Sunday 9 July 2017

Pit Stop in Portland

Vancouver is a beautiful city to call home, but I've always had a yearning desire to travel the world. I'm always planning our next trip - even before we return from our current trip. However, our next family cruise will be in September, over a whole year later after our last. So at the beginning of the year, my girl friends and I decided to go on a road trip in the spring to get us the heck outta Vancity.

We decided a long weekend trip to Portland, Oregon would be a good idea for a girls' trip. We didn't do much planning or research prior to this trip. Granted, two of my friends had gone on road trips to Portland before, so I put my trust in them.

Our Friday started at 7:30 AM. One of my friends drove the entire time. Yes, she's a trooper! It took us a whole day to get to Portland. This included a long border wait, a lunch stop at the Cheesecake Factory, a stop at Uniqlo in Bellevue, a couple bathroom breaks and a stop at the Nike outlet. By the time we arrived at our hotel, it was 8 PM. It was a looooong drive.

We stayed at a Best Western just outside of the city centre near the airport. It was a close 10-15 minute drive into Downtown, but because it wasn't in Downtown, the rate was much lower. We settled in at the hotel, freshened up, and headed into town for dinner. Because it was late, we headed to the Pine Street Market for Marukin Ramen and dessert from Wiz Bang Bar (Salt & Straw). We also got some freebies from Trifecta Annex. At the end of the night, they leave out unsold pastries and bread. They were still fresh!

Our Saturday started with brunch at The Tin Shed, where we had to wait about an hour for a table. No biggie, because the food was delicious!

We walked around the Alberta Arts Neighbourhood, and popped in a few stores and grabbed a coffee from Petite Provence. The area had a lot of street murals on the buildings.

Afterwards, we went back to Downtown. We found a great brick wall for a photoshoot, but we eventually decided to walk over to Northwest District. It was quite a walk - almost 20 blocks! There, we stopped by Blue Star Donuts and shopped around the area. We walked back to Downtown for dinner. We ended up waiting for over an hour for a table at Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen. It's similar to Phnom Penh in Vancouver. I personally prefer Phnom Penh for its authenticity and taste.

The next morning, we had a plans to head out to the coast. But first, we stopped by Voodoo Doughtnut early in the morning. Even though we were there at opening, we still waited for about half an hour for our donuts. The drive to the water was about an hour and a half on a one lane winding road. Upon arrival, we grabbed a quick bite at Tom's Fish and Chips. We spent about two hours walking along the beach, and admiring Haystack Rock. It was very windy and cold; the waves were roaring.

We started our trip back home in the late afternoon. We stopped for dinner at Red Lobster in Lynnwood before crossing the border late that night.

So that concludes our girls' trip! It was a lot of time in the car and a lot of food (and a lot of waiting!) in a short amount of time! I would have enjoyed a longer road trip, just to able to take everything in. However, we did the best we could with three days, and it was definitely worth the trip.

Monday 22 May 2017

One Disney Day

Remember when I said we weren't done? Well, this post is way overdue! With new responsibilities at work and wedding planning in full gear, I've had to put blogging on the back burner. May is starting to look a little bit less hectic, so I can finally finish this post which has been sitting in my Drafts folder for the last eight weeks. 

Let's take this back to the very beginning, shall we? 

One of our very first trips together as a couple (eight years ago) was to Disneyland. I hadn't gone since I was a kid, so I was initially a little reluctant. Eventually, I came around, and needless to say, it was the best decision I made.

If you are wondering... yes, the Disney experience as an adult is just as incredible - especially when you haven't been there in a decade. There is something so magical about the way Disney makes a person feel. It brings out the inner child in all of us, and Hakuna Matata! Disney allows us to cast all our worries aside and be happy, even if it's only for a little while.  

Disney is completely life-changing. In no other place on Earth had I felt more happiness, more magic, more joy... or more frustration, more impatience, and more broke in my life. Nope, Disney is not all pixie dust. There's blood, sweat and tears. Disney is not for the weak, and while it is one of the many things that brought my fiancé and I together, it was also something that truly tested our relationship. Nonetheless, Disney hold a special place in our hearts. 

The last time we visited Disney World was in 2013. We couldn't fit a trip in during our Oasis of the Seas cruise in 2015. So this time around, we wanted to make sure we got our Disney fix, even if it was only for a few hours.

We disembarked around 9:30 AM. We chose not to walk off the ship with our luggage because it was a little too early for us. We needed our sleep and we didn't want to be too tired, especially since the fiancé would need to drive us to Orlando. Luckily, the timing worked out just fine. We took a taxi to the airport, picked up our rental car and we were on our way. The three hour drive from the port of Miami to Orlando wasn't as bad as we had heard. We did not run into much traffic, although we did take the turnpike to our destination. 

We arrived in Orlando around noon and made a quick pitstop at Target for some snacks, toiletries and water. We checked into our hotel to freshen up and pack our bags for Disney World. Because we were only staying for one night, we chose to stay at a moderately priced Best Western rather than a Disney hotel. All hotels on Disney property have park tickets for sale, so we purchased our one day park ticket for Magic Kingdom at the hotel. This enabled us to skip the Ticket Office queue at the park. Unfortunately, we just missed the shuttle to Disney so we had to wait quite a while for the next one. Because we were not at a Disney hotel, the shuttles came less frequently. After switching from the shuttle to the monorail and going through security checks, we were in Magic Kingdom at 3 PM!

As we reached Cinderella's castle, the Festival of Fantasy Parade began. We had walked right into an area where you cannot leave unless there was a break in the parade, so we decided to stay and enjoy the celebration. 

First order of business, the most important reason for our visit... Seven Dwarfs Mine Train! We were quite excited to ride it. It was a 75 minute wait with no FastPass+. We sucked it up and joined the queue. Mine Train is kind of like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. It was bumpy, exciting and it was fast! We loved it.  

Next, we grabbed a quick bite at The Friar's Nook. Their speciality is mac 'n' cheese. It was our first meal since we left our cabin around 8:30, so we were starving. Next up was Splash Mountain. Since it was scorching hot, we needed to cool down. This was one of the few rides we had a FastPass+ for. But even with a FastPass+, we still had to wait a good half hour for the ride. We treated ourselves to a Dole Whip afterwards and watched the Mark Twain Riverboat sail into the sunset. 

We actually got a whole lot done in nine hours! We managed to hit up our favourites: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Jungle Cruise, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Mickey's PhilharMagic, Journey of the Little Mermaid and Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. I don't even think we stopped to eat!

We wanted to be close to the castle for the viewing of Wishes so we headed over to the area early. Luckily, we found a good spot about half an hour before the show. Wishes always makes me emotional, no matter how many times I watch it. This show was as magical as the last. Little did I know it was the last time I'd be watching it. (Last week, a new fireworks show, Happily Ever After, replaced it.)

It was a nightmare getting out of the area after Wishes ended. I definitely remember Magic Kingdom being more organized three years ago, but this was by far one of the most suffocating crowds I'd been in. We managed to squeeze into Tomorrowland for Space Mountain and Stitch's Great Escape. After a quick walk through Storybook Circus, we ended up at Peter Pan's Flight for our last ride. As we walked back to Main Street, Disney's Electrical Parade was starting so we stayed behind to watch it.

We left the park well after midnight and caught the last monorail and the last bus back to our hotel. We checked out early the next day to make the drive back to the Miami airport to catch our flight home. We were ahead of schedule, so we even managed to make a quick stop at Sawgrass Mills! (However, in hindsight, it was a bad idea as we just made it to the airport in time for boarding.)

When I first thought about whether a day trip to Disney World was doable, a lot of people told me it would be impossible. And I had thought so too! There were a lot more negatives outweighing the positives. It was going to be a lot of driving. There might be traffic. It was going to be expensive. We would only get a few hours at the park. So throughout the cruise, we went back and forth. Eventually, halfway through the cruise, we decided it was just easier to go shopping at Sawgrass Mills. We even booked a hotel in Sunrise, Florida! But on our last day on the Carnival Glory, we were longing for Disney again, so we decided to make the trek to Magic Kingdom. Let me tell ya, it was well worth it.

As Walt Disney said, "if you can dream it, you can do it." And you know what? Call us crazy but "it's kind of fun to do the impossible."

Wednesday 29 March 2017

The Glory Days: Farewell Day at Sea

Alas, that bittersweet, last sea day had arrived. We woke up to an overcast sky. The sun was gone, and while it was still warm, it was drizzling throughout the day. We finally decided to check out what was above the buffet on the Lido deck. To our surprise, it was not just more seating! There was a Fish 'n' Chips station! There was a extremely long lineup, but seeing that we had no plans for the day (that seemed to be a running theme this cruise), we decided to join the queue. There was only one chef manning the station. Every time the soup was low, he had to pour more stock in, add fresh seafood and wait for it to cook. No wonder there was a such a long queue! We finally got our bouillabaisse and ceviches after 20 minutes. It was worth the wait!

Even though it was cloudy, the deck was full. So we headed upstairs to Deck 18 on the Serenity Adults Only Retreat area to check it out. It was our lucky day! There was a cabana up for grabs! We ended up lounging there for almost three hours chasing another ship before a torrential downpour came our way.

Our day had flown by, because it was time to get ready for dinner again. We didn't order anything exciting. Both of us ordered the prime rib. I find that the last day of the cruise always has some not-so-interesting entrees. We were determined to do make the most of our last night. The Playlist Productions put on a rock concert, Epic Rock. It was a loud, energetic performance.

One thing to note is that most Carnival ships play movies mid-deck before and after dinner. The screen by the main pool is also known as the Carnival Seaside Theatre. We'd stopped by a few times to pass time. You are never bored on a Carnival ship! Next, we were at the comedy club laughing to Derrick Eason's jokes with our complimentary drinks from Carnival. We skipped Jim Brick that evening to finish packing. Disembarkation was upon us and we had a long day ahead of us... We are not done!

The shape of things to come is seen above, right... Stay tuned!

Monday 27 February 2017

The Glory Days: Amber Cove

Amber Cove reminds me of Grand Turk. It is definitely catered toward cruise ships as the port is actually newly developed by Carnival. However, while Grand Turk has a beach at the port, Amber Cove does not. There is a pool, a bar, a zip line, and a whole strip of souvenir shops, but no beach. Because of that, we decided to book an excursion at Coconut Cove Beach Club at the advice of the Shore Excursion Team.

Amber Cove is also the gateway to Puerto Plata. The landscape in Puerto Plata was beautiful. Along with the clear turquoise waters, there was plenty of greenery. Fun fact: Puerto Plata is where they filmed the museum scenes for Jurassic Park.

When we arrived, we saw bungalows to the right and a shopping village (including the duty-free Dufry serving as the cruise terminal) on the left. Very Grand Turk-ish. We got off the ship as soon as it was docked. It was a quite a walk along the pier from the ship to the cruise centre. Even though it was 8 AM in the morning, it was already scorching hot. However, if you're not up for the walk, there are pedicabs which will take you to the cruise centre. As soon as we did get to the cruise centre, we joined our excursion group for Coconut Cove.

An open-air taxi took us to Coconut Cove. The port officers were very thorough at the checkpoint, two officers checked the entire truck from top to bottom as we exited the port.

To no one's surprise, the driver drove like a madman. It was a short drive through the city, but a long and rocky drive through the countryside. The description said it was a 35 minute ride but it was at least 45 minutes, if not, more.

Coconut Cove Beach Club is run by a tour company called Wild Play Adventure. Unfortunately, there is not much information about them online. The beach was beautiful, and the beach club employees went above and beyond. Anytime I got up with litter, one of them would come running to toss it for me. Two of the employees came around with a monkey for pictures (with a fee, of course!), but I wasn't too keen on having the little guy run and poop on my shoulders, so we passed.

Because we got the all-inclusive package, lunch and drinks were included. The buffet was just okay, but the service, again, was spectacular. The busboys make sure you have a drink the second you sit down, and the second you're done, they bring you another one! The one problem I have with island drinks is that they are way too strong for me. I know, it's terrible but I just love the overly-sugary cocktails on the ship. In the Caribbean, they give you what you pay for, and that's alcohol. So if you love your boozy drinks like my fiancé, you're in luck!

Unfortunately, it was also very windy. The water was also too cold, and the waves were too strong for a swim. We spent the day lounging on the beach and taking pictures, only getting up for the occasional drink. Time flew by as it was only a 4 hour excursion.

Our taxi was late leaving Coconut Cove. A few passengers had lost their way or lost track of time so our driver had to go search for them. On the way back to the ship, we also stopped for some pictures (as seen below).

When we returned to the cruise centre, we did some shopping. Although we were ducking in and out of shops, it was hot at Amber Cove. Thank goodness the stores were air conditioned! We ended up buying Dominican cocoa and some trinkets for our friends. We didn't have time to check out the zip line or the bar.

Now was Coconut Cove a great excursion choice? Unfortunately, far from it, but we had exceptional service at the Beach Club and a nice time relaxing on the beach, and of course, we got sun so no complaints there. I'd definitely check out what Amber Cove had to offer at the cruise centre next time. I really wanted to try the zipline. Amber Cove is a relatively new port, so I do hope more and better excursions will come along in the future.

It was our second formal night so we wasted no time in getting ready after we were onboard. One thing we definitely missed about being on the lower decks was being able to walk up the stairs to our cabin. We were on Deck 6 so after a long and sweaty day on land, we opted for the elevators. It is a long wait for the elevators from the gangway!

No lobster tonight... and apparently, no appetizers either according to our camera roll. I'm pretty sure we both had pretty boring appies, like cocktail shrimp and soup. For our entrees, salmon for myself and filet mignon for him. For dessert, chocolate cake for myself and a soufflé for him.

After dinner, we went straight to the Amber Palace for the show. The Playlist Productions cast put on a great show of Cuban music combined with current Latin hits. It was a live Caribbean romance performance. Very energetic, very passionate. I can't rave about them enough - they were phenomenal.

From there, we headed over to the Ebony Cabaret Lounge for the Punchliner Comedy Club performances of the night. The two comedians of the night were Jim Brick and Derrick Eason. Both men were hilarious and we enjoyed the show very much. It was definitely more challenging to find seats in the lounge in comparison to the Vista. It wasn't a smaller lounge, but rather, it seemed like more people were interested in comedy.

We played in the casino for a little while before retiring to our cabin for some shut eye. The next day was our last full day and it was a sea day. Nothing like a little R&R to end our cruise... Stay tuned!