Saturday, February 28, 2015

We've left the Reflection, but the vacation still continues! Onto Miami!

So, after our final night, all that really was left was packing up and leaving! First, our vacation wasn't over though - we had one more day in Miami and one more night too!  But before we get to that - some final thoughts on the cruise and the Celebrity Reflection!

First, as I mentioned at the beginning, we booked this trip solely for the reason that it was a Top Chef cruise. Keith is not a fan of cruises, but he agreed to this one because he's a chef and he liked the idea of the Top Chef activities since we're both fans of the show. Also, we'd been on the Eclipse previously and did enjoy the quality of the food and the experience in general. Initially just the two of us planned to go as our "grown up away from the kids" vacation, but when I booked, there was a special that made it really a no brainer to bring the kids - so it became a family vacation. 

I had some doubts as to if the kids would have enough to occupy themselves with three sea days on Celebrity. We had recently been on the Norwegian Breakaway and that ship really shines when it comes to activity! Also, it being during the school year, when we boarded we found out there were only 13 teens on board, including our kids. In the end, they did end up going to the teen club and it gave them something to do at night. They enjoyed the smaller size and while the scheduled activities weren't always done, they liked the kids they met and enjoyed the staff there quite a bit. Because it was the Top Chef sailing, our sea days were often occupied with those activities or we went to the pool together as a family. Both kids really loved the dining options on board - everything from the buffet to the specialty restaurants, and while they admittedly felt out of place at times, being amongst the youngest passengers on board - they definitely enjoyed this cruise. 

In contrast - we just sailed on the Allure and returned mid-February. And I'll be writing that review as soon as I get myself a bit organized! But as a quick comparison on the teen club anyway - there were over 400 teens on board. Also a week where school was in session. And my kids really were very unimpressed with the teen club on board. They went the first night and went back once or twice and left right away both times. They said the scheduled activities never happened because "most" kids didn't want to do them. A small group did, including them, but since some kids didn't want to, they weren't done. So - no scavenger hunts or Amazing Race or games - just kids hanging out in the club talking. They didn't want to spend their vacation doing that with these kids. So - we spent the vacation mostly together and that was fine too. However, it was really unexpected. They figured with so many kids, the teen club would have a lot going on and they'd meet some kids and become friends for the week. Didn't happen.

Ok - moving on! Our cabin - while we loved the space in the Family Cabin - it had severe noise issues. Not just the docking noise, but the slamming and banging I mentioned early in the review. I definitely think there should be a disclaimer when booking this category, similar to how some cabins are notated as obstructed view - this one should says - may experience severe noise. It was really so bad at times that it was difficult to be in the cabin. And at night, sleep was just pretty much impossible when it was crashing. If I had small children, and seeing it's called a family cabin, someone in that cabin could very well have young children - I would have been very unhappy....But we survived. 

We thoroughly enjoyed all of the Top Chef events. While the "pay" events were pricey, we knew that going in, and we chose to participate in them. We thought they were worth what we paid and we have been on a similar cruise in the past that had a Food Network Chef on board and the events were priced very similarly. I loved the variety of the demos, which were free and the quick fire was fun to watch as well. And it was great that with the cooking class and the dinner, the chefs were so accommodating and friendly with everyone in the group. 

Also, it seems that as a result of this Top Chef cruise, Alex has really taken a liking to cooking! Having a chef for a dad, he's always had the cooking thing around him, but I think actually cooking in a professional kitchen, and it may sound odd - but with a chef other than his dad - as well as seeing the cooking demos - it really sparked an interest for him. He's been cooking a meal once a week since we've been home. A lot of fish dishes, with side dishes even! A great side effect from the trip!

We chose to carry our own luggage off the ship on Saturday morning, so we had a leisurely breakfast at the buffet and walked off around 9:30 I believe. We were spending one last night in Miami. I won't post all of our pictures and details of that day - unless someone asks....but lets say that I went to college at the University of Miami, so part of our day included a visit to my old school!

We stayed at the Intercontinental hotel again, so we took a cab from the port over to the hotel.  They have a car rental agency right in the lobby, so be picked up our rental and off we went!  Boy, each time I have the opportunity to go back to Miami and drive there, it is so different!  Sure it was the late 80's early 90s when I went to school there, but really, do the roads change?  It all just looks so different every time!  But we got to the campus, and parked and I felt totally lost!  Crazy....the school was the same, but so very different.  We were last there either three or four years ago.  But I love bringing the kids and just walking around the campus and sharing some of my memories from the four years I spent there!

I used to live in one of those towers back there - good times!

The new Rathskeller - I guess it's new and improved - there's an outside patio now anyway!

Yes boys - another picture!!!  And where did that fountain come from?

And this?  I think I remember the buildings, but the tables?  The fountains? The circular things?  Pretty sure they're new too!

And then of course we hit the bookstore and stocked up on our Cane's wear! Part one of our day in Miami was great. 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Top Chef at Sea...last day at sea, 11/21/14

So, it's been quite some time since I had a chance to continue our journey!  We were away on another trip...which I'm super excited to share as well!  

But first, there's still a few more days left on this trip to experience!  So let's move along! I'm always a bit down on the last day of the cruise! Aren't we all? But today would be a pretty exciting day, as far as Top Chef activities go, so that had something going for it. I really didn't take too many pictures though because pretty much they really all started looking the same! We really covered most of the ship, and the cooking demos looked about the same, just different chefs!

But we did have a great day! So - to start off, I'm sure we had breakfast in the buffet. That was our thing and we always tried to get a table outside. Based on the pictures, we ended up on the lawn. I do believe we went out there to try to play bocce. However, no one knew where the balls were - we asked and were told that "someone" would get the balls so we could play, but no one did. Which honestly I guess was just as well, because the area where the bocce could be played was lined with people sitting and smoking. Sort of an odd set up. My kids are super sensitive to cigarette smoke, and they really wanted no part of being there with the smoke. 

So, we hung out up on the lawn for a bit.

These are the alcoves you can pay to reserve for the day if you'd like

It must have been staring at the Lawn Club Grill that gave Alex the idea, but tonight Keith and I had reservations for our Top Chef dinner. The kids were supposed to just go to the buffet on their own. But Alex and Megan really enjoyed their dinner last night, so he asked if they could possibly go the the Lawn Club again tonight, on their own. Really? Well....ok - I would just have to figure out how they could pay for it since neither of their Sea Pass cards are activated to charge and I didn't want to give Alex one of our cards since if they do bring up a picture it wouldn't be him. So I went over to the restaurant and talked to someone there and they of course were thoroughly confused. I guess a 15 year old and 13 year old dining together was something totally new to them! They did assure me that if I gave Alex Keith's card he'd have no problem, but I was still hesitant. I decided to go to Guest Relations and just authorize Alex's card for charging, it was the last night and really - he's pretty trustworthy! Now, Megan on the other way! Too many high end stores for her to shop in!

So I was pretty happy actually that the kids were going to have a nice dinner and Keith and I were going to have a great one!

So, our next stop was Casey's cooking demo!

So in going back over my pictures of this day, I mentioned I don't have many. Turns out I have exactly one from Casey's demo. I guess at this point, the demos really did start to look the same from a "picture" perspective, even though they all were really unique to attend. If you are into cooking that is!

So here is Casey talking about her dish and cooking

I remember loving her demo. She made Coq au Vin, which was a great change of pace from the last two fish dishes. It was so "homey" and elegant at the same time! She told us about how it was a personal favorite dish of hers, not one that she just threw together at a quick fire. It was a family dish that she loves, not just ingredients she threw together.

However, being this chicken dish, no one from the audience got to go up to taste it because there was no way it was cooked through in that short time! But it sure looked and smelled good!

So, after her demo, we finally made it out to the pool. This was the first time the entire cruise we made it into the pool! And wouldn't you know it rained! But we made the best of it! The four of us played some volleyball - in the rain, in the pool. It was quite difficult, being that there were only 4 of us, and we're so not skilled at this, and it was raining! But we had fun!

And then before long, it was time for Shirley's demo!

She made a take on a traditional Chinese egg and rice custard type dish. And her sort of twist was to have someone from the audience come up to help her with her dish. 

Overall all four of the Top Chef demos were really fun. I loved the audience interaction with the chefs. And each dish they made was really unique. These demos were a great addition to our time on board!

Our last big event was our dinner with the Top Chef. We had chosen our Private Dinner with Casey. These were extra charge events, where the demos were free for anyone on board. The dinner was held in the Tuscan Grill and while Casey wasn't cooking the meal, she had met with the chefs in the restaurant and they would be preparing the dishes she chose for us. She and her boyfriend ate with us, and there were 5 other couples dining with Keith and I, so it was a really nice, small group. The dinner was amazing. Not just the food, but the conversation we all enjoyed.

Casey did feel that the food wasn't prepared quite as she would have made it, but she admitted that it's difficult to give up control and be a guest while others prepare her food! Everything was cooked very well, and if we didn't know what she would have done differently, we would have thought the meal was cooked to perfection. She didn't provide us printed copies of the menu, so I really can't remember exactly at this point what we had - but I do have some pretty bad pictures of what we ate. I didn't bring my good camera, and this one just doesn't take the best pictures!

So this was a lobster risotto, and there were even gold flecks on it!

I want to say this was a Bison Steak with mushrooms and fingerling potatoes, the sauce was fantastic! And the steak cooked to perfection.

This was a panna cotta with a granita topping. There was some fruit on top, which I can't remember. There was something missing that Casey told us was supposed to be there, as well - but again - it's been months since we had it! But it was really great just as it was!

We had wine throughout the meal, and like the cooking class, got another Top Chef apron! This may have been quite an expensive dinner, but again, we did choose this cruise because of the Top Chef events, and for us, this was really a fantastic meal and conversation. Well worth it for us!

After dinner we went back to our cabin, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed their night out at the Lawn Grill. They ended up with the same waiter we had the night before, so he remembered them and took care of them. They made their own pizzas again, and this time tried some different sauces for their steaks. 

Now it was time to pack. Tomorrow, we say goodbye to our cruise. Sad...but we do have one last day and night in Miami!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cooking with a Top Chef at Sea!!

It was now time for our Top Chef Cooking Class! This was something I was really looking forward to. And something that I really debating paying to have the kids participate in. On the one hand, the whole point of picking this cruise was for the Top Chef activities and to not sign them up seemed like they'd really miss out. But on the other hand, this was a pretty expensive event! Would they enjoy it? But really, we pay for excursions on port days, so I had to look at it as this was like an excursion. Would it be worth it? Let's see.....

I chose to do our cooking class with Hosea. I'm not really sure why, but I just had a feeling that the class with him would be most relatable for the kids. So, we were told to meet at the Murano Restaurant. When we arrived there was a group of maybe 20 there, and as I thought, my 2 kids were the only ones there, but that was fine. We had a brief introduction and were led into the kitchen.

There were stations set up with most of the food already pre-chopped and Hosea told us briefly what we'd be doing. We were going to be making his Smoky Tomato Soup. There was actually a bit of grumbling among some in the class that we'd "only" be making tomato soup...but in the end, I do believe that everyone agreed that with a group of this size, everyone had ample opportunity to participate and making one course was plenty. 

This was how our station was set up

Alex jumped right in and started helping...he really took a liking to cooking with Hosea!

A bit more of the instruction..

Keith and Alex cooling down the cilantro oil that we made

He kept it quiet, but Keith is a professional I think Hosea was glad to have someone who could just "do the next step" while Hosea moved on to teach the next step to the rest of the class.

Some more of the ingredients

Alex cooking down the tomatoes

It was about here that Alex remembered Hosea saying we'd add chicken stock, yet as of yet we hadn't added he asked him when it would be added and Hosea laughed and said, oops...forgot to add it, back to the pot, let's add it now!

Megan stirring the soup

The finished product, with the cilantro oil garnish

So, when we were done cooking we all sat down to eat. In addition to the soup we just made, this was our menu

The kitchen staff made the rest of the meal, which was delicious.

During the meal, Hosea sat at the center of the table, and we all talked and he answered everyone's questions about pretty much anything! We talked about his time on Top Chef, his new restaurant, his cooking name it! It was really a unique experience and one that I'm so glad we did!

We all got a souvenir apron which he signed if you wanted. And I loved that after the meal, Alex went up to Hosea and said "I don't really like tomatoes and I'm not a fan of soup, but that was really good! I ate the whole thing, thank you!"

All in all, the cooking class was a great experience for our family!

After our cooking class, I really couldn't tell you what we did - I'd imagine it was our usual routine...Keith and I probably grabbed chairs on deck in the sun and read. The kids went back to the cabin.

Tonight we had dinner at the Lawn Club Grill, so eventually we had to get ready for that!

Here are just a couple of pictures of the ship at night on our way to dinner.

The fountain in the Solarium area

And so we arrived at the Lawn Club! What a great concept this is! Here you can grill your own meats, and make your own pizza! Alex and Megan made their pizzas and their pizza "guide" I'll call him was really funny. Megan couldn't quite get her dough rolled out without it tearing and it was really cute how he'd help her patch it up. 

First he had them press it out into the oval

Then he showed them how to toss it from hand to hand...note how skeptical Megan looks about that step!

Next he's showing them how to hold their fingers just right for pressing it out into a bigger oval

And then, just rotate it, it will get bigger

Or maybe a hole as big as a nose?

They did toss it in the air, which I only have on video and didn't upload - but that was pretty funny! The end result was pretty good!

Then they got to put their sauce and any toppings they wanted on!

We didn't grill any of our own meats, but the pizzas turned out great! And the meats we got were really good. The atmosphere there was one of our favorites!

As the name implies, you are eating outside, up on the lawn area.

While we were eating, someone had a bit of a problem tossing their pizza...

They had to get it down with a pole! And as you can see, adults were making the pizzas, definitely not just an activity for the kids on board...which I mentioned before were few and far between!

After dinner the kids and I went to the show - tonight was the Reflection Show, the "rock" show with acrobat acts. Alex and I liked it more than Megan. Megan is a theater kid - she does all kinds of musical theater, dance and loves all things Broadway. I think by the 3rd show with the same performers, singing just different music she'd pretty much had enough. To her - this was just a repeat of the exact same show that the "pop" show and the "Broadway" show was with different music, and to be honest, she wasn't real impressed with any of them - yes, at 13 she's a bit critical! I can see her point - as compared to some of the cruises we've been on, I do feel the entertainment was lacking on this ship. But, I can be pretty easily entertained and I can't say I didn't enjoy the shows. I liked this one, the rock one best of all three of this type.

I thought the talent of the acrobatic/cirque type performers had was pretty great!

The pictures are quite lacking though!

And after the show, we were met with this guy tonight!

So that's the end of our Thursday at sea! Only one more real day of the cruise. Today was really one of the best days! While I love port days and generally cruise for the port days, today was really cool. The Top Chef cooking class was great. And I was so glad to have made the decision to not only bring the kids on the trip, but to have them do the class. To get to see them cooking, especially when their dad is a chef - well - that was really special! And not only that, but the fact that my picky kid - Alex, actually ate what he made! And dinner at the Lawn Club was probably the meal that the 4 of us had together that we liked the most. It definitely was my kids favorite meal! Both the dining experience and quality of the food. So, an excellent sea day today!