Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Annual Get KO Out of the Cold Getaway

Ahh - February, time for KO to get some sunshine. For my birthday Michael treated us to a 4 day cruise to the Bahamas on NCL Sky.

We landed in Miami at 11am on Friday and by noon we were on board the ship sipping complimentary champagne. It was the easiest embarkation process. We carried on all of our luggage (which wasn't very much - it was just a 4 day trip). And we had no problem getting the Rum Runners through security.

It was pretty funny, as we were walking on to the ship with our bags some guy behind us made sure to let us know that we were going to have to carry our bags around until our cabin was ready. Basically we had 2 wheeled carry-on bags and one tote bag - we were fine. I'm pretty sure our luggage for the entire trip was less than what I carried on for my two previous cruises. The guy actually seemed annoyed that we didn't care, he was loud and very New York and the rest of the day we ran in to him repeatedly.

The ship was open and airy with nice decor. It had a tropical vibe that was a mix of Hawaiian and Caribbean.

We sat out by the pool and had lunch and about 1:45 we headed to our cabin. As we were unpacking we heard someone trying to get in the door. Michael went to see what was going on and there was another couple insisting we were in their cabin. Well considering our keys worked and their keys did not work I was pretty sure they were in a different cabin. Even though the husband was sure we were in the wrong cabin or that it was double booked, the wife pulled out their reservation information and lo and behold they had the wrong number. Hee!

We found a great sun deck in the forward part of the ship and started to soak up the sun even before we pulled out from port.

It was in the high 60's - so a little chilly and it was very windy as we left Miami.

As we pulled out of Miami the sun was setting behind the city. It was really beautiful.

NCL offers 'free-style' cruising, which was perfect for us. We could go to dinner any time and at any restaurant - no assigned dinner time or tables. If you were travelling with a group I think an assigned time and table is easier; the bigger the group the fewer choices the better. But for the two of us it was great. While exploring the ship we found the library tucked behind Captain Cooks Bar (a great little inside bar that offered live piano music at night). In addition to books the library had a great selection of games and puzzles. We spent some time the first night in a heated competition of Battleship. Thanks to our Rum Runner supply we had cocktails and games! I think I won 2 out of 3, but I don't exactly remember. I do remember I wouldn't let Michael look at the picture below until we were done playing. I couldn't give away the position of my ships! We tried to play Uno, but there were too many directions post-cocktails.
That night we ate dinner in one of the two main dining rooms: Palace. The decorations reminded me of Crystal Palace in Disneyland. The menu choices and service were both excellent. The next two nights we ate at the specialty restaurants (read additional fee required). Le Bistro, the French restaurant, had delicious food but our server had a bit of an attitude. Cagney's, the steakhouse, also had delicious food and our server was excellent. Michael's steak was not as good as my steak at Cagney's and we were both annoyed at the added fees. You had to pay $25 to eat there and then if you wanted surf & turf or crab legs you had to pay an additional $10. In my opinion if you are paying an additional fee they need to work the menu so there are no extra charges. I did take some photos of our food, but they all look terrible. It is so hard to get a good picture of dinner - food stylists must have such a hard job!

The photo below is a Coast Guard ship stationed in Nassau. I liked it because of the name "Chandeleur" - it made me think of Mel's kitty Chandler and that if he was French he would be le chat Chandeleur. And Michael liked that you could be in the Coast Guard and stationed in Nassau.
We were able to pull right in to port in Nassau - no tender required. It was beautiful outside. The Atlantis resort is in the background of the photo below. I had two things I wanted to do in Nassau - visit the famous Straw Market and visit the Atlantis resort.

We hit the Straw Market first - what a waste! I had an image of women sewing together palm leaves to make fabulous hats and bags. I even remember when Mel's parents were in the Bahamas and her mom picked out this straw topless hat with red straw roses on it for Mel - I had grand plans of finding something just as special for her. Apparently the original Straw Market burned to the ground in 2001 and now it is a swap meet type collection of booths packed with knock-off hand bags and crappy souvenirs. Once I checked that off the list it was time for Atlantis. You have to either take a cab or a ferry over to the resort. We chose a ferry, it was on 'island time' and we had to sit on the boat until they packed it full of suckers, oh I mean tourists. On the ferry ride the is a 'tour guide' who is compelled to tell you about all of the celebrities that have homes in Nassau - Nick Cage, Oprah, Barry Bonds - I'm pretty sure if they ever did own a home there it was a long, long time ago. I mean if you're Oprah you've got your own island far away from any tourist operation.
Atlantis was well themed, clean, and expensive. There isn't too much to see if you aren't a hotel guest or paying over $100 for the water park ticket. The casino was smaller than we expected and the lowest minimum bet at a blackjack table was $15. Wuh wuhh.
They did have huge aquariums that were absolutely stunning. In the photos below I tried to capture shots of the huge manta rays swimming in the aquarium at the hotel entrance. There were two and the largest one must have had a wing span of at least 10 feet.

The second, and last, port of call was Great Stirrup Cay - NCL's private island. It wasn't quite Castaway Cay (Disney's private island), but there are worse ways to spend a day. They had chairs, umbrellas, and hammocks waiting along the white sandy shores. The water was a little too cold for our taste, which was disappointing because we had our tubes blown up and ready. They served a nice bbq lunch and the ships band entertained with live music all day.

It was a great 4 day get away - we really made the most of our time. It felt like we really got a nice long break even though it was only two days out of the office. I think the Disney cruise was still the very best in terms of ports, ship decor, and food. I would rate NCL over Carnival in terms of ship decor. Between Carnival and NCL the food is kind of a toss-up - Carnival had better lunch selections but I think dinner was better on NCL. NCL had great bars and lots of options for live music, but Carnival had a much better cruise director (but really, who could top Butch?) and better on-board activities. If I had to choose between the two it would probably come down to price, they offer relatively the same experience so I would go for the better price. I'm so glad we didn't go to Montreal (which is originally what I wanted to do for my birthday)! It was great wearing sandals and getting a little bit of a tan.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Christmas 2008

Of course the holidays started off in NYC. It is an amazing place during the month of December - every window has lights and decorations, there are craft fairs in all of the parks, and I can't get enough of classics like the Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center.

This year Tony Bennett performed at the unveiling of the windows at Bloomindale's. I tried to make it down to see the performance but I was too late - wuh wuhh. I did pick up the CD of his Christmas classics and it is wonderful. The Bloomies windows were my favorite this season. Each window was based on a classic Christmas song and was done in a 50's nostalgic style with Tony singing in the background.

The Macy's windows were fun, but just too over the top for my taste. They featured crazy alien type characters making Christmas decorations. The best part of the Macy's window was the interactive toy crane - from the outside of the window you could work the controls to pick up a ball that became a star for the top of a Christmas tree. I always try to view the windows during the week after 8pm, the crowds are so much better compared to the weekends. When I was there no one was around and I could work the crane without cutting in front of some kid. My first try failed, but on the second try I picked up the ball and it became a star - I was so excited (of course there was no one around to share my enthusiasm). The night I went to see the Macy's windows there was a performer on the subway singing 'Happy Christmas' by John Lennon accompanied with just his acoustic guitar. His voice was amazing, it was such a magical moment. When he came looking for tips I threw a $5 Dunkin' Doughnuts card in his hat - then he stopped to talk to me. Apparently no one had given him a coffee card before - I really wasn't expecting to chat, no chatting just sing! Moments like that make me appreciate the experiences of living in NYC.

The rest of the holidays were spent in CA. About a week in San Diego - working and baking. We had a solid cookie exchange this year; Linda's perfectly decorated Santa face cookies were back along with Roni's nutty thumbprints, Mel's citrusy and delicate spritz cookies, and Bex wonderfully dipped peppermint Joe-Joes. I enslaved T&M for a night and they helped me bake all 13 dozen of my chewy ginger cookies. I love the way my cookies taste but hate the presentation. I got the best cookie cutter for Christmas this year - it is a gingerbread man wearing Mickey Mouse ears. My plan is to experiment during the year and figure out how to make them for the cookie tray. I also received Martha Stewart's Cookies cookbook for my birthday - there are some amazing looking cookies that might need some testing before I settle on my cookie tray selection. Bex and I made fudge to round out the tray - unfortunately at least in my cookie package the peppermint fudge contaminated the rest of the cookies with peppermint taste. No more peppermint fudge, it's banned along with the peanut butter blossoms. Bake and learn....

After SD it was off to spend some time with the fam. It was a relatively quiet Christmas for the O family, but that also meant it was quite relaxing.

We had a delightful intimate dinner party celebrating MomO's b-day. I introduced them to my new favorite way of cooking veges - oven roasting (and it was a big hit).

Jason started up the fireplace, and with a snap and crackle we were opening presents and having fun withe Rudolph antlers (even Alfonse the boxer got in to the holiday spirit).

(Yes Bex, you do seem a glimpse of those infernal stockings in the corner of the fireplace and on Jason's lap below - just when you thought they were gone!)

Little CJO was looking pretty darn cute in his Christmas plaid Mickey Mouse pj's. He's all boy and pretty much only wanted to play with his remote control car and big dump truck. 2 years old and he had no problem figuring out the remote control car - he'll be the kid you hear about on the news, backing the car out of the driveway when he's 7.

Yes, the antlers and blinking red nose!

And BDO too....

As promised Alfonse the boxer. Deemed the best dog in the world by BDO - no barking, no mess making!

Merry Christmas indeed.