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travel – carnival cruise

ah yes… finally… my long long overdue post about my fabulous cruise in the caribbean.

so, back in May, myself and 7 of my coworkers had the pleasure of being hosted on the Carnival Breeze for a 6 night cruise from Miami and visiting Key West, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

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here she was, as viewed from the Miami port before we embarked.  she’s a big girl and beautiful, shiny and new.

this was my view… deck 2 outside cabin.  we had this fabulous little window well that i used many afternoons to sit in and read my book while enjoying the gorgeous caribbean water… there’s nothing like that colour…

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the ports were fantastic… we rode bikes in key west… i did the stingray city excursion in grand cayman (so cool!) and in cozumel we did a catamaran boat cruise with snorkeling and beers & guacamole.

my main challenge on this cruise was to keep active and to try to restrain myself around the food…
there was a Guy Fieri’s burger joint on the ship and I managed to restrict myself to only 1 burger.  which was a miracle, because that was a damn fine burger.  my boss ate 7.  so basically i was the only one showing restraint.

my main temptation was the blue iguana taco bar… they made the tortillas fresh right infront of you and then you got to load up your tacos as you liked and there was even a hot sauce carousel that included my all time favourite hot sauce; a honey habenero.
i could never decide between the pork or chicken taco, so obviously i ordered one of each… there was also a fish option, but it was breaded and deep fried, so i said no to that.

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*drool* makes me hungry just thinking about it…

i also did well in the breakfast department… i’m not a huge breakfast guy, but i did love that i could have my bagel and smoked salmon whenever i saw fit…

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and then one day, i splurged on the huevos rancheros…
oh man, it was good.  three kinds of salsa… and these little hush puppies on the side… yup.  that was a winner.

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and because the best part of cruise ship life is having no limit to what you order, we also got a breakfast mac & cheese for the table… which was garnished with fried chicken and bacon.  hells to the yes.
there was 3 of us digging in to that and it was still too rich to finish.

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so there’s a little snapshot into how damn easy it is to indulge on a ship.
there were a few nights i definitely went overboard… i ate 3 lobster tails one night.  why not?  they’re free and i was still hungry.  there were nights filled with beer until 3am… (couple of those nights infact)…
but i balanced everything out with 4 trips to the gym (which was REALLY nice BTW) and tons of walking.  while you’re onboard a ship, you’re constantly walking from one end of it to another… and in port, with bike rides and swimming excursions, we kept moving.

and at the end of everything, i’m quite pleased that i didn’t gain a single pound.  so that is a total win to me.

carnival really wowed me with their ship, facilities, service and food.  i’d definitely go on the breeze again!

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travel: cruising

so, i’m now a cruiser.  kinda.
i’ve moved from my previous travel agent job into the same job, just with a cruising focus.
it’s been very interesting… i like the new challenge and it’s been really fun learning in depth about cruising after years of talking about airlines and tours and hotels and such.
AND i still get to do all the airfare and tours and hotels and stuff that i used to, i just throw this on the pile.  if that makes sense.

anyways, for a few years now i’ve been pretty stoked on the idea of going on royal caribbean’s oasis of the seas.
my husband and i have watched shows on its construction and inception… and i’ve been to more training sessions on it than i can count.  and frankly, it looks freaking amazing.
so we’re going.

next november, roughly a year from now, we’re going to do this 7 night eastern caribbean itinerary.
and it’s gonna be pretty awesome.

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and the really fun part is that we’ve decided to assemble a posse.
so i’ve booked off a whole mess of group space on this amazing ship, so if you’re in the mood to sail the caribbean seas with some cool people (like me, obviously) then you should join us.
it’s tres affordable (savings of about $200 a person from the regular price – plus a $50 cabin credit!) and deposit to secure your spot is only $50 a person.
so if you’re into it or want more info, flip me an email at work.  and if you don’t have that address, leave a comment and i’ll email you directly with the goods.

in the meantime, i’ll occupy my months with fantasies of the ship and all the fun stuff to do and all the food to eat.  because food is included and i’m planning on doing some damage at a few places.  mainly the hot dog place and the sushi restaurant.

food & travel: beaches turks & caicos

caribbean food is some of my absolutely favourite on earth.
it’s spicy and lively.  it’s always prepared with care and love and passion.  it makes the most of the local foods and doesn’t waste anything.  and more than anything, its just so different from the food you get in vancouver.

in canada, if you want good caribbean food, you have to head to toronto.  and indeed, every time i’m in toronto, the first place i hit up for food is a jamaican place.  you simply can’t get that level of authenticity out west.
yes, i have enjoyed many a fine meal at the reef in vancouver… but it’s just not quite the same.  but don’t get me wrong, the reef is a great bandaid for my caribbean food itch.

my absolute dream plate?  jerk chicken or pork… curried goat… conch in some form… rice & peas (that’s rice and beans, but they call beans peas in the caribbean)… and festival.
i am happy to report, i ate this on my very first night in turks.
and there is a picture… but it wasn’t on my camera, so i’m waiting for my friend to email it to me.  so when it comes, i’ll stick it in right here.

the locals in turks like to joke that the only thing that comes from turks is conch.  which is pretty much true.  almost everything is imported except the conch.  it reminded me very much of the bahamas in that respect.

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there’s a LOT of conch in turks.
and i mean… a LOT.

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no no no.  like A LOT!

Caicos Conch Farm

yup.  thats the conch farm.
a few of my coworkers worked there for their sandals foundation project.

conch is a hideously ugly thing in an absolutely beautiful shell.

in terms of taste… well, i like it.
a lot actually.
it’s kind of like a scallop in terms of flavour and in texture it tends to be quite rubbery, so the preparation and proper cutting and cooking is key to its enjoyment.

the first night i had it in a stewed form… the second night in a ceviche type salad (i couldn’t tell if it was pre-cooked, but i think it was) and then on my last night i had a traditional conch chowder that was a delight.

to no one’s surprise, the jerk chicken at beaches was exceptional.
there was a lovely restaurant that had a jerk bbq as part of their lunch buffet.  i ate there twice.  it was amazing.
and the view wasn’t so bad either…

and since that shot above is super washed out, this is the very past that lady’s shoulder.

and now for your epic fail portion of the blog…
i totally took two pictures of my jerk chicken and BOTH of them are blurry.
because i am the worst apparently.  food blogger fail. but here they are anyways.

ya, so basically that was lunch.  a big old slab of jerk chicken fresh off the bbq and smothered with hot jerk sauce… a slice of flank steak marinated in garlic & chili… and a tiny salad so i can technically say i ate something other than just meat.

and all the while, i enjoyed this view from my seat in the restaurant…

ya, i know.  rough life, right?

the only other time i had the presence of mind to take food pictures was our last night at schooners, which was a seafood place right beside the beach.
for my appie i had the seared scallops on a corn puree with a little seaweed salad on top and some sort of preserved fruit…

it was pretty yummy although the scallops were more steamed than seared.  in fact they didn’t have any crust or color to them at all, as you can probably see.

then i had a bowl of the conch chowder… which i didn’t take a picture of because it just looked like a bowl of chowder.  not cream based though, the classic recipe is something like this:

CONCH CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS:

Olive Oil – 2 Tbsp
Conch Meat, chopped – 1 pound
Garlic – 2 Tbsp
Onions, diced ½” – 1 ½ cups
Celery, diced ½” – ½ cup
Tomato paste – 3 Tbsp
Chicken Broth – 1 quart
Thyme, fresh – 2 tsp
Oregano, fresh – 1 tsp
Carrots, diced ½” – ½ cup
Clam juice – 2 cups
Potatoes, diced 1 – ½ cups
Tomatoes, diced 1 – ½ cups
Salt and Pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

Place the oil in a pot and heat until very hot.
Add the conch meat and sear for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, mix well and bring to a boil.
Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot with croutons or crackers

and then for my main i had a seafood risotto.
it was ridiculously rich and i’m pretty sure it had oodles of butter, cream & cheese in lieu of actually following a proper risotto method… but hey, what can you do except eat it?

it was really tasty and among my table of 12 people, agreed to be the best main course served up.
but yes, helloooooo richness.

all in all i was pretty happy with the food choices at beaches.  i wish i had more freedom to explore the a la carte restaurants and more time of course, but 3 of our 4 dinners were buffets as part of our evening activities, so we didn’t have much say in those.
the breakfasts were underwhelming, but the all inclusive breakfast buffet never wows me.  the best they had to offer was the omelet station and their chocolate croissants were appropriately sinful.
i was also pleased to see an actual espresso coffee machine in the french village cafe to get my americano in the morning.  they also made a damn fine iced coffee.  and actually the plain regular coffee was quite good too.  jamaican blue mountain coffee is just so delicious.
overall better than the food choices i’ve seen at other all inclusives and i definitely give the thumbs up for incorporating the local cuisine into the offerings.

travel: turks & caicos

…and we’re BACK!
home sweet home after 4 nights in the absolutely stunning turks & caicos.
that place was… wow.

you know when you see pictures of a place and somewhere in the back of your mind you have doubts that it could *really* look like that?
this place ACTUALLY LOOKS LIKE THIS!

those are two REAL photos that i took with my crappy underwater camera.
they are absolutely untouched by photoshop.  that is really how freaking gorgeous that place was.

i have been to a lot of beaches and nothing came close to what this place was like.
i will absolutely be returning there.

getting there was a bit of a nightmare though.
nothing flies direct from the west coast to the eastern caribbean, so we connected through toronto.
we left vancouver on a red eye, which i absolutely loathe.  i tried to think positive… it meant we got in at 1pm instead of 8pm, so in the end since this was such a short trip it was worth it… but i don’t sleep on planes.  so being wide awake all night on a flight was torture.
somehow i napped on the flight from toronto to turks, which saved me, but it was an exhausting experience and not one i’d be quick to repeat.

the way home was pretty seamless… left turks around 2pm and were back in vancouver by 11pm.  gotta love when the time changes work in your favour.
the flight home was very harrowing for me.  i sustained quite the injury on my trip and needed to keep my foot elevated… the turks to toronto flight was no problem, as they had me in a bulkhead seat…
but the toronto to vancouver had me in a regular seat and that was exceedingly painful.  my foot about tripled in size on the flight and almost brought me to tears.
i do have to give much love to the air canada staff that tried their best to get me into an extra leg room seat, but as the flight was full they couldn’t really do much.  the flight attendants let me move to their seats in the back for the last hour of the flight so i could stretch out and put my leg up.  which probably saved me from having a total breakdown.

anyways. the beaches resort was massive and gorgeous.  immaculate grounds and obviously a top notch beach.
so many pool areas and restaurants… it was easily twice the size of the biggest resort i’ve ever stayed in.
which was totally awesome… until i hurt myself, then it was torture, lol.  buuuuuut… i’d definitely recommend this place, especially for families.  hell, even *i* got a kick out of seeing elmo wandering around the resort.

my trip itself was great.  but i lovingly refer to my company as a bunch of a-holes because they very much follow the “work hard, play hard” mentality.  which is awesome when you’re like 21… but in your 30s its a little harder to work hard the day after you’ve played hard.
so our days were filled with conference time and a sandals foundation charity project and our nights filled with beach & pool parties and crazy fun times.  then we got up at the crack of dawn and did it all again.
let me tell you, that 6:50am boot camp (yes, that’s 3:50am vancouver time) hit a whole bunch of people HARD.
thankfully, the day prior to that i had the presence of mind to not drink a single drop of liquor, so i was ready to rock it out.

it was HOT.  and HUMID.  the day of my sandals foundation project work all i did was drink water and sweat.  i drank over 12 bottles of water and probably sweat out 20.  i didn’t want alcohol in any fashion, so it wasn’t hard to say no.
but i kinda think this face made it all worthwhile (*cheese*)

this is calvin and he was pretty much as sweet and adorable as he looks in this picture.
we hung out, played with stickers and read stories.  not a bad way to spend the afternoon… and i definitely thanked the gods that i didn’t have to do manual labor in that heat.  i think i legit would have passed out.

and then the early evenings after the conference were spent in the ocean.
picture if you will, a giant floatilla of travel agents bobbing in the caribbean sea.  it was pretty rad.

the water was bathtub warm and with air temperatures of 30+ there was absolutely no chill at any point in the evening.  it was simply perfect for late night water antics.

so there you go… a brief turks run down.
and i can’t say this enough… go.
go see the eastern caribbean.  its not that far, not that expensive and absolutely stunning.
more posts coming about the food.  because authentic proper caribbean food is a treat for the senses.
and you’d better believe i ate my share of it.