Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sunday at Sea!

I always love sleeping on a cruise. The beds are usually super comfortable and I love the slight rocking of the ship. We had this great cabin, which Megan reminded me to mention that I forgot to say had a doorbell even! And of course, she had to ring it every time we came back to the cabin, even if she was sure we were all standing outside the door! But yes, it was pretty cool to have a doorbell! 

But sometime during the night I woke up to a slamming sound. Maybe it was a crashing sound...At first I thought maybe it was the cabin above us moving something around. But boy, it would have had to have been them rearranging their entire cabin! It just went on and on and on! It would stop and start. Being the middle of the night, I sort of drifted in and out of sleep. When we got up the next day, the four of us mentioned hearing the noise. Keith was convinced it was the theater moving that doesn't make sense since that is 2 decks below us. The kids figured it was the equipment in the front of the ship or the ship itself hitting the ocean. Sort of like when you're in a speedboat and you hit a wake. Yup, that's exactly what it sounded like. Only we were on a cruise ship. Imagine that sound on a cruise ship! So, no big deal, we left and went to breakfast.

It was a pretty windy morning, and the sea was slightly choppy. We all found something to eat in the Oceanview Cafe. We generally liked the buffet for the meals we had there. Usually breakfast and lunch. The overall opinion was that of all our cruises, they had the best "ship pizza"! 

After breakfast we went outside for a bit and found a few chairs and relaxed a bit...yes, just an exhausting morning!!

It was about time for the Top Chef Meet & Greet and also the Galley Tour. The kids went to the Teen club I think and Keith and I went to the Opus Restaurant for our Top Chef Meet and Greet.

The ship does have these ship map displays by the elevators so that you can find your way around. They're not the most detailed, but they get you where you need to go!

We probably wouldn't have done the Galley Tour if it wasn't right after the Meet and Greet. Keith and I had done one a few years ago on the Eclipse, and while it was really fascinating on that ship, it's sort of a been there seen it type of tour. Keith is also a chef himself. Which is a main reason we chose this cruise. And while he was really fascinated with the first Galley Tour we did, spending his outside cruise time walking through a ship kitchen, when he spends every day in a kitchen was a bit anti-climatic for him at this point. 

However, the Head Chef and several of the Chef's from the ship were introduced and they do an amazing job on this ship.

And then the four Top Chefs came out and each gave a VERY brief introduction. 

The chefs on our cruise were:

Tiffany Derry - Season 7
Hosea Rosenberg - Winner Season 5
Casey Thompson - Season 3
Shirley Chung - Finalist Season 11

Also, one other Top Chef note - Season 11 was on a continuous loop on one of the channels on board the ship. I believe it's on every sailing, constantly. It would have been nice if all of the seasons that the Top Chefs on board were played because for those sailing who were not as familiar with the show, they only really saw Shirley since it was her season playing. The other chefs remarked about this a few times. Also, just watching tv, by about day 3, even not watching too much tv, you'd turn the tv on and there would be the same episode on...again! Some variety would have been great!

So after their introductions, we moved on to the Galley Tour - as each group was called the Head Chef would take some Q & A's from those waiting to be called. Pretty much anything relating to food operations on the ship. 

Our group was called for our tour. We got to tour the "upper" kitchen. Every dining room has its own kitchen. I mentioned that we did a Galley tour on the Eclipse and we also did a cooking class when we sailed on that ship and got to cook in the Murano kitchen room at that time. Now we were in the upper kitchen of the Opus dining room. And every one has been incredibly spotless. For the number of dishes that go through those kitchens it is simply amazing how clean they are! That is what strikes me the most. That and how organized they are - although if they weren't so organized, they couldn't get the food out!

This is one of the boards that shows every dish and how it's prepared. This way the waitstaff will know what is in each dish and how it should look.

They even had the special dishes listed for the "Top Chef" night in the Main Dining Room listed

Overall the tour was interesting, but it was no where near as in depth as the tour we had on the Eclipse. I don't know if it was because we were in the upper kitchen, or if it was because they had so many people on the tour, or if they've just changed the tour itself. Here we just really had a quick walk through. But it was still very interesting and if you've never seen a professional kitchen, especially one of this scale - do it! 

After this we had a short bit of time to spend outside in the sun before the first Top Chef cooking demo! It was tough to balance the fun in the sun with the Top Chef activities! Inside or outside??? The tough decisions of vacations....

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

And we're sailing!

After checking out our cabin, it was about time for the muster drill. Our station was in the theater, which was nice. So off we went. The drill was pretty complete, and to the point. 

Afterwards it was time to find a spot for sail away. We decided to head on up to the lawn area. It was a beautiful day in Miami and the sail away was just lovely!

Once we were underway, we took care of making our dinner reservations for the week at the Specialty restaurants and then did a bit of a mini-tour of the ship. If we would have boarded earlier in the day, we would have done a "tour" tour of the ship. You know, gone to the spa and done their tour, gone to the teen club and signed in the kids, gotten an overview of the ship. But by now, when we went up to the teen club, they were already closed until later in the evening. This was really the drawback of the later boarding time. By the time we got on, got to our cabins and did the muster drill - our day was already almost over. 

Just some pictures as we walked around...

The Fun Factory for the younger kids....

And on the other side of the ship, the X-Club for the teens

The Hideaway - a place to just relax, in strange shaped chairs!

The library

The ship does have some very unique artwork, and there's a book in each room that explains each piece and where it's located.

And then you have the really huge wine selection in the Main Dining Room!

Back up on the Lawn, you have these really big chairs

I'm pretty sure for dinner that night we ate in the Main Dining Room. We had the Celebrity Select Dining. Our dinner was good, our server was good as well. But to be honest, I can't remember anything as standing out about the meal. We've found that the food in the Main Dining Room of Celebrity has been very good in the past, and this lived up to our expectations. 

After dinner the kids went to the teen club and Keith and I went to the show. It was a "beat box/juggler". We actually enjoyed it, and that's saying quite a bit as Keith is really not one for shows! It was just a bit different and that's a nice change of pace.

Afterwards we stopped at the Molecular Bar. 

I have a really blurry picture of the drink I got, which I hate to even post, but here goes...just because it's got the liquid nitrogen thing going on!

All in all we had a great first day on the Reflection! It looked like it was going to be a great week! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sailing out of Miami!

For those who have recently sailed on Celebrity, and I think maybe Royal Caribbean too?? They have just started this staggered boarding system. A few days before your cruise you will receive emails, text messages, voice messages - you name it! They will be telling you NOT to come to the pier until your designated boarding time. And this boarding time is based on the deck your cabin is located. And if you have a suite, or maybe concierge class, or maybe a higher Captains Club level you can board earlier...those things I'm not too sure of because we had none of those things! We were on deck 7 and our boarding time was somewhere around 2:30. At first I was really bummed about that. I mean didn't we deserve to be on that ship just as much as the people boarding at 11:00? And didn't we have to check out of our hotel at 11:00 or maybe noon? What would we do with our luggage for hours? What if we were arriving on an early flight and heading straight to the airport? It just didn't seem like a great system to me. 

But on the other hand, maybe staggered boarding would mean less of a wait? On the other, other hand...not everyone shows up at the port at the same time anyway, and I really didn't like being told when to get there when I paid to be on that cruise that full day...

However...I'm truly not a complainer at heart. I tend to go with the flow and it really is just the system now in place. We were able to get a late check out at the hotel, so no issue for us with the bags. And as I mentioned we had a late breakfast, or maybe it was an early lunch, at Bayside. We didn't rush in the morning and by the time we got to the port, there really was no wait. Well, that's because we were the 2nd to the last group to board they told us. Most people were already on the ship. Ok....So, check in was smooth, we got our Sea Pass cards and we were on our way!

I'll mention now that when we booked we had the promotion that included the Classic Beverage Package. Keith and I choose to upgrade to the Premium Package before we sailed. Was it worth it? Keith likes the more expensive beers, so for him, yes. However, the selection of beers in that price range was really lacking. For me, I was glad to not have to pay extra for the Molecular Bar drinks or the Martini Bar, but I could never drink enough to pay for any of the drink packages. I did make use of it on this trip, just with bottled waters, coffees and teas, as well as drinks I tried out that I wouldn't have if I didn't have the package. 

Ok...moving on! We boarded the ship, and you know how as soon as you cross over onto the deck, you get that feeling - even though we had been in Miami for a bit now, once on board the ship - Instant Vacation! Love it! We were handed our champagne and the kids again remarked that this was so not a kid ship! 

Since we boarded late, we were able to head right to our cabin. It was nice to not have to carry our carry on bags around while waiting for our room to be ready. I hadn't told the kids or Keith anything about the cabin we had. And it sort of surprised me that Megan hadn't asked a million times by now because she's a huge planner when it comes to our trips! Usually she likes to know every detail. So, I told them, we were on deck 7 and to walk ALL the way to the front. 

They were thinking we were all going to be pretty cramped in one small cabin, but since the pricing was so great when I booked I was able to get one of the Family Ocean View cabins! They were shocked when they walked in! It was HUGE!

The living room

The view out the window towards the front of the ship

The main bedroom

The kids bedroom

The bathroom was the same as standard bathroom as far as I know

The living room from another angle. I'm not sure, but the sofa may turn into a bed.

The balcony - this was the smallest part of the "room"

You can't really tell from the picture, but behind Keith is a metal "wall" and it curved out over the side so that our balcony was sort of covered on one side. It was the first one on the ship and it made it almost feel enclosed. We just didn't use our balcony as much as we've used our balconies on our other cruises.

The best thing about this cabin was the huge amount of space. The tv was in the living area so no one kept anyone awake at night. We weren't living on top of one another. Our stuff wasn't all over the place. There was plenty of closet space.

But the cabin wasn't without it's problems. Even with all that space, and as lovely as it was...would I book it again? Hmmmmm.....

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cruising out of Miami on the Celebrity Reflection!

Our journey begins!  We're sailing away on the Celebrity Reflection, out of Miami and heading to the Eastern Caribbean!

We chose this cruise solely for the Top Chef aspect. It was initially going to be just a getaway for Keith and I but at the time we booked, there was a great deal for the third and fourth passengers, so it seemed like a no brainer to bring the kids since they love to cruise! And with the Top Chef experiences, I knew it would be fun for them!

Would I be right, or would they be bored on the "grown up" Celebrity ship????'ll have to read on to see! I will admit, Alex was concerned. He loves the teen clubs on the other ships and he knew that school was in session so there wasn't going to be many kids his age on board. And his fear was having to spend every moment on the ship with his sister! The horror! It wasn't the lack of a rock wall or ropes course or water slides that concerned him, but the lack of potential other kids his age.

So, our story begins!

We had an evening flight out of PHL into MIA and it was delayed, just a bit. Made me glad that we didn't fly in the day of our cruise though!   

We spent the night at the Intercontinental Hotel which is right by Bayside. 

It was quite busy when we checked in. The first thing Alex said was that it definitely did not feel like a hotel for "kids" - too many adults going out on the town. Too chic. He thought it seemed to set the tone for the entire trip. Too grown up. He was starting to feel a bit discouraged. But he's a bit like that. 

We walked over to Bayside the next morning and grabbed a bit to eat before boarding. With the new staggered boarding times we weren't scheduled to board until close to 2:00. At first I was a bit disappointed by this, but in the end, it was nice to have a leisurely morning and not have lines checking in on the ship.

Whenever there is talk about sailing with kids on Celebrity, there is talk about taking them out of school! It's an interesting topic isn't it? My kids do Cyber School and are lucky enough to be able to take it on the road. I was super proud of the kids that they worked on some assignments while we were gone.

Checking out the view before heading out for the morning

The lobby of the Intercontinental

went to college in Miami, (cough ahem a somewhat long time ago now) but I always love coming back and visiting the places I used to hang out with my friends! So going over to Bayside which is sort of like what it was so many years ago brings back a flood of memories for me! 

 And there's my group with the Reflection in the background!

Bayside Park

Heading back to the hotel to pack up to leave for the cruise!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Catching up! And what's up next....

It's been almost a month since my last post!  Again, a bad blogger.....sometimes life just gets busy it seems!  There's been a lot happening, and that's always a good thing!  I attended my host agency conference in Vail, CO in October and that was a wonderful experience.  I had the opportunity to meet with many of the representatives from the resorts, tour operators and cruise lines that I work with.  It's great to put faces to the names!  And there were great educational sessions as well!  We even had a short time to get out and check out the Vail Village. 

By the time we left the next morning, there was even snow on the ground!  

Since I've been back, it's been a process of putting all of the great knowledge from the conference into practice.  That's always a bit overwhelming, but it's a great time to run with that motivation!  One thing that I've been wanting to do, and hopefully I will be able to start in the next month, is a monthly newsletter.  So if you would like to subscribe, please click the Subscribe to Newsletter link in the sidebar and you'll be all set!  Just a once a month email with some destination highlights, maybe a recipe and some general travel talk!  

So, what's coming up next?  I'm super excited to be leaving bright and early Sunday morning for the Riviera Maya for a destination training trip.  The Riviera Maya is one of my favorite locations and it's also one of the places that my clients tend to travel to most frequently!  I will have the opportunity to visit TWELVE resorts in just a few days so that I can get first hand details on the properties.  Not only will I get to tour the general areas of the resorts, but see the various room categories.  

It' going to be a whirlwind trip for sure!  But one that I know I will get so much from!

And then, when I get home, I will turn around, and leave the next day for our upcoming family vacation - the much anticipated Celebrity Cruise with the Top Chef contestants on board!

During this cruise we will be participating in a cooking class with Top Chef Winner of Season 5, Hosea Rosenberg, and we will be participating in a special dinner event with Top Chef contestant Casey Thompson!  There will also be other Top Chef events held during the cruise as well.  

All in all, it looks to be a fantastic November!  Filled with what I love, traveling!  And of course I will be sharing my adventures here!  So, keep an eye out for all that is to come and thank you for being patient during these long breaks between posts!