Monday, March 20, 2017

Chopped Salads at Sea, Fresh Creations – Carnival Vista

When I first started researching the Carnival Vista, one of the many things that caught my attention was the Fresh Creations Chopped Salad station located at the Serenity Deck offered only during days at Sea.

It’s like a salad bar on steroids.
I can honestly say if Carnival offered this every day vs. days at sea, I would probably eat here on a daily basis. I had the hardest time selecting what salad I wanted to build. I was an adult in a kids non-candy store.
I ended up with: Arugula, Pickled Radishes, Pickled Red Onion, Corn, Cucumber, Kidney Beans, Crispy Quinoa, Cilantro and Herbed Marinated Chicken with Moroccan Vinaigrette. We took our salad back to our room and ate it from our balcony. The salad bowls fit in our room’s mini fridge which made a perfect mid-afternoon treat!

This was a great addition to the many daily offerings Carnival has for guests. You build your own salad from ton's of toppings, below is what we had to choose from:
Choose your Greens: Radicchio, Baby Spinach, Belgium Endive, Boston Lettuce, Ice Berg, Mesclun, Hearts of Romaine, Arugula, Baby Kale

Vegetables and Fruit: Cauliflower, Pickled Radishes, Cherry Tomatoes, Peppers, Sprouts, Pineapple, Sundried Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Pickled Red Onion, Chopped Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Broccoli, Corn, Green Peaks, Kidney Beans, Watermelon, Local Market Produce More Toppings: Golden Raisins, Cranberries, Toasted Chickpeas, Black and Green Olives, Mint, Cilantro, Crispy Quinoa, Chia Seeds, Herbed Garlic Brioche Croutons, Toasted Coconut, Elbow Macaroni, Sunflower Seeds, Pita Chips, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Slivered Almonds, Tortilla Strips, Feta Cheese, Parmesan Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Bacon Bits, Blue Cheese

Add a Protein: Herbed Marinated Chicken, Steamed Shrimp, Tuna, Hard Boiled Egg, Anchovies, Ham

Top it Off: Balsamic Sherry Vinaigrette, Moroccan Vinaigrette, Cesar Dressing, Ranch Dressing, Blue Cheese Dressing

Fresh Creations Dressing: Coconut, Pineapple, Sesame Oil, Black Sesame Seeds, Rosewater and Pineapple Vinegar

Thursday, March 16, 2017

3 Steps to living a pain free life with Curamin #StopPainNow

Disclosure: This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. All opinions are mine alone. #StopPainNow #CollectiveBias

Pain. It's the four letter word that will ruin anyone's day. However chronic pain can stop you in your tracks. Chronic Pain is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy and is something I have lived with for over 20 years (and will deal with for the rest of my life). I want to share with you my tips for dealing with Chronic pain. In home PT exercises, Epson soaks and Curamin® Stop Pain Now relief are a few of my go-to remedies. I will share those with you shortly, but first I want to tell you a story.

I became familiar with chronic pain on May 15, 1994....I remember the day like it were yesterday. We took the boat out to Disappearing Island in Ponce Inlet, FL, a place where we spent many weekends with friends and family. I was a Freshman about to finish my first year in High School. That day I had 2 friends who were supposed to go on the boat with us but they cancelled last minute, forcing me to spend the day with my little brother and his friends. That was not how I wanted to spend my Saturday.

Disappearing Island got it's name due to fact that during low tide every day, an island appears as the water recedes at the inlet where Ponce Inlet and New Smyrna almost meet. The water can be murky and many times you are unable to see the bottom of the Ocean floor. In the beginning of the day, I hung out with the boys who were doing flips into the water from the sand bar. After lunch, I fell asleep for a few minutes...or so I thought. Upon waking up, I did a running front flip from the sand bar into the water, exactly what we were doing (what I thought) minutes earlier.

I must've dozed off for a while as low tide made its way upon us and I didn't notice the change of the island. Entering the water, I slammed the back of my head and neck on the bank which was about 3' deep. It was a pain I've never felt before. Imagine a million knives being jabbed in your spinal cord and feeling it all over the rest of your body. It was the scariest day of my life.

A helicopter was called to airlift me to the ER. However, there was no where for it to land so I went via Ambulance. Every bump that we went over radiated through my body. Once I got to the ER, it was a rush of MRI's, Cat Scans and X Rays.

Then we got the news. My Mom and Dad were told first and I remember my Mom crying. The Doctor informed them I bruised my C3, C4, C5 & C6 discs in my spinal cord and that although I had some movement at the time, I may wake up the next day as a paraplegic. Now a bruise may not sound severe to you but this injury was equal to breaking your neck. The next day I was still moving but everything was reversed. When they told me to push my foot forward, I went backwards. My left and rights were switched. I only had 10% strength and was completely freaked out.

I lived in the SICU ward of the hospital for a week. I had to learn to walk again and every step I took was worse than running a full marathon. I cried non-stop from the pain I was in and the fear of the unknown. However, I had an amazing Doctor who did not pump me full of drugs and I was cured without a spinal fusion. My health record is used today throughout the US for non-surgical treatment of this severe injury.

Learning how to walk again was not the only thing I had to go through. I went through 10 years of Physical Therapy and still to this day do my PT exercises at home. I have flare ups, especially if it's raining or cold outside. I get frequent massages that are not something you would ever get at the Spa - they hurt and not in a good deep tissue kind of way. I will live with this the rest of my life.

I'm sharing this story with you today because there are ways to get through chronic pain without the treatment of prescription medication. Here are my three favorite ways of getting relief from chronic pain at home.

1. Pain Relief
I am not a fan of prescription medication. I have an extremely week tolerance to it and have gotten sick more times than I like to remember from taking one pill. Over the years, I found what works for me and what doesn't.
About 10 years ago, I was introduced to Curamin® Stop Pain Now. It's a safe, effective and non-addictive herbal formula including Boswellia, DLPA, Nattokinase and Curcumin. It's no question as to why Curamin® has been voted #1 for Pain Relief.
2. Epson Bath Soaks
I take 3-4 Epson salt baths a week. My friends often joke that I love my baths because I am unable to drink wine in the shower. Truthfully I have been taking Epson salt baths for many years and they bring me comfort by reducing pain. And yes, being able to drink a glass of vino while relaxing your muscle is a huge perk :)

3. At Home Physical Therapy Exercises 
I have a stack of exercises that I still do to keep my neck strong and the pain away. Here are a few of my favorite at home PT exercises that I try to do daily:
Neck Flexion: Bend head forward and hold 3-5 seconds. Repeat 10-20.
Neck Extension: Bend head backward and hold 3-5 seconds. Repeat 10-20 times.
Lateral Neck Flexion: Slowly tilt head toward one shoulder, then the other, holding each side for 3-5 seconds. Change sides and do the same. Repeat 10-20 times.
Neck Rotation: Turn head slowly to look over one shoulder, then the other. Hold each for 3-5 seconds and repeat 10-20 times.

I hope this brings relief for those living with neck pain. In case you were wondering, I purchased my Curamin® Nutrition S'mart in Wesley Chapel FL. I was very impressed with the stores offerings. I could get natural supplements while grocery shopping without a crowd! Check out the Curamin® Stop Pain Now store locator to find a retailer near you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Review of La Casa en La Playa in Cozumel – Carnival Vista

While on our Carnival Vista cruise, the weather didn’t cooperate with us. Our first day at sea was rainy (we explored the Vista), the following day was just the same and we couldn’t port in Jamaica. The third day came with a huge chance of not being able to port in Grand Cayman due to high seas (which resulted in cancelled excursions) but luckily that wasn't the case and we ended up having an amazing day. Needless to say, we wanted to book an amazing excursion in Cozumel.
The day before we got to Mexico, we found out there were a few cancellations in the very popular and highly rated La Casa en La Playa - A Select Retreat. This was booked directly through Carnival at their Shore excursion desk.  We wanted a day where were pampered and didn’t have to think about anything.
We didn't want to be surrounded by a ton of people and noise. We wanted something a little nicer than the traditional all-inclusive resorts (sugary drinks and buffets). The La Casa en La Playa excursion was exactly what we were looking for.
Set at a private residence, you are part of a small intimate group of 30 people. After a short 10 minute drive, you arrive at the beach house and are introduced to your staff for the day – private chef, bartender, servers and adventure guide.
After claiming our beach chairs, our server for the day brought us beach towels and offered water shoes in case we wanted to go in the water. You can snorkel on your own or wait for the guided snorkel later in the day. Our residence also offered a pool for those who didn't want to go in the Ocean.
There is an open bar but they are pretty known for their fresh margaritas. If you aren’t a drinker, unlimited soft drinks were also offered. Imagine sitting in your beach chair, having a full margarita at all times.
We then headed over to the cooking class – where the chef made homemade guacamole. It was without a doubt the best guac either of us have ever tried. They used a habanero oil, which gave it the perfect amount of punch without being too spicy.

After we laid out for an hour, it was our time for lunch. When we first arrived, our order was taken, this way when we were sat, our food was ready for us. This allowed for a great meal without wasting part of our day waiting for our food to be prepared. We both ordered the Chile Rellano which was authentic and delicious.
We took advantage of the organized snorkel activity. The snorkel took us to the same location as many of the snorkel boats take their clients to. We saw a couple of cool fishes but it was just relaxing being in the bright blue waters. The property offered a variety massages at different prices which we both signed up for but opted to do the snorkel instead. Then we took selfies on the beach.
If you are looking for a perfect day in paradise while visiting Cozumel, I strongly suggest this excursion. While it may seem like a costly excursion, you get the following: authentic Mexican meal, cooking class, unlimited drinks, guided snorkel, private residence, transportation to and from the house, 3 hours of paradise.
We ended Cozumel with a gorgeous sunset. I look forward to our next visit!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ramen at Sea! Dining at Bonsai Sushi, Carnival Vista

I first learned about Carnival’s Bonsai Sushi from my friend Amanda. She always talked very highly Bonsai and made a point to eat there whenever she was on a ship that featured this specialty restaurant. Bonsai Sushi offers a variety of small plates starting at $1.50. On my recent sailing on Carnival Vista, Bonsai became one of my favorite dining establishment at sea.
My best friend Keri and I started our annual girls cruise on the Vista with a sushi roll on the first night of our sailing. We had late dining reservations at Farenheit 555 so we opted to grab a quick roll. I noticed quickly that Bonsai added noodles to their menu – including Ramen. I knew right then and there we had to come back for a full meal.
Bonsai Sushi was located beside our favorite bar on the boat - Alchemy Bar. It was fun to people watch and you could easily grab a craft cocktail if Sake wasn't your thing.
Our second night at sea was Captains Dinner. Neither of us felt up to a long meal in the main dining room. Since we had reservations at all of the other specialty restaurants on other nights at sea, this became the perfect night to really try out Bonsai (most dressed up I’ve ever been for sushi).
We started off with the Pork Belly and Edamame. Both were tasty and I would order them again.

For our entrees we both got Ramen and this shouldn't come as a shock to anyone who knows me. I have a noodle problem! This is not the $0.25 package of noodles you ate in college. This was a full flavor broth with chicken, ramen noodles and veggies. It was delicious. Keri also learned that she loved Ramen (she used to make fun of me for ordering it all the time).
Aside from the yummy food at Bonsai, we were both very impressed with the staff. Each night, the girls working at the restaurant were very friendly – and of all the meals we had on board, the kindest staff. They went out of their way to make sure everyone had a great meal.
Bonsai Sushi on the Carnival Vista also dining Al Fresco. Talk about Sushi with a view!

Here's a tip - for those out there who get sea sick and can't stomach food, you can get a side of jasmine rice from Bonsai. I know from experience!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival

This weekend kicked off the third annual Busch Gardens Food and Wine Festival in Tampa Bay. The festival will take place on Saturdays & Sundays March 4th through April 30th and feature 13 food cabins, 65+ fine wines and 70+ craft beers.
Along with delicious food, wine and beer, Busch Gardens offers live concerts at 7 p.m. This is included with any Pass, Fun Card or daily admission to the park. Some of the live acts include DNCE, Hunter Hayes, The Band Perry, Goo Goo Dolls and Lynard Skynard. Click here for the full concert listing.
We ran into many fellow bloggers and media folks at the VIP festival. As always, we were happy to spend time with our friends and neighbors Heather & Bobby. This was their first visit to Busch Gardens an we are now working on a date to come back and experience more of the festival!

This is a perfect time to take advantage of the Busch Gardens Fun Pass - where you pay for a day ($102.99) and get to come back for the rest of 2017 for free (including Adventure Island). This allows access to the following special events: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay's Real Music Series, Food & Wine Festival, Summer Nights and Christmas Town™, plus Adventure Island's Island Nights.
As I mentioned above, there are 13 themed food cabins with a variety of different small plates for purchase.
Lobster Tart from Light Fare Canteen
We tried a variety of the dishes served during the multi-weekend festival. My favorite without a doubt was the Tuna Poke Wakame Salad from Garden Gate Cafe.
Heather's favorite was the Bacon Mac & Cheese from Comfort Kitchen (who also has buffalo chicken that I must come back out and try!)
Bacon Mac & Cheese from Comfort Kitchen
I was very impressed with the Lamb Chops from Field House Eatery. The Tabouleh and Tzatziki were a perfect addition to this dish. 
You can also find Pan Seared Scallops and Black Lentil Salad at Field House Eatery.
The dessert offering at Field House Eatery was a Key Lime Berry Parfait Mousse with a Churro!
The Pulled Pork Slider with Cherry Coke BBQ from the Cooking with Coke Pavilion was another crowd favorite. This tent also features Baked Brie with Strawberry Fanta Syrup and a Coke-Infused Chocolate Pop Rocks Cupcake - both of which I will be back for.
Along with a sampling of dishes from the festival, we also tried multiple varieties of wine, craft beer, frozen sangria and a bourbon tasting.

I look forward to returning back sometime over the next few weeks and trying more dishes, especially the Korean-style ribs and brown sugar-rubbed pork belly from Chef's Plantation & the sweet chili duck taco from Tasty Taqueria

Check out the menu's below!

GOURMET LODGE
Explore the exotic flavors of Gourmet Lodge, featuring a new mango shrimp ceviche, and smoked beef brisket on a spiced corn waffle. Our 2016 guest-voted favorite, the griddled cheese cake sandwich, will also be returning.

SAVORY TAVERN
Tempt taste buds with the rich flavors of Savory Tavern, including coconut shrimp cigars, cabernet wine-filled chocolate truffles, and a goat cheese polenta cake topped with olives and tomatoes.

CHEF'S PLANTATION
Hearty flavors await your palate at Chef’s Plantation with pan-seared salmon, Korean-style ribs and brown sugar-rubbed pork belly.

COAST TO COAST COOKERY
Classic Latin cuisine and a delectable dessert favorite come together at Coast to Coast Cookery, featuring Chimichurri hangar steak, all-new vegetable arepas and a flourless chocolate torte.

FIELD HOUSE EATERY
The Field House Eatery is the Festival’s biggest location, offering pan-seared diver scallops and lamb chops with tabouleh and tzatziki sauce, plus a new-for-2017 key lime berry parfait mousse.

SOUTHERN STATION
Southern Station tantalizes taste buds with all-new venison meatloaf and bananas foster panna cotta, along with a returning favorite, the bison slider.

COMFORT KITCHEN
The Comfort Kitchen fuses classics like our famous bacon mac & cheese and buffalo chicken mac & cheese with contemporary elegant eats like lobster ravioli in a delicious tomato sauce.

LIGHT FARE CANTEEN
Freshen up your palate at Light Fare Canteen with the all-new lobster tart with spring asparagus. Then, fill up on returning favorites like smoked chicken quinoa and a perfect cheese plate to accompany a glass of wine.

TASTY TAQUERIA
The all-new cabin puts a twist on the classic taqueria with a BBQ short rib taco, Portobello mushroom taco and the sweet chili duck taco.

GARDEN GATE CAFÉ
Garden Gate Café brings back two favorites with tuna poke, and a pheasant sausage flatbread topped with filet de pomodoro.

ARTISAN EATS
Treat yourself to unique flavors crafted to treat your appetite, including shrimp and grits and a toy box tomato salad.

COOKING WITH COKE PAVILION
Savor the flavor at the new Cooking with Coke® Pavillion where Coca-Cola® inspired creations come to life, including pulled pork sliders with Coca-Cola® Cherry BBQ sauce, baked brie with Fanta® Strawberry syrup and a Coca-Cola® infused pop rock cupcake.

COKE FUSION
Indulgent guilty pleasures come to life at the all-new Coke Fusion Presented By Coca-Cola®. Enjoy delicious ice cream floats, jerk chicken empanada with Coca-Cola® inspired dipping sauces and chili pepper southwest cheddar soup.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Visiting Grand Cayman on Carnival Vista #CruisingCarnival

One of the reasons we chose to sail on Carnival Vista (aside from it being the newest Carnival ship) was that it went to Grand Cayman. Neither my best friend or I have been to the Cayman’s before. I have family that used to live there and have seen many photos of the island's crystal clear water and breath taking beaches. Visiting the Cayman's was on my must visit places.
We planned on taking an excursion to Stingray Beach and Coral Garden Snorkel. However, the weather report the night before wasn’t looking great for us with high winds and waves so we never booked. We were honestly lucky to even port that day. Without an excursion planned, we jumped on a taxi and headed over to 7 Mile Beach.
7 Mile Beach is a stretch of beaches on West side of Grand Cayman.  If you are looking for something to do without planning in advance, 7 mile beach is for you. There are a variety of places you can be dropped off at, from resorts to beach bars.
Our Taxi driver suggested we go to Coconut Joe's. The beach had chairs for rent for $5 a person, water activities and a restaurant/bar. Once we arrived at Coconut Joe's, neither of us really felt that was where we wanted to be. It was too crowded and all we wanted to do was relax along the incredible water (they did not exaggerate about the beauty of this island). Before we left, I did try a local beer to the Island, White Tip Lager.
After a walk down the beach, we stumbled on Coccoloba, a restaurant on the beach that is part of the brand new Kimpton Seafire Resort and Spa. We grabbed a quick bite to eat and decided to use our unspent excursion money on a bottle of Veuve Cliquot. I mean, why not?!
We sat at Coccoloba for a little more than an hour, drinking our delicious bottle of champagne, overlooking a beach that I swear has been a screen saver on my computer back in the day.
While we were sad to miss out on Stingrays and Starfish, we made the best of the day and turned it into an impromptu day in paradise. If you are visiting Grand Cayman, here are a few excursions that intrigued us.

Deep Stingray City, Reef and Coral Garden Snorkel ($59.99)
VIP Cruise Snorkel & Champagne Adventure ($119.99)
Stingray Sandbar & Starfish Point $69.99

I will say, after being to many islands via port, Cayman was the nicest, safest one I’ve seen. I never once felt unease and there weren’t cops walking around with Assault Rifles. Along with being gorgeous, it was very clean. I will absolutely visit here again.

Monday, February 27, 2017

2017 Gasparilla Half Marathon Recap

Hello! I'm currently headed to Seattle for work but wanted to do a quick recap of an amazing Half Marathon I ran yesterday!
A few weeks ago, I was invited by my friends at Cabot Cheese to be part of their #CabotFit team during The Gasparilla Distance ClassicWeekend. I planned on only running the 5K being I have not ran long distance since Avengers Half Marathon in November. Given this was my first time participating in Gasparilla Distance weekend, I caved in and registered for the Half Marathon. This is a bucket list race for me. I have never been in town for Gasparilla Half Marathon weekend due to conflicts with Princess Half Marathon, Rock n Roll NOLA or work.
My outfit:
Cabot Fit Tech Shirt
ASICS Capri's
ASICS Gel Nimbus, similar here
Sweaty Bands Pirate headband
KT Tape, Pirate

Come Saturday, I found my self a ball of nerves. I have been traveling for work non-stop this month and planned on doing at least 2 longer runs leading up to the race. The most I got in was 5 miles. Not good. However, I have been doing Orange Theory Fitness 2-3 times a week for the past 2 months and have noticed a huge increase fitness wise. More on that!
My alarm clock went off at 4:30am and I had to smile at the extra time I got to sleep in compared to all my friends running Princess Half Marathon. After my 30 minute drive to Channelside (boy did I miss living 2 miles away that morning!), I parked and headed to the start line but was not feeling it whatsoever. I heard my name and saw my friend Marcia, who is the Social Butterfly for Run Donna. My mood instantly changed and she ended up becoming my impromptu running buddy. Marcia told me she was running 2:00/0:30 intervals which worked for me.
It was very windy and chilly at the start of the race but knowing the weather was going to get to the mid-80's later that day, I welcomed the chill in the air. We started off going over the Davis Island bridge and saw two Cruise ships coming into port. All those sleeping passengers coming back home from vacation had no idea they cruising past thousands of people running Gasparilla Half Marathon!
We were on Davis Island for about 5 miles and the support of the residents was amazing, especially that time of morning. One house had mimosas lined up. I want to be their friend :) We saw a fire juggler and plenty of pirates.
The sun was up once we got onto Bayshore Blvd. Bayshore is very popular with Tampa runners for many reasons. It's beautiful and has the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. On a lucky day, you can run alongside dolphins and other sea life. Bayshore doesn't have any tree's covering you from the sun on the waterside - so we pushed through our intervals to get over to the street side asap.
Once we got onto Bayshore, the leaders were passing on the opposite side of the road. We passed a few of the guys but got the opportunity to see Stephanie Bruce, the winner of Gasparilla lead the women through the field.
Marcia commented "we just had our fastest mile" around 7 or 8. We unknowingly had a tailwind. The second we looped around, we were hit face on with a very strong headwind. I honestly think we were running in place at some points. We did see a T-Rex at this point and both of us made a character stop comment, so we had to get a photo!
I felt great until mile 11. My feet hurt. They hurt to walk. They hurt to run. They hurt standing still. Luckily about this time, we ran through the Boys and Girls club where 100's of kids were out cheering us on. This was such an awesome moment of the 13.1 miles.
I kept up with the intervals until mile 12.5 and then slowed down to 0:30/0:30. Talk about a mental battle. I was so disappointed in myself that I couldn't keep up for a half mile to cross the finish line w/ Marcia.
Going back in time, my last non-Disney race was Rock n Roll Nashville in May 2016 where we finished the half marathon a little shy of 3:00 (hills!) and before then was Rock n Roll New Orleans where my husband ran for the first time in over a year and our finish time was also around the 3 hour mark.
This was not a fast race by any means but I finished at 2:39, which was a 20 minute improvement from last year. Without any distance training since November,  I was very happy with myself.
I also couldn't have done it without Marcia. So I took a page out of her book and got a Five Guys Burger - and instead of pairing it with Sam Adams as she typically does, I drank a bottle of Champagne :) If you are looking for a nutritious way to fuel after the race, check out Cabots Peach Recovery Smoothie.
I had a fantastic time at Gasparilla Half Marathon and I absolutely suggest running it. Amazing course, great crowd support, pirates everywhere, awesome medal and Columbia Restaurant catered food for the finishers. You can't ask for more! If you are thinking of running Gasparilla next year, be sure to check out the Treasure Chest Challenge with Run Donna. Runners who finished either the Donna 13.1 or 26.2 in January and ran the Gasparilla Half Marathon took home this giant medal, which opened up as a treasure chest!