Friday, April 25, 2014

Seabourn Cruise Finale

After our final stop in the Dominican Republic, the Seabourn Sojourn was heading back to Fort Lauderdale, but not before we had a chance to enjoy more time at sea.

Mom came down to the Colonnade Restaurant with me for breakfast. We indulged in chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs and fruit.

After breakfast, I went up to the deck to relax for a while and Mom headed to a lecture, “Gods from the East: Arrival of the Europeans in the New World.”

It was a leisurely day so we met up for lunch in the Restaurant 1 and had fantastic Coconut Crusted Chicken Burgers with roasted potatoes and coleslaw, followed by ice cream for dessert.

Mom came up to the pool deck with me and we lounged around for a while with Pina Coladas in hand. It was actually the first time I had a chance to go into the pool and the water was warm and inviting.

We remained reading and sunning some more before dinner with an eclectic group from Los Angeles, England and Canada.

For the first course, Mom had a tasty Lobster and Avocado Salad while I had the wonderful Black & Blue Soup (onion soup with a blue cheese crouton) and an Endive Salad.

Mom enjoyed a main course of Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with tamarind glaze, warm vegetable julienne and glass noodle salsa. For me it was a Baked Spinach Ricotta Cheese Tian.  It was very good and I was glad the portion was small so I could enjoy the fantastic dessert – a Hot Chocolate Soufflé with Bailey’s Cream.

After dinner we went to the show. It was a fun evening of the ship’s musicians singing and dancing to contemporary songs. I went to bed in full relaxation mode, knowing I had another day to enjoy the ship.

The sun was strong in the morning and I was ready to enjoy it after a breakfast of a melon yogurt smoothie and Belgium Waffles. I was at the pool by 11:00 and swam and relaxed until 1:00, when I met Mom for what was our favorite lunch of the cruise.

Ironically, the meal was a preview to my upcoming river cruise through Austria and featured Spaetzle with Cheese and tender Wiener Schnitzel.  Dessert was a luscious Peach Melba. Everything was cooked to perfection.

I had enough sun for the day and we went to the room and relaxed with the movie JOBS with Ashton Kutcher. It was one of many films available to us in our cabin at all times.

We dressed for dinner and went up to the deck. The Farewell Party was another unexpected addition on Seabourn.  It was as luxurious as everything else the cruise had done, with an endless array of caviar, salmon, champagne, cheeses and shrimp flowing, while a band played in the background.

After we ate, all of the staff waved goodbye from the deck above, and then came around to greet us all. We were pretty full so we took our time going down to our final Seabourn dinner.

We were invited to dine with Illusionist Jonathan Neal, who we had watched perform the previous night.

It was yet another great meal, this one with a Beet and Burrata Cheese Salad, Parpadelle with Veal Ragout (Mom had the Soft Shell Crabs) and Baked Alaska for dessert.

We called it a night because it was time to go upstairs and pack as our journey was coming to an end.

For me, the opportunity to relax on a lounge chair and look out at the water (with a cocktail in hand) was just wonderful and I got to do that more than I expected on this trip. I was more relaxed than I had been in years when we arrived back in Fort Lauderdale.

Although I was a few pounds heavier from all those fantastic meals, I felt healthy and energized, as did Mom.

Thanks again to Seabourn Cruise Line for a fantastic voyage. It will be hard for any other cruise to compete with the experience I had. 

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Caviar and Champagne with Seabourn on Isla Catalina

When I first mentioned to friends and colleagues that I was going on a Caribbean cruise with Seabourn, I heard over and over about their spectacular caviar and champagne beach day. It sounded pretty incredible, but the actual event was even more spectacular.
Isla Catalina (Catalina Island) in the Dominican Republic was being rented out by Seabourn for the afternoon, but they needed some time to get it ready. That gave me some time to spend with Mom and to catch up on a bit of social media.

We had breakfast overlooking the Caribbean Sea in the Collanade. I was more than satisfied with a Feta Cheese Egg White Omelet and a small Chocolate Croissant. I knew there would be plenty of food later on.

I climbed off the tender and was greeted with Caribbean music and dancers, as well as towels and rum punch.

The beach and the turquoise water couldn’t have looked any better if I designed it myself.  An abundance of chairs lined the sand and the water was crystal clear and warm.

I was escorted to a lounge chair and relaxed in front of the beautiful beach, enjoying the warm sunshine as the waiters came by with cocktails. Some of the guests also enjoyed snorkeling and watersports.

It wasn’t long before I heard the boat sirens and headed down to the water. There, tuxedo-clad waiters stepped off the boats and into the water. Some had silver trays filled with caviar while others popped open bottles of champagne and poured it to the guests in the water!

That was just part of the excitement. After they finished with the champagne and caviar, we were told lunch was ready.

The lunch spread was like nothing I had ever seen. Lobster tails, ribs, burgers, chicken, potatoes and corn on the cob were being barbecued and placed with an array of salads, fruit and desserts. And, as was Seabourn’s way, the drinks were continually flowing and complimentary.

I reveled in the warm sun for another hour or so before heading back to the boat.

When I got back to the ship, I showered and changed and took Mom up to the Observation Deck for High Tea. In addition to the selection of freshly brewed teas, there were warm scones with clotted cream and jam, as well as finger sandwiches.

I enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the Dominican Republic as we sailed away, and then joined Mom in our Penthouse Suite to dress for dinner.

It was our night to have dinner at Restaurant 2, an intimate eatery with a tasting menu, which certainly lived up to the imagination of any Michelin star restaurant I’ve visited:

Chef’s Cocktail’ Poached Shrimp Martini Balsamic Jelly with Split Saffron Vinaigrette

Foie Gras Crème Brulee with Syrah Honey Syrup
Crisp Duck Confit Filo, Navy Bean Cassoulet
Smoked Duck Carpaccio, Foie Gras Terrine and Arugula

Lobster & Lemongrass Presse with Lobster Herb Ravioli
Shellfish Cappuccino, Seared Beef Crostini, Ginger Jello

Roasted Alaskan Pollock Fillet, Forked Potatoes, Braised Leek Ragout, Smoked Bacon Jus
Pan Seared Quail Breast, Porcini Risotto, Port Wine Reduction

White Chocolate Mousse, Plums & Almond Foam, Pistachio Cracker, Passion Fruit Sorbet

My courses were adjusted to accommodate my seafood allergy, with no shrimp in the Chef’s Cocktail, lamb shank and quail were substituted for the lobster course. Although it seems like an enormous amount of food, all of the portions were small.

At Restaurant 2, guests were given the option to pay a bit extra for a premium wine pairing, but we were happy with the selection of wines of the day. We started off with a 2012 Possessioni Bianco, which I loved. With dessert was a wonderful 2009 Chateau-Saint Armannd Sauternes, full of fruit, but not too overly sweet.

After dinner, we visited the Seabourn Sojourn’s casino for the first time during the trip. Mom headed to the show with some friends she had made while onboard and I retired for the night. It had been our last stop on the Sojourn, but we had a bit more time onboard before departing in Fort Lauderdale. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Breathtaking St. John from the Seabourn Sojourn

I had never been to St. John, one of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Truthfully, I knew little about this island off  St. Thomas, which isn’t even big enough to have its own commercial airport. That made me even more intrigued to check it out and I was lucky enough to have a tour guide for the day to help me do that.

Mom and I enjoyed another breakfast on our large balcony on the Seabourn Sojourn before I loaded up on sunblock for this warm day. I was told the tender and the island weren’t very accessible and she decided to use the opportunity to enjoy the ship.

St. John is too small for Seabourn to dock at so we needed to take a tender. At the dock was the Virgin Islands National Park Visitors Center. I was told the draw of this island was the national park, though I could immediately see that it also had some beautiful beaches to go with it.

The tourism board had arranged for a knowledgeable driver, Kenneth, to meet me at the pier. When we entered Virgin Islands National Park, I was a little taken to see a donkey rather than a deer on the road, but I reminded myself this is a national park in the Caribbean, not on mainland U.S.

While the beaches on St. John are public, they are protected and the laws are very strict about what you can bring on the beaches to make sure they are kept clean. We actually stopped to inform some tourists of this and they were very agreeable.

I saw some chairs in the sand and almost asked to spend the rest of the day there, but I knew I only had a few hours to spend on the island and I wanted to see more.

I felt like every beach I saw outdid the last in its beauty. In the end, Trunk Bay, with its underwater snorkeling trail, was my favorite.

Before finishing the tour, we went up on a hill to see a view of all of the U.S. Virgin Islands and then the British Virgin Islands. It was quite spectacular.

I stopped at the Wharfside Village before I went back to the ship to pick up some spices to bring home.

I met Mom for lunch back at the ship. We decided to go up to the Patio Grill and eat outside. We sampled a bit of everything from the buffet, which had Greek as its featured food of the day. We sampled the Chicken Gyros and Greek Salad while taking in the view of St. John.

After lunch, I relaxed on the deck with a decadent Mudslide as we sailed away. Seabourn had a guitarist playing in the background.

I took Mom to the salon to have her hair done and at the salon. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to spend more time in the spa in the Serenity Room. I actually fell asleep for about an hour while relaxing on the warm, pulsating chair.

It was formal night on the ship so we got dressed up and headed to a VIP cocktail party with the Captain in Sojourn’s Grand Salon. We listened to Sophie sing for a while and then headed upstairs for dinner.

We sat with a wide selection of new friends, from Costa Rica and California, and even someone who was from my hometown of Champaign.

We had a special Chef’s Dinner Menu in The Restaurant for this night. Course one was a Carpaccio of Yellow fin Tuna with an herb salad and quail eggs in a Kalamata olive tapenade. It was quite popular and I was happy with my mozzarella and tomato salad.

Next, Mom loved her creamy Lobster Bisque while I was more than satisfied with a great Roasted Tomato Bisque.

After a strawberry sorbet topped with champagne, they brought in a delicious Pecorino Ravioli for both of us.

Mom enjoyed the Baked Cod as her main course, while I went for the Slow Roasted Beef Tenderloin. It was too rare for me, but the waiter was more than happy to take it back and cook it to my liking.

Dessert was a Blueberry Clafoutis Chamomile Crumble and it was quite good.

After dinner, we went to the Grand Salon to watch illusionist Jonathan Neal. He was quite good and I was glad I went down.

I was getting quite used to the Seabourn turndown service, with the drapes to our balcony pulled closed and a tray on the bed with chocolates and the program for the next day.  I was going to miss it, but there was still more to come and Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic was next. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Return to Antigua on Seabourn Cruise

It had been over 20 years since I had been to Antigua. Truthfully, I was taken aback with the poverty and could not really enjoy the island. I didn’t really think about coming back.

A lot can happen in two decades and it certainly did to Antigua. Hotels, restaurants, stores and a large distillery built up there businesses and employed many more locals.

The island took on a completely different light that I felt the minute I stepped off the ship.

I had breakfast with Mom in our suite on the Seabourn Sojourn. As with all the service on this ship, it was delivered on time and set up beautifully on the table in our living room. Mom decided to stay onboard in the morning and I got ready for my tour with Antigua and Barbuda Tourism.

Matara met me at the dock for our outing. Our first stop was at the Beehive for a drink. I ordered a Frozen Mango Daiquiri and it was just what I needed to cool off as the temperature and humidity was rising fast.

We talked about all the changes in the island with many more stores and high end hotels, such as Sandals, Rosewood Jumby Bay and St. James. She told me that there were also many more direct flights coming into Antigua. There’s even one from London.

We walked around the downtown area for a bit before our driver came to pick us up to take us to the Antigua Distillery.

I had no idea that Antigua Distillery Ltd made so many products, including vodka gin and many types of rum, although only the rums were made completely in this plant.

The distillery was quite large and I found the tour quite interesting.

There wasn’t really anything going on at the time I was there (they were waiting for a large shipment of molasses from Guyana), but that allowed me to walk throughout the production area (with a hardhat) and have more time to learn about what they made there.

After the distillery tour, we headed to the office and store. I tasted some of the products, including the English Harbour Aged Rums. I always did have good taste and the 1981 was my favorite at $600 a bottle. It was smooth and filled with caramel and vanilla, with just enough sweetness.

I also loved the Kokocaribe Coconut Rum. It is so fresh in coconut flavor that it actually has an expiration date. It was delicious and I regret not buying a bottle to take home with me.

We drove around the island for a while and I was able to see some of the beautiful beaches this island is known for. I was especially taken with the one at Fort Antigua.

Here I was delighted to see a group of children playing and singing (see video below).

We also stopped at another historic spot, Fort James. Both forts had breathtaking beach views.

The trip ended with a bit of history at Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour. I noted that it was a place I would definitely like to come back and explore. In fact, they even had a hotel right on the Dockyard to stay and enjoy the views.

I went back to the ship to have lunch with Mom and then the two of us headed to the Pier Shops to do some shopping. The town was fairly accessible and we didn’t buy much, but it was a nice outing under sunny skies.

I watched the Sojourn sail away from Antigua as the sun was setting before getting dressed for dinner.

Mom enjoyed one of her favorite dishes, a crab cake, for her main course.

We both started with a tasty Cauliflower Soup, followed by a Leek Stuffed Artichoke that was also quite good. The Pasta with Wild Mushrooms and Goat Cheese I ordered for a main course was one of my favorite main dishes on the ship so far.

Dessert was a delicious mix of Marzipone Mousse, a zeppole and ice cream.

I once again found myself ready to turn in early after a full day on the Seabourn Sojourn. Another was yet to come, on the island of St.John