Friday, August 4, 2017

We're Cruising Carnival Conquest - Anniversary Cruise 2017

I cannot believe it has almost been three years since my husband Gabe and I got married in New Orleans. A peek back to that perfect September day.....
To celebrate our anniversary, we are going on a 6 night Caribbean Cruise on the Carnival Conquest! This will be our first time out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale!!
A few of the specialty dining options on the Conquest are  Guys Burger Joint, SteakhouseBlue Iguana Cantina and Seafood Shack, home of the best Lobster Roll at sea.
The Carnival Conquest also has my favorite watering hole, The Alchemy Bar. Other bars I'm sure we will frequent are BlueIguana Tequila Bar and RedFrog Rum Bar. I know without a doubt we will be spending most of Sunday at  SkyBox Sports Bar as it will be Football Season (luckily the Tampa Bay Bucs have an away game that week and we won't be missing a home game)!
The 6 night Caribbean Cruise will take us to 3 ports with 2 days at sea. All three ports are new to us and I cannot wait to explore each of the locations. We are still deciding on which excursions we will do but wanted to share our top selections below.

Stop 1: Ocho Rios Jamaica
photo from Margaritaville Caribbean 
I was supposed to visit Ocho Rios on my cruise in January while on board the Carnival Vista. Weather had other plans for us that day and we got an extra day at sea (discounted bingo and drinks). I happened to win a Ship on a Stick that day so all was not lost. However, I was very bummed we missed out on going to a new location. I look forward to finally seeing Jamaica! Here is what we are considering (although we will be enjoying at least one drink at Margaritaville before we get back on the ship):
Adrenaline Tubing and Blue Hole
Horseback Ride and Swim with Dunns Rivers Falls

Stop 2: Amber Cove, Dominican Republic
photo from Carnival.com
We will spend our Wedding Anniversary at Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. There are so many different excursions to choose from and I am at a loss. The adventurist side of me wants to go zip lining over the ocean yet the I'm in dire need of a vacation side of me wants to spend 8 hours in the above pictured beach bungalows. This decision is one that we need to make but for now, the top four are:
Wild Ride, Zip Challenge and Beach
Lifestyle Serenity VIP Resort Getaway
Ocean Cabana
RIU Resort Pass

Stop 3: Grand Turk
photo from Carnival.com

Grand Turk is a place I have wanted to visit for a very long time. However, when it comes to figuring out what we do while visiting has me at a complete loss. Grand Turk is one of the worlds top dive destinations. I am unable to dive but love to snorkel. The waters are pristine - mix that with Coral Reef, snorkeling is a top choice of activities.
photo from Jack's Shack

Whatever we do, we will not leave the island until we visit Jack's Shack, a popular bar with an famous Dog named Topher
Reef and Rays Beach Getaway
Catamaran Sailaway, Beach and Snorkel
Rays, Conch and Reef Snorkel
Stand Up Paddleboarding, Snorkel and Beach
Gibbs Cay, Stingray Encounter and Beach

Our cruise fare is being covered by Carnival, however all thoughts, posts, and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Looking Back - Homeowners for a year

Over the weekend, my timehop alerted me that I didn't want to miss a certain memory. When I opened it up, I saw that we closed on our house a year ago Saturday. How on earth has a year passed already? I sit back and think of the emotional roller coaster we went through during the closing process and look at the progress we've made to date (and everything we have left to do).
The biggest adjustment has been the location change. We lived in Ybor City for 5 years and loved being able to walk everywhere while enjoying the culture of  historic Tampa. We were 10 minutes from the airport, Bayshore Blvd and South Tampa. I loved the foodie scene and exploring new restaurants. We now live in New Tampa, which is complete opposite of where we were. 100% Suburbia. At first, I hated it and regretted buying this house. For a few months, I wished everyday that we purchased in Seminole Heights instead. However, as every month goes by, I become more adjusted to this new lifestyle. Then my friend Heather and her family moved in the neighborhood. We absolutely take advantage of the resort pool!!

I wanted to look back and share what we've accomplished over the past year!

Kitchen
When we bought the house, aside from flooring, we knew our first project would be updating the kitchen. Our house was built in 2006 and had the same oak cabinets and white appliances as every other house in the neighborhood. I hated them. Luckily our kitchen had black granite in it already. Although not a color I would personally pick, we decided to go with a grey theme.
We purchased our appliances before moving into the house so there was no backing out of this one. We decided to keep our cabinets since they were solid oak. We bought Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformation (light kit) and painted them "Winter Fog" which is a light grey. Read here about how we repainted the kitchen cabinets! We have two things left to do in the kitchen, one will happen rather quickly and the other will be on hold for a while. Our next project is the backsplash! We've decided on subway tile and this will happen over the next month. Farther down the line is replacing the tile in the kitchen. 
The kitchen before we updated it!
Kitchen progress to date:
  • Updated appliances
  • Painted the kitchen cabinets grey
  • Replaced sink 
  • Installed light fixture
  • Removed awkward wall between living room and dining nook (which you can see in the original living room photo below)
Floors
Before moving in we updated our flooring on the bottom floor. From the day this house was built, it was a rental until the day we became it's owner. It had really cheap carpet that was in horrid condition. I'm not a neat freak but germs freak me out and just thinking that 10 years of rentals had that carpet made my spine crawl.
Our bedroom was the first to get the flooring and we didn't move in until both the living room and bedroom were complete. My husband and father in law did the flooring and over time (as in last month), they completed the upstairs. This transformation was necessary and made such a difference.
Living Room before we updated it
I will tell anyone going through this process that selecting the floor is the biggest headache. We had over 50 samples at one given time and it made my head hurt. We eventually settled on our flooring, sight unseen from an online store called Floors to your Home. It was the best thing we did. We didn't pay shipping, sales tax and it came with the underlay. Out the door, our flooring was less than $1500. 

Stairs
Stairs before and after
This was my favorite transformation of all. We actually purchased enough wood for the stairs without doing research on it. Well it turns out it wasn't that easy. After visiting Lowes and Home Depot what feels like 20 times, we ended up purchasing unfinished Oak Treads from Lumber Liquidators and stained them to match our other flooring. It took 2 weekends to complete and we had a few hiccups along the way. However, the finished product was worth all the stress and frustration. 

Loft
After we finally installed the wood upstairs, we decided to do a brick wall. From the beginning, we agreed to do a brick wall up there and turn it into a library/cafe/bar sitting area. We looked at doing brick veneer which goes on your wall like tile. When we visited Sanibel Island in May, we dined at a place that had the best Lobster Rolls in FL. When I inquired about the walls, the owner told us about brick paneling, which we had no idea existed. 
A trip to Lowes and $120 later, we had our brick wall. It only took a day to install (using a nail gun). We still need to decide on furniture and light fixtures.

Kitchen Table

Our old table did not fit in the breakfast nook. As each day went on, I hated that table more and more. It's been in my life for 12 years and it was time to go. My in-laws purchased me a solid oak antique lion claw table for my birthday. We found it on one of the swap sites for $40! It was in great condition and we re-purposed the leftover Rust-Oleum Cabinet Transformation paint and the stain we used on the stairs. This project cost less than $50!! We purchased the tufted chairs and the checkered rug from Overstock.com and my Mom purchased my beloved MacKenzie Childs plates for my birthday. We are going to stain the legs of the chairs but want the Kitten to get through his clawing stage first. 

Home Gym
Two of our guest rooms were painted purple and pink. Using the leftover grey paint from our bedroom, we got rid of the pink room and turned it into an home gym. We have an elliptical, rower, stationary bike, bench and weights. The only thing I wished we had in there was a treadmill. One day! We still need to replace the carpet in the three upstairs bedrooms. Sadly we cannot use the same flooring as the rest of the house. That's the one downfall about buying flooring on sale. It has since been closed out.
A few things I learned over the past year of home renovations.

Patience is key. Although things should only take a day or two, expect for the unexpected and prepare yourself to wait weeks, sometimes a month for a small project. It happened to us across the board on everything we did.

Things take time. I laugh at myself over this one. When we bought the house I told everyone, we will remodel both bathrooms before the end of the year. HA. We haven't even touched those.

Shop around. While this sounds like a no-brainer, it astounds me how many people that I know didn't do this. The luxury of the internet is that it is possible to find the best deals. We saved so much on our flooring that we were able to invest instantly in other projects. We bought our appliances on a holiday weekend, which saved us more than we spent. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Seminole Hard Rock Tampa Council Oak Launches New Menu

My favorite restaurant in Tampa is without a doubt Council Oak inside of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. They recently launched a new menu consisting of appetizers, entrées, a new dessert and several craft cocktails. We had an opportunity to check it out and sample many items that are available now to the public. The food was delicious and the drinks were so good we made many disappear. Following our dinner, Gabe and I took the chance at a few slot machines. I must say how much we enjoy Seminole Hard Rock Tampa's smoke free expansion.
The new craft cocktail menu featured drinks with such names as Pillow Talk, Garden Party, Cucumber Gimlet, Twisted Western and a photo worthy Rose Mojito, which includes a rose infused ice cube. If wine is more your style, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa just received the prestigious Award of Excellence by Wine Spectator Magazine for its impressive menu of over 300 fine wines.
photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa
The new appetizers on Council Oaks menu consist of: Steamed Mussels with garlic infused tomato broth and toasted ciabatta, Soft Shell Crab with summer succotash and caper vinaigrette, Calamari & Lobster with smoked cherry peppers and red wine gastrique, Coriander Crusted Tuna with fennel-cucumber salad, ruby grapefruit and tapenade. The steamed mussels were my favorite and this was the first time I had tried soft sell crab!
There are many new dinner specials on Council Oaks revamped menu including: Grilled Yellowtail Snapper, Florida Grouper with rock shrimp, a 21-ounce bone-in New York Strip and a Prime Rib special offered on Fridays and Saturdays only. Council Oak has an incredible steak selection and the entire table loved the New York Strip. I haven't been eating much red meat lately and enjoyed the new fish options.
The new dessert is a Baked Alaska which is flambeed table-side. This dessert is a delicious chocolate brownie topped with vanilla ice cream, meringue and chocolate sauce.
You can check out Council Oak's menu here. Cheers!

We were provided a free meal to check out Seminole Hard Rock Tampa's updated Council Oak Menu. However, all opinions are my own.

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.