Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mt. Snow: The First, the Last, the Ugly.

I'm going to keep this one short and sweet.

Mt. Snow in Vermont was the first place I ever went skiing, and as of today...it's actually the last place I ever skied, as well. Which is severely unfortunate on both accounts...because I do not like Mt. Snow.

The first time I was there it was my dad's choice--I suppose because it's one of the Vermont mountains that's closer to where we lived at the time. The second time it was a combined, discussed choice of my boyfriend and I, again because it was the closest mountain that wasn't Berkshire East in Massachusetts (which we had already visited two or three times that season).

Both times, Mt. Snow was overcrowded and, for the mountain size, overpriced. And both times, the state of the trails was deplorable. Seriously, one would think that between 1999 and 2009 they would have learned how to (a) use snow machines and/or (b) groom their trails properly. Apparently not, as the trails consisted of far more ice than snow.

The one redeeming quality is that the last time we were there, they had one of those waffle stands. Those things are to die for. That said, if you live in Mass or Connecticut and are looking for a nearby place to ski, Berkshire East is in my opinion far superior to Mt. Snow (both in price and trail quality).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hotel Review: Holiday Inn Charleston (Historic District)

This is by far the best Holiday Inn I have ever stayed in. Although the decor wasn't exactly my taste, everything was spotlessly clean and well kept. The employees were extremely friendly and helpful, especially the concierge! We had the most amazing tour of the city thanks to him. The service is free and I highly suggest that anyone who stays in this hotel utilize it!

The location of this hotel is also good. Although a little further of a walk from the main shopping and sightseeing areas than some of the other historic district hotels, the walk was an easy one and the hotel was basically right across the street from Marion Square--great for visiting the Farmer's Market there early on a Saturday.

Parking is on-site and the rates are the usual for Charleston. There's a pool as well, but I stayed here in December and it was closed for the off season. The rooms are quite large, especially for a downtown hotel.

The one semi-complaint I have is the "Best 4 Breakfast" rate. DO NOT BOTHER BOOKING THIS PACKAGE!!! It is a total waste of money. Their breakfast, while decent, is nothing amazing, and the prices are so low that unless you order 3 entrees and 2 drinks off the menu you will never come close to spending the $20 per person that is allotted to you with this rate. For instance, if the room would normally cost you $179.99 per night, with this package it costs you $219.99 if you have 2 people in the room. So there is no discount or deal and as I said, it is very difficult to rack up a big enough breakfast bill to get your money's worth--because they don't reimburse you for any monies you do not use.

ETA on 1/24/2011: Please note that this hotel has changed ownership and is now a Courtyard Marriott. Despite some research I can't seem to find any updated information or reviews on the hotel, whether or not they still offer the concierge option etc. However, I can attest to the fact that the location is great and as the rooms were quite comfortable I doubt they have made any negative changes to those.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Live from Las Vegas!

Greetings from Sin City!

I'm on day 2 of a great little group trip to Vegas, and other than being, well, somewhat hungover, things are great. Let me tell you, it pays to know people in this city and shout out to my friend Becky for putting me in contact with an old friend of hers who works at Rain at The Palms :)

I wanted to write a quick note because I have to admit that I made...well, I guess a rookie mistake. Last night. We piled into a cab at our hotel (The Mirage, of course!) and I clearly asked to be taken to The Palms. The cabbie mentioned that the Strip was really backed up, so I said to just take us whichever way would be least expensive. So he went out the back exit and took some roads and drove through some parking lots...I mean, I could see the casinos around us but I had no clue where he was going. We approached a big building from behind and we were all too busy talking to pay attention...so when the cabbie said that we'd arrived Jenna paid him and we piled out.

I immediately knew that something was wrong, and then I noticed that the doors had the word "Rio" printed on them! I turned to flag down the cabbie again--but no can do, he was gone!

I have no idea why he dropped us off at the Rio. I mean, Rio and Palms don't even sound alike! What I do know is that even a few blocks (but most especially Las Vegas blocks) walking in four inch heels does not do much for one's comfort :-/

Just goes to show you that even a five-time Vegas veteran makes mistakes!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How I Fell in Love with South Carolina

Summer 2005: One of my first (amazing) trips to Myrtle Beach!
When I was younger, South Carolina was never one of those places I had a burning desire to see. I think at one point my parents talked about a trip to Myrtle Beach—maybe when I was in middle school. But that vacation never came to fruition, which is why I was 22 before I ever saw more of South Carolina than the immediate 95 south corridor.

My first actual visit to South Carolina was a trip to Myrtle Beach with my sister. She was checking out Coastal Carolina University and I was just there to be company. It was a chilly weekend in mid-April 2005, and after just two nights we were both hooked—despite the fact that it was too cold to enjoy the beach.

Beautiful Falls Park in downtown Greenville, SC
Thanks to my sister’s relocation to “the Beach” for school, 2005 and 2006 were comprised of numerous visits to the Myrtle Beach area, and when my parents moved to Greenville it wasn’t long before I decided to relocate as well. My relocation led to more trips to Myrtle Beach as well as weekends in Charleston, but it wasn’t until I was forced to leave Greenville for work that I realized how much I’d taken for granted while living there. I vowed that if I was able to move back, I would do everything in my power to explore as much of South Carolina as possible.

As is evidenced by my blog Connecticut Yankees in South Carolina, I did get to move back—and I was able to bring my then-boyfriend, now-husband Steve with me. We’ve now been here just over a year and we have done just what I swore to do: explored much of South Carolina, especially Greenville, and fallen in love.

One of the amazing houses on the Battery in Charleston
I won’t claim that Greenville has the attractions of Charleston or even Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head. Living here is what drew me to South Carolina and what kept me here, and of course I believe it’s an amazing place to visit. At nearly 28, Myrtle Beach no longer holds the attractions it once did, so let’s say you came to visit South Carolina. Where would I suggest?

Playing the "Mouse game" in downtown Greenville
Well, if you want a beach community with a nightlife, Myrtle Beach it is. But if you want a beach community in a quiet, beautiful setting, we have Hilton Head, Edisto, and Folly Beaches. I have to claim ignorance about Columbia, but Charleston can certainly give you your fill of history. Go there and walk the Battery, visit the open market, take a pub or martini tour with the Lesesne Tour Company. Shop on King Street, take a nearby plantation tour or even go see the Confederate submarine Hunley.

And if you want to see the new South—a city that almost died with the local textile industry but was instead brought more to life than it ever was before by an influx of new blood and new ideas—come to Greenville. Catch a baseball game with the Greenville Drive, a Red Sox farm team that plays in a field built to resemble the infamous Fenway Park. Come to Greenville and walk the Liberty Bridge, our very own unique suspension bridge. Come to Greenville and visit the many local shops and restaurants along our beautiful Main Street. Stay at the historic Westin Poinsett, built in the 1920s, and stop by one or more of our museums, including a Confederate Museum, Upstate History Museum, or even the Bob Jones University Museum & Gallery, which has an extensive art collection. We have a surprisingly enjoyable "hidden mice" game downtown called Mice on Main that's even fun for us big kids ;o)

Fluor Field - our "mini Fenway" in Greenville
Really, the wonderful thing about South Carolina is that our state has a great blend of old and new. Even the old places like Charleston have learned to adapt; and the “new” places like Greenville have learned to hold on to their roots just tightly enough. And even better, in three hours you can drive from a beautiful coastal city, one of the oldest in the South, to a great little city at the base of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

South Carolina is easy to fall in love with and truly not a place anyone should miss visiting. I can only hope that in the future people won’t just stick to the coastline, as if it weren’t for Greenville I never would have known just how great this entire state is ;o)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Disney Dining Plan

Last year, it just so happened that Disney was offering their dining plan for free right when we wanted to travel. Of course we couldn't say "no" (it being free and all), and we therefore had four nights at the Caribbean Beach resort with the dining plan and premium tickets (4-day park hoppers with water park access) for just about $1200.

Just for reference, four nights on the regular dining plan (I think they call it "deluxe" now, though, as they offer a completely quick service dining plan these days) gets you four snacks, four quick service meals, and four full service meals--per person.

Therefore, we utilized our dining plan as follows:

2 quick service breakfasts at the Caribbean Beach Food Court
Other quick service meals at the Liberty Inn Restaurant (shared one meal), Yorkshire County Fish Shop (shared one meal), Pizzafari
Full service breakfast at The Wave at the Contemporary
Full service lunch at Les Chefs de France
Full-service dinners at Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and O'Hana

Now, some thoughts on the food.

The day we went to MGM I was starving when we arrived, and for some reason all I wanted was a pretzel. We stopped at Anaheim Produce on Sunset Boulevard--no pretzels. We walked down toward Tower of Terror, but there were really no other food carts and I only wanted to use a snack from the DP. We finally gave up and walked back to Anaheim Produce--still no pretzels, and they couldn't tell me when they would get more. I gave in and got the veggies and ranch dip. They were rubbery and not very good but whatever, it was something in my stomach without having to use a whole quick service meal from our dining plan.

At dinner that evening, I was pleased to learn that Sci Fi allows you to order one of their milkshakes as a drink with the dining plan...you really can't beat their cookies and cream shakes! I had a pretty decent Reuben sandwich and Steve had a pasta dish that was pretty good. Personally, I prefer the meatloaf and fried chicken at Prime Time (plus the s'mores for dessert!), but Steve chose the Sci Fi because he's a big sci fi geek.

Our next day was spent at Epcot and we started with lunch at Les Chefs de France. Overall, I was pleased but not amazed. I don't understand why at the Sci Fi, I could get a milkshake for my drink (their milkshakes cost, what, $5+ if you're not on the dining plan?), but I couldn't get an espresso or cappuccino at Les Chefs as my dining plan drink! I had to get the regular (read: crappy) Disney coffee. At least the french onion soup and croque monsieur I had were delicious...but my suggestion is to pass on the creme brulee. You would think that, in the French restaurant, in the France pavilion, they would make a proper creme brulee...not so much. Steve spent a year in France as an exchange student, so he (and myself, now) know what a proper creme brulee is. The one served at Les Chefs was just...not good. It was supposed to be a vanilla creme brulee, but had no vanilla taste to it...it just tasted like regular old custard. Also, it was obviously broiled or something of the sort, and didn't have nearly enough sugar on top. When you use enough sugar and a blowtorch, the top of a creme brulee is a thin layer of sugary delicious crust. Les Chefs de France's version was weirdly spotty on top and burnt in places...no crust at all. Even if I didn't know what a real creme brulee was supposed to look and taste like, I wouldn't have enjoyed this.

For our full service breakfast, I had the Eggs Benedict and although the sauce was a bit different from what I'm used to (it wasn't your usual hollandaise), they were still very good. I also tried my boyfriend's breakfast (spinach & feta cheese scrambled eggs) and they were good as well. If you're not big on buffets and plan on spending the day at MK, I definitely suggest hopping the bus to the MK, walking over to Contemporary, and eating here!

We had chosen a big breakfast for our Magic Kingdom day because our dinner at O'Hana that night was scheduled at a very late time (despite calling nearly 3 months in advance, the only dinner reservation we could get for our anniversary--which we really wanted to have at O'Hana--was at 9:45 at night!!!). As always O'Hana was delicious, though, and worth the late meal :o)

On our very last day we ate at my favorite Animal Kingdom restaurant, Pizzafari. I was relieved that they still had one of my favorite Disney meals ever...the Hot Italian Deli sandwich! Turkey, ham, Swiss, provolone, pesto sauce, tomatoes, and Caesar salad on muffaletta bread...yum yum yum! Unfortunately the breadsticks weren't as good as I remembered, though.

I like how having the dining plan allowed us to eat so many full-service meals and still save money, but I'm not sure it's a necessity if you, like us, don't need to eat as much food as they provide. I also have to admit that I think the dining plan's popularity has seriously cut down on the quality of a lot of the food at Disney. The best example of this is the desserts at the quick service food restaurants. As recent as 2008, many quick service restaurants still offered their own desserts, different from those at other quick service restaurants at Disney. Sure, some of them were repeats, but it wasn't the same exact thing at every single place. Every time we used a counter service meal, they forced the dessert on us. Seriously, there was no saying no. This must turn into a huge waste of food, because the desserts are awful and after trying each of them once, I simply couldn't force myself to eat them anymore. But when I tried to tell the cast members that I wouldn't eat it, they seemed shocked and said things like "but you have to order a dessert! your meal comes with it". So I would choose one of the two awful options and end up throwing it in the trash.

(The choice of desserts, by the way, was an obviously pre-made apple dumpling thing that was served hot in some places, cold in others, and a pre-packaged chocolate "cake" that I wouldn't serve to my worst enemy.
If you're going to force me to take something I don't really want, at least make it something I would actually EAT.)

I guess it remains to be seen if we will choose to book with the dining plan for our next Disney trip...

Monday, December 13, 2010

How Many Bars of Christmas? (A Pub Crawl Story)

Last year about this time, Steve and I headed downtown on a cold Friday night to grab a couple beers at Blue Ridge Brewing Company. While we were there, a very rowdy crowd of people wearing garish t-shirts stumbled in. Their shirts proclaimed that they were part of the "12 Bars of Christmas" pub crawl, and all we could say was, "how did we not know about this?"

At On the Roxx
I immediately Google searched the pub crawl and happened upon their Facebook page...and so it was that a year later, we came to be not just idle passers-by but actual 12 Bars of Christmas participants. We purchased our shirts and donned our Christmas colors this past Saturday, arriving at bar #1--Liberty Tap Room--just before 6 PM for the start of the crawl.

I don't think I need to detail every stop that we made. I will say that although the beer prices on the specials list were good, it was a bit disappointing that there weren't some better liquor specials, especially considering the number of people participating in the crawl. Also, it sucked that the third bar we were supposed to stop at--a place called Crossroads--apparently closed recently without notifying the pub crawl organizers. C'est la vie, and that brings us from 12 bars to 11 for the night.

It was at Connolly's, an Irish-pub/hole-in-the-wall type bar, that our pub crawl ran into another (and much smaller, mind you!) pub crawl. This one was some sort of Santa Claus crawl, but either there weren't many people participating or not many of the participants chose to dress up. Still, we did see some great (for lack of a better word) costumes, including Ralphie from A Christmas Story, Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation, and my personal favorite--Buddy the Elf from Elf! (best Christmas movie ever, don't bother arguing with me)

I'm in love, can't you tell by the look on my face?
We made it to Liberty Tap Room, On the Roxx, Connolly's, Wild Wing Cafe, Barley's, and Rey's, but about the time we were supposed to hit up Hoops & Hops some sorta something set in...and I lost Steve. After numerous confusing phone calls, he finally realized that he was supposed to be at Hoops & Hops and arrived in time to guzzle the beer I'd bought him before we had to head across the street to stop #8--Corner Pocket. We had yet to visit Corner Pocket but we truthfully weren't impressed. I know they were having to deal with a hell of a lot of people that night, but they had known about this beforehand and didn't have enough bartenders or enough good bartenders (seriously, I don't know if I've ever been ignored that long at a bar in Vegas!). One quick drink and we decided to hit up the next stop, Sharkey's, in hopes of having a bit more luck.

Oh hey, decent beer! (at Barley's)
Our friends Sara, Mike and Damien who were participating in the crawl with us were able to find a table at Sharkey's (!!!). They were going to order food, but apparently the kitchen was closed? Not sure what was up with that, as it was only about ten PM? I could have sworn I've ordered food there that late. They were doing karaoke (!!!) but--and I can't believe I'm saying this--I was far too drunk to participate. I had to hold Steve back from putting my name in, and it was about this time that I suggested moving on to City Tavern.

Except that City Tavern is a small bar, and we could tell just by a glance that there was no point going in. At this point we just walked over to the last bar on the list--The Gathering Spot (or, more affectionately, the G-Spot)--and therefore the 12 bars became 10.

My "I didn't even drink this crap in college" face
I honestly have no idea how we even made it to G-Spot or managed to have a beer there. I have no idea how we can easily make our way all the way around the world at EPCOT (11 countries, drinking everything from margaritas to wine to daiquiris to beer), but we could barely handle the mere 10 bars we made it to Saturday night.

Are we just getting old? Sigh.

We made it! Well...sorta.










In the end, we had an absolute blast and we will participate in the crawl again next year, if only because it was fun to have reason to be bar-hopping while wearing hideous t-shirts.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Greenville's Tree Lighting

Last Saturday we put on our warm clothes and headed downtown for Greenville's Christmas tree lighting. The Greenville chorale was performing Christmas carols, and there was even a parade starting not long after the lighting! Unfortunately, we didn't check the weather. Oops. Because it was misting when we left the house, and it continued to do so (as well as be just awfully cold) the entire time we were downtown.

I mean, the idea sounded great: let's go downtown, grab a drink, listen to some Christmas music, watch a tree-lighting and parade. I even donned my hideous Santa Claus Christmas sweater for the occasion!

We stopped in Soby's first, as it was located just across from where the tree sits in front of the court house. We each had one drink, then we took a deep breath and dove back outside. I popped open my little umbrella and we positioned ourselves directly across Main Street from the tree.

And waited.

And waited.

Despite being told that the lighting was to be at 5, the chorale didn't even start until maybe 5:15. Even though the parade wasn't scheduled until six, I told Steve we would wait until 5:30 to hopefully see the tree get lit, bu then we could go home.

It's official, by the way: our blood has thinned. I doubt it was much colder than 40 degrees that evening and we couldn't even stand that. Sure, the rain didn't help, but we were raised on Connecticut winters! Go figure.

I have to admit, I was counting down the minutes to 5:30, and when it hit I heaved a sigh and gave in to the awful weather. Of course, as we were walking away, someone started speaking. We couldn't hear much of what was said, but we decided to stick it out for just a few more minutes...and after some blah blah blahs and some hoopla about sponsors, there was a 10 second countdown (likely unnecessary) and BAM! the tree was lit (finally). I took a couple quick pictures and then we rushed back to the car, and then home for some hot spiced wine and snacks.

Had the weather been nice[r], yes, I would have forced Steve to stay for the parade ;o) But despite wanting to experience all Greenville has to offer, I just didn't think catching an awful cold from the wet chilly air would be worth it. Maybe next year!

On that note, I do have one small "complaint"--they had an unnecessary number of generators running right in front of the courthouse. Four of them, to be exact. And they were huge. I know they were to keep the spotlights on, but come on. We could barely even hear the chorale's performance, these things were so loud! (And we tried moving a couple times--but it was either be too far away and not be able to hear the singing, or be close and not be able to hear it over the damn generators. Go figure.) Beyond that, the spotlights took away from the ambiance of the tree lighting. You've heard it here, city of Greenville--next year, go green with the tree lighting and I guarantee it will be a much better experience for us viewers!

Hotel Review: THEhotel at Mandalay Bay

source
THEhotel at Mandalay Bay is totally different from most of the other hotels on the strip. The decor is very simple, the hotel is quiet, but you have access to all of Mandalay Bay's facilities--including the wave pool/lazy river area. Unfortunately, the main pool with the beach and everything was closed for the season, as I visited in November. We enjoyed great weather but did not get to experience the supposedly "amazing" pool that the critics tout.

We stayed in a suite and truthfully, I was disappointed with the size. The beds were comfortable and the bathroom was huge but the living room area was TINY. Still, it was nice having the extra half bath and more room than a normal hotel room, but I'm not sure if it was worth the price. Also, we ran into a lot of problems with the DVD player, there was a huge scratch on the TV, and the lighting in the bedroom was practically non-existent.

Overall, although this hotel was nice, I wouldn't stay there again. There were too many little things that bugged me, and to top it all off, this hotel is at the farthest end of the Strip from everything but the airport. Plan on walking forever/taking $12 one-way taxi rides everywhere if you want to spend a lot of time on the main part of The Strip.

Monday, December 6, 2010

An Epic Thanksgiving Weekend: Game Day Saturday

Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend was Melissa's and Adrian's last day in Greenville. They left late that afternoon to go back to Jacksonville, but not before we took them downtown one last time for some shopping, food, and general meanderings :o)

We began the day at the Mast General Store, a great place for South Carolina merchandise and all those things you never knew you needed. We then wandered up and down Main Street and showed Adrian the site of our wedding ceremony (as he missed it due to being deployed at the time). He even braved rolling down the hill at Falls Park after seeing a bunch of kiddos doing it!

Finally, we grabbed a late lunch at Barley's Tap Room. Steve and I had been to Barley's before, but for drinks only--and as Adrian was craving pizza and I'd heard good things about Barley's pizzas, we figured it was the perfect place to stop. Ahhh, if only. After trying both the Caribbean Jerk Chicken pizza and the Greek pizza, it appears that mine and Steve's search for the good stuff remains unfinished (don't get me wrong, we love Mellow Mushroom, but I'm talking plain ol' tasty cheese pizza, not crazy specialty pizzas). The menu and prices at Barley's were really no better than those at Mellow Mushroom, and the pizza itself was nowhere near as tasty.

I did, however, have a "Sunny Day" beer sampler. $12 for six 6-oz glasses of quality beer? Yes please! And the only one that I didn't care for (and therefore passed on to Steve, who liked it just fine) was the Victory Braumeister Harvest Plus. Honestly...it tasted like grass. Yuck.

We parted ways after "lunch" and Steve and I went home to get ready for the big Clemson vs. USC game! This included making some awful-for-you Buffalo Chicken Dip (as seen in this entry) and breaking out the beer. We were going to try having a big tailgating party, but it being Thanksgiving weekend many people were busy or out of town...so we just hung out with our friends Nick and Annie and enjoyed a rousing defeat of Clemson by the Gamecocks (yay!) while munching on greasy dip and tipping back some seasonal brews. It was actually a somewhat early night for us, but as our crazy Thanksgiving weekend was coming to a close it was just what we needed :o)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Once Upon a Guidebook

At the very beginning of 2010, I was doing nothing but counting down the days until our big New Orleans trip the first weekend of February. And for some reason still unbeknownst to me...I decided that I needed a guidebook.

Before this, I'd visited countless places without ever consulting a guidebook. In fact, I scoffed at the very idea. But now that I look back and realize how much I missed in places I may never see again...I think that I was being a bit hoity-toity about the guidebook thing.

Now, even though it was already 2010, and we were going to New Orleans in 2010...I ended up purchasing the 2009 guidebook. It was already January, the 2010 version had yet to be released, and I needed time to receive and read the darn thing! Thus, I ended up with Frommer's New Orleans 2009. And the moment that guidebook hit my hands, I read it. Voraciously. Cover to cover. I read, I notated, I even added color-coded post-it tabs. I was that tourist. And yes, I brought the book with me to NOLA (although I didn't go so far as to carry it around).

The end result? We saw and did a hell of a lot more than we would have otherwise. In general my trip-planning used to lean toward a few Google searches for restaurants, nightlife and must-sees wherever I was visiting. I never went anywhere without doing at least some planning, but I assumed that guidebooks were a waste of money. However, this particular guidebook was not, and my experience with it has led me to already purchase guidebooks for a few places we will be visiting in the upcoming year--Charleston, San Francisco, Prague and Budapest to name a few. I actually got them all at a local used book store, but thankfully they're in good condition and only a year or two old.

Although I certainly can't say that one needs a guidebook for every place one may visit, I definitely suggest trying it out. At least once in a while. And I cannot stress enough how helpful and interesting the Frommer's New Orleans guides are, specifically. Without said guide, I very likely would have missed out on some of the best things I experienced in NOLA: Napoleon House, snowballs, Preservation Hall, and The Old Absinthe House to name a few.

I will continue to write little guidebook reviews whenever they apply, so if you're a guidebook groupie or a guidebook newbie, check back for updates!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Our Dream Honeymoon Cruise, Part 2

Well, I've reviewed the cruise aspect of our trip, so now it's time to delve into the ports and excursions that we experienced! I've visited many different islands in the Caribbean and I still think that the Western Caribbean is my favorite general area, but every port has its problems (or at least, most of them do) and this is my unbiased opinion of the four ports we visited (Cozumel, Belize City, Roatan and Costa Maya) and the excursions we took (which were all through Carnival Cruise Line...spare me the eye rolls, please).

Cozumel

As a port, I rate Cozumel 3/5. This may be partly because I've never had an absolutely amazing shore excursion here. Sure, Fat Tuesday's is quite the party, but other than that my time here has been average at best.
Xcaret--the beach/lagoon/swimming area
We did the Xcaret excursion through Carnival, which I also rate a 3/5. Xcaret is beautiful. It's clean. And I was really excited to experience the cenotes. But I was just a bit disappointed at how man-made everything was--they had some natural cenotes, but they had taken away from those by combining them with a man-made underground river...so you never knew what was real and what was fake. That's just...not really our thing.

After the cenote swim, we did find a lovely sandy area with a lot of hammocks strung between palm trees, where we dried off. After relaxing for a while, we were starving and decided to get some lunch. And here is my other "issue" with Xcaret--unless you want a $30-ish per person buffet (and buffets also aren't our thing) or a burger, there really aren't that many food options there! We finally found a restaurant that offered some fajitas and a few other things, and prices were average (for an appetizer, a fajita meal, a burger and fries, two bottled waters and a big fun pineapple drink with rum plus tip it was maybe $45?), but the food was just okay. I've had better fajitas at local Mexican places here at home. Sad.

Once we were finished with lunch, we spent the rest of our afternoon wandering around the park, mostly to see the animals. It's not really a "zoo" per se, but it was neat to get VERY close to both wildlife (tons of lizards especially) and some of the friendlier animals (we were literally a foot or less away from tapirs, baby deer, and parrots). Also really neat was that in the gift shop they had incubators hatching quail eggs...although to be completely honest I'm not sure how humane this was!

Lastly, our Xcaret excursion was that it was just a bit too long. The cenotes took an hour at most and we had over four hours in the park. Even with laying in the hammocks for a while, eating a sit down lunch and wandering around the park, we ended up with a good 45 minutes to kill and not much to do other than wander around the gift shop or go back out into the park to see things we'd, well, already seen. Personally I think this excursion could have been an hour shorter, which would have gotten us back to the Cozumel port in time for a bit of shopping rather than getting off the ferry and rushing right back onto the ship as the whistle was blowing.

Belize City

Belize as a whole rates a 4/5 on my scale! Again, a lot of this probably has to do with the tours I've taken, but it's been pretty rare that I've heard complaints about Belize from other travelers, period. What's not to love? The jungles are beautiful, the snorkeling and scuba diving are great, the people are friendly :o) I only wish that there was a little more to the port or to Belize City itself...I know that the tourism industry there really didn't get a kick in the butt until the last decade or so, but I feel as if there should be more than just a couple restaurants and those awful Diamonds International and other tourist trap stores at the port by now :-/

This time in Belize, I finally got to go cave tubing! We did the Carnival cave tubing excursion and give it a 5/5! I know that the Carnival excursion is more expensive than the do-it-yourself ones, and I've heard that those are "better", but our tour as a whole was great. Our guide, Saul, was extremely knowledgeable, pretty well-spoken, and a great guide on the river itself. And floating through those amazing caves was an experience I'm happy to have had!

Our bus ride was not quite an hour and a half. Once we arrived we were given time to rent lockers ($5) and change before being outfitted with the usual cave tubing gear--life vest (pfft), helmet with light, and tube. After this we hiked through the woods for about 30 minutes. I think they told us it would take longer, and we weren't wearing watches but it didn't even feel like a full 30 minutes, let alone 35-45 or whatever they told us. And other than having to wade across the river and walk up a flight of steps at the beginning, it was an easy hike. Of course...I'm 27 and very fit, so I may not be the best judge. Still, the path was pretty flat, worn, and clear...I wasn't uncomfortable, even with just wearing water shoes, a bikini with a tank top over it, and of course the life vest and helmet. Yes, carrying the tube got annoying...but never extremely uncomfortable. Our group of 8 consisted of mostly people 20+ years our seniors and none of them seemed bothered by the hike, either.


And in the end...it was so very worth it. This excursion was topped only by the one we did in Roatan, IMO. Saul continued to regale us with stories of Mayan culture, the area, the river, the caves themselves. The float was pretty tame...but the couple of times we hit little patches of "rapids" were definitely fun :o) And the caves and scenery were all beautiful.

It was a five minute walk back up to the locker/bathroom area. We dropped off our gear, got free samples of cashew, pineapple, and blush wine, and then purchased some yummy local taco-type things for a few bucks each to stave off hunger. As we were boarding the bus, they also gave us granola bars to munch on.

Roatan

I think this cruise cemented Roatan as my favorite Caribbean port so far. 5/5! Seriously though, the beaches, snorkeling, the island itself...they're just unmatchable in my opinion.

Our excursion today was "Clear Kayak, Snorkeling & Gumbalimba Park", again through Carnival, and I guess I'll rate this excursion a "mere" 4/5. My reasoning for this (because we really did love the excursion and the park) is as follows:

We met for this excursion in the Mahogany Bay shopping area just before 10 AM, and here comes the one complaint of the day--we must have sat there for 20 minutes or more before we were led to a bus. There was no communication as to what was going on or why we were waiting, and yes, I was impatient to get the day started!

After a 20-25 minute ride, we arrived at Gumbalimba. The park was spotlessly clean, but admittedly the beach/sunning area was small. (Not that it ever even got crowded while we were there) They had lockers available for free, but you had to pay $3 for the lock and key (man, they know how to get you!) After about 10-15 minutes of "free time" to use the restroom, change, get your locker situated, etc. we went kayaking. We did this (with guides) for about 30-45 minutes. The clear kayaks were actually a bit wider than regular kayaks, and to be honest I'm not sure if it was the fact that it was cloudy when we arrived or if the kayaks were scratched or if it was the material they were made out of, but there was really no seeing through the bottoms of them...which to me was the point of "clear kayaking", so I'm not sure if I would do this portion of the activities again. 

When kayaking was over, we returned our paddles, gathered up snorkel gear and were assigned to a guide. I was a bit surprised at this portion of the operation--(a) because they insisted we wear life vest and (b) because I've never had a completely guided snorkel "tour" before. To be completely honest, the life vest was an annoyance and burden and I think they should give you the choice of not wearing it and maybe just make you sign a waiver if you choose not to do so.

Having a guide had pros and cons to it. Pros: He pointed out fish to us and gave us their names; he kept us on track so that there was no looking up from the water and having a mini panic attack at the realization that you were half a mile or more from the beach and didn't know the best way to get back over the reef (which happened to me at Tabayana in 2005). Cons: The snorkeling portion of the day was very much timed and not long enough! And if you enjoy kind of "wandering" while snorkeling (as we do), obviously a guide does more harm than good.

The snorkeling was still some of the best I've experienced, but it also wasn't as great as that off Tabayana Beach in Roatan. There weren't the 50 (or more) foot cliffs of coral dropping into crystal clear waters with dozens of huge, colorful parrot fish swimming around.

The walk through Gumbalimba park passed a hummingbird area (they were buzzing *so* close to us--within inches of our heads!) and included a silly little touristy cave and a rope-type bridge that I seriously wish they'd warned me about (I'm not one for heights, especially ones with water underneath them i.e. any sort of bridge). We saw an area where there are usually plenty of lizards hanging around, but it was still cloudy and therefore most of the lizards were hiding. (We'd seen plenty of those at Xcaret, anyway) From there we visited some birds...lots of parrots and a couple other types of colorful local birds. They let us take pictures with the parrots with our own cameras...no forcing you to buy a $13 8x10 here!

And then, FINALLY, we headed to the monkey area, and the monkeys here were GREAT! They had one on a leash that they put in your arms...and man, they are not kidding about these little guys liking shiny things. I had a dull, light brownish bobby pin in my hair and it ended up in [I think his name was} Sopa's mouth! Even better was when we were standing off to the side, and lo and behold two more monkeys jumped down onto our heads/shoulders (and crawled all over us for quite some time) :o)

Once our allotted monkey time was up, we went back down toward the beach and meandered around the tables of wares for sale before grabbing a bus back to Mahogany Bay (which we had to wait about 10 minutes for). Once we arrived back at the port, we did some more shopping, but nothing available there was as nice or as well-priced as what the people at Gumbalimba had out.

Costa Maya

This was the only port I'd never been to for this cruise, but I think I'd rate Costa Maya a 4/5 and not mind a second trip there someday :o) The port area was beautiful. (a) we could dock, not tender (b) it was clean and obviously pretty new (c) there seemed to be some great shopping available (d) there was even a pool and beaches right nearby if you wanted to just relax right there!
On the steps of one of the three temples (or were there more?) at Chacchoben
However, we chose to do a Mayan Ruins excursion--Chacchoben to be exact--which I'll give a 3.5/5 or so.

Basically, Costa Maya day wasn't too early for us, but in hindsight we should have made it so. Basically, our tour (Chacchoben Mayan ruins) met at 9:30 AM and was supposed to be...I think four or four and a half hours long? We boarded the bus and it was a ride of about an hour and twenty minutes or so to the ruins, which by the way were great. These ruins were discovered more "recently" (in the 1970s to be exact) and haven't been re-built as much as some other ruins in Mexico. Our guide (I think his name was Venizio? I could be seriously wrong there, though) was very knowledgeable, though his accent was very heavy and you had to pay a lot of attention in order to understand him. He also kept us at the ruins a lot longer than I think we should have been there...a lot of standing in one spot and listening to him talk, so much so that we pretty much missed two of the three main/major pyramids at the site.

And of course, silly me had put off shopping for anyone until our last day. I figured, hey, we have a short day in Costa Maya, but our tour is only a few hours long. We'll have plenty of time!

That would be a resounding NO.

We overstayed our time at the ruins by close to an hour. When we arrived back at port it was 2:25 and we were technically supposed to be back on board by 2:30 (for I think a 3 PM departure). And darnit, we wanted tequila! We literally ran into the first Tequileria (sp?) we saw, grabbed two bottles that were quickly suggested to us by one of the employees, and hightailed it back to the ship. We boarded at about 2:45...oops.

I suppose other than hoping that someday Cozumel won't be one of those places that every.single.Western.Caribbean.cruise. stops at, the Western Caribbean was and is extremely pleasing and at the very least, I hope to return to Roatan again some day...maybe just to go there, rather than on a cruise ;o)

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Epic Thanksgiving Weekend: Black[out] Wednesday

Last Wednesday, we received the news we had been waiting for--our friends Adrian and Melissa were coming for Thanksgiving! They had been planning on doing so for weeks, but thanks to some confusion regarding his job we weren't sure until then that it would definitely happen. Needless to say, we were excited--since we moved to Greenville, our house guests have been few and far between...and Adrian had never been here at all.

This meant that of course we went out for "Black Wednesday", and we did a nice little tour of some downtown bars. Our first stop was Wild Wing Cafe, to check out the 80s cover band that was playing. The music was great, there were a few drink specials, and Adrian even got up on stage and danced! Still, after an hour and a half or so we were ready for other options and Melissa suggested City Tavern, which had been one of our stops during my bachelorette party. At this point our friends Nick and Annie had come 'round as well, and we all paraded over to City Tavern for more drinks and live music.

Unfortunately, the "live music" there was just a guy on a guitar and he wasn't playing anything of note. We had one drink each, Nick and Annie called it a night, and Steve, myself, Adrian and Melissa decided to try one more place--a bar that is named "The Gathering Spot" but called "The G-Spot".

Yeah. I know.

I'm still not sure how I feel about their, err, "head dresses"
Anyway, I've only ever been to the G-Spot when they've had a DJ, so I was a bit unsure of the fact that tonight they had--you guessed it--live music! ;o) The band was...well, they weren't anything special, but they weren't awful, and after downing some red-headed sluts and ordering some beers we made the best of it. We ended up staying almost until closing time, but despite getting home sometime around 2 AM we didn't go to bed until a few hours later. After all, first there were the much-needed drunk munchies (Steve makes some amazing late-night snacks that at times include eggs in a window or omelets, but this night turned out to be scrambled eggs mixed with a variety of cheeses and spices as well as capers) and then there was the usual catching up with people we only see every few months at best.

All I know is that when we collapsed into bed I thought, "damn, I'm only getting five hours of sleep tonight."

To be continued...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Dream Honeymoon Cruise, Part 1

The Ship: 4/5

The Carnival Dream (docked at Costa Maya)
The Carnival Dream was right at a year old when we sailed on her, which meant that she would still be squeaky clean...or at least she should be. And she was. Although we'd read many reviews mentioning "the dreaded smell", I don't recall more than once even thinking that I smelled said stench. And even that time, it could have been something else--it was faint and short-lived, not the lingering odor that many swore they experienced.


As per the usual Carnival Standards, patterns and colors were a bit bright and garish in the common areas--but the hallways were more muted, with a sort of 1940's or '50s cartoonish mural on the walls. The design is classy and will stand the test of time. I also enjoyed the animal-print-esque curtains, carpeting and seating in the Encore Theater--it was very refreshing.

The Dream is definitely big--the largest ship I've been on so far, and during the first few days it was a bit overwhelming at times playing the "am I going the right way? am I on the right floor? how many times will I have to double back to get to where I need to be?" game. But as on all ships, one just had to remember which portions of which decks were closed off and by the third day we had no issues. By the end of the week, as is usually the case, we knew the ship like the backs of our hands ;o)

The common areas did get quite crowded on our first day at sea, as is to be expected. By about 11 AM there was nary a lounge chair to be found--at least not in the sun. We didn't really venture near the pools as the music was just too loud for our tastes. We did however check out the water slides--neither one had more than a ten minute wait and both were fun, although the hubby did get a scrape on his elbow from the rough seams inside the main slide.

We spent some time in the Serenity adults-only area, but unfortunately the chair saving there is as rampant as it is everywhere else. The most comfy options--the couches, the hammocks and the big round chairs--were pretty much always filled or saved with towels and books and the like. At one point I actually took the initiative and asked a couple who was taking up an entire huge couch on their own if we could have two cushions at the end of it. They grudgingly obliged, thankfully. ::rolls eyes::

The Stateroom: 4.5/5
Stateroom 11242, Inside Spa room on the Carnival Dream
We got a great rate on an inside spa stateroom--the entire cruise cost us right about $1300 for two people, and our room was on deck 11, at the end of the hallway closest to the stairs and elevators. The room itself was honestly smaller than I'd expected--when I cruised with Carnival in 2005, I had an oceanview stateroom on the lowest passenger deck and the room was quite large compared to staterooms I experienced on Royal Caribbean (porthole oceanview on the lowest passenger deck) and Princess (balcony stateroom on deck 6--I think). We apparently got a bit spoiled with our decent-sized inside stateroom on the Disney Wonder this past May :-/

Thankfully, our stateroom location was impeccable and the spa package was worth every extra penny. It consisted of unlimited access to the steam rooms, glassed-in rooms with heated loungers, VIP relaxation rooms (with constant supply of hot teas, fresh fruit and iced water), VIP locker rooms (which appeared to have actual real hairdryers--or at least better ones than they have in the staterooms), and the Thalasso Pool (which was as hot as the jacuzzis and probably a lot better for your bathing suit/hair/skin). Also, we had special robes and slippers in the room, as well as Elemis brand bath products. I heard we were also supposed to have upgraded linens, and while the towels and sheets were good quality considering, I'm not sure they were actually better than what anyone else had...as I have nothing to compare them to.

I was pleased with the amount of storage. Although more drawers would have been nice, there was a lot of closet space (including shelves) and being able to slide the empty suitcases under the bed was great as well.

The Food: 3.5/5
Showing off my TWO desserts! (Tiramisu and Bitter & Blanc)
Obviously you get what you pay for, so I don't expect amazing gourmet meals from Carnival. However, hearing so many negative things about the food on the Dream did have me a bit concerned. Thankfully, my worries were all for naught, The food on this cruise was as good if not better than what I experienced on Princess, which is supposedly a higher-end line (at least when compared to Carnival). We avoided the buffet for the most part, although on our first afternoon we did try out the Mongolian Wok. The food was good, but honestly it was mostly spice and lacked real flavor.


We also had burgers and fries from the Lido Deck on the first sea day, and I was thankful to find that they were still the same delicious burgers and fries that I remembered from over five years ago :o)

The dinner food in the dining room ranged from the plain old "good" (the French Onion Soup and escargots) to absolutely delicious (the pumpkin soup appetizer, the Grand Marnier Souffle). Nothing was bad and many meals were stellar. Again, though, I'm comparing these meals not to eating at, say, Shula's Steak House, but rather maybe a slightly higher-end chain restaurant than, say, TGI Friday's.

We ate breakfast in the dining room three mornings as well. The eggs benedict were decent and the French toast was really good. If we'd had time I would have eaten here every morning and tried a few other things, but we got room service most mornings. Obviously this was mostly just fruit, yogurt, cereal, bagels and the like--the milk and yogurts were rarely cold and the fruit was half rotted on a couple mornings. Nighttime room service was a bit better--I had an absolutely delicious hot veggie sandwich before bed one night and worth the approximate hour it took to get it.

A note on the pasta bar: it's really a must, the food is delicious and worth the wait. But make sure you know how it works, which is as follows: you enter, they give you a number and an order card. You find a table (hopefully), fill out your order card and bring it up to the cook station. When your food is ready (we waited about 40 minutes) a waiter brings it to you.

The Employees (3/5)
One of my favorite towel animals of the week, courtesy of our great stateroom steward!
The employees that we had contact with on a regular basis--our server and stateroom steward, mainly--were good. Our room steward always greeted us by name, our room was always made up in a timely manner, and his towel animals were exceptional! I did find it a bit weird that he never officially introduced himself, but that's more of an observation than a complaint :o) Our server, while not necessarily friendly, was very good at her job and no worse than any server I've had on a cruise.

Other employees that we encountered throughout the week were for the most part friendly, helpful, and the like, but to be honest we did meet with a couple bartenders who were polite but certainly not more so than they had to be, which was a bit annoying.

The Entertainment/Nightlife (3.5/5)
Sam's Piano Bar
We cruised over Halloween and to be completely honest, I've never seen nightlife on a cruise better than that one night on the Dream! Every bar and club was packed 'till the wee hours of the morning, and it was great. Other than that, the disco was actually something more of a hot spot than I've seen it be on other cruises, and the music was more current top 40 than I was expecting.

We did everything from salsa dancing in The Song, to karaoke in the Burgundy Lounge (which was actually kind of dead, a big change from it being the most popular nightlife option on my last Carnival cruise), to singing along at Sam's (the piano bar). I would say that our favorite spot was probably the piano bar--the player was extremely talented and had a huge repertoire of Beatles songs, which was perfect for us.

The entertainment options that we partook in were fairly varied. We played in the casino a bit, and whereas the dealers were no Vegas dealers I suppose they could have been worse. We watched some of the break dancing demonstration in the Atrium, went to the Dancing in the Streets show, and even watched part of a comedy show late one night. We enjoyed most of what we experienced, although the Dancing in the Streets show would have been improved by some sort of story- or time line and the comedian simply wasn't that funny (disappointing as I'd heard the ship comedians were great). Our favorite entertainment option, however, was probably watching movies on the Lido Deck, which we did three nights out of the week. The movies were forgettable but the experience was decidedly not :o)

To be continued with information on the ports and excursions we enjoyed!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Vegas Playlist FTW!

A month from today I'll be on my final full day of yet another Vegas trip (my fifth) and this isn't the first time I've made a pre-Vegas playlist...however, this particular list so far surpasses the last one I made that I feel it necessary to share.

I actually did some research on this playlist, and it's mostly upbeat songs. I know that there are plenty of other Vegas songs ("Vegas Nights" by The Cab, "Vegas" by Sara Bareilles, "Leaving Las Vegas" by Sheryl Crow, to name a few), but here's the deal: I think it's important to cap this playlist at 21 songs, and some numbers--especially slower ones--just simply didn't make the cut.

So whether you're making a mix to pump you up for an upcoming Vegas trip, or to play while you're there, or even better both those options, here are my picks for some great Vegas tunes! (Note that the order IS important! You want to mix it up and not play ten hip-hop/pop songs in a row.)

  1. Viva Las Vegas - Elvis (Self-explanatory!)
  2. Waking Up In Vegas - Katy Perry (Self-explanatory as well)
  3. Time of My Life - Toploader (I included this for personal reasons, but it is a great song about partying)
  4. Make it Rain - Fat Joe feat. Lil Wayne (they're singing about throwing bills at strippers, what's more Vegas than that?)
  5. Luck be a Lady Tonight - Frank Sinatra (Again, self-explanatory)
  6. Poker Face - Lady GaGa (ditto)
  7. Last Name - Carrie Underwood (upbeat country song about a girl who goes to Vegas on a one-night stand and doesn't know if her last name has changed? yes please!)
  8. Live your Life - T.I. feat. Rihanna (great hip hop song for partying, but also in the movie The Hangover)
  9. Clair de Lune - Debussy (from the end of the movie Ocean's 11)
  10. Shots - LMFAO (really, if you don't think you'll do shots in Vegas, something may be wrong with you)
  11. Time to Pretend - MGMT (a song about parachuting heroine, being famous, etc. and also in the movie 21)
  12. That's Not My Name - The Ting Tings (somehow I always end up hearing this in Vegas, so it's on the list)
  13. Three Best Friends - Zack Galifianakis (personally I'm including this because there are four of us rooming together on our upcoming trip, but also, it's from The Hangover, so yeah)
  14. Tik Tok - Ke$ha (a song about brushing your teeth with Jack Daniels and staying up all night? perfect Vegas material)
  15. Devil's Dance Floor - Flogging Molly (the song title says it all)
  16. Like a G6 - Far East Movement feat. Pitbull (poppin' bottles? gettin' slizzard? something about a blizzard? duh)
  17. A Little Less Conversation - Elvis (theme song from the TV show Las Vegas)
  18. DJ Got Us Fallin' In Love - Usher (great club song, right?)
  19. In the Air Tonight - Phil Collins (it was in the movie The Hangover...that's quite enough reason to be on this list IMO)
  20. Dynamite - Taio Cruz (I came to dance dance dance dance...and Vegas is perfect for letting go!)
  21. I'm in Las Vegas B*tch - DJ Chuckie + LMFAO (lets not lie, the song sucks, but it's perfect for this list)
~Life is like Vegas~

Friday, November 19, 2010

The "Rebirth" of Disney's Pleasure Island?

Disney finally revealed their plans for the area formerly known as Pleasure Island, and I must say...I'm not too keen on the ideas they're pitching. Sure, the concept drawings of Hyperion Wharf are pretty, but I think it's wrong of Disney to believe that they don't need to provide any sort of real nightlife for their 18+ guests.

Maybe some of my feelings on this derive from the fact that I remember PI in its hayday. Even before I worked at Disney, I remember walking through PI on family trips and being in awe of the scantily dressed young adults with drinks in hand, the fake tattoo booths, the place where you could make and buy a recording of yourself singing...

At 18, PI didn't hold as much of a draw for me as those crazy Vista Way parties, for sure. But in the post-21 era, it was a great place to go and drink and dance. Shoot, in early 2006 I guarantee you I was there with my friend Mia nearly every Thursday night!

All the same, I understand why they had to shut down PI. In the end, it was simply too big of an undertaking, even for Disney. Too many clubs, for one. They put too much focus on the number of options and not enough on the quality of those options. I truly believe that had they stuck with three places--a comedy club, a rock & roll club (with mainly live music), and a top 40/techno combo club--they would have survived. If they really wanted, they could have worked other aspects (i.e. 80s music) into simple theme nights rather than entire clubs.

Another part of the PI downfall was Disney making it 21 and up. Orlando has plenty of nightlife, and most of it is 21 and up--so PI was great for both tourists and locals. I know that they did this because it was easier for them--less employees needed to check IDs and police underage drinking and all--but if they'd had fewer clubs, this probably never would have been an issue in the first place.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that "Hyperion Wharf" will feature at least one decent 18+ nightclub for those of us who want to keep the party going past 11 PM...but I'm not going to hold my breath. Le sigh.

August 2004
February 2006
Pleasure Island in happier times...


                         




July 2006

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hotel Review: Disney's All Star Sports Resort

source
Let me preface this by saying that I stayed at the All Star Music years ago and had no problems with it. I have also stayed at the Pop Century three times and never had anything short of a good stay. The All Star Sports, however, was a different story.

Let me advise any and all of you who might be planning a trip to Disney (and planning to stay at a Disney resort) to avoid the All Star Sports at ALL costs. Between nasty unidentifiable stuff floating in the pool, backs missing off chairs, table tops not attached to the tables, the grassy and shrub areas being completely overgrown, puddles of nasty standing water EVERYWHERE even though it didn't rain once the whole time we were there, having to wait longer in line for the bus back from Animal Kingdom then I did for any of the rides at Animal Kingdom (no, I'm not kidding)--this resort was absolutely not up to Disney standards. You can stay at the much newer Pop Century for the same price or pay a little extra and stay at one of the moderate resorts, which, trust me, is more than worth it.

Admittedly, the check-in process at the All Star Sports was quick and easy and the cast members we encountered were all friendly and what not; unfortunately this simply did not override the terrible appearance of this resort.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sunday Funday: Soby's & Bailey's

The Urban Dictionary defines Sunday Funday as "By celebrating the "Sunday Funday" you can extend your weekend festivities just a little longer before hanging up your party pants. This day typically starts out with mimosas or bloody marys aka hair of the dog. It then typically continues through out the day until you find yourself wasted by about 6:30ish. Since the "Funday" ends early enough, you can rest assured that you will go to bed aka pass out early enough to be perfectly refreshed for work on monday morning."

Let me be very clear about one thing: it is very rare that Steve and I participate in Sunday Funday festivities. Because we're old and junk, and drinking on a Sunday while on vacation or having Monday off due to holiday doesn't count.

That said, yesterday was one of those few-and-far-betweens for us. I had tickets to the Lady Antebellum concert at Furman University, and we had a gift certificate for Soby's downtown that was begging to be used. Brunch and mimosas? Yes please, and it was all delicious :)

We returned home and followed brunch with more mimosas, a couple episodes of X Files, and a brisk walk with the dogs before leaving for the concert. And trust me on this, we hadn't had enough mimosas to be by any means drunk--but yes, I was looking forward to having a beer or two while listening to some great newfangled country music!

Only...no can do. Furman was, for a very long time, a dry campus. Supposedly as of more recent times, it is a wet campus...but apparently the concessions at Timmons haven't caught on, because there was no beer in sight. And although Steve and I certainly don't have to get drunk to enjoy a concert (most times I've gone completely dry at the concerts I've attended; since we've been together the highest number of beers either one of us has had at a show is three)...yes, I was severely disappointed that I didn't have a cold one to sip while listening to Lady A.

That said, we arrived for the last two or three songs by the opening act--a kid named David Nail, never heard of him but he wasn't half bad--and stayed through just over an hour of Lady A's set. The only song I missed that I wanted to hear was "Need You Now", but no big deal--I could tell that by quarter to ten, Steve was getting a bit antsy. Plus, having skipped any sort of dinner, I was hungry and so it was that we ended up at Bailey's on Laurens Road, just around the corner from our house!

We had stopped into Bailey's for beers once before, but it was late at night and pretty dead at the time...it was a whole different world last night, thanks to the Pats vs. Steelers game! We ordered some brews (from a surprisingly decent selection) and an appetizer sampler (which was surprisingly delicious) while we watched the end of the second quarter and the entire third quarter of the game. By 10:45 we were ready to go, but our waitress had taken to spending her evening flirting with the Most Eligible Bachelors in the room (neither of whom I would have given a second glance even in my most pudgy and unattractive days, but I digress) and it took us forever to flag her down. I was none too pleased with this, as all I wanted was home and bed...this situation and the scarcity of beer at the concert added up to the somewhat disappointing end of our Sunday Funday. I tried to stay up to finish the game, but once my head hit that pillow and Steve climbed into bed next to me just before midnight, we were out.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Carnival Splendor Debacle

Having returned from a Carnival cruise just last Saturday, I'm definitely hearing plenty of not-so-funny jokes about how happy I must be that we weren't on the Carnival Splendor. Of course it gets a bit tiring explaining that these things happen. It's unfortunate. Maybe it was preventable. But personally, I believe that Carnival has done everything in their power to rectify the situation.

Not that this is quite comparable, but on my 2007 Contiki tour our bus broke down somewhere between Paris, France, and Lucerne, Switzerland. We were stuck for a couple of hours. It made an already very long bus ride that much longer. But what can you do, right? This situation was definitely frustrating, uncomfortable, and a waste of time...but shit happens. Pardon my language.

Per the article linked above, I can only imagine how awful days stuck on a boat without air conditioning, ways to cook food or keep refrigerated food from spoiling, etc. were. Especially during the period of time when the toilets weren't working! But Carnival obviously tried. They allowed people to sleep on the decks. They had activities--live music, scavenger hunts, trivia contests. They offered free alcohol (although I'm not sure how much alcohol it would take to make me forget about the smell of rotting food, haha).

But what is more important to me is what they are doing for these guests once they arrive safely back in San Diego. Having dealt with the absolute hell that is Norwegian Cruise Line when I was a travel agent (a ship that lost the majority of its power on a Charleston/Bermuda cruise, leaving passengers without air conditioning and the ship without enough propulsion to get the guests to Bermuda on time to actually enjoy the island; also, NCL canceling all but one of the three ships they had in Hawaii and refusing practically any help or compensation for those guests booked who then had to re-book flights and end up with less than stellar rooms on a "similar" cruise), I sincerely applaud Carnival's offer to these poor guests. Basically, not only are they getting a complete refund and help with getting back to their respective homes--but they are getting an entirely free future cruise as well!

On top of that, because the Splendor's next cruise had to be canceled as well, Carnival is refunding those passengers--including airfare/transportation costs--and offering them 25% off a future cruise.

I'm sure there will be people  out there--notably the ones that got stuck on the Splendor in the first place, and the ones who have had their upcoming vacation canceled--who will stomp their feet and say that this is not enough. I may not be one of those people, but I respectfully disagree. According to the cruise contract these people signed, Carnival really doesn't have to do anything. But they are doing something--at least what they should, and in my opinion more--and that's what counts.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Friendliest City in the Nation

Turns out that the friendliest city in the nation is Charleston, SC!

This is according to Travel + Leisure Magazine, but I couldn't agree more :)

For some personalized Charleston info from yours truly, check out my blog about The Original Pub Tour of Charleston.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vegas "On The Clock" (days 3,4,5)

The second morning of my conference trip to Vegas was, as I mentioned in my last post, an early one--6:30 AM to be exact, for an 8 AM conference start time at the Four Seasons (which is, of course, at the complete opposite end of the Strip from the Mirage). Thankfully, I had a great cab driver on the way to the conference--I mentioned that I was running a bit late, and he did his best to get me there on time. There was traffic on the Strip, but he even stopped the meter while we were stuck in it! This rendered a low cab fare for me...and a big tip for my driver ;o)

The view from a balcony outside our conference rooms
I don't think there's any point in me describing the conference I attended. I would say that about 60% of it was helpful to my job; the other 40% of my time would have been better spent lounging by a pool somewhere (at least in my opinion). The Four Seasons is a beautiful hotel, of course, and the conference rooms were comfortable and stocked with plenty of ice water, mints, pads of paper and pens. The food that we had for lunch was delicious both days.

But let me tell you, it absolutely sucked knowing that I was in Vegas, just a few hundred feet from hot sun and cool pools and stocked bars and thousands of slot machines...but I was stuck in a conference. For over nine hours on Monday and for seven hours on Tuesday.

Although it was, admittedly, worth the "free" trip to Vegas ;o)

Dessert samplings from the Bellagio buffet
As for the rest of my free time--by the time I returned from the conference and got changed and freshened up on Monday, both Maria and I were ready for dinner. We had met some friendly gentleman (I'm completely serious) at the pool the day before who had suggested the Bellagio buffet. We arrived around quarter after seven and waited about a half hour to pay and be seated. Sucking up the $30 price tag was hard...but worth it in the end! The only other time I've eaten at a dinner buffet in Vegas and felt that I got my money's worth was at the Rio, but Maria and I were both impressed with the Bellagio buffet. Amazing macaroni and


cheese cups, pretzel rolls, Kobe beef and a huge dessert buffet added up to one hell of a meal.

The usual awesome Bellagio fountains shot
Unfortunately, my stomach does not take buffets very well. After catching a couple fountain shows in front of the Bellagio, I was forced to retire when we got back to the hotel (it was maybe 9:30 PM--I was not a Vegas champ that night).

The one good thing that came out of such an early night Monday night was that on Tuesday, I finally wasn't tired! After a slightly shorter conference day, Maria and I grabbed some drinks, did some shopping, and had an okay-at-best dinner at BLT Burger in the


Mirage. Personally, although the food was decent it was so overpriced for the quality that I don't see myself eating there again. Post dinner we had a couple hours of pre-gaming and getting ready time before our final big night out.
The amazing view from Ghostbar at the Palms
Our names were on the lists at Ghostbar and Moon at the Palms, and I was highly impressed with both places. Ghostbar is more of a lounge, but the view was so spectacular that it simply isn't to be missed. Moon was a big crowded but did have a great DJ that night. The only disappointment was that they closed a bit


early, which caused us to catch a cab back to the Strip and hit up Rockhouse at Imperial Palace. This place reminded me of a regular old club here in Greenville, but hey--it was after 3 AM and we were still partying, so I'm not gonna hate ;o)

Maria and I at Ghostbar on our last night
Thing is, between my four Vegas trips I've realized the following: I don't know if I will EVER go back to a club on the Strip. The best times I've had in Vegas have been at off-Strip places--Ghostbar and Moon, of course, and Body English back in September '08. The clubs on the Strip are too crowded, half the time you have to pay a cover (even as a girl), and the people are mainly hoochied-up 21-year-old girls and douchey men that are on the border of being too old to be drooling over said 21-year-old girls. Moon, on the other hand, had great music, and even though it got crowded the people all seemed in general less slutty and douchey than those that frequent the clubs on the Strip. Lesson seriously learned.

Watching the sunrise through the dome over the Mirage lobby bar
Unfortunately, as the hour got later Rockhouse got...well...a bit too ghetto. We left sometime close to 5 AM and made our way back to the Mirage for a wind-down drink at the bar--only to realize, not much later, that the sun had risen and we had to be at the airport in less than four hours.

Oops.

Still, how awesome to say that we stayed up 'til sunrise in Vegas?

Needless to say, I was tired and hungover when I arrived at the airport later that morning...and my luck, I have never seen the US Air desk at the Vegas airport such a mess! There was a huge line, half of the machines weren't working, the girl I was in line for disappeared and I was left waiting for thirty minutes while people who had been 20 customers back in the line checked their bags and made their way to the gate...it did not make for a good final morning of my trip. In the end, I had to put my foot down and get a bit nasty with one of the agents in order to get my bag checked, and despite arriving at the airport nearly two hours before my flight they were starting to board when I arrived at the gate! What a nightmare.

Still, I wouldn't let that ruin my trip! Just goes to show that when you're flying out of a major airport like Vegas, there's not really such a thing as being "too early" for your flight. And despite those issues, despite spending a third of my trip in a conference, even despite my stomach ache Monday night...I as usual had an amazing time in Sin City. Although I will say that four nights was a bit of overkill...I'll continue to keep my Vegas trips to three nights from now on.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Things I Love Thursday: [Affordable] Downtown Greenville Restaurants

Although Steve and I rarely eat out (seriously, once a month? twice if we're lucky)--and when we do, we do our best to try new places as much as possible--there are a few downtown Greenville restaurants that truly are staples to us. When people come to visit, these are the places we tout as must-visits...as much for their reasonable prices as their delicious food (and in two of the three cases, delicious drinks as well!). Sure, we love Mellow Mushroom and Wild Wings, but they belong to chains. And Cazbah is great as well, but their beer list leaves a lot to be desired. American Grocery? Absolutely amazing, but unfortunately it's a wallet-abuser. Therefore, our downtown Greenville favorites are as follows:

Grille 33 @ the Channel. Pictured is their cheddar stuffed cheeseburger...on a glazed donut. This is probably one of the messiest and most unhealthy things I've ever eaten--but it was beyond delicious. In general, they have a great menu--a wide variety of burgers and chicken sandwiches, as well as fish and chips, baked potatoes, etc. Prices are very reasonable and the employees are helpful and friendly. This place is just great for a quick drop-in meal!

Blue Ridge Brewing Company! I apologize for the low quality of the picture, but hey, at least it's of the last time we ate there ;o) This was actually taken the morning after our wedding--we met some of our out-of-town guests for a post wedding brunch, and Blue Ridge was our top choice. The brunch was as good as any lunch or dinner we've had there--and trust me, those have always been delicious. Not to mention the awesome beers BRBC offers, all brewed on premises! They even have a pretty lengthy shooter list, but beware--some of the shooter names aren't for the faint of heart (or for anyone not old enough to go see an R-rated movie in the theater).

Last but not least, the place that is our most favorite downtown Greenville haunt...Smoke on the Water! This is another place where I've never had a bad meal, they have a handful of sauces made on site that are all delicious, the prices are right and the martini list (particularly the Angel's Breath and the Milky Way) is to die for. Even better? Incredible happy hour specials...i.e. half off those awesome martinis! (Seriously, how can a $3.50 martini not make you happy?)

Of course, this list in no way shape or form covers the scope of awesome restaurants that exist in downtown Greenville...but for some inexpensive not-chain-restaurant burgers, an awesome pub-style menu, or some good ol' Southern cookin'...with Grille 33, BRBC, and Smoke on the Water, you just can't go wrong!