Visiting Grand Cayman on Carnival Vista #CruisingCarnival

Tuesday, February 28, 2017
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.

2017 Gasparilla Half Marathon Recap

Monday, February 27, 2017
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!

Getting Beach Vaction Ready with Speedo #VacationWithSpeedo

Tuesday, February 14, 2017
This post was sponsored by Speedo. I received Speedo product as compensation.

Last week the groundhog saw his shadow, meaning 6 more weeks of Winter. While some of my friends were upset about this, it didn't really affect us in FL. It's been a very warm winter, with days in the 80's, meaning lots of pool time and a nice Winter tan :)

Both my husband and I grew up on the beach. He lived directly across from the beach while I was a short 3 miles away. We spent the majority of our childhood with sand in our toes, salt in our hair and not a care in the world. Now that we are adults, I yearn for those weekends. Although we live in Tampa, we are an hour from the beach which is a big change from crossing a road.
While planning a vacation or a trip back home, we always pack workout clothing. If we are vacationing somewhere with a pool or a beach, we try to plan to get a few laps in. For me, that means packing essentials that do not take up much room in the suitcase. Today I am going to show you how to easily pack the necessities you need to stay fit and stylish for a beach or pool vacation.

The first necessity of a beach vacation is a cute bathing suit. However, finding a cute bathing suit for swimming laps is very difficult. Have you ever tried swimming laps in the beach wearing a string bikini? Yeah, don't do it, waves are not your friend. Thankfully Speedo USA has a ton of suits, both one piece and two piece that can go from fitness to beach style. I was particularly fond of the Speedo Keyhole One Piece with PowerFLEX eco.  With its contemporary cut and key hole cutout, it can quickly go from swimming laps to laying out in the Caribbean. One thing I love about this suit is that it has removable padding. Most one pieces do not have padding.
Aside from the right style bathing suit, you need a cute beach cover up that can act as a sundress, easily going from the beach to your next destination (shopping, beach bar, lunch, spa). I always have a headband handy for such an event. Also, be sure not to forget a cute hat, cute sunglasses, your favorite book and of course sunscreen! I keep all of these items in my beach bag and leave them in there, so I never forget to bring the necessities with me.
Speaking of beach bags! The best kind is one you can use for multiple purposes. The Speedo Teamster Backpack is just that for me. I took my Teamster Backpack with me on a recent cruise. I used it at the beach, at the pool and it doubled as my computer bag! With its multiple zipper pockets and a removable dirt bag, you can easily stash your wet suit without making the rest of your stuff damp and keep your valuables safe. Not only is it functional with a side water bottle holder and multi media pouch, it's also a super cute bag with pink flamingos.
Swimming laps in the pool means you need goggles and I will be first to say that having a decent pair of goggles is very important. The MDR 2.4 Polarized Goggle with Elastomeric goggles I received from Speedo are amazing. They reduce glare and are so clear you forget you're wearing them. Speaking of forgetting that you're wearing goggles, I have yet to have red marks around my eyes when I get out of the pool. My husband also owns a pair and lost his sunglasses one day while we were at the pool. He decided not to take his goggles off after getting out of the water, using them to shield the sun. We won't make fun of him :)
Last but not least, let's talk about my biggest pet peeve after getting out of the pool or beach - being wet. I hate wet clothes, wet bathing suits and the feeling of not being dry. Sure the sun will dry you off but I am all about anything to expedite this process and Speedo has such a product. The Out To Dry Microfiber Towel was the answer to my wet bathing suit nightmare. It's super absorbent and will quickly dry you, your clothing and your hair! This towel is very thin and compact so it does not take up too much room.

Now off to dream of my next cruise or beach trip. Cheers!

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New Lounge Menu at Council Oak, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa

Monday, February 13, 2017
My favorite place to celebrate a special event in Tampa is the Council Oak Lounge located inside of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. Delicious food, amazing wine and live music - what else can you ask for? A smoke free environment! This is huge news for all Council Oak Lounge fans, this establishment recently became smoke free!

Sundays - Thursdays, Council Oak's lounge menu offers a variety of  specially priced items. The famous Council Oak Prime Burger is how we first got introduced to the lounge a few years back and still stands out as one of the top 5 burgers I've tried in the US.
In January, my husband Gabe passed his Mental Health state licence exam and we celebrated at Council Oak. I was very excited to check out the recently updated lounge menu which includes many new dishes and suggested pairings (craft beer and wine).
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
We'll start with my meal first - the Lobster Roll ($26) with housemade spiral chips. The suggested pairing for this dish was Rombauer Chardonnay, Carneros, California ($22). Interestingly enough, I was introduced to Rombauer for the first time 2 weeks prior to this dinner while in Houston waiting on a flight and quickly gave myself a note to buy a bottle when I returned home. I couldn't have paired a better wine selection with this perfect lobster roll. It was full of perfectly prepared lobster meat and giant in size. I must state for my fellow Lobster Roll connoisseurs, this was served on a housemade roll, not a traditional New England style toasted bun.
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
Gabe ordered the Council Oak Steak Sandwich ($19) served on a pretzel roll with wild mushrooms and sautéed onion served with housemade spiral chips. The wine pairing for this was Cabernet Sauvignon, Brandlin Estate, Mount Veeder, California ($28) but Gabe opted for a glass of the The Prisoner Proprietary Red Blend, Napa, California ($25). If you're a fan of Council Oak steaks (I mean, who isn't), I strongly suggest trying this sandwich out. It's literally a perfectly prepared steak inside a pretzel roll at a very affordable price.
A few other new items on the Council Oak Lounge Menu that I am looking forward to checking out: Short Rib Open Face Grilled Cheese ($18) with pimento cheese and arugula salad. Suggested pairing: Shiraz, Yangarra, McLaren Vale, Australia ($16)
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
Fried Oysters ($15) with pickled vegetables, spicy crème fraiche tartar sauce. Suggested Pairing: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin “Yellow Label” Brut Champagne, Reims, France ($25)
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
Smoked Salmon Tartine ($14) with Salmon caviar, avocado mousse. Paired with: Vermentino, La Spinetta, Tuscany, Italy ($13)
Photo credit: Leo Arboines, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa
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Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on Carnival Vista

Monday, February 6, 2017
If you follow this blog, you know my love for food and trying new things. When I first dined at a Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on Carnival a few years ago, I instantly fell in love and claimed it as my favorite Carnival restaurant. To date, Ji Ji still holds this title for me.

Aside from delicious food, the family style dining at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen is what makes this my favorite restaurant at sea. It's incredibly affordable considering the amount of food you receive. For $15, each person gets a starter, an entree, a side dish and a dessert. I suggest if you go with a large party, to have everyone order something different, giving everyone a chance to try their favorite and something new. If you have a party of two, be sure to order different things.
Ji Ji Asian Kitchen on the Carnival Vista has an open kitchen so we were able to watch the chef's hard at work from our table!
I will state, my best friend is not an adventurous eater. She allowed me to order for us and ended up realizing after this trip that she loved Asian cuisine. Also, I loved the art work at this restaurant! Here's a tip - if you want a wider wine selection while at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, ask your server for a wine list. We were able to order a bottle of La Crema Chardonnay vs. getting Kendall Jackson by the glass.
Below is a sampling of what you will receive as a party of two. You can check out the whole Ji Ji Asian Kitchen Menu here

Slow Braised Pork Belly with Caramel Chili sauce with black vinegar, Pomelo citrus fruit, Chinese chives with gorgonzola and spiced purple onions. I had this dish last time I dined at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen and it will always be a staple for me while on Carnival ships. If you find yourself at Ji Ji, do yourself a favor and order this dish without a second thought. Our appetizer was giant and we could have easily had this as an entree.
Jiaozi (Pot Stickers) Shrimp dumplings with pea shoots, radish and green apple salad. This was my first time ordering Pot Stickers at Ji Ji and they did not disappoint. This was a good dish to order having Keri with me, being they are a menu item that doesn't scare picky eaters.

Peppered Beef with Chinese Vegetable (Shen Li Ho), bird's nest, Chinese mustard, young garlic, ginger root and scallions. I asked our server what her favorite item on the menu was and she quickly answered - Peppered Beef. This is never something I would have ordered on my own. If you find yourself at Ji Ji, ask the staff what they like best and go with it - you may end up getting blown away like I did. Not only was the presentation stunning, the beef had an amazing amount of flavor, only to leave me on the mainland craving this dish a month later.
Kung Pao Chicken with Sichaun peppercorns , chiles and cashews. Not at all surprised Keri went with Kung Pao Chicken, a dish whose name she knew from other Chinese restaurants. This dish was the perfect amount of spice - not too much to burn your mouth but enough to make it water.

Hakka Style Noodles a traditional flat rice noodle. This noodle dish was perfection. I wish we were able to order it to go other nights when the restaurant was booked. It had the perfect amount of flavor and the veggies were cooked to perfection.
Himalayan Basmati Fried Rice with Chicken. Fried rice is something I am pretty picky about and this one did not disappoint. A perfect side dish to an excellent meal

Rose Creme Brulee
Caramelized Crepes with Ice Cream 

At closing, for $15 additional dollars per person, dining at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen is well worth the price.

Seminole Hard Rock Paul Hobbs Dinner at Council Oak and a New Three Course Chef's Menu

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
My husband Gabe and I recently had the opportunity to experience a Paul Hobbs wine pairing dinner at Council Oak, Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. Without a doubt, this was my favorite pairing dinner at Council Oak (and we have been to quite a few). Everything from the food to the wine was executed perfectly.
The night started on the red carpet, or shall we call it the wine carpet. This particular dinner was extra special as it was on the 7th year anniversary of our first date. Seven years?! Crazy!
We also got to dine with our friend, fashionista and PR goddess Nikki from Hard Rock Tampa. While we see her often at these events, we hardly ever get to sit down and spend time with her. Seriously, how cute is her outfit!
The night began with a glass of wine in hand. We received a beautiful glass of Paul Hobbs 2014 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir which was the same bottle each guest got to take home that night. There were three hors d'oeuvres during the cocktail event and all knocked my socks off. Charred Octopus with Romesco Sauce; Wagyu Hot Dog with pickled mustard seeds; Mini Croque Monsieur with Iberico de Bellota Jamon.  Funny thing, I look back at these events for job research. I frequently work with caterers and restaurants for events throughout the US. My biggest thing is thinking outside the box and giving my guests a food experience that they've never seen before. I had a call this week with a caterer and told her I wanted Wagyu Hot Dog bites at an event I'm planning in March. Thank you Council Oak and Chef Dave Puatu :)
The first course was off the chain. When I saw the  menu, it noted: Chilean Sea Bass with Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River Valley. What I wasn't expecting was a perfectly prepared Chilean Sea Bass with giant chunks of Lobster, Manilla clams and a Pernod Cream Sauce. I would have been happy with just this meal alone! The Chardonnay - wow. I am a Chardonnay girl and love creamy butter bombs. The Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Russian River Valley drank perfect with the fish (it also drank perfect on it's own, I had quite a few refills of this one!).
The second course, a Smoked Quail Ragù with shaved winter truffle was mind blowing delicious. I am all about truffle anything and mix that with house-made Garganelli pasta and a glass of Malbec? Talk about perfection. The wine served with course two was a Bramare Appellation Lujan de Cuyo Malbec, Argentina. It was a perfect balance to the pasta.
Oh course three.....I don't think any dish I will eat again will be as good as you were. This is depressing when I think that way. Without a doubt, this was the best plate and best wine I have ever had. The entree consisted of a Japanese Wagyu File Mignon topped with butter that was made with 4 bottles of the same wine we drank with the course - Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena. This wine will be sold at Council Oak for $600 a bottle. So do your math on the cost of that butter. Served with tempura lobster at that. I cannot explain this dish in words. The steak literally melted in your mouth and was unlike any steak I have ever tried. I couldn't finish the steak and brought it home with me, butter and all.
The final course was called Sweet Escape - Ice Wine sous vide Fiji Apple with salted caramel ganache and a white chocolate streusel. Say what!? Mad Scientist Pastry Chef Stephan Schubert did it again! Paired with a glass of Stratus Vineyard Ice Wine Riesling, Niagara-on-the-Lake. It was the perfect ending to a perfect meal.

I want to thank Seminole Hard Rock Tampa for hosting Gabe and I at this dinner.  There will be an announcement soon about the next pairing dinner at Council Oak so be sure to follow Seminole Hard Rock Tampa's blog for more details.
Council Oak launched a new menu called the Chef's Trio - offered Sunday - Thursday from 5pm-7pm. This is a perfect night out at a great price point. You receive a salad, filet mignon and tuxedo cheesecake for $59 a person. We typically celebrate Valentines Day the day before or day after - I think I know where we are going this year!
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