Seven Savory Eateries on Norwegian Bliss

With the biggest eating holiday of the year upon us, today seemed like a good day to write-up our dining experience on the Norwegian Bliss! Before we get there, however, I’ll point out that I’m only covering the specialty restaurants we chose to eat at, not any of the free options. We did eat at The Local, Taste, Savor and even the Manhattan Room one night, which were fine, but the specialties are what really stand out with the Norwegian Freestyle experience.

The topic of specialty restaurants sometimes sparks some lively discussion regarding the perception of nickel-and-diming by the various lines, and I have no illusion that some will be turned off by me only covering those here. As ships have gotten bigger, the number of specialty restaurants on board has grown too, giving the lines additional revenue opportunities. In the past we rarely ate at specialty restaurants, save for the occasional steakhouse on a special occasion, but those were few and far between. That all changed on our Norwegian Escape sailing three years ago when we decided to give some of the restaurants on that ship a shot, and we were not disappointed! With another sailing on Norwegian, purchasing a dining package was a no brainer for us. If you’re looking for ideas of places to try on the Bliss, read on!

Q Texas Smokehouse

This is one of the three places we chose to use our dining package on, and frankly I wasn’t sure what to expect since the reviews all seem rather mixed. After we were seated, the waitress came by and explained how things worked with the dining package, and I have to say, I was unprepared for what this would mean to my stomach. Before we get in to this, take a look at the menu located here. You get as many appetizers as you want, an entrée with as many sides as you want, along with a dessert. If you looked at the menu, keep in mind that you can get the Pitmaster Platter as your entree too!

As shown in the pics below, I started with the Deviled Eggs and Loaded Chips. For my entrée, the Beef and Pork Sausage Platter with corn on the cob and mac & cheese as my sides. Everything was delicious, especially the deviled eggs and sausage. By this point we were both stuffed, but knowing we still had a dessert menu to look at, we soldiered on. The decision really wasn’t that hard. Jen went with the Mason Jar Bread Pudding, and I chose the Bread Pudding w/Whiskey Sauce. Yowza they were good. This proved to be an excellent start to our dining experience on the Bliss!

Le Bistro

Night two brought us to the one place I was a bit apprehensive about, Le Bistro. I say that because I don’t really get too adventurous with food. I know what I like and I tend to stick to it, and knowing this was a French venue had me concerned that I’d have a hard time finding something I liked. Boy was I wrong!

We used the dining package for this one as well, and as before, the waitress said that we could choose more than one appetizer if we wanted to (menu for reference). I chose to only have one due to my aforementioned pickiness when it comes to eating. Frankly, I didn’t see anything in the list I really wanted, but chose to try the Gratiné A L’oignon (Onion Soup), and I was glad I did. I’m not a big soup fan and I don’t like onions, which should have been the death knoll of this choice, but it was outstanding! Following my delicious soup, it was entrée time! This was a bit easier, as I’m all about some filet mignon, so I went with the Filet de boeuf grillé. Again, excellent! Easily the best filet I’ve had on any ship we’ve sailed, and it was cooked to a perfect medium rare as ordered. Once we finished the entrées, it was time to choose our dessert. Jen chose the Chocolate Fondue for Two, and I went with the Profiteroles. Both were excellent, but I learned I need more profiteroles in my life. Those things were soooo good.

This restaurant is situated in a quiet nook on deck 16, and isn’t really a place you wear shorts and t-shirts to. If you’re looking for a nice quiet, romantic meal aboard the Bliss, this is where you want to go! I should also mention that the service in Le Bistro was some of the best we’ve experienced at any restaurant, land or sea. This is near the top of my all-time favorite shipboard eateries!

Teppanyaki

Night 3 brought us to one of the venues we’d been looking forward to since we booked this cruise, Teppanyaki, which was also the last restaurant on our dining package. As mentioned in the Escape post, this was one of the best Japanese steakhouses we’ve ever eaten at, so we were hoping the Bliss version of it would live up to that. Spoiler alert: It did! That garlic fried rice is some of the best out there, and once again, my filet mignon was cooked perfectly. As the chef doles out certain items like rice, he cooks extra in case anyone wants seconds. Jen and I took him up on that for rice, and somehow I got a lot of extra filet. A couple of minutes after serving me my helping of steak, he sent another round my way. What you see in the picture below is only the first helping. I had almost double that shortly after the picture was taken!

Excellent food, excellent service, and a great show from the chef left us happy with our choice once again. Teppanyaki is definitely a favorite of ours and one I highly recommend trying if you sail a Norwegian ship that has it!

Cagney’s Steakhouse

On the 4th night of our sailing, we were invited to Cagney’s as part of an industry-related meeting, so we were on someone else’s tab for this one :). We’d eaten here on the Escape and enjoyed it, but hadn’t planned to eat here until we got the invite. This is an easy one for me to find food I like, as I’m very much a meat and potatoes kinda guy.

Starting off, I went with the Pork Belly appetizer and Iceberg Wedge salad (menu for reference). Both were tasty, but those pork belly squares are a home run! For my appetizer, surprise, another filet! While it was cooked medium rare as ordered and tasty, the filets at Le Bistro and Teppanyaki were definitely better. This just seemed a little dry to me, so it was nice to have the chimichurry sauce to go with it.

The desserts here were pretty good, with my chocolate cake being really, really rich. One of the other people at our table got the warm brownie dessert, and I think we all wished we’d have gotten it after sampling it, super tasty!

Food Republic

After we sailed on the Escape, this was just below Teppanyaki as one of my all-time favorite restaurants on a ship, so I was very much looking forward to eating here on the Bliss. This one’s not part of the dining packages, it’s an a-la-cart fusion restaurant that combines various cooking styles and culinary traditions set in a venue that offers plentiful sea views. On the Escape, I really enjoyed the Wagyu bone-in rib-eye, and I was a little disappointed when I saw that wasn’t on the menu anymore, but my disappointment subsided as we started ordering. Here’s where I remind you that it’s a-la-cart, and the bill can add up pretty quickly as you start ordering things for yourself and things to share. I should also link to menus for this place (these are not my menu shots, sy the way): Handhelds/Sharables, Rice/Noodles/Grill, Drinks/Desserts. We did order more than we really needed, but it was really tasty and I’m pretty sure we finished everything. From the Korean Fried Chicken to the Peruvian Beef Skewers, Chicken Teriaki, Kimchi Fried Rice, ending with the Baklava, everything was delicious. To me, this is a must-visit on Norwegian ships that have it!

Los Lobos

We’d originally intended on using one of our three dining credits here, but got a last-minute industry invite, so this ended up being another one we didn’t have to pay for. Huge thank you to our hostess for the invite, we had a great time here!

Los Lobos sits at the back of the ship next to Cagney’s, and is considered upscale Mexican. Jen’s a taco lover, and I’m always up for a good burrito, and Los Lobos didn’t disappoint. I started things with one of their signature drinks, the Luna Margarita, which was excellent! The Burrito Rojo (which I ordered with ground beef) was quite delicious as well, as was the queso we had to dip our chips in to start things off. Unfortunately, all I have pictures of here are the margarita and burrito, as we were focused on the food and discussions around the table, and I forgot to snap the room or appetizers. Oh well, next time! Here’s the menu for reference too. If you’re in the mood for Mexican food, give Los Lobos a try!

Margaritaville

The final stop on our specialty dining tour was at Margaritaville. When we sailed the Escape in 2015, there was no additional charge for this venue, but that led to huge waits for seating, as mentioned in my past post. Shortly after that sailing, they instituted a small charge (compared to the cost of the other specialties) to eat here, $14.95/pp + 20% gratuity. We never noticed a wait or full seating here, so I’m not sure if the charge has taken things too far in the opposite direction, but we decided to eat here for lunch the day we were in Ensenada.

I tend to stick with the staples when we eat at Margaritaville, and this visit was no different, a Cheeseburger in Paradise followed by that signature Key Lime Pie for dessert (menu for reference). I also went with a watermelon margarita to drink, and while it was good, seemed a bit small for the price. I’ll also mention that this was the only venue we had service issues in. There were very few patrons in there while we ate, but our server still seemed overwhelmed, and things like refills proved fairly elusive. At one point we had to track down another server to get additional drinks, and later our bill. Questionable service aside, the food itself lived up to the Margaritaville name. I could really go for another slice of that key lime pie right about now!

That brings us to the end of our Norwegian Bliss specialty restaurant tour. With all of the paid restaurants we visited, we only ended up in the MDR one night, and while it was fine, I’d have been happy to visit any of the above venues again instead. Whatever your opinion of the specialty dining craze, I recommend giving any of these a try if you’re sailing a Norwegian ship that has them!

Credit to EatSleepCruise and CruiseCritic for the menu pictures I’ve been linking to.

 

 

MSC Divina: The Food!

We’re now on the last day of our current sailing on the Divina, and with some free time while we’re docked in Nassau, I figured it was time for an update! The past four days since my last post have been a whirlwind of fun, and being totally exhausted from it, I hope this post makes sense. This is the first time in four sailings on the Divina that we’ve done this itinerary, and even though we had fun on the previous three, it was, in some ways, a nice change of pace, but three back to back ports where we spent a lot of time in the sun has me a bit, well, off ;). I’ll save the port-specific stuff for a later post and focus this post on the food and dining service on board the ship this week.

When we sailed over Christmas in 2015 (our only other non-Yacht Club sailing), we were assigned to the Black Crab restaurant, and if you saw my recap post, it wasn’t the best experience. It felt too crowded, service was really slow, and the food was hit or miss. This time around, we’ve enjoyed the MDR experience so much more. We’re in Villa Rosa this time, and were assigned late dining. At first we considered requesting a change to early seating, but after our first meal decided we against that, as we really like our table staff, Erwin and Noel. They’ve done an awesome job all week, so I’m glad we chose to stick with the later seating even though we prefer to eat earlier. The food itself does seem better than last time, but still has hit or miss moments. Take last night for example (as seen below), the 90-day aged carpaccio was excellent, but the beef wellington was just okay, as it was a little tough for my liking. I’d say most of the nights have been like that, but I’d say that’s par for the course with the main dining room on any contemporary line. Feeding 4000 people isn’t an easy task, and frankly most of it’s been pretty good all things considered! I think the only real complaint would be from Jen. On the 2015 sailing, the tiramisu parade was followed by the waiters cutting slices from the ones they paraded around, and she absolutely loved that specific tiramisu. This time, you don’t get served from the paraded ones, you just get pre-sliced ones that she says aren’t nearly as good as the ones on that Christmas sailing, so Italian night was a letdown for her.

As mentioned in my first post, we also decided to try some of the specialty restaurants onboard this time. With the current dining plan pricing, it just seemed like too good of a deal to pass up. We chose the 3 meal plan at $50/pp, which gave us a night in Eataly Steakhouse, Galaxy Restaurant, and La Cantina di Bacco. The first two do require reservations, but having never seen either of them busy, we didn’t bother to get any reservations ahead of time. The plan was to check out the MDR menu each day and decide based on whether or not we wanted anything on that menu. The first night we ate in one ended up being the first formal night, and for that we went to the steakhouse. Beef? Yes please! On the dining plan, you get something off the appetizer or pasta menu, one entrée, and one dessert. As shown below, I went with beef carpaccio, filet mignon, and the bomboloni (donuts with ice cream). It was all very good!

Next on our specialty dining tour was Galaxy Restaurant. We did this after our stop in Cozumel, again because there was nothing on the MDR menu that really called out to us. We didn’t call for a reservation until after we got back on the ship, but were able to easily get a table at 7pm. Arriving at the restaurant, we were seated at a spot by the window with an amazing view, and given our Samsung tablet containing the menus (ordering from a Galaxy tablet in Galaxy restaurant, clever 😊). Now at this point the one annoyance of the evening hit, as it took almost 40 minutes for our server to take our order, which seemed odd considering there was only one other group in the place, but other than being slow, the experience in Galaxy was great.

On the dining plan, you get one thing from the appetizer menu, one from the pasta menu, an entrée, and a dessert, so one more course than we got in the steakhouse. I admit that going in I was a bit concerned about this one, as my daughter and I are picky eaters, and I having seen the menus ahead of time, I didn’t think there was anything on the appetizer menu we’d eat. I decided to put that aside and try something new, so for my starter, I went with the duck breast morsels. I’d never had duck before, and frankly I’m not a big fan of bird meat in general, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, it was absolutely delicious! The teriyaki sauce on it was excellent as well. For my pasta selection, I decided on the homemade tagliatelle, and the pork in it was cooked to an almost bacon-like consistency. If this dish was the only food I had in here, I’d have left stuffed and happy! For my entrée, the tournedos of Angus beef, which was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and on par with the filet I’d had at the steakhouse a few nights earlier. My final course was the moelleux au chocolat, basically molten chocolate cake in vanilla sauce. Amazing, absolutely amazing. The warm chocolate gushed out of the cake as soon as I cut the firstbite, and when combined with the vanilla sauce the taste was just perfect.

The entire meal was excellent and well worth the money in my opinion. I really don’t understand why the steakhouse and Galaxy restaurant aren’t busier, they’re both great!

For the final meal on the 3 night dining package, we had lunch at La Cantina di Bacco. We decided to go the lunch route specifically so we didn’t miss out on another evening in the MDR. In lieu of individual pizzas off the menu here, we chose to go with the meter of pizza. We’d done this once before and loved it, with it being my favorite of the three different pizza styles you can get on the ship. Keep in mind that this isn’t traditional pizza, and as such, more traditional American toppings like bacon or pepperoni aren’t available. For the meter of pizza, you can divide it up into 4 different sections, with different flavors on each. We ended up with prosciutto on two sections, one margherita section, and a four-cheese section. Each and every one was delicious!

The dining packages at current pricing definitely seem to be worth the money if you’re looking to try something outside of the normal main dining room. We all agree the food was excellent, and provided a nice smaller venue free from the noise of the MDR. The only exception was Galaxy, where people kept cutting through to get to the virtual world area, but even then, that was only a small distraction. Why more people aren’t giving the specialty restaurants a shot is beyond me.

Moving on, the buffet. This is one of the places where I immediately started missing Yacht Club. I’m a breakfast eater, and love grabbing some eggs, bacon, bread, etc, and finding a quiet spot with a view to enjoy the morning. Well, unless you get up early, that’s not a thing in this buffet. One of the key things I mentioned in the posts after our first sailing in 2015 was the layout. The way the room is set up, you can easily end up trapped behind slow moving people when moving between stations, or when looking for seating. It can be extremely frustrating trying to navigate the room during busy times, so if a crowded buffet isn’t your thing, go early or late. Exact times for that are hard to pin down, as it changes based on whether or not you’re in port, and I’m sure it changes with different passenger demographics. On the first sea day, I went up around 9am or so, and it was pretty busy. I didn’t even bother waiting for pancakes, as that station was just a sea of people. On port days? Yea, either go an hour before you dock, or some time after. In Ocho Rios I got up there about 15 minutes before we docked only to find all bread stations almost entirely empty. Now today, I waited until about 15 minutes after we docked and it was just fine. Plenty of food, and a small crowd since most of the ship was making their way into town by this point.

As far as quality of the food goes, I’d say it’s pretty standard buffet food. The scrambled eggs have been good, the pancakes, when I did make it there, were delicious, and the bread was pretty good. The one day I had bacon it was a little undercooked for my taste, but still had a good flavor. Then there’s the pizza. Ahh, the pizza. This was my first stop when we got on, and one I made almost every day at some point. I consider their pizza to be the best I’ve had at sea, and the buffet pizza is just as good as the meter of pizza we had at La Cantina di Bacco. If you only eat one thing off the buffet, make it the pizza!

I think that about covers it for the food this week. The very noticeable improvement in MDR service has been a welcome change from 2015 in our eyes, and we couldn’t be happier with our dining staff. Aside from that, I highly recommend trying the specialty restaurants when sailing the Divina, as they offer some delicious food in a smaller, quieter setting. If we have the opportunity to sail the Divina again, I’m planning to give the Italian venue a shot, as it was the only one we missed this time.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow morning we disembark and drive home, and while I am sad in a way, I’m also ready to rest for a few days. We’ve kept ourselves busy all week both on the ship and in port, and frankly I’m exhausted! Here’s hoping debark and the drive home are both uneventful tomorrow!

 

 

 

 

Oasis Of The Seas: Day 2 Is In The Books!

Our first sea day here aboard the Oasis was both fun and frustrating at times. If I’ve learned one thing that needs to be passed on, it’s that anyone sailing a ship in this class needs to ensure they bring a large amount of patience. Between the elevator waits, buffet lines, and overall crowds in some areas, there are times where you really see the downsides of being on such a large ship. So how did the day go? Let’s take a look!

As usual, I woke up early, getting out of bed at 7am, throwing some clothes on, and heading to Windjammer for breakfast. At this point, not many people were up, so the buffet was pretty dead, and I was able to get a good seat:

I was a bit disappointed in the quality of breakfast up here, as the bacon and pancakes were both pretty soft (the pancakes a bit under-cooked). I didn’t even bother with the waffles, as they were way too soft for my liking. This seems to be a common theme with cruise ship buffet waffles, and while I get that it’s hard to cook for this many people, would it kill a line to cook at least one batch of waffles long enough for them to be golden brown?

Regardless, I decided to head for the Promenade to fill my soda cup, as the Freestyle machines in Windjammer were in bad shape (all out of ice, one totally unresponsive to touch). Arriving at the machines outside of Sorrentos, I found one out of both ice and low/no calorie soda, which brings up my next gripe. I understand all too well how these work, so I know they can be problematic, but keeping it full of ice shouldn’t be a big deal (the same one was still out of the same two items at 11am), and as it happens, the machines are set up to electronically inform someone when a soda cartridge is almost empty, so unless they’re not set up right, someone should be pretty aware that servicing is needed. The other machine was fully operational, so I grabbed a Pibb Zero (with ice) and decided to check out the walking/running track on deck 5. Pretty cool use for the space, as I’ve found the equivalent deck on the last couple of ships we were on to be totally dead most of the time. There were quite a few people out there making use of it, too.

After walking it once and strolling around a few other areas, I headed back to the room, where the girls were starting to wake up. After getting ready, they wanted some food, so I walked back up to Windjammer with them. As soon as we arrived, we turned right back around. Yea, if you want to eat at the buffet, get there early. The line of people waiting for a table was pretty long, and considering it was something like 10:30 by now, there’s no way all of them got in before it was switched over to lunch. In our opinion, the Windjammer is way too small for a ship with 6200+ passengers. It’s the smallest buffet of any ship we’ve been on in the last 5 years, which seems really odd considering the passenger count.

The buffet plan thwarted, we headed to the café in Central Park, which turned out to be a good call. There was hardly anyone there, and we were all able to get something pretty quick. It’s not a full buffet, but does offer enough selection to be a decent substitute for waiting in some other line. I ended up getting a bacon egg and cheese biscuit, which wasn’t too bad.

Our lunch over, we did a bit more walking around, including passing back through the Promenade as some “sales” were happening. Wow, the crowd…

At that point we headed up to the zip line area to see if we could get a run on it in, but the line for waivers was ridiculously long, and the zip line had already closed for the morning. Side note here, you’re supposed to be able to sign the waivers electronically on the TV in your room, but it fails every time once you get past the general waiver, at least for us. Oops. Anyway, knowing we’d have to wait in that line to sign up to ride it after it opened back up, we decided to wait on the waivers, too. We were just past the start of lunch at that point, so we headed to the Solarium Café to check out the eats there. All in all, not bad, just more limited choices than what you’d see in Windjammer. Following lunch, we headed to the room to rest up for a bit. We had a few things on tap starting at 2, so getting in a little break sounded good to all of us.

Our schedule this afternoon had us in the Schooner Bar for a couple of hours enjoying some trivia. First up was the progressive, and while we don’t know what score we have currently, felt like we did okay. Following that was brain-teaser trivia, and we ended up being declared co-winners of it after tying another team with a perfect score, followed by both of us getting his only tie-breaker correct. The prizes included highlighters, zipper pulls, and even a backpack/water bottle. In our final round, the cartoon music trivia, we didn’t fare as well, but really weren’t too far off of the winning score (I think we lost by two). Not a bad afternoon, but I will say that we all agree the trivia sessions on the Divina were a lot more fun and lively.

After everything in the Schooner was over, we headed for the boardwalk, where the Daily Planner indicated we’d find some pirate themed stuff going on. Nope. The staff had some kids activities going on, and the performers were practicing in the Aqua Theater, but no pirates were found anywhere. Oh well, we hung out and watched the diving practice. They really are amazing. I have no doubt it takes a lot of guts to jump off those high platforms…

Next on tap was dinner, so we headed back to the room to change. Tonight was the first formal night, too. Dinner itself was good once again, with the highlight for me being the beef tenderloin and the bittersweet chocolate soufflé. Oh, and the birthday cake, which was finally delivered to the table tonight, complete with a round of singing. I have to say, the chocolate celebration cake on Royal’s gift site is absolutely delicious!

After a quick trip to the room to change in to more comfortable clothes, we headed to 4 so Bayley could get a pic with Alex the Lion from Madagascar. Yea, even at 20, she loves character pics! That pretty much capped the night for me, as I was feeling pretty tired. The girls participated in Majority Rules (which they said was “just okay”, again, not as good as on the Divina), and walked around a bit before calling it a night.

Day 3 brings our first stop, Labadee, Haiti, which is Royal’s private island. We’ve got the zip line booked, and plan to enjoy the beach the rest of the day! More to come!

 

MSC Divina Day 5 – Port Fun!

The end of day 5 saw us ready for the upcoming sea day, giving us a chance to sleep in and recover from the past two days. Back to back port days can be exhausting, especially when you have a couple of pretty active excursions planned in each port. Before I get to that, another nice thing about being in Yacht Club is the butler escort off of the ship when you’re in port. Last time we sailed this itinerary, getting off in St Thomas was really, really slow, even though we waited a half hour or so after debark started. This time, I have no idea how long the line was in either port, we just got off. You meet a butler at the concierge area on 15, and he escorts you down to 4, out a side door right next to the gangway, stops one of the lines so his group can (more or less) cut in, and you then have your card scanned and get off the boat. If you’re on an MSC excursion, he’ll escort you over to that meeting point as well. All in all, less than 5 minutes start to finish. Very nice benefit! Here’s our butler, Jacques, after escorting us off the ship in San Juan:

 

For both of our first two stops, we (and by “we”, I mean Jen) booked independent excursions with an outside company, Island Marketing. We’d never used them before, but the reviews were good, and the excursions were things that sounded like a lot of fun. They didn’t disappoint, either. So what did we do at each stop?

St Thomas: After arriving in port and walking around the shops a bit, we grabbed a cab and headed for Oasis Marina Cove. We were booked on a snorkeling excursion with Captain Nautica, and had to meet there at 11:15am. Turns out, the rest of the people in our group (off the Norwegian Spirit) didn’t arrive until after 12, so we were there a bit early. No biggie. After everyone was there, we were given a bit of a talk on what was going to happen, along with a safety briefing. This wasn’t just a “hop on our boat and we’ll take you to a cove” excursion, we actually got to drive our own Zodiac over to Christmas Cove for snorkeling. It was a bumpy but really fun ride over and back in the little boat. I think it took around 25min or so to get there, and about the same to get back. Somehow I managed to keep Jen and Bayley in the boat, a tough task with all of the waves we were jumping in that thing :).

The snorkeling wasn’t bad. Not a lot of fish, but plenty of sea turtles, and even a couple of small stingrays! One of the guides was swimming around checking on people, and even grabbed my GoPro and swam down next to one of the turtles to get some video. One of the shots below (right next to the turtle) is a screengrab from that clip.

All in all, it was a really fun day in St Thomas. The guides were awesome, and it really wasn’t a crowded trip. There were 16 people, including us, on the excursion, and the cove had hardly any other tourists in it, so it wasn’t like Buck Island where you have a whole lot of excursions crowding you. I think we’d all recommend Captain Nautica to others coming here!

 

San Juan: Again, Jen booked us through Island Marketing, this time on a rainforest hike in El Yunque. The rainforest excursions are a popular thing on the cruise ships, but most of them only take you to a couple of stops, and maybe a small walk, and usually you’re in a larger bus with a bunch of people. Not us. We were in a van with a family of 4, also off of our boat (their first cruise!). We did have a longer ride to the park than expected, but only because a tree was blocking the main road, and our driver had to find a back way in. No problem, he got us in, giving us a history of the island along the way.

Once there, we stopped at a local food stand to get a pre-hike snack, which consisted of some local, really delicious food. I had a pizza turnover, Jen had a beef taco, and Bayley had a chicken taco. All really, really good. After eating, we then headed to Yokahu observation tower so we could walk up to the top and check out the view of the surrounding area. I haven’t pulled any of the pictures of that off the GoPro yet, but when I do, I’ll be posting them on our Instagram feed. The top of the tower provided some awesome views of the mountains and coast. Incidentally, the MSC tour of the rainforest was there at the same time as us. One thing we learned with their tours, they send one of the ship’s photographers along to take pictures of the guests, a nice touch we haven’t seen from any other line we sailed.

Our walk up the tower over, our guide took us over to the trailhead. We had a 1.5mi hike ahead of us, and he estimated it’d take us about 1h 15m, maybe a little longer. He gave us instructions for hiking down to a waterfall, then back up another trail, and told us he’d meet us at the top of that other trail at 1:15pm. His times were pretty close to accurate, too. It was obviously quite wet on the hike, but we were ready for that. We walked down the first trail to the waterfall, stopping along the way to enjoy the river and other scenery. When we got to the waterfall we didn’t go in the water, as it had rained pretty hard the night before and the water was moving at a good clip, but we did walk out on the rocks on the left hand side for some pictures. After a short stop there, we walked up the other trail. This portion got pretty steep in some areas, so if you do a trip like this, just know that hiking down means you eventually have to hike back up, and be prepared for it. We got back up fine, but there were a few other people (not in our group) who really looked like they didn’t want to be there anymore.

Once the hike was over, we headed back to the little food stand we’d stopped at before, this time to enjoy more of a lunch (the previous stop was unplanned, but the little boys in our group were hungry. Fine with us, that place was delicious!)

 

We’ve really been having a lot of fun on this trip on the ship, too. We attended the Flower Glory party on the evening of the second sea day and somehow managed to get caught up in a bunch of the video from it since we were out on the dance floor for most of it, but did miss the white party the night before San Juan. Just too tired to make it to 11pm. Last night we caught the Italian party, which was a blast too. The entertainment team really goes the extra mile to make sure everyone’s having fun. In one of the shots here, Carlos has loaned me some of his gear at the Flower Glory party 🙂

 

One more note – As previously mentioned, our Maitre’ D has been great. Another example, we decided to eat dinner the past couple of nights with a two other people we know onboard, also in Yacht Club, and without warning the first night, he set us up pretty quickly in Le Muse. He always has a smile on his face and is constantly walking the restaurant checking on his guests. We couldn’t be happier with the service in Le Muse!

That’s about it for now, but we have the final sea day on tap, along with a stop in Nassau. We’re not doing anything in port this time, just getting off so Bayley can get her hair braided, then spending the rest of the day on the boat. Figured we’d rather have another “sea day” than do anything here.

Oh, and if you’re not following us on Instagram / Twitter / Facebook, you’re missing out, I just posted a comparison of our YC1 balcony to the one next to us. Yes, it’s YC1 as well, but about half the size! (for reference, a deck plan of our deck). Follow us to see more from Yacht Club!

Disney Dining – Round 2

With everything going on the past couple of months, I haven’t had time to cover our Thanksgiving trip to Disney World, so it’s time to fix that. First up, our experience with the Plus Dining Plan, which gives each person on the plan 1 table service meal, 1 quick service meal, and 1 snack for each night of your stay.

This is our second time using the dining plan, but the first using one that included table service. As mentioned in my June post, I was iffy on getting the dining plan again, as I felt that I ended up eating a lot more unhealthy food than I would have without the plan, but the decision was made to go with the higher level plan this time around to see what we could get out of the table service meals.

We did a lot of planning for this, and I mean a lot. Jen was on the dining site nightly for several weeks trying to get our table service schedule just right, and in the end it paid off. We ended up with several character meals, including one for Thanksgiving dinner! Here’s a quick look at where we used the table service credits:

Be Our Guest: This was actually done as a quick service meal, but it was so much better than the first time that I wanted to include it. We were scheduled for an 8:00am breakfast here on our first day, the same time the Magic Kingdom opened. The nice thing about making dining reservations for that early is that you end up in the park before everyone else. There’s a separate line for those with dining reservations, and if I recall, we got in to the park about 7:50am to make our way back to the restaurant. They do have cast members along the way keeping an eye to be sure no one’s headed in a direction they shouldn’t be, but getting in the park that early is awesome. Here are a few shots of the (mostly) empty park I took along the way to the restaurant:

IMG_1564IMG_2734IMG_2739IMG_2741IMG_1578IMG_2744

Additionally, we were second in line at BoG, so we got through ordering pretty quick and were able to easily get a table in the West Wing near the rose. The food was decent, too. I had the croissant doughnut, which was very tasty.

IMG_1541IMG_2758IMG_2760 IMG_2762IMG_2763IMG_1549    IMG_2766

Donald’s Dining Safari Thanksgiving Lunch at Tusker House Restaurant: This was (obviously) our Thanksgiving lunch, scheduled for 2:45pm. We’d had an awesome day already at Animal Kingdom, having done the Wild Africa Trek first thing that morning (I’ll cover that in my next post). We got to Tusker House around 2:30 and checked in, and maybe waited 5-10 minutes to be seated. The buffet itself did have some changes to it, with traditional Thanksgiving items laid out in addition to some of the normal menu items. One note here: the dessert table isn’t well placed, as it always seemed to have a line, and that line runs in front of the table that holds things like the South African preserves, Tabbouleh, and Hummus, which my wife was disappointed to discover only after she was full since she never saw those items until she went for dessert. Still, it was a fun Thanksgiving lunch, complete with Donald Duck and Friends!

IMG_1650IMG_1665

Fairytale Dining Breakfast at Cinderella’s Royal Table: Yea we did, and you should too! This isn’t an easy reservation to get, but Jen’s perseverance with the Disney Dining site paid off. Also note that this counts as two table service credits per person. We had a 9:05am reservation, and checked in slightly before that. After a short wait outside, were taken in to the lower waiting area where you meet and have your picture taken with Cinderella. After another wait for your name to be called, you’re taken upstairs to your table. The entire place is well done, with attention to detail in every aspect of it. Just like every other character meal, as you eat, the various princesses make their way around the dining area and stop at each table for pictures and autographs.

IMG_3146 IMG_3167 IMG_3176 IMG_3183IMG_1706

Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner at 1900 Park Fare: We did this the same day we did Cinderella’s Royal Table, so it was a princess-heavy day. We were second in line at 1900 Park Fare when it opened for dinner, and for those with little ones, I highly recommend being there for the dinner opening. The little girl in front of us got to help them open the doors. Here, that means saying the magic words, and having Cinderella and Prince Charming open the doors, welcome her in, and lead her and her family to their table. I can only imagine how much that meant to her, so for other parents who want a shot at this for their kids, opt for the 4pm reservation and be there early!

Food-wise, it was the best buffet we had. The meat on the carving station was perfectly cooked, and everything else I had, including the mashed potatoes, was excellent. As we ate, Cinderella, Prince Charming, the step sisters, and the wicked stepmother made their way around. The sisters and mother were hilarious, too, as they were perfectly sarcastic to everyone they talked to. Case in point: when the red-headed step sister came over, she took one look at Bayley’s red hair and said: “Look at your hair color, it’s like we’re better than everyone else!”. At one point, one of the step sisters passed a crying baby a couple of tables over and loudly said: “Stop crying, you’re fine!”. Really funny stuff, everyone we saw was eating it up!

IMG_3306 IMG_3307IMG_1726

Princess Storybook Dining Lunch at Akershus Royal Banquet HallOkay, maybe we went a bit overboard on the princess-themed character dining, but we really wanted to try Akershus. It’s similar to Cinderella’s Royal Table in that after you check in and have your name called, you have your picture taken with a princess, which in this case was Belle. After being seated, it’s the typical “eat while characters come by” setup. The food was pretty good, too. The appetizer portion of the menu is buffet style, with it being a “Taste of Norway” setup with meats, cheeses and seafood, among other items. There are two sides to the buffet table, with both sides being identical. This isn’t clear at first, and results in people walking the whole thing, slowing down the line as they cut in to see what’s on the opposite end. Somewhat annoying, but oh well. From the entree menu, I had the Traditional Kjøttkake, which is Norwegian meatballs on mashed potatoes. D-e-licious!

IMG_3419IMG_1771

All of the table service meals were great, as was the Be Our Guest breakfast using quick service credits. Our other quick service meals were at places we ate last time, including Wolfgang Puck Express at Disney Springs (still the best value for quick service, imo), Pizza Planet, and Contempo Cafe. All good stuff, I just didn’t feel the need to cover them again. We were disappointed in the specialty cupcake selection this time, as Pizza Planet only had a Thanksgiving-themed pumpkin spice cupcake (left pic), which was just okay. Contempo did have a few more options, including the creme filled cupcake I got (the chocolate one below). Mmmmmm.

IMG_1790 IMG_1591

In the end, I felt the same way about this dining plan as I did in May with the Quick Service plan, that it’s not something I feel it necessary for us, but it may very well be a good option for a larger family. After everything was calculated, we’d saved close to $300 total by getting the dining plan (vs paying for each place we went outright), but then again, it’s highly unlikely we’d have done this many character and quick service meals, or even gotten as many snacks as the plan offers, so who knows if we would have even spent as much on food as the dining plan cost. I’d say that in both cases, the dining plans just “enabled” us to eat at more of the park options than we would have otherwise. I did enjoy it more this time, due in large part to the table service choices we made.