Antigua… Another Great Getaway!

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Our 7th Annual Girls Getaway to the Pineapple Beach Club in Antigua (pronounced An-TEE-gah) was another successful endeavor! This totally relaxed resort (they actually describe themselves as “the most laid back all-inclusive in Antigua”) is full of breathtaking views, beautiful grounds and an accommodating staff. With only 180 rooms, this intimate spot provides a great getaway for those looking for an adults-only resort to simply unwind.

To start… which room???

If you can splurge just a little, the waterfront rooms are the way to go. This 2-story block provides a feeling of privacy while still being right next to all the action. The rooms themselves are fairly basic, but the unobstructed views just can’t be beat. Second runner-up would be a 2nd floor spot in the Beachfront rooms… though not as private, still a great view and only steps from the sand. You really can’t go wrong with any of the accommodations here as the resort is small and nothing is very far from the beach.

Pool vs Beach… The Great Debate

The beach here wins hands-down. We’re talking the powder white sand & aqua blue water that you travel to the Caribbean for! The surf can pick up a bit on windier days, but most times you’ll be floating carefree. Don’t get me wrong, the main pool is nice with its 2 levels and cascading water features, but it’s on the smaller side and just can’t compete with the open sea!

And of course there are plenty of water sports to take advantage of as well… you can snorkel right off the beach, paddle board, kayak, windsurf and more.

How About the Food?

You know this is an important area for me… and what I will say is that the food was fine. We ate at the buffet for breakfast & lunch and had no problem assembling a nice plate with plenty of options. There is a station at breakfast for fresh eggs and at lunch they offered custom pastas or meats/fish in the same spot. I’m sure it would get a bit repetitive if you were here for a full week, but for a 4 night stay, it was perfect.

As for dinner, we enjoyed the themed buffet on 2 of our nights, ate at the Pineapple Grill one night (reservations required 2 days in advance for this one as well as their other a la carte restaurant, Chef Pietro’s) and one night we paid a preset $35 for a very nice meal at their sister property, the Verandah, right across the street. All were good, although the service was a little spotty at the a la cartes. Overall, I found the food to be more than satisfactory, but just a little on the bland side.

I almost forgot about Mary’s Outhouse! Make sure you take the hike up to Mary’s for lunch one day & enjoy a great BBQ buffet in their rustic picnic area. It’s part of the resort & is located high up on the hill with incredible, panoramic views of the island. For fun, you can create your own “sign” to leave your mark here, along with hundreds of other guests.

Nighttime Fun?
20170125_211703Instead of the usual “shows” put on at most larger all-inclusives, the Pineapple offers nightly entertainment in the main bar area each evening. They had different singers, bands, and even a karaoke night. Most started around 8pm and were finished up by 11pm, which was fine for us after a long day in the sun. There is also a disco, that we really enjoyed one night – but I think that was mainly due to the great group of 10 Canadian girls who were there celebrating their 40th birthdays – otherwise I think it may have been on the quiet side ūüėČ

Cocktails Anyone?
screenshot_20170204-172027Upon check-in, you’re handed the most deliciously strong rum punch… and from there, you’re on your way! ¬†There is one main bar in between the pool, beach & buffet restaurant. This is the central gathering spot for the resort and you’re bound to make lots of friends here, including the bartenders. Cocktails are good (no top shelf liquor though) and the local draft beer, Wadadli, was delicious. They offer a decent white wine and both a Cabernet and a Merlot for the red drinkers, both of which were quite nice for an all-inclusive.

screenshot_20170205-122027“Must-Do” Excursion…
The resort offers its own snorkeling/sightseeing trip on the “Calypso Cat” for only $65 per person. I highly recommend this 1/2 day outing to either Bird Island or Green Island (based on the day). The boat leaves right from the beach at 9am & includes snorkeling equipment, a light lunch & plenty of cocktails. The staff were awesome and we enjoyed our day IMMENSELY! For more on this trip, check out my post with more pics on my Facebook Page.

It’s so incredibly beautiful here… with so many things to see and do. Unfortunately, 4 nights were just not enough. We never made it into St. John’s to go shopping (a 30-minute trip by taxi) or over to Devil’s Bridge (a 20-30 min walk from the resort) which had been on¬†our list, but it only gives us a reason to come back, which I definitely plan to do!

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For the Foodies…

As you know, I thoroughly enjoy taking pictures of my food. If something looks delicious, or I just know it’s going to taste amazing, I like to capture the moment! I don’t post them all because honestly, I don’t want to be that annoying BUT as I’m going thru my phone this morning, I’ve come across a few plates that really deserve some air time… So here’s a breakfast, lunch & dinner wrap-up for ya from some local favorites!

20161207_085550This classic breakfast sandwich comes from none other than the infamous Frank’s Deli in Asbury Park. There’s just something about that egg, meat & cheese combo that completely covers all the bases. I strayed from the typical Jersey pork roll, and went with the ham (it sounds healthier, doesn’t it?) but the flavor satisfied just the same. And that lightly grilled roll was worth every poppy seed I had to pick out of my teeth ūüėČ

20161207_085637This right here is one of the best lunches I’ve had in ages… The Lobster Cobb Salad at Toast in Asbury Park went way beyond my wildest expectations. First of all, it’s gigantic. Secondly, everything is incredibly fresh & the lobster chunks were to die for. Topped with a small drizzle of the Poppy Dijon Vinaigrette, I’m embarrassed to say, that I devoured the entire bowl. This really is a great twist on a classic salad.

20161207_085713I’m giving the chef special kudos for this dinner I enjoyed at Yvonne’s in Neptune City. ¬†I had a craving for scallops, but wasn’t in the mood for the way it was offered on the menu. ¬†I did like the sound of the Mediterranean Pasta however, so I asked if I could have these pan-seared Thai Sea Scallops added to that dish instead (I apologize… I know I’m a pain!). ¬†But they happily accommodated my request and I was able to enjoy the shellfish I wanted atop a delicious combo of penne,¬†sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, spinach, garlic, feta and olive oil. ¬†OMG – Yum!!!

I wouldn’t recommend eating all 3 of these meals in the same day unless you have the metabolism of a teenage boy, but rather, spread them out & treat yourself to several glorious days of delectable eats!

Frank’s Deli: ¬†1406 Main St, Asbury Park, NJ,¬†(732) 775-6682

Toast:  516 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park, NJ, (732) 776-5900

Yvonne’s: ¬†1311 Route 35 South, Neptune City, NJ,¬†(732) 775-9004

NCL Breakaway… Beautiful Ship, but the Extras Can Add Up!

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Three weeks ago today, I woke up to this beautiful sunrise from my balcony on the Norwegian Breakaway. This was a last-minute booking, as my husband had to work, but my 10-year old son was off from school so I decided to take advantage of his vacation days & hit the high seas!

Departing from New York City, the Breakaway is NCL’s newest & largest member of their fleet. Sailing with almost 4,000¬†passengers,¬†this¬†is the biggest ship I’ve been on & I was worried that I’d spend most of¬†my week clutching the¬†map. I was¬†pleasantly surprised however,¬†by the ship’s easily navigable layout. And the crowds¬†only became a¬†problem when looking for the ideal lounge chair up on the pool deck or when trying to get on or off the boat (we spent almost 1.5 hours in line to get off the ship in NYC!).

There were several promotions available when I booked this sailing, however they did not apply to the “Balcony Guarantee” category we selected¬†because of its great price. For almost double the cost of our reservation, I could have chosen¬†our specific¬†balcony cabin location¬†& received¬†2 of the following free perks: 3¬†dinners at their “specialty” restaurants, an all-inclusive drink package, free wifi or prepaid gratuities. Honestly, when traveling with a 10-year old, I really didn’t think those upgrades would be worth the extra cost, so I stuck with our base fare of $649 per person and hoped for the best.

We did ok with our cabin assignment… On a “Guarantee,” the cruise line picks a cabin for you, in the category you select or higher, and you’re notified of the cabin number a few days before sailing. We ended up on Deck 11, which was very centrally located, but all the way forward on the port side. No complaints… it had a balcony and that’s all I really wanted for this trip! Our cabin attendant, Ruby,¬†was wonderful and the little extra walk to the very front of the ship was not a big deal (and always made it easy to find our room!).

Unfortunately,¬†to really experience all this ship has to offer, you need to shell out some extra cash, and be prepared to make reservations for everything – even the shows! The¬†promos that NCL was offering clearly would have enhanced¬†our experience,¬†but we kept to our budget and still managed to have a great time. Here’s my take on whether the promotional perks that I skipped were really worth it…

DINING – There are 3 complimentary main dining rooms on this ship, each with a different atmosphere, but all offering the¬†exact same menu. There is also¬†a huge buffet restaurant on Deck 15 with¬†food literally available all day long. I have always been pleased with the quality & selection of the food in these “inclusive” venues without feeling like I had to spend extra money to get a better meal at one of the specialty restaurants. On this cruise, however, I was a little disappointed. The buffet was very good & full of options, but the dining room meals were just ok and the service was spotty at times. The menu lacked creativity & variety and there were several nights that I couldn’t really¬†find anything that appealed to me. I truly look forward to my evening meal on a cruise (it’s the actual highlight of my day… can you say “foodie”?), but many nights here I was disappointed.

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La Cucina, the beautiful Italian specialty restaurant.

The specialty restaurants (some being a set price per person, others with¬†an a la carte menu) received rave reviews and the selections all looked delicious. There were options for steak, seafood, teppanyaki, sushi, Brazilian, & Italian (which I was tempted to try as the prices weren’t too bad, but I couldn’t get a reservation ūüė¶ )We did try the sushi restaurant for lunch on our last day & it was amazing.

Bottom line:  If you want to eat well on this ship, (and by that I mean quality, not quantity), pick the specialty restaurant promotion or purchase one of the dining packages & make all of your reservations online before you leave, to insure entry into your favorites.

DRINKS – This area was interesting to me. On every cruise I’ve been on, there have always been an abundance of waiters walking around trying to take your drink order. As soon as you¬†walk on the ship, they are usually pushing the “drink of day” and I usually get one… lol! Not the case here. No welcome drink as you boarded, no waiters to be found in the pool area,¬†and in the dining rooms I was only approached once. Now that so many people are opting for the all-inclusive drink package, apparently they’re no longer hungry for that money. So for those of us who would like to¬†have a drink here and there, and¬†actually pay their outrageous prices, you’ll have to find a bar & wait in line.

Bottom line: ¬†If you get the drink package, you’ll have plenty of¬†places to wet your whistle. There are uniquely themed bars¬†for¬†martinis, beer, whiskey, margaritas and more. But the all-inclusive packages are pricey…¬†averaging around $400 per person for the week. However, a single glass of red wine was over $10, so you’ll make your money back in no time. It truly depends on how many days you’ll be on the ship (vs in port) and how much you think you’ll drink each day. To me, this one is still a toss-up.

WIFI – We sailed on Carnival last year and paid approximately $60 for 120 minutes of internet access. It was fine… no file size limits and easily trackable minutes.¬†This ship only offered “per megabyte” plans, not minutes, or you could purchase an unlimited plan for $210 for the week (almost 1/3 the cost of my cruise!). I finally broke down on the 4th day¬†&¬†bought the 300mb plan for¬†$59, but was afraid to upload any pictures or even scroll through Facebook or Instagram for fear of using up all my MBs!

Bottom line:  If you need to keep in touch with the outside world, this perk may be worth it, or plan to cough up over $200 to stay connected.

GRATUITIES – This is that little bill that they tack on to your account each day to cover the tips of all the people who serve you during the week. ¬†In the old days, they gave you actual envelopes that you filled with cash and handed directly to those people providing you with the service. Now it’s simply charged to your¬†account, at the rate of $13.50 per person, per day. For a 7 night cruise, we paid $189. If you’re not happy with this amount, you can go down to Guest Services and have it adjusted, but then you’d really just look like a big jerk. ūüėČ

Bottom line: ¬†This is a set fee, so you know the cost right from the start. It would be the least valuable add-on offered, but if you didn’t need the wifi or you aren’t big drinkers, it’s a nice perk.

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In front of The Breakaway in Nassau.

All in all, we had¬†a great time… our trip was fairly low-key, focusing on activities for the kids (although none of the kids we met were overly thrilled with the kid’s club) and not participating in too much of the ship’s nightlife. The itinerary was unfortunate as our beach day at NCL’s private island was cancelled due to damage from Hurricane Matthew & our late arrival into Nassau only gave us a few cloudy hours of beach time on shore. Our best day was in Port Canaveral, FL when we chose to just stay on the ship & enjoy the less crowded pool areas.

As for NCL’s concept of “Freestyle” cruising,¬†I’ve realized after taking this trip, that the structure & formality of a traditional cruise vacation is something I actually enjoy! I missed¬†getting dressed up for dinner, getting to know my servers in the dining room, looking forward to¬†each meal¬†without¬†having to make a reservation or pay extra & being able to¬†decide last-minute if we wanted to attend¬†the main¬†nightly show (at no additional charge!). As for the food, I certainly ate my fair share, but I just didn’t find the high-end options in the dining rooms that I’m used to.

Bottom line: This is a gorgeous ship with tons to offer. The public areas are beautiful and¬†everything¬†is new and spotless. Kids will have plenty to do¬†during the day, but if they’re not into the Kid’s Club, finding something to do at night will be a bit of a challenge. For the adults, there seem to be enough bars, shows and¬†of course the casino, to keep everybody busy. Our particular itinerary wasn’t great, but the usual¬†route should be adequate for most. Don’t rule this one out, especially with the convenience of leaving from New York, but it’ll be tough to find a bargain if you want to take advantage of all this ship’s extras.

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Discover the Taste of “Tropicali” at Fins!

img_20160917_124327As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, I’ll do anything for a little taste of the tropics. Thankfully, there’s FINS.¬†With locations in Bradley Beach, Point Pleasant & Sea Girt, Fins offers their own “tropicali” cuisine, featuring a¬†blend of flavors borrowed from¬†Southern California, the Pacific Rim & various tropical islands. Whether you dine-in & enjoy their surf-themed decor, order take-out, or have your meal delivered, you don’t want to miss these tropically inspired tastes.

 

screenshot_2016-10-24-18-08-10-1As a creature of habit, when I find something I like, I tend to stick with it. I originally became obsessed with this “S-Turn Burrito” and ordered it exclusively for many months. The crispy chunks of coconut-sesame battered white fish, mixed with grilled pineapple, cheese, black beans and Sriracha sauce was my be all, end all.¬†The fresh chips and my favorite salsa were just an added bonus.

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But one day I decided to branch out… The “Cloud Break” caught my eye as I love codfish and the sound of a “cilantro coconut cream sauce” seemed almost¬†heavenly. Well I was right, and a new favorite was born. You can’t go wrong with adding peppers, red onions, avocado, pico de gallo and cheese to the aforementioned ingredients and then rolling it all in a lemon cilantro tortilla. Total yum.

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Then there are those days when you just crave a certain ingredient. One day it was shrimp and I ventured out¬†“Somewhere in Jamaica” and had this spicy wrap put into a “Soup Bowl” for fun. It’s important to note that all of Fins’ burrito/wraps/salads are also available in this yummy tortilla bowl at no extra charge. Spicy grilled Caribbean shrimp, romaine lettuce, chunks of mango, pico de gallo, black beans & mixed cheeses combined to form this bowl of deliciousness.

img_20160926_142619When I’m feeling a bit on the plump side, I opt for this gluten-free favorite called The Bali Bowl. It features coconut steamed vegetables & grilled chicken, drizzled with a sweet Thai chili sauce over TropiCali rice with a side of blue corn chips. I always feel a little healthier when I eat it (since it doesn’t have any cheese… lol) but it certainly doesn’t lack any flavor or leave me feeling hungry.

 
img_20160720_131020Another “light” option is the Oahu Wrap (again pictured in the Tortilla Bowl, but comes standard in a spinach wrap). It features the most delicious piece of teriyaki-seared tuna served with sliced avocado,¬†a mix of black beans, chunks of mango, Mandarin sesame slaw & romaine lettuce. If you’re a big tuna fan, this one will not disappoint.

 

2016-09-17-13-05-15For those who are not so adventurous (like my 10-year old son), this “Tahitian Fish & Chips” is a tried and true favorite. Crispy coconut-sesame fish¬†fingers¬†are served with Fins tortilla chips and a side of Wasabi Passion dipping sauce. It’s a good size portion, even for an adult… I’ve rarely seen any leftovers from this one. ūüôā

 

This review is long overdue as we’ve been devouring Fins’ amazing food for years. Our crew at On-Site Computer Service in Ocean Grove enjoys a quick delivery from the Bradley Beach location several times a month! ¬†But remember…the items shown here are only a few examples of the delicious offerings at Fins. ¬†Check out their full menu or stop in to one of their 3 locations to get¬†the “tropcali” feel for yourself!

www.finsusa.com

120 Main St, Bradley Beach, NJ 07720
(732) 897-8600

2701 Route 88, Point Pleasant, NJ 08742
(732) 458-3200

Sea Girt Square, 2100 Highway 35, Sea Girt, NJ 08750
(732) 359-8210

Breakfast Worth the Wait in Asbury Park

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I love going out to breakfast (or any meal really), but there’s something about that late morning meal on a weekend that I especially enjoy. This week I returned to “Toast,” a spot that I had tried a few years ago that was good, but hadn’t really left me ohhhing or ahhhing at the time. Well, I’m happy to report that certainly wasn’t the case yesterday!

screenshot_2016-09-26-10-20-02-1Arriving at prime time on a Sunday morning (around 10am), we were told there would be a 15-20 min wait. Luckily, they take your cell number & text you when your table is ready, so you’re free to roam around Asbury Park while you’re waiting. Once we got our call, we were seated quickly & handed the delicious menu to peruse.

I immediately spotted the Eggs Benedict, of which they offer a few varieties including a Crab Cake version (which I saw pass by several times) and a Smoked Salmon Benedict, which I always adore. Yesterday however, the highlighted “Huevos Rancheros” caught my attention. I love this dish and you just don’t see it very often, so my selection was easily made.

img_20160925_112029The food took a little while to arrive, but we enjoyed the bustling atmosphere and our warm drinks (a tasty¬†Pumpkin Spice Latte for me) while we waited. ¬†And it was worth it… ¬†My two over-easy eggs, covered in Mexican cojita cheese, sat upon a crispy tortilla surrounded by a delicious variety of beans, tomatoes & fresh cilantro. Every bite was a treat. My son devoured a giant Belgian waffle topped with fresh strawberries, and my friend enjoyed her “Bacon & Brie” omelette. Delish!

Toast is only open for breakfast & lunch, but the menu offers a wide variety of options, and all items are available all day. I can’t wait to go back & try the “Lobster Cobb Salad” and I’m sure that the “Smoked Salmon Benedict” will also end up on my plate before too long!

Toast is located at 516 Cookman Ave in Asbury Park, NJ.
Current hours are Wednesday thru Monday, from 7:30am to 3pm.  During the off season, they are closed on Tuesdays.

Visit their site for the full menu (www.toastasburypark.com) and their Facebook Page for daily specials and more!

Wearable Treasures!

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What souvenirs do you buy when traveling? T-shirts? A shot glass? Christmas ornaments? In addition to picking up a small piece of local artwork, I almost always come home with a piece of jewelry. It could be a ring with a stone native to the area, a high-end piece that I found for a great price, or a simple beaded bracelet from a local vendor on the beach. In any case, I love having a unique jewelry design that I can wear as a memory from each trip.

I recently came across a¬†line of bracelets that was¬†based on this very premise… Melanie Vandersluis began collecting bracelets from each of her travels. After a 7-week trip to Israel, France & Greece, she came home and decided to turn this passion of hers into a business.¬† Melanie Audrey, her Montreal-based company, creates beautiful, hand-crafted bracelets using natural¬†stone beads¬†or sturdy paracord designs.¬†Each comes with its own unique story based on the people and places she’s encountered while traveling.¬†Click HERE to read Melanie’s story ūüôā

I have to say it took me a while to put my order together because I wanted them all! My first choice, however, was an easy one. Santorini, Greece is currently at the number one spot on my travel bucket list, so the set of Santorini Stacks was a no-brainer! Featuring 4 separate bracelets, each with Picture Jasper stones around the back and then one each of Larvikite, Clear Quartz, Larimar & Lapis Lazuli on front. Each stone has a wonderful meaning and worn all together, they are perfect!

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My general love of travel drew me to the Passport Wanderer. Made with 2 kinds of Jasper beads & Larvikite, these¬†healing stones look great and the story sounded like my own personal fantasy (even though it’s written from a man’s point of view… lol!)

This is a great, neutral starter and would mix nicely with any of the other bracelets in this collection.

 

Screenshot_2016-08-26-09-46-38-1My final pick was the Heart of Gold bracelet… created for the kind of¬†person that everyone should aspire to be. I’ll be keeping this one for myself but I’m sure to be ordering these for some special people in my life! This beautiful bracelet features Rose Quartz, Coral & Picture Jasper.

All of Melanie Audrey’s bracelets can be ordered in a small, medium or large & can easily be shipped to the U.S. ¬†They come packaged in a little burlap bag & each story is included inside. Please note all prices are listed in Canadian dollars, so you’ll have to do a quick currency conversion to get the US price.

I love these bracelets & their¬†stories… Thank you to Instagram for introducing me to Melanie Audrey! Check out her gallery at @bymelanieaudrey & shop right online at www.melanieaudrey.com.

Screenshot_2016-08-26-10-28-13-1Here are a few of my “treasures” from past trips… Starting at the top left I have a Mother of Pearl Ring from Puerto Vallarta, a set of white, yellow & rose gold rings from Bermuda, a Swatch Watch from Curacao, a CZ Necklace from St. Thomas, my “Pura Vida” bracelet from Costa Rica, my¬†diamond Palm Tree Necklace (that took me 2 years to find) from St. Kitts, a rainbow bead bracelet from my most recent trip Punta Cana and a great Turquoise ring in sterling silver¬†from Cancun. ¬†Jewelry is definitely my weakness!!!