Monday, September 19, 2016

BOSTON (The Cradle of Liberty)!


My son, Tommy, called one day and said..."It's time for you to visit.  I want to show you around one of my favorite cities, Boston, first and then on to New York!"   No further persuasion needed!  We were on a plane to Boston as soon as we arranged our flights and accommodations!

As you know, when we travel, we travel well and always work at getting the best deals.  So, I took a little extra time to secure the most economical, yet excellent accommodations!  As you also know, we never back down from trying something different and actually look forward to the unique, out of the ordinary, top-notch, and just plain fun vacations!

Since we are both retired, we can travel anytime.  A plus for securing the least expensive flights.  We will be flying into Boston and staying there a few days.  Then Tommy will drive us back to his stomping grounds in the New York area, where we'll visit for another week.  So, a one-way flight to Boston and one-way from Newark..

Here's a flight tip.....I've often found that, even when flying to and from the same destination, you can see a savings by booking two one-ways rather than  one round-trip.  So, always check your options.

Boston accommodations were easy.  Since Tommy had his car, we could avoid the high  Boston city hotel prices.   (Actually, even without a car, planning around public transportation, you can save substantially on suburban hotels.)  After some research, I booked us at the Double Tree Hilton in Bedford Glen, a short drive from Boston.  The price was right, and the accommodations and hospitality were on spot!

Tommy picked us up at airport.  We booked early flights so we could take advantage of most of the day in Boston.  Our first stop....Double Tree to drop off our bags and head right out to experience Boston!

This is my first visit to Boston...I must say, I was even more impressed than I expected.  I was looking forward to the history, the architecture, the Freedom Trail.  Tommy loves this city and I could immediately see why!  Add to the awe-inspired feeling of actually standing here in this site of  our country's history, touching the buildings and walking the streets of our forefathers who shaped our country!  Now, add the food (wow!), the fun vibe and the natural beauty...that's Boston!

We've planned almost 3 days to experience virtually all of Boston (mostly walking!), with a side trip to Cambridge and the awesome Harvard campus!   Here we go!  .....

Anxious to take in all of  Boston in our 2 days stay, our first stop...the North End also known as Little Italy)...Boston's oldest residential neighborhood.  Brick streets and historic architecture, includng The Paul Revere House...  Built in 1680, occupied by Paul Revere and his family from 1770 to 1800.  It was amazing to walk these 300+ year old streets and imagine a time when they bustled with horse and buggies, children in knickers and bonnets, pushing barrel rings with sticks, ladies in long cropped day dresses  and gentlemen in waistcoats and top hats.
Paul Revere's home

The period shops in this neighborhood are delightful!  I couldn't resist Polcari's Coffee Shop. ....a marvelous collection of spices, teas, coffees, jams, candies and so much more than simply coffee!  I was in heaven!  A tough decision, but I finally chose some unique specialty spices, raspberry jam and ginger syrup!

We couldn't miss a quick trip through the Boston Public Markets...a glorious menagerie of over 40 vendors offering fresh locally sourced groceries, fruits and vegetables, plus an array of various foods and desserts!

Tommy had told us about the delicious Boston lobster rolls and promised to introduce our appetites to the best lobster rolls at his favorite Boston seafood restaurant...Neptune Oyster!  We hurried across the street, hoping to get in front of the waiting line (no reservations taken).  The line begins forming before the daily doors open, so it's imperative to arrive early. We weren't about to miss the opportunity, so we hustled to get our "10th in line" spot and, happily, just made the first seating!   Jeff, the manager, warmly welcomed us as we entered this surprisingly small, but bustling Neptune Oyster Restaurant.

We promptly ordered oysters, choosing from a menu of 18, with different origins, descriptions and prices.   Tom and Tommy gave their hearty approval!  I'm not a fan of oysters so my taste buds patiently waited for the famous lobster roll I had heard about so often!  Amazing...huge platters of  lobster rolls arrived!  Oh my gosh!  They were absolutely delicious!... Chunks and chunks of sweet lobster, overflowing in a soft flavorful roll, with warm drawn butter!  Thank you, Tommy, for this marvelous seafood introduction!  ;

What do you do after a full, satisfying meal?  That's right, folks!  Walk it off!  And what better way and more meaningful walk than Boston's Freedom Trail!  A beautiful day...and 2 1/2 miles of history...Old State House, King's Chapel, Park Street Church, Old South Meeting House, Irish Famine Memorial, Massachusetts State House, Beacon Hill and it's majestic residences along Beacon Street.  A stop at the "original" Cheers Bar on Beacon Hill and rest stops at the glorious Public Garden and Frog Pond in Boston Common.

We ended our Freedom Trail walk at Faneuil
Hall Marketplace...a festive montage of shops, bars, eateries and entertainment!
 Our first stop after a long walk....margaritas and salsa and chips at Mija Cantina & Tequila Bar.  A super place setting for street entertainment and people watching!

Next, a look around The Quincy Building...an awesome mid-1800's building housing more eateries and shops.

A short drive to our hotel for the evening. after a very full and fun first day in Boston!

Day 2 - Planning our second day and final full day in Boston, we decide to make a stop in Cambridge and walk the beautiful and surprisingly widespread campus of iconic Harvard University.

A look around Tory Row and on to Boston.

We chose our lunch eatery wisely....Pomodoro...a lovely small, bright and friendly Italian Restaurant.  Terrific food, sangria, friendly atmosphere and ambiance!


Back to the North End and famous Mike's Pastry, renowned Italian Bake Shop.  Always a line, we were happy to wait to order  cannoli, biscotti, cream puffs and an array of yummy bake goods!

Looking forward to an evening of Boston's delicious food, great atmosphere, libations and, of course, music!

Tommy has chosen another of his favorite restaurants....Gaslight Brasserie du Coin, an old world, French style atmosphere with Bohemian chic flair.  A scrumptious meal, a good wine and on to our search for jazz/blues at it's finest.

We find just what we're looking for at The Beehive...funky and fun...known as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world!  We head up to the balcony.   Here's a tip:  There are lots of tables on the main level (most always taken through reservations and only a few have a good view of the stage).  To sit at these tables, you must order dinner.  Well, we just had dinner, so we checked out the bar area upstairs.and found the very best table in the house!  Right at the balcony, directly overlooking the band, we had the best front row seats!  Enjoying the super band, Void Union, Beehive's Honey Brews and a small selection of appetizers. it was the perfect farewell to the Boston beginning of our East Coast vacation!


  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

THE MAGICAL LURE OF ALLURE OF THE SEAS






THE MAGICAL LURE OF ALLURE OF THE SEAS







You are about to enter the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas and experience the WOW factor!  Easily one our top cruises ever!

Allure of the Seas is a BIG ship....actually the world's largest cruise ship until Royal Caribbean recently launched it's new Harmony of the Seas!



However, do not let the ship's size scare you away from this unique and happy experience.  The smart coordination of the many guests, staff, dining, entertainment, programs, elevator placement, etc. make for few, if any, long lines or crowds.

We have previously sailed on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas and loved the entertainment, shows and Central Park / Boardwalk theme, so when we had the opportunity to cruise the sister ship, Allure of the Seas (with the same theme), at a decent price with some nice comps, we immediately booked it!  We usually choose an ocean view balcony cabin whenever we cruise.  With this cruise, we had the option for a balcony overlooking Central Park.  It was a lovely change for us....and a beautiful view!

So.....come aboard and join us on a pleasure cruise you will not forget!



DAY 1...With all cruises, the first thing on our "to do" list is....explore the ship!  And, again....WOW! This is going to be fun....lots of fun!!


Central Park Boulevard
Site of floating bar in the Grand Promenade




Second "to do" is lunch!  There are plenty of eateries on board, satisfying all tastes...from 24 hours Promenade Cafe to Wipeout Cafe to the "something delicious for every taste" Windjammer Buffet. We decided on the Windjammer Buffet, with a nice variety of dishes and delicious food (not always the case with some cruise ships) and plenty of seating inside and on the deck.

More exploring!  On this magnificent ship, there is an abundance of "oohs and ahhs", and a fun assortment of passengers from all over the USA and the world!


It's time to check out our balcony cabin on the 14th deck where we met our friendly and helpful room steward, Heecliff.  Through the course of our cruise, we found Heecliff to be the busiest, most accessible,  always accommodating (and always with a smile and friendly greeting) room steward we have ever had on any cruise ship!  And we've been on a lot of cruises!

Our Central Park Balcony

The View from Our Balcony





















Prior to our cruise, we contacted the Allure of the Seas Hotel Director, requesting a short blog interview.  Knowing how very busy this gentleman is, we were hoping for a moment of time.
Now....here begins our journey of realizing what makes this extraordinary cruise ship a magical experience....the dedicated, "love their jobs" knowledgeable, friendly, "go that extra mile" directors and staff!

  
Upon arrival at our cabin door, we were happy to see that we already had mail!  (All ship notes, excursion confirmations, etc. are placed in a mail holder on the cabin door.).  And, even more delighted to find a lovely "Welcome Aboard" and an invitation for Monday (Day 2) to the ship's Sail Away Officer's Party on the Helideck from cruise Hotel Director, Silvio Ghigo!   See what I mean...here is a very busy director of thousands of staff members and passengers...and he makes time for us!  Well, you can imagine...We are excited about the private Helideck Party and anxious to meet this generous gentleman.

Off we go to dinner at the Grande Dining Room where we meet our tablemates - 2 lovely couples, and our exceptional (and talented) servers Jane and Putu.  Exceptional meal choices and some of the consistently finest meals we've had on any cruise.  Be sure to try the Au Gratin Scallops on the appetizer menu -- our favorite almost every night!

Jane and Putu, Our servers in the Grande Dining Room

DAY 2....Nassau - Royal Caribbean offers a variety of excursions for all types of activities - water, land, exploring, sight-seeing, etc.  Nassau is a great port to plan an excursion!  We suggest you book your excursions on-line to insure your reservation.  Have fun!








A beautiful view, as we departed Nassau, from the helideck sail-away party, graciously escorted by Food and Beverage Director, Ashley Quintal.  We had our first opportunity to meet the impressive ship's officers and directors.  A pleasure to meet our (warm-welcoming) Hotel Director - Silvio Ghigo as well as remarkable Cosmin Andries - Restaurant Operations Manager, Baris Asici - Manager Specialty Dining, and Mpho Ndlovu - Guest Services Manager. 


Mpho Ndlovu-Guest Services Manager
Ashley Quintal - Food & Beverage Director



Throughout the cruise, we've found all of the crew of this massive ship to be the most competent,professional and friendly of any ship we've sailed.  We immediately agreed that the staff seemed to truly enjoy their jobs and cheerfully convey their pride in Royal Caribbean to all guests.  After meeting the Allure of the Seas officers and directors, we greatly admired their knowledge, staff
coordination and management skills.

Silvio Ghigo - Hotel Director (left)
and Casmin Andries - Restaurant Operations Manager (right)


Our highest regards to Captain Ron Holmes for his leadership abilities in keeping our ship running smoothly! 

After a quick lunch at Café Promenade (open 24 hours!),  we explored the delightful Boardwalk and beautiful Central Park Blvd.

Cafe Promenade 













We couldn't resist a trip to the Sports Deck - a magnificent menagerie of all things fun for all ages!
Surfing - zip line - mini golf - ping pong - basketball!





















Convenient Wipe Out Café



Enjoyed dinner at the Grande Dining Room.  Once again, we were pleased with the top-notch service of Jane and Putu.  Puti even sang for our table!  Yes!  A singing waiter!

Next stop - Broadway-worthy presentation of Mamma Mia!

Oops....a little stop at the casino slot machines since we had to pass through to the Amber Theater.



Having seen Mamma Mia on Broadway, we can completely agree this talented group of actors, singers and dancers were terrific.




Mamma Mia Finale

Many of the great shows and entertainment presentations require reservations.  We highly recommend reserving on-line pre-cruise.

DAY 3... At Sea

Yesterday we got mail again!  An invitation to the Ocean Aria-- a special Platinum Members presentation with the Captain and Directors meet-and-greet.  Let us say, at this point, the Allure of the Seas' Captain, Directors and Managers are amazingly accessible and as busy as these officers are, we were very impressed with how often they gave guests the opportunity to meet and speak with them.  Much appreciated!



Back to the magnificent, breathtaking special show by the swimmers, divers and acrobats.  Loved it!
























Check out the massive climbing wall!
Pre-show, we had room service breakfast which we often enjoy on cruises....a leisurely way to start the day....served on our balcony with a unique view overlooking Central Park.



Decisions - decisions!  Today we decided to have lunch outside in Central Park at the Park Café.  Beautiful setting - Royal Caribbean even thought of birds chirping!










Looking forward to the Martini Seminar and we were not disappointed!  A happy group of  10  passengers sat at the Champagne Bar.  We especially had fun with adorable newlyweds, Marcie and Drew Gumieny.






The Expert Mixologist in the Champagne Bar, Catalin Juganaru, directed us in the making of 4 healthy-sized martinis!  Ooooh, the best!  Wonder Cumber Martini, Ginger Cosmo (we liked this one so much we bought the French ginger liqueur, Canton, at the duty-free store in St. Martin), Expresso Martini, and Key Lime Pie Martini.  Thank you to Catalin for his expertise and for thoughtfully giving us recipe sheets.



There are so many culinary dinner choices - and we will visit many - but tonight we are back to the Grande and our friendly servers.  Always excellent menu choices and delicious food.  Tonight the dining room servers sang and danced for us.  Napkins waving!  Lots of fun!





After dinner, we checked out the peaceful solarium and deck views.

Mary K with her I-phone taking pictures on the deck

DAY 4... St. Thomas

Room service breakfast....a pleasure to start our day.

We visited St. Thomas on other cruises so we only spent a short time shopping.  St. Thomas is another port to experience one of Allure of the Seas super excursions. 





The Allure is so full of great places to see and things to do that we preferred spending most of the day onboard.  The variety of unique art around the ship is worthy of an art-hunt.



Back to the solarium and hot tub relaxation and visiting with new cruise friends.




We devoured a pizza lunch at Sorrento's on the Promenade.
























After lunch we headed back to our deck - 14.  We found a hidden treasure -- a viewpoint called Adventure Ocean on 14 forward to watch our sail-away from St. Thomas.  Also a great place to get a picture of the length of the ship while on board.



Dinner tonight at Chops Grille, one of the delectable specialty restaurants throughout the ship!  Reservations are usually required.  Cost is approximately $40 - $50 per person.  We got this dinner as a comp from our travel agency....just a reminder-all decent travel agencies offer comps such as onboard spending $$, paid gratuities, or free excursions, etc. If you agent doesn't offer comps, we suggest you find another travel agent.

Chops Grille was superb!  We were seated on the patio with a beautiful view of Central Park and serenaded by lovely background music by one of the ship's many talented entertainers.  A perfect filet-mignon dinner served by a top-notch waiter.  We were so pleasantly full that our attentive waiter packaged a variety of 3 desserts for us to enjoy later.


 







Waiter helping Peggy eat "that last bite"


We quickly put our desserts in our cabin's refrigerator and made our way to the 10:45 PM Headliner Show -- Mo5aic.  Allure has so many amazing and unique performers!  Mo5aic fits that bill.  A talented and innovative 5-man band -- singing with the accompaniment of their own voices.  A vocal band with only their voices for instruments.  So good, we bought their DVD!







Night view from our balcony
Back to our cabin, looking forward to St. Martin tomorrow.  Entering our cabin we were welcomed by one of Heecliff's fun towel art animals!



DAY 5... St. Martin - one of our favorite ports - the beach, the people, the shopping!

We have a quick breakfast on our balcony and we're off to St. Martin.  A beautiful beach day!

We take a shuttle boat to downtown Phillipsburg.  Shopping is best about 2 blocks away from the beach.
 


The duty-free store at the pier is great!  This is where we purchased our martini liqueur, Canton and a locally produced vanilla rum. 



There's a great spot on the beach across from the pier for a $1.00 beer!





Mary K is looking forward to an afternoon massage at the ship's Vitality Spa while Peggy relaxes with her kindle on the pool deck..  Wonderfully invigorating 50 minute massage from Christina!

We met up on the pool deck and couldn't resist bartender Nick's fancy Mudslides...Yummy.  And Nick was pretty yummy himself!






After another excellent dinner at the Grande, we grab our reserved invitation and Art Deco entry pins
and arrived at Jazz on 4 for a secret Prohibition event.  Passage into this speakeasy required a code word and...we're in!  Looks like this is a popular event -- most guests knew the protocol from previous cruises and were dressed in 1920's garb.










Spirits were served and guys & dolls danced to a 1920's crooner and his band.  A fun flapper nightclub night! 





DAY 6...At Sea

We heard the free-style dining in American Icon Restaurant was exceptional so it became our breakfast choice today.  Seated at the perfect window table, we had a choice to order from the menu or buffet-style.  Actually, you can do both.  We sat back and relaxed with our scrumptious menu orders of omelets, French toast, grits and all the fixin's! 



The afternoon (Get to Know your Captain and his Crew) on the Promenade afforded us the opportunity to sit down and chat with Silvio, the Hotel Director.  Silvio is full of enthusiasm and Royal Caribbean pride and very focused on the total enjoyment of his passengers.  We were very impressed with him and grateful for making this cruise a memorable experience for us.  Silvio started with Royal Caribbean 21 years ago as a busboy and is now Hotel Director, a Director who obviously deserves this position and instills a sense of pride in his team.  Silvio introduced us to Beverage Manager, Douglas Robertson, who is responsible for so much more than the talented cruise bar staffing.  And even Captain Ron took time to meet and greet -- very impressive!


Captain Ron Holmes





Oh...and by the way....we also met the Royal Caribbean panda.



One of our favorite crew members was Mpho who is the Guest Services Manager.  Always with a smile, you have the sense that he is not only good at his job but truly enjoys it. 

Mpho Ndlovu - Guest Services Manager


Mpho introduced us to his assistant, Tyler Parker, Front Desk Manager, another top-notch employee.  A special thanks to Tim, Allure's energetic Cruise Director, coordinator and emcee for many events and shows.  And to Ivona Pesic, the very competent Hotel Administrative Assistant.

We were delightfully surprised to receive a gracious invitation to experience the fabulous 150 Central Park specialty restaurant this evening.  The 150 menu was created by Michael Schwarz, Miami culinary genius.....a chef we met a few years ago at the Miami Food and Wine Festival. 


Now is a good time to explain -- in case you were wondering -- WHY, on a ship with a great many food choices, you would pay to dine in a specialty restaurant.  Well, here's the answer -- For a relatively nominal amount, you will experience a total package that you would be hard-pressed to find at any top restaurant charging $100 or more.  It's not just the magnificent food, it's the ambiance -- the waitstaff, the care and individual attention, the important little touches, the beautifully presented courses, with fresh flowers on a lovely table.  And did we mention -- the perfect waitstaff!
A personal favorite (one of those little touches) was a ceramic flower dish with petals holding 6 different salts and tiny spoons.  Our thoughtful waiter, Ardee Dizon, even gave us a card explaining each savory salt to be added to the unsalted butter for your dinner rolls.  The entire meal was marvelous.  Another of those special touches -- a souvenir menu personalized with our names.  Now--that's class!


P




A surprise visit from Cosmin Andries, Restaurant Operations Manager and Baris Asici, Manager of Specialty Dining - who recommended the perfect wines to compliment our courses - was so appreciated.

DAY 7....At Sea

Breakfast at American Icon then a relaxing morning on deck with a good book.  This is the life!

With the many activities and restaurants the Allure has to offer, we almost forgot one of our Must-Do's -- a milkshake at Johnny Rocket's.  Mmmm...good





Love those skinny mirrors on the Boardwalk


This time we were serenaded on the Boardwalk by a Dixieland Band.



You can see....We really wanted front row seats...so, we got to the theatre very early!
We saved the fabulous Blue Planet performance for the last day.  Front row seats!  Such a marvelous show, we could have been in Las Vegas watching a Cirque de Soleil show!





Our final dinner was back at the Grande Dining Room for farewells to our table mates and servers, Jane and Putu.

Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas had the ultimate WOW factor!  As Silvio, the Hotel Director, explained to us, all of the wonders on this ship are developed for the sheer joy and pleasure of its guests -- the passengers.