A lovely afternoon in beautiful Grand Cayman

I am often asked by some of my friends, “Are you going to the Caribbean again?”  I often wonder why that is a question at all.  From the first time Randy and I cruised to the Caribbean I fell in love with each and every port we stopped in.  I love the crystal clear turquoise waters, the white sand beaches, the sound the wind makes as it travels through the palm trees and the sunsets are amazing.

Today we are stopping at one of my very favorite islands in the Caribbean, Grand Cayman.  Grand Cayman is one of three islands Christopher Columbus called “Las Tortugas” because of the turtles he found lying off shore.

To Hell and back in 2015

Cayman Turtle Centre – 2015

 

Grand Cayman is known for its world-famous scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, sailing and other water sports.    We have been here many times visiting the Cayman Turtle Centre, Seven Mile Beach, gone snorkeling off one of its many beaches and visited a town named Hell that features jagged rock formations that can only be conjured up in your dreams of what hell must look like.

But over breakfast, Randy shared that he would like to just get off around 10 am and just walk around town.  He wanted to stop in at a few liquor shops to price a few items to stock our bar at home and then stop at our favorite spot for a burger and beer.

And so, that is what we did!

The morning started quite nice with a gentle warm breeze and sunny skies that is until you looked out at the horizon.  There in the distance hung a misty curtain that made me feel as though rain was in our future.

After a quick breakfast at the Concierge lounge we made our way down to deck 2 to get onto a tender that would take us to shore.  As we started across the bay we noticed a ship not too far from ours and realized that it was the Royal Caribbean Monarch of the seas that had been sold to a ship line called Pullmantur.  We have spent many happy days on the Monarch and were glad to see her looking so good.

We actually did stop at a few shops but Randy was disappointed about the prices feeling that the prices in Cozumel or the ship might be better.  We turned around and started to walk in the other direction down Harbour Drive towards a little white church that I fell in love with many years ago.

The Elmslie Memorial United Church was established in 1846 by Rev. James Elmslie.  According to the literature I picked up in the church the present building was constructed in the 1920’s by Capt. Rayal Bodden.  The church has an arched roof, made of mahogany salvaged from shipwrecks and is constructed like the reversed hull of a ship for strength and beauty.  There are several beautiful stained-glass windows, a belfry, pulpit, font, and plaques commemorating those lost at sea, teacher, lawyers, island’s first dentist, ministers and other active members of Elmslie.

My favorite thing in the church is a small prayer tree located in the front of the church.  Next to this little potted sprig is a basket with tiny pieces of paper and pencils so parishioners and visitors can leave a little note to have prayers said for loved ones.  I filled out one of these little pieces of precious papers when I was here last.

Of course, I always like to look for the roosters that run free in the church parking lot.  I remember the first time I was here I quietly crept around a number of cars in hopes of catching a glimpse of these beautiful, brightly colored roosters and perhaps a hen and chick.  I was always rewarded for my patience.  Today too!

We continued our walk stopping at the site of the ruins of Fort George.  All that remains are a couple of cannons, the WW II lookout house and several murals commemorating significant times in the island’s history painted by artist John Broad.   In front of each mural is a plaque explaining the significance of the mural.  I have read them many times but I find myself reading them again and again.

Next stop on our walk through town was the Cayman Cabana Oceanside Restobar.  We discovered this fun and friendly spot several years ago and find that we keep coming back. The Cabana is an open-air restaurant/bar that has a great view of the bay.  The staff is friendly, the beer is always cold and the burgers are juicy and delicious.

As soon as we sat down in our favorite bar stools, we looked up to see if our names were still visible on the beams.  We could not find them so Randy asked for a marker, stood on the stool and wrote our initials on one of the high beams.  We looked at each other and wondered if they would be there the next time we come to the island.

No matter, it was time to eat.  We ordered the Gourmet Cayman Burger with jerk aioli, crispy bacon, melty cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles.  (This burger also comes with an onion ring and sautéed mushrooms but we passed on those.)  The burger is so moist and tasty.  The fries are good too!  We washed our burgers and fries down with a local brew called Caybrew.

We returned to the ship relaxing in the cabin until it was time to prepare our evening activities.  Cocktails and dinner were great as always sharing stories of our adventures on the island.  Then we were off to attend the Crown & Anchor Society Top Tier Event in the Colony Club.

Captain Grønhaug welcomed everyone aboard and thanked us for our loyalty to the cruise line.  He then turned the microphone over to other members of the staff after which our Loyalty Ambassador, Juliia introduced the top three cruisers on this voyage.  It blew my mind when she announced that the top cruisers were a couple that had spent 2,422 nights on Royal Caribbean ships.  Randy and I looked at each other and laughed and said, “We have a long way to go”.  Too funny!

Our last stop for the evening was the cinema.  Rogue One: A Stars Wars movie was showing and we thought this would be a great way to end our wonderful day.  It was.

Tomorrow we dock in Cozumel, Mexico.

Enjoy,

Mary

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A relaxing, delicious day at sea on the Brilliance of the seas

I love sea days.  I especially love sea days when you wake to bright blue skies, puffy white clouds, gentle breezes and calm seas.  Our second day on the ship was one such day.

We woke early and made our way up to the Concierge lounge for a light continental breakfast and café lattes.  I love sitting along the windows overlooking the water.  I find myself gazing at the rhythmic movement of the waves and am always filled with a wonderful sense of calm.  This way I have of totally immersing myself in the water has always fascinated Randy.

He looked over at me and said, “You’re lost in the sea again.  I am starting to understand how you feel.  I find myself being mesmerized by the water too”.

I smiled and said, “Calming, isn’t it.”

We spent our time talking about our plans for the day.  We agreed that we only had three things on our agenda; spending time at the Solarium pool, attending a Next Cruise destination talk and enjoying a wonderful dinner at Chops Grille.

A new addition to the pool area; a lifeguard.

We were surprised to find two lounge chairs still available when we arrived at the Solarium Pool.  As we sat there enjoying books and magazines, we watched as one person after another gingerly put their toes into the pool and quickly retreated back to their chairs or the hot tubs.

As time wore on and the sun rose higher in the sky, a few brave folks finally entered the pool.  One thing that caught my attention was seeing a lifeguard on duty.  On every ship and at every pool there is a disclaimer posted to be cautious because there is no lifeguard on duty.  Curious we asked and learned that lifeguards had been placed on the ship only three weeks prior.  Considering that there were over 400 children on board the Brilliance, we thought this was a very good idea.

We remained at the pool through lunch and then prepared to go down to the Centrum for the destination talk.  We returned to our cabin and were pleased to find, not one, but two dishes of sweet treats waiting for us courtesy of the culinary staff.  We agreed to eat one plate and save one for another day.  They were, as always, yummy!

 

The Centrum is a very beautiful and busy venue on the ship.  So many events happen here.  There is live music each evening, line dance classes, exercises classes, towel animal demonstrations, and in recent years they have added aerial shows.  I have always been fascinated with the constantly changing lights in the Centrum as well as the delicate grass sculptures planted in pots around the area.

 

We arrived a little early so were able to secure two front-row seats.  The talk was presented by Cruise Sales Manager Gabriela Murara Da Rocha.  After a little trouble with the sound, Gabriela talked about many of the 250 port of call available as well as the newest ships joining the fleet and several new itineraries.

One topic of interest for Randy was hearing about the new class of ships that will be added to the Royal Caribbean fleet.  The new class will be called “Icon” with two ships coming on in 2022 and 2024.  According to a news release by CruiseCritic on October 2016, “The next class of cruise ship will be powered by liquefied natural gas and introduce the use of fuel cell technology to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The move marks a new era in shipbuilding”.

One aspect of the new class of ships that caught Randy’s interest is learning that they will be smaller.  These ships will have a passenger capacity of less than 3,000.  We also learned that the line is in the process of developing a cruise port in Greenland and they are building a new multi-million dollar terminal in Miami to accommodate the Oasis class ships.

We listened and made note of several itineraries we would like to participate in and agreed we would go up to the Next Cruise desk and inquire about those as well as several cruises our friends Doug and Sue would be taking in 2018.

Just before we left Gabriela held a raffle and Randy won a lovely photograph of the Brilliance signed by the captain and a $50.00 coupon to use towards a sitting fee in the black and white photo studio.  Nice!

We did stop at Next Cruise and when all was said and done, we signed up to join our friends on cruises in the Mediterranean and return from Europe on the new ship, the Symphony.  As we walked back to our cabin I was a happy camper.

Sublime Truffle Collection by Le Belge

We opened the door and smiled again as we noticed a small oval box with a tiny green cloth ribbon sitting on the bed.  Inside this lovely little package was a collection of delicious Fruit Ganache Truffles courtesy of the Crown and Anchor Society.  I love these tiny morsels of deliciousness.  The Chai tea ganache covered in milk chocolate is my very favorite!

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing on the balcony or in the cabin until it was time to prepare for the evening.  Tonight was formal night and, thanks to a wonderful on-board credit from our super travel agent Andrew Skolnick from CruiseOne we are also going to enjoy an evening at Chops Grille.

Randy ordered the Colossal Shrimp Cocktail

Liquid center chocolate cake with coconut ice cream and carmelized bananas

I started my dinner with a hot cup of wonderful Roasted three-cheese onion soup. For my entrée I chose the Petite 6oz. filet mignon, asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.  (I was so excited and hungry when it arrived I forgot to take a photo.  Ooops!)  Trust me when I tell you that the filet was a beautiful medium pink and melt-in-your-mouth tender.  For dessert I devoured the a chocolate cake that melted in your mouth with coconut ice cream and caramelized bananas.  My palate was singing a sweet song when I was done with this delicious meal.

We finished our dinner just in time to attend the Captain’s Toast and photo opportunity with the master of the ship Captain Ole-Johan Grønhaug.

Today had been a wonderful day of relaxation, discovery, delicious cuisine and celebration but now it was time to return to our cabin to spend some time gazing at the stars and getting a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we dock at Grand Cayman, The Bahamas.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Back on the Brilliance of the seas cruising to the Caribbean

View of Tampa skyline from our balcony

Well, here we are again on I75 on our way to the cruise port in Tampa, Florida to board Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the seas for a 5- night back- to- back cruise in the Caribbean.

Welcoming message on display in the Windjammer Cafe.

The first 5-day cruise will take us to Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico.  The second 5-day cruise will take us to Key West, Florida and Cozumel, Mexico.  We chose this cruise specifically because it was going to Key West.  The last time we were here was in 2001 while on a trip to choose a place to call home in retirement.

We looked a little different in 2001; Randy had a mustache!!

We had a great time walking up and down Duval Street stopping in a fun bar called Irish Kevin’s spending the afternoon drinking beer, enjoying a delicious hamburger,  singing and just having a fun, fun time.  We had such a good time we vowed to return one day.  Well, the day has arrived.

Me, putting dollar bills in the entertainer’s leg garter? Good thing I had my sunglasses on. Too funny!!

We had such a good time we vowed to return one day.  Well, the day has arrived.

This span of windows is where we sat each sea day during our trans-Atlantic and Baltic cruise in 2015.

The first day of any cruise is a mish-mosh of checking in, boarding, trying to catch an elevator to get up to the Windjammer for lunch and then waiting for the cabins to be available.  We ate a quick lunch and then decided to wait for the cabin to be available in one our favorite places on the Brilliance, The Colony Club.

The Colony Club is located on the back of deck 6 and through the Schooner Lounge.  During our transatlantic in 2015 on the Brilliance, this was our favorite place to relax on sea days and after a hectic day on shore.  On the 2015 trip we stopped in several ports in Europe then continued on to the Baltic.  It was a wonderful, wonderful trip.

Birds on a rope

Seagulls following the ship out of the channel

 

The Colonly Club is a large area with two bars, lots of seating, game tables, and a stage and dance floor.  Many activities take place in this space over the course of a cruise.  We found two chairs and just enjoyed watching the seagulls flying around the ship and standing sentinel on the ropes.

 

At 1:00 pm the cabins were open and we made our way down to see if our luggage had arrived and settle in before the safety drill.  The cabin was spacious and we loved that the bed had been placed near the sliding glass doors placing us closer to the sounds of the sea as the ship makes its way through the blue waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean.

Wyoming

We walked through the beautiful Schooner Lounge as we walked towards the elevators.  I love the nautical touches to the lounge.  One of my favorites is a model of the Wyoming built by Percy and Small in Bath, Maine in 1909. Accompanying plaque read:

“She was the last six-master and the largest wooden sailing vessel ever built.  The entire crew was 13 men.  Her dimension was 329.5’ on deck.  Beam 50.1’. Draft 30.4’.  She was lost on the Nantucket Shoals with all hands 11-12 March 1924.  These ships were employed in the coal trade on the east coast of the USA.  All the handling and hoisting of the sails was made by steam engine.

Model by Per Storm Iversen, Norway.

Sails by Lyngør Seilmakerverksted, Norway”.  I think she is beautiful!

Before we knew it, it was time to make our way up to the Concierge Lounge and cocktail time then down to the Minstrel dining room.  We were seated at a table to 10 and anxious waited to see who are tablemates would be.  The first day on the ship is always so busy I look forward to a dish on the menu that I consider comfort food.  I choose the Linguini with Pomodoro Sauce for my entrée and the Blueberry–Peach Crumble for dessert.  Both dishes were filling and delicious.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

During dinner I realized that we would be going under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and wanted to see if I could capture a picture of this beautiful bridge.  I excused myself and ran up to deck 5.  By the time I made it to the railing on the Promenade deck we were already too close for me to get a picture of the entire bridge.  There was an intermittent drizzle staining my lens, but no matter.

After dinner we took a walk down to the pub to see if they were going to air the NCAA championship game.  I wanted to make sure I watch Gonzaga and North Carolina game.  At this point I was 4 in a pool of 62 with Gonzaga as the overall winner.  I was so excited! Gonzaga did not win but what a game!  In the end I dropped down to 6 in the pool but I was still excited because it was the first time I had made it into the top ten in the pool.  Well, there is always next year.

Hues of yellow and red stretched across the horizon at sunset.

Tomorrow is a day at sea.

Enjoy,

Mary

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A decade of basketball, beer and bad food-Spicy Chicken Enchiladas and Fresh Salsa

When I make my annual trip north for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament I always bring along a recipe or two to share with Kristine.  This year I brought two of my favorite Mexican dish recipes.  The first is an easy chicken enchilada recipe that has become a family favorite and the other is a fresh salsa recipe that I got from a friend oh, so many years ago.

I found the enchilada recipe while standing in the check-out line of the grocery store.  While waiting I tend to read the front covers of all the small food magazines by Betty Crocker, Taste of Home and others.  One day I spotted one of these small cookbooks with the title Cooking For Two” by Betty Crocker. I found it interesting at the time because as I was trying to adjust to cooking smaller after preparing meals for so many years for a large family.

Armed with my recipes, Kristine checked her pantry and refrigerator to see what ingredients she already had on hand.  The next day Kristine and I picked up the ingredients I would need. On day six of my visit Kristine went off to work, Brian settled into the dining room to complete some schoolwork and I went to work in the kitchen to make a home-cooked meal.

Spicy Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients:

2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into small pieces

½ cup chopped onion

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/8 teaspoon pepper

2 oz. (1/2 cup) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

½ cup sour cream

2 Tablespoons Old El Paso® Chopped Green Chiles

½ cup Old El Paso® Enchilada Sauce

4 (8-inch) flour tortillas

2 oz. (1/2 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese

½ cup chopped lettuce

½ cup chopped tomato

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease 8-inch square (1 ½ quart) baking dish.  Spray medium nonstick skillet with nonstick cooking spray.  Add chicken; cook and stir over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes or until lightly browned.
  2. Add onion, salt, oregano and pepper; cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Cool 5 minutes.  Stir in Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and chiles.
  3. Spread ¼ cup of the enchilada sauce in bottom of greased baking dish. Spoon chicken mixture evenly down center of each tortilla; roll up.  Place filled tortillas, seam side down, over sauce in dish.  Spoon remaining ¼ cup sauce over tortillas.  Cover with foil.
  4. Bake at 350°F. for 30 to 40 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Uncover; sprinkle with Cheddar cheese.  Bake an additional 4 to 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.  To serve, sprinkle with lettuce and tomato.

These enchiladas are so easy to put together with a preparation time of about 15 minutes.  Then short time in the oven and voilà you have a delicious meal.  I have been making these tasty enchiladas over the years for family and friends and always with the same result; they love them.  I doubled the recipe so Kristine could put some in the freezer to save for another day.

(Note: Light or nonfat sour cream and reduced-fat cheeses are good substitutes to reduce the fat by about 21 grams per serving in this recipe.)

Many years ago my friend Louise hosted a get-together for our couples group and prepared this wonderful, fresh salsa.  I loved it so much I asked if she would share the recipe; she did.  This recipe is easy to prepare and is equally good if served right way or put in the refrigerator for a while so that all the wonderful and fragrant ingredients can mingle.  Either way, it is delicious.

Fresh Tomato Salsa

1 pound firm, ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and cut into ¼-inch pieces

1 fresh jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded and very finely chopped

½ small red onion, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

In a medium-size bowl, toss all ingredients together.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator until serving.  Makes 2 cups

Kristine and beau Brian loved both!

An update on my standings: At this point I am still #4 in one of my brackets and #39 in the other in a field of 62.  I am hoping to stay in the top ten and it looks like that just might happen.  I am so excited.  No matter where your bracket(s) is I wish you luck!!  Enjoy watching the final game between North Carolina and Gonzaga tomorrow night; I will!

Miss Kitty sleeping peacefully on the couch and Miss Paige and her favorite stuffed toy relaxing on her bed. So cute!

Enjoy,

Mary

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A decade of basketball, beer and bad food

2017 marks the 10th year daughter Kristine and I have gotten together to spend the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament together enjoying a weekend of non-stop basketball games, perhaps imbibing a little more beer than usual and foods that are so good but perhaps not the usual fare for a healthy conscience person.

I always fly up the day before tip-off so I can finalize my brackets and get them posted on time.  I always enter two into the pool.  Packing for this weekend is always iffy.  The day before I arrived the northeast was hit by Winter Storm Stella.  The temperature was in the 20’s when I arrived and was glad it was a short taxi ride to her home.  As the taxi made its way to Kristine’s home I enjoyed looking at the snowy landscape.

Kristine has a sweet cat named Elle who has always greeted me at the top of the stairs when I entered.  However this year, I was greeted by her new dog, Paige.  I was not sure how Paige would greet a strange person coming into the house so opened the door quite cautiously.  What I saw when I entered was Paige standing at the top of the landing with, not one but two stuffed toys in her mouth and a low growl coming from deep in her throat.  I walked up the stairs slowly with my hand extended and saying her name.  By the time I got to the top of the stairs she dropped her toys and let me pat her head.

A lovely tradition Kristine started all those years ago was leaving me a tray filled with a selection of teas and snacks to enjoy while I wait for her to come home from work.  Today there was something new.

Kristine’s magnet covered refrigerator!

“Aloha Elvis” enjoys a prominent place on my refrigerator

Over the last several years I have brought back many, many refrigerator magnets from the far and wide places that Randy and I have traveled to.  I had to smile when I looked at the plate.  What made me smile?  There leaning against my tea cup was an Elvis magnet.  I read the note that accompanied my treats; it read:

“Viva Virginia from Aloha Elvis”.  Enjoy a couple of snacks and some tea before I get home.  Hope you had a good flight up here!  See you this afternoon J Love, Kristine

P.S. The Elvis magnet is yours”.

Now, how cool is that!

Over these ten years things have changed a little.

The first two days are always a flurry of activity as we fill in our brackets (we never share our choices-we are very competitive), shop for food and beer supplies and make plans to visit one of our favorite sports bar to watch tip-off, get mani-pedis and shopping on Saturday and celebrating granddaughter Maddy’s birthday on Sunday.

Day two found us at Harris Teeters to pick up our food supplies for the weekend.  Of course, beer was at the top of the list.  We returned home and spent the rest of the morning filling out our brackets.

Kristine is a college basketball fan and uses her sports knowledge to pick the teams she believes will move along to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four and beyond.  Me, I have developed favorites over the years and depend on the little gems that are shared on ESPN the Sunday before tip-off to help choose my picks and then I keep my fingers crossed that I stay above 20 out of the over 60 that participate in the pool.  That done, we spent the rest of the afternoon reminiscing about days gone by, enjoying a few beers and watching East Tennessee play Florida.

Maryland drink coasters.

The most important game today was between Maryland and Xavier.  Kristine has a soft spot for Maryland because her dad attended Maryland.  Kristine donned a Maryland sweatshirt and wrapped Paige in a Maryland scarf and we settled down to start our weekend. Although I picked Xavier, I put on a Maryland tee shirt to show her some support.

 

Foremost on our agenda on day three was to go to a new sports bar called The Bracket Room Sports Lounge and Eatery in Arlington, Virginia.  The lounge was very nice with booths, long tables and high chairs, and a three-sided bar with stools.  There were televisions everywhere so there was no worry about watching the games.

Brian, Kristine and Mary

The brunch menu was a wonderful mix of standards as well as huevos ranchero tacos, chicken wings, waffles, lamb lollipops, white queso dip with Bavarian pretzels and more.  But, whenever I go to a sports bar for the first time I have to have a hamburger.  I ordered the Juicy Cheeseburger & Fries.  The burger was an all-natural farm raised, grass fed beef burger on a soft bun.  I topped that with cheddar cheese, very crispy Applewood bacon, lettuce, tomato and pickles.  The burger was cooked perfectly; charred on the outside, juicy on the inside and just perfect.

We stayed for a while but had to get back to the house before the Duke game.  Duke is one of Kristine’s all-time favorite teams so, of course, she wore her Duke tee shirt.  Very funny!

Saturday is normally our day to do girly things.  We go to the Red Door and spend a few hours indulging ourselves in getting a mani-pedi and then off to the mall for a little shopping, but not this year.  It was just too cold so we stayed in watching one game after another, enjoying a pizza for dinner and just hanging out.

One tradition we could not let go by the wayside is our annual get-together with daughter Jennifer and granddaughter Madalyn.  It just so happens, much to my delight, that Maddy’s birthday falls on March Madness weekend.

We made arrangements for Jennifer and Maddy to meet us at the house where I surprised her with her very first ‘little blue box’ from Tiffany’s.  This past Christmas Maddy asked for all things Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  On our last cruise I was very escited when I learned that there was a Tiffany’s on board. Randy and I just had to run in and pick her up a little something.

She was so excited!  She took such care as she first removed the box from the little blue bag and took a picture, then opened the box and took a picture and finally opened the little blue pouch to discover a lovely sterling silver chain with two Tiffany heart charms.  And, yes, she took pictures of the pouch and necklace too.  She is so cute!!

Then it was off to a restaurant she choose over at the Village of Shirlington.  This year Maddy chose Guapo’s Fine Mexican Cuisine restaurant for her birthday celebration.  The restaurant was large, colorful and filled with happy people.

What a great choice.  I ordered the Huevos Rancheros and they were wonderful.  The four of us spent the next two hours eating, laughing and sharing good times.  When it came to dessert time, Maddy ordered the Sopaipillas.   These mini warm fried puff pastries were drizzled with local honey and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  In the center of the plate was a scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream with a cherry on top.  The server brought four spoons so we could all enjoy.  What a fun dessert.  All too soon it was time to part; Jennifer and Maddy to go one way and Kristine and I another.

My last full day Kristine went off to work while I spent the day relaxing and preparing a nice meal for us to enjoy.  I prepared Spicy Chicken Enchiladas and fresh salsa.  Kristine and Brian loved both.

We had a great time but it did not go unnoticed that the weekend was a little more subdued than in the past.  Could it be that we are getting a little older?  Could there be another decade of basketball, beer and bad food in our future?  We shall see.

At this point I am #4 in one bracket and #44 in the other in a field of 62.  Not too bad.  This year I am hoping to stay in the top ten.  No matter where your bracket(s) is I wish you luck!!  Enjoy the rest of the tourney.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Cruising to the Caribbean on the Oasis of the seas – Day 7

A photo souvenir of DreamWorks character King Julien and me near Central Park

The last day of our cruise started with the ship cruising across dark sapphire blue waters, big puffy clouds with just hint of yellow in the sky from the sun popping above the horizon and a slight chill in the air.

7:23 am

Last night when we returned to our cabin, the Crown and Anchor Society had sent a lovely and colorful plate of sliced fresh fruit.  It was inviting but much too much to eat after having two big meals.  We put the fruit in the refrigerator to enjoy our last full day on the ship.

We ordered orange juice, fresh pastries and cold cereal from room service to add to the fresh fruit in the refrigerator.  While we waited for our breakfast to be brought to the cabin, Randy ran up to the Diamond Club and brought back two piping hot cups of café latte.  We got comfortable on the balcony and talked about our plans for the day.

On any given day there is a myriad of activities to participate in.  There are always the last minute sales, the grand finale art auction, towel folding demonstrations, captain’s corner and more.

Our last day cruising back to home port, over time, has become routine.  Right after breakfast we make our way up to the photo shop and purchase our souvenir pictures. Then our next stop is the casino.  The ship gives us three coins to use in the casino.  The end result of these free pulls is different on each ship.

Larry Kirkland ‘Small Wonder’ Snake (Thamnophis Skeleton) Mixed Media

One ship will give you a raffle ticket to be pulled late into the night on the last day.  Some will give you a key chain or tee shirt.  My favorite is the ships that give you another coin for another free pull.  This trip I was presented with a raffle ticket. I have never won anything from the raffle because I never go to the casino the last night but I have several key chains and tee shirts.  Too funny!

Anil answered many questions from the group as we made our way around the two galleys.

Today we added a new activity to our routine.  We made a reservation to participate in a Champagne and Galley Tour sponsored by Chops Grill.  We made our way over to The Grande dining room to await our tour guide.  The scene became a little chaotic when the crew member started the check in process then announced that we needed to wear closed toe shoes.  I had sandals on and ran back up to our cabin to change shoes.

Our galley tour guide was a very nice chef named, Anil Pal.  There were twenty people in our group and periodically we had to change positions in the group in order to hear him well.

Everyone who takes these tours is always amazed at the organization that keeps the food coming to all the food venues around the ship each day.  Anil stopped at several key areas around the galley on deck 4 and 5.

 

 

We started in the areas where shrimp cocktails, bread, lamb shanks, escargot bourguignonne and more were being prepared.  All the cooks were very focused on their individual tasks stopping once in a while to share a smile with us.

 

Roasted tomato soup

At the end of the tour we were escorted back to the dining room where a table with drinks and hors d ‘oeuvres were waiting and then escorted to our tables.  Our menu included several choices for appetizers and entrees.  The appetizer choices included Shrimp Ceviche, Goats Cheese salad and Roasted Tomato Soup.  Our entrée choices included “Surf & Turf”, Pan Seared Salmon and Wild Mushroom Tagliatelle.  Everyone would receive a Chocolate Napoleon for dessert.

Petit filet mignon, dauphinoise potatoes and sauce Bernaise

Randy and I both ordered the surf and turf.  After asking Randy if he would like a second lobster tail and he declined, I asked our server if they would leave the lobster off my plate.  The roasted tomato soup was hot and delicious.  I was, however, a little disappointed in the petit filet mignon.  I had asked for it to be medium (pink).  When I cut into the filet it was so raw I knew I could not eat it.

Chocolate Napoleon with raspberry ganache and carmael creme

I called  our server over and asked if he could please ask the kitchen to cook it just a bit more for me.  “My pleasure,” was his response.  However, when he returned he did so with a brand new plate with a new filet and a lobster tail.  The filet was cooked a little better but was tough and fatty.  I was really surprised by this because it came from Chops.  “Oh well”, I thought, “the rest of the meal was wonderful”.

We had one last stop before returning to our cabin to relax a little and finish packing.  We made our way down to Central Park and Tiffany’s.  Randy was a little disappointed when he walked into Tiffany’s.  He was hoping that the Tiffany blue almonds that was available during their grand opening would still be available.  We spent a few moments looking for a little something for a family member having a birthday and with the help of a very nice salesman we picked what we thought was the perfect gift.

After an afternoon of packing and preparing to disembark in the morning, we prepared for the evening.  Cocktail time was very nice as we said our goodbyes and exchanged contact information with Skip and Suzanne.

The turkey is always so tender. YUMMY!

Pavlova with kiwi and strawberry coulis

Those of you who read my blogs on a regular basis know that I really am a creature of habit.  The last night of any cruise I am on I order the Roasted Turkey dinner.  The dinner is served with apple bread dressing, roasted red bliss, Brussels sprouts and cranberry sauce.  I always ask my servers if I could please switch out the red bliss and Brussels sprouts for mashed potatoes and a green vegetable.  They have always been very kind in granting this small request.

We enjoyed sharing our dinner time with Philip, Barbara, Tom and Grace and said to each that we hoped to see them around the community in the coming months.

We left the dining room and took a leisurely walk around the Royal Promenade before returning to our cabin for a little relaxation and turning in early.

This cruise was just wonderful!  We had great weather, a fun time in every port and shared time with nice people.

Tomorrow will rise early to catch the bus back to our community.

Enjoy,

Mary

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Cruising to the Caribbean on the Oasis of the seas – Day 6

Festive and whimsical decorations along the waterfront for Carnaval Isla Cozumel 2017

We were up early this morning excited that we would be docking at one of our very favorite ports, Cozumel, Mexico.  We have been here many times and always had a good time participating in one of the many activities available, enjoying the delicious cuisine in many of the local restaurants or just walking along the waterfront of San Miguel.

I was especially interested in going down to San Miguel to see if the waterfront had been decorated for Carnaval.

According to what I have read, Carnaval is the most important celebration in southeast Mexico. When the celebration begins Cozumel comes alive with music and dancing in the streets.  In 2012 Randy and I were here and I fell in love with the beautiful, festive and glittery decorations that lined the waterfront.  The decorations depicted animals and birds that are indigenous to the country.

At the time I did not know that they were only on display in the month of February during this colorful celebration.  The last time we here I asked a local gentleman about them and he explained this to us.  Knowing we would be here this year in February, I was excited.

While Randy and I enjoyed our coffee, we watched as the Carnival Breeze, Carnival Dream and the Royal Princess all made their way into port and that was just at the International Pier.  “It is going to be a very busy place in town today,” I thought to myself.

I enjoyed my breakfast so much yesterday that I repeated the choices.

Our plans set for the day; we made our way up to the Solarium again this morning to grab a quick breakfast.  While enjoying our breakfast we could not help but notice that the skies were very heavy with dark clouds.

The beach pool

We were in no hurry to leave the ship so before returning to the cabin we walked around the pool deck.  We were not surprised to see the pool deck empty; everyone would be going ashore today.

Carnaval 2017

Carnaval 2017

 

We took a van down to the center of town and proceeded to take a leisurely walk.  As soon as I got out of the van I looked to the waterfront and was pleased to see that it was decorated.  The decorations were different this year.  They were all colorful and whimsical depictions of sea life.

 

The first place we stopped was the town square.  There was a large sign announcing that Carnival would begin on February 22, 2017.  We were a week too early, oh my.

We continued our walk and each time we saw a restaurant that we had eaten at or place we stopped for photos over the years brought back memories and we found ourselves smiling.

Do I have a favorite restaurant?  No, not really.  Each restaurant we have visited in San Miguel has its own unique atmosphere and twist on the Mexican cuisine that we have come to enjoy.  I must say, though that I find I am drawn to the little restaurants along the waterfront.

To-date we have eaten at Toro’s Place, Tiki Tok, Las Palmeras, Pancho’s Backyard, and two wonderful lunches as part of two tours at Discover Mexico.  The first tour at Discover Mexico was called “Tastes of Mexico” where we learned how to make Mexican chocolate; the other tour was called “Tequila Experience by Jose Cuervo”.  Both tours were great and the lunch delicious.

Love the horse drawn carriages!

More recently we have discovered a small local restaurant within a few blocks of the International Pier called Ernesto’s.  The restaurant has a nice area outside that looks over the port, the service is friendly and the food delicious.

We walked the length of the waterfront stopping once in a while to take pictures and talk about past visits.  At one point the skies sent spits of rain down on everyone but no one seemed to care.  Actually, the rain felt refreshing.  We continued our walk eventually making our way to a taxi stand.

The taxi ride to Ernesto’s was comfortable and when we arrived, it just about lunch time.  There was one table left on the patio and we grabbed it.  The last two times we were here we ordered nachos and beer.  Today we decided it was time to order a proper lunch to see how the food was.

We ordered the Plato Mexicano which included one beef taco, one chicken enchilada, one cheese quesadilla, carne asada, rice and beans.  We thought this was a good combination of flavors and textures to decide just how good the food was.  While we waited for our lunch we enjoyed bottles of cold Sol beer and munched on chips and salsa.

Randy and I split each item to see if we would come up with the same answer to the question.  I asked Randy, “So what did you think?”

“I thought it was pretty good especially the carne asada.  The meat was so tender,” Randy replied.

This picture was actually taken on our last visit to Ernesto’s but it look so good when it came to the table I forgot to take a picture. Oops!

Me, I enjoyed everything I tasted.  We ordered a slice of Cozumel lime pie with two forks and sat back and enjoyed looking out over the bay and all the boats filled with tourists coming and going. The atmosphere at Ernesto’s is very laid back and the food delicious; we will be back.

We returned to the ship and prepared for the evening activities.  First we made our way up to the Diamond Club for cocktails then down to the dining room for a wonderful dinner.  We did a great deal of walking today so I was very hungry.

I started with a bowl of French onion soup followed by Roasted Pork Loin for my entrée.  The pork dish came with garlic mashed potatoes, braised Napa cabbage, grilled squash and cranberry chutney.  The pork was a little dry but otherwise very good.

As I said, I was very hungry so tonight I indulged that hunger with a wonderful dessert. Cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce and resting in chantilly cream.  Yummy! The Profiteroles were just the perfect ending to a delicious meal.

During dinner the captain made an announcement that the crew was having difficulty returning a lifeboat to its proper position on the ship and that we would be in port for several more hours.

With no reservations for this evening, we returned to the cabin and watched as the other cruise ships in port left for their next destination.  The lifeboat was just under our balcony so we watched as the crew worked diligently to fix the problem.  We were scheduled to leave port at 6:30 PM.   The ship finally got under way at 10:30 PM.  It is going to be a very swift cruise back to Port Canaveral!

Tomorrow we are at sea.

Enjoy,

Mary

PS—Today I walked 11,533 steps and climbed 6 floors.  Not bad!

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