see this beautiful beach (Taken on Carnival Vista, 2017):
Special thanks goes out to Carnival for hosting me and my husband on this cruise. I was not compensated to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Rock Spa Happy Hour at Hard Rock Tampa

Two of my all time favorite activities are Spa Days and Happy Hour. So when Hard Rock Tampa introduced Rock Spa Salon Happy Hour, I had to check it out.

Monday through Thursday from 2pm to 6pm you can receive 20% off select services while enjoying a complimentary drink, your choice of Whiskey & Soda, Vodka & Orange Juice, Sangria, House Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.
I got a pedicure and had a wide variety of colors to choose from with the option to upgrade with Shelac. along with my wonderful pedicure, I relaxed with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. It was a very relaxing hour spent at Hard Rock Tampa.

The following nail, hair and makeup treatments fall under the Rock Spa Happy Hour Menu:

MANICURE • $55 Each / PEDICURE • $65 Each

On The Rocks
A warm molten scrub down with a velvety massage and finished with hot stones.

Hot Whiskey Scour
A warm, buttery nectar milk before being buffed and scrubbed with a spiked of molten bourbon and finished with an agave nectar massage.

Watermelon Basil Vodkatini
Skin is hydrated in antioxidants with a sparkling citrus cilantro soak. Next, there's a polish to perfection with a fresh watermelon basil vodkatini sugar scrub infused with organic vodka. Finish with a vitamin rich whipped shea butter massage.

HAIR

Cut, Style & Blow-Dry • Starts at $75
All Over Color • Starts at $80
Hi/Lo Lights • Starts at $90

MAKEUP
Basic Application • $65

Note: Prices and services are subject to change without notice. One complimentary beverage per service, not to exceed two beverages. Happy Hour menu items are not to be combined with other promotion or offer.

Be sure to follow Hard Rock Tampa on Social to keep up with their latest promotions.
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ICYMI There is a big Halloween party in Tampa coming up this Saturday at Hard Rock Tampa! Click here for more details!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Visiting Ocho Rios Jamaica - Carnival Conquest

Our first port while on the Carnival Conquest was scheduled for Ocho Rios Jamaica. Flashing back to January, while on Carnival Vista, I was scheduled to visit Ocho Rios and go horseback riding in the ocean then climb Dunne's River Falls. Well thanks to the weather, I never got to step foot in Jamaica.
When we booked the Carnival Conquest and I saw Ocho Rios was the first stop, I got very excited. Although part of me was apprehensive as I already went through one Jamaica heartbreak. Plus my husband said 110% no to Dunne's River and I had no clue what we were going to do and made the decision the night before.
We booked our excursion while on board and decided upon Mystic Mountain Jamaica Bobsled Experience which included round trip transportation and a ride up (and back down) the mountain on the Sky Explorer lift. Note: As you see b y my husbands ankle above, they sell mosquito anklets for $10. You can get these at the dollar store in the US. Grab some before you go on any cruise, this will save you money!
The Sky Explorer takes you 700 feet above the Jamaican rain forest. It was beautiful, giving us views of Ocho Rios you couldn't get otherwise.
The description stated we could also see nearby Dunn's River Falls from up above but we somehow missed that. We did see some small waterfalls before going up the sky lift though!!
from Kristen Bell Instsagram
Once up the mountain, we stood in a non moving line for quite a bit waiting on the Bobsled. I found out later on that Kristen Bell was there the same riding the Bobsled! She was in Ocho Rios filming the upcoming Netflix Movie, Like Father. I'm assuming that was the reason for the delay because once the line started moving, we quickly got through the wait.
I'm sure everyone knows the story of the famous Jamaica bobsled Olympic team - which inspired the movie Cool Runnings. Well that is pretty much what we experienced. A high-tech sled going down a 1000-meter long track installed into the side of the mountain. And gravity is your driver!
After you go down the mountain, you are brought back up the mountain on an elevated tramway. You go down the mountain over 3,000 feet - pretty cool system they have to bring you back up! You can purchase photos and souvenirs when you get off the bobsled. We decided to purchase a photo and go have lunch.
We had lunch on top of the mountain - a chicken curry wrap, while enjoying stunning views. Although the day was a bit gloomy, we still were blessed with some gorgeous sights.
After lunch, we took a dip in the infinity pool and went down the water slide. All of these amenities were included with the chair lift. Overall, we were both very pleased with our excursion. As I mentioned above, if we were to do it again, no Bobsled. It reminded us too much of Disney's Space Mountain (with an amazing view).
We took the sky lift back down the mountain and it poured on us. We luckily had a carnival towel on hand - those are great ponchos FYI! We didn't get wet at all.
We had two stops to make before heading back to the ship - I wanted a coconut rum drink. This one was not near as good as the ones we got in Belize and it was a waste of $10. Then we went to Margaritaville because it was raining and I wanted a margarita and nachos. Although both the food and drink were good, we spent $60 after tip. We should've just gotten back on the ship and made Nacho's at Blue Iguana Cantina!! Oh well, both stops made for a good photo.
If I find myself in Jamaica again, I would likely do a beach experience. From the views we witnessed, Jamaica is beautiful and there is more to explore.

Special thanks goes out to Carnival for hosting me and my husband on this cruise. I was not compensated to write this post and all opinions are my own.