Don’t Forget Facebook!

Screenshot_20171011-101201

I haven’t been neglecting my blog on purpose, I’ve just been finding it easier to post little snippets directly on Facebook lately!  Recipes, articles, travel tips & recommendations can all be found there, when I’m not on here!  So please “Like, Follow & Share” my Facebook page, Trips and Tastes and be sure to check out all my pics on Instagram as well!

Thanks for the love!

Advertisements

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

screenshot_2016-11-28-12-07-58-1

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.

20161112_095915

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 😦 )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. 😉

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.

20161109_140032

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Too Much Good Food!

I ate well last week.  So well in fact, that I think I even gained a few pounds.  My meals covered a wide culinary spectrum from full-on vegan to a Mexican breakfast, to an Italian meal that brought my family roots right to the surface.  All 3 of these restaurants were new to me, they were all very different, and all worthy of a return visit!

GOOD KARMA CAFE – 17 East Front St, Red Bank, NJ, (732) 450-8344
I am not a vegan. I could live without red meat if I had to, but dairy products (including my beloved cheese) hold a very special place in my heart. That being said, I have several close friends, and even my husband at times, who’ve made this dietary commitment. Unfortunately, if you’re vegan, eating out can be quite challenging. If you’re tired of having to read every detail of every menu or having to explain your entire life story to the server, Good Karma will make your life very simple – everything on the menu is vegan.

Screenshot_2016-04-26-10-20-53-1After sampling the Chimichurri Style Seitan Sticks, the Crispy Baked Tempeh Buffalo Wings & the Loaded Nachos (which were amazing), I decided to play it safe and get the “Pad Thai” for my entrée. I have to say that I enjoyed it more than my usual “Thai” Pad Thai. It wasn’t as spicy as I usually like, but it was loaded with vegetables (carrots, cabbage, celery & broccoli) and the peanut tamarind sauce was delicious. Topped with toasted peanuts & beautiful, fresh sprouts, I tried not to feel too guilty about the huge mound of stir-fried rice noodles I also consumed.

My “vegans” enjoyed their meals as well… oohing and aahing over every bite. The only thing Good Karma could improve upon is the ambiance for a nicer in-house dining experience. It’s quite small, but lacking a “cozy” feel. The take-out business was definitely booming though, so maybe that’s the better way to go.


MEEMOM’S
 – Kmart Plaza, Rt 35, Wall, NJ, (732) 359.8544
What better place to bring your mom to breakfast than a place called Meemom’s? This was actually the 3rd time I’d tried to eat here, apparently always stopping in at their busiest hours (like on Saturday mornings). This visit with my mom was on a Thursday around 10:30am and luckily we got right in without a wait.  It’s popularity must be due to its extensive, home-cooked breakfast menu (there are 22 varieties of French Toast) & its diverse selection of salads, paninis & wraps for lunch.

2016-04-26 10.43.36I had a hard time narrowing it down, but finally decided on the “Pico de Huevos” – a version of the Mexican dish, huevos rancheros, that sounded delicious. The perfectly poached eggs were served on a grilled cornbread muffin & topped with a chipotle hollandaise sauce. Add chorizo, pico de gallo & sliced avocado to create an amazing combination of flavors and textures. And the side of “spuds” were a pure bonus… who doesn’t enjoy a crisp pile of salted chips? Meemom’s is a definite winner, although I have to add that it took over 30 minutes for our food to arrive and like I mentioned, there is oftentimes a substantial wait. Hopefully you can time it right & enjoy this great breakfast & lunch eatery.


CAPITOLINE
639 Cookman Ave, Asbury Park, NJ, (732) 455.3609
I think I saved my personal favorite for last… Capitoline is the Italian offering in the new “Complex” that has recently branched out from the original Bond Street Bar in Asbury Park. This new, 2 level structure creatively takes up the space of a city block with 3 interconnecting restaurants and 4 bars. Bond Street is still alive & well, serving their delicious burgers & sandwiches in a classic, corner bar atmosphere. Loteria, with its main entrance on Mattison Ave, is a new Mexican taqueria, brought to life with the help of Asbury’s own, well-established Mexican restaurant, Plaza Tapatia.

20160420_095033On this night, however, we were drawn into Capitoline, with its enormous roll-up windows framing the immense wooden door on Cookman Ave.  Inside, an open design, family-style seating & a roaring pizza oven complete the rustic look.  The Italian menu features apps, salads, meatballs and pizza, available in big square slices or full pies.

2016-04-26 10.42.17We started with the Antipasta – a full board of Italian meats, cheeses, bread, olives and roasted peppers. I was in heaven. Next, we went with the “Agrodolce” salad – a delicious blend of baby lettuce, arugula, radicchio, roasted beets & goat cheese with a balsamic vinaigrette – delish. And finally we succumbed to the pizza… the classic Margherita which we jazzed up with some spicy Italian sausage – perfecto!  Add a few beers and the meal was complete – I cannot wait to go back!!!

All 3 restaurants in The Complex offer reasonably priced menu items, which is often hard to find in this downtown strip. The layout is innovative & clever, with doors or halls connecting the separate venues, but with each still embracing its very distinct space & unique theme. The architecture includes salvaged pieces & building materials from many of Asbury’s most historic landmarks, including the Paramount Theater.  “Eat well. Spend little.” is their tag line & it truly fits the bill.  This spot is definitely worth a trip, especially if you can get here before the summer crowds hit!

Always enjoy every bite & sip!!!