Jun 19

Experimental dining on a cruise

One of the nice things about a cruise is that your food is included. This helps when you want to be daring with food. I’m not the most daring but knowing that I can get a good quality something and that I don’t have to pay for it is a nice thing. I once tried escargot on a cruise, which I don’t imagine I would have done in many other places. I didn’t like it and didn’t have to finish it, but I tried it. Actually, I’ll admit it wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t good. On this past cruise I tried a couple things at the French restaurant – Frois Gras and Scallops. I didn’t like the Scallops at all, but the Frois Gras was good enough that I ate two whole pieces of it. But I wouldn’t go to a restaurant and order it. I also tried edamame, again, not bad but not good either. I had a chance to try this at home a few weeks before the cruise and wouldn’t do it, but I tried it on the cruise. There is a power in the safety of a cruise and its dining options that you get in few other places. It allows you to experiment in safe way and may you’ll learn you like something you didn’t think you liked or never would have tried.

Jun 17

Katia and Kyliemac Podcast

Update 11/2012 – the podcast has been discontinued, but there is still some great episodes out there.

I thought I would review one of my favorite podcasts, the Katia and Kyliemac Podcast. Katia and Kyliemac are ex-pats living in France and their podcast is about their experience in France, they also throw in some tidbits about travel – general stuff about places they visit. Katia is originally from Australia and moved to France several years ago when she married a Frenchman. Kyliemac is a graduate student in France, she hails from the United States. K&K bring the French culture to me with a lighthearted, and irreverent approach. They don’t just talk about the “crazy” things the French do, but talk about their experience with the french and compare them to their own experiences from home and other parts of the world. It’s a more subtle and fun approach that they take. They also talk about their own travels, around France, and wherever else they might go. Mostly though the podcast is about French culture.

K&K also do two other podcasts. The first is a french language podcast, it’s for people who already know at least a little french. They cover french terms and their meanings. An example of something they might cover if it was an English language podcast is the saying “were you raised in a barn,” or “drop a dime,”

The final podcast is french tourist tips, tips for people visiting France. This is a short podcast, typically under 10 minutes, and covers a variety of topics. It’s designed to help you get the most out of your visit and ways to avoid pitfalls. This was the first one I listened to of K&K and is a good introduction if you don’t want to spend 30 minutes on the original podcast to get a feel for the girls.

Jun 15

Los Angeles: The Fake City

One of my first vacations as an adult was in 2000 to Los Angeles. I was there for 6 days and staying with a friend. My friend was working a couple days that I was out there so I rented a car and tried my best to get around and see the city.

 I went to Beverly Hills, some mansion that a Beverly Hills cop suggested since a lot of movies had been filmed there, Hollywood and the Hollywood walk of fame, and the area around UCLA. With my friend I did a tour of the Warner Brother Studio, Santa Monica, and Rodeo Drive. We were going to go to Venice Beach but I had to beg my friend to go there and then when we finally did the weather sucked and the parking was worse so we left before we even parked the car. I did get to go there on another trip when I was passing through LA, and it was worth the visit. The city, or at least the areas that a tourist would visit, are beautiful, and there’s a lot of life there, it was good.

After 4 days though the city felt as fake as a bad boob job. like all the pretty tress and wide roads and flowers and plants are all there to mask a city full of backstabbing people. I don’t regret my time in LA, it was actually great and I suggest it for other people interested in seeing the city – it is LA. But if I went back there I would probably just go to the Disney or Universal Parks and do stuff like that, at least I know that what I’m getting there is supposed to be fake.

Jun 12

Waikiki Marriott

When I was in Honolulu Tara and I had a free night before the cruise and I chose the Waikiki Marriott. When I was choosing the hotel I wanted something nice and with a view of the beach. I figured for only 1 night that we both wanted something nice and didn’t worry about the price too much. The Marriott is on Waikiki beach and with the name Marriott I knew it would be good. There were also several Hiltons and Sheratons I considered, but the prices were more and I wasn’t convinced there was much more behind the cost. The biggest downside was that it was at the far end of Waikiki beach which added to the cost of our taxi to and from the hotel.

Things started out very well, when I checked in we were given a complementary upgrade to junior suite with an ocean view. Our room had a huge bathroom, tons of closet space, two beds, a couch, flat screen tv and 2 balconies. I’m sorry we didn’t have more time here! We both enjoyed the one balcony which had a fantastic view of the ocean, I enjoyed watching the surfers in the morning. The beds were also really comfortable. We did not eat at any of the restaurants here since we actually weren’t hungry the night we arrived. The next morning we opted against spending $15 a person for breakfast and went to Burger King for food but ate it on the beach. We found that to be a good way to save a couple dollars while still enjoying the environment. It’s not like the locals go to $15 buffet breakfasts either.

In the evening and in the morning we took a walk around Waikiki and I thought it was a nice beach area. Different spots of the water had a different set up to allow for different water conditions. There was a variety of shops within our hotel and if you can’t find it there you can probably find it in within a block or two’s walk. Overall the Waikiki Marriott and it’s location met our expectations and with the upgrade we were both really happy with the hotel. Actually, my experience with hotels is fairly limited (i.e. I’m not an expert), but this was probably the nicest I’ve been to and would definitely consider staying here in the future.

Jun 11

Yankee Stadium vs Citi Field

I’ve recently been able to go to baseball games at the new stadiums here in NY. Citi Field is the new home of the Mets and the Yankees have moved to the new Yankee Stadium. I’m not much of a baseball fan but do lean toward the Mets, I have fond memories of the Mets winning the World Series in 1986. Although I prefer the Mets I’m not a Yankee hater either and jumped at the chance to go to a Yankee game when free tickets were offered to me. I’ve been to Shea Stadium several times, but I hadn’t been to the old Yankee Stadium in years. My only other reference was PNC Park in Pittsburgh, which is a great stadium.


My seats at Citi Field when I went were Mezzanine level at 3rd base and my seats at Yankee Stadium were field level at first base. I like Citi Field better then Yankee Stadium overall, but both have some neat things. Overall as a stadium I liked Citi better because it felt cozier. The way the stadium is designed it is fairly closed in, Shea really opened up out as you went up, but Citi stays tighter into the field. This made it more intimate. Yankee Stadium also seems to open up wider then Citi does, though this could have to do with the difference in the location of my seats, but even just looking at the stadium I think this holds true no matter where you are seated.

Citi Field is family friendlier, there are some childrens activities there – wiffle ball and a dunk tank. My 10 year old nephew wanted to do both, but we only let him do the dunk tank. Citi Field is also cheaper to get tickets at, which is family friendly.

Yankee Stadium

Food at Citi Field is also more convenient. Each of the levels (except maybe the 500 level seats) has its own private club for dining. The club on the Mezzanine level has all the regular foods which you wait on line for, but there are lots of tables and TV screens so it’s a nice place to eat. In the walkways around the stadium there is also the typical food stations. Behind the outfield is a large eating area, I thought this area was overrated, there were a few tables where you would stand at, but no seating. It was quite crowded throughout the game too, but there is a large selection of beers here. But I liked that the option was here, and that you can watch the game on a jumbo tron.

I was in some pretty nice seats at Yankee Stadium, they were really well padded and a bit wider. The seats were the first row of the second section at field level, sweet! Here they would bring your food to you. Well you ordered it from your seats and it was brought to your seats, you just paid a 20% gratuity. Unfortunately, the menu wasn’t that great so we didn’t partake in this. The section in front of us had a better menu and got free bags of M&M’s. So this is more convenient then anything that I saw at Citi Field but it’s lack of selection made it not as useful. The atmosphere at Yankee Stadium was a little more serious and the environment was a little more hard core about baseball. And well there is something to be said for the Yankees players, they’re all big names and with the right field being very generous to home runs games can be more exciting.

So if you’re just looking for a fun baseball game then seeing the Mets and Citi Field will be fun, and you’ll save a bit of money. If seeing the best players is your thing, then head to Yankee Stadium. But both stadiums will deliver a fun experience. Play ball…

Jun 06

Freestyle Dining on the Pride of America

This was my first experience with Freestyle dining and it has some pros and some cons. I enjoyed being able to dine whenever I wanted, within the dining times offered and only once waited for a table, that was good. We did hear others complain about waiting and poor food quality. Overall dining was a good experience but there are some issues, though from what I have heard from past cruisers things are better then they were.

The Pride of America has 2 traditional dining rooms: The Liberty Dining room, the more formal of the two (jeans are not permitted), and the Skyline Dining room where shorts are permitted. Not to be the dining nazi, but shorts at dinner seemed strange to me. The Aloha Cafe is the pool deck level buffet that is informal for all meals. There are also specialty restaurants. The Cadillac Diner is a 50’sish diner serving traditional diner types of foods – burgers, meatloaf, shakes. It’s informal and is open 22 hours a day. We ate mostly lunches here. East Meets West is a group of Asian restaurants – Sushi, Teppanaki, Asian Fusion. Jefferson’s Bistro is a formal french restaurant, Lazy J’s is a steak house and Little Italy serves Italian food. East Meets West, Lazy J’s, Little Italy, and Jefferson’s Bistro all charge an additional fee to eat there. I’m not sure if this is to cover the cost of the better food offered or to limit the number of people eating at them.

Liberty Dining Room

We had breakfast in the Aloha Cafe 3 times and each time was awful. The buffet areas were over crowded, there were never tables available and there wasn’t enough staff to clear the tables. I never figured out what was going on in the juice area, was that even juice they had? I didn’t see trays the whole week so I assume they didn’t have them, which made it difficult to get food and a drink. After 2 breakfasts we didn’t return to the Aloha Cafe again until the last morning. Breakfast in the dining room was significantly more enjoyable! The meals we had at the Liberty and Skyline restaurants were much better then the Aloha Cafe, the food was just average but the staff was good.


We did take time to enjoy several of the specialty restaurants. We ate in Jefferson’s Bistro and had George as a waiter who made the experience really enjoyable. While the food here wasn’t fantastic we enjoyed the opportunity to try new foods and have this nice dining experience. However, neither of us felt the need to return here as the menu didn’t appeal to us for a second visit or to pay the $15 cover charge again. We enjoyed our dinner at Lazy J’s, and found the steak here to be far superior to the steak I had in the dining room. The experience and the food was just enough to justify the $25 additional charge. If the cover charge had been a little lower we might have returned to this restaurant, but at $25 felt that it was only worthy of visiting once. At Little Italy we found the food to be average Italian food, nothing special and barely worth the $10 cover charge. We also ate at Teppanyaki which I thought was a rip off at $25 a person. I recently ate at a Teppanyaki type restaurant at home, ordered the same thing and got more food for less money. The chef wasn’t anything special, which was highlighted by the other chef being much more entertaining with his table.

One thing we did enjoy about Teppanyaki was sitting with other people. While we didn’t “click” with the couple next to us we did meet two sisters who we became friendly with. This emphasized one of the problems I had with freestyle dining as it existed on the Pride of America, it was anti-social. When I cruised with Royal Caribbean several years ago at lunch and breakfast they had open dining, you would come any time they were open and they would seat you at a large table with other cruisers. This provided an opportunity to get to know other cruisers and hear about other peoples experiences during the cruise. I expected a similar situation at the main dining rooms on the Pride of America, but it was not the case. Although I noticed a note about it on the back of the Freestyle Daily that you could request to sit with others I never actually saw anyone do it, and since most of the tables are set up for 2-4 people (and the tables for 6 always seemed empty) I don’t think the dining room setting was well suited for this anyway. On past cruises I felt like I got to know a lot more people on the ship then I did on this cruise which took away from the overall experience.

If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to dress up, but still likes to have a sit down meal at a dining room, then NCL might be the line for you. However, if you want really good quality food then you’ll end up having to fork up some money so that you can eat at the specialty restaurants. As for me, NCL wont be my first choice next time but I’ll still consider it.

Jun 05

NCL’s Pride of America

So my cruise was on NCL America’s Pride of America. I had heard quite a few complaints about the ship before I went, most either weren’t true or were exaggerated. In this post I’m just going to talk about the ship, I’ll talk about dining in another post. I think one of the problems that NCL America had was that at one time they had 3 ships operating in Hawaii, they only have 1 now. I suspect they grew too fast in Hawaii and the staff was spread thin. By moving two ships out of Hawaii they may have been able to get rid of the poor members of the staff and consolidate crews and made a better experience for cruisers.

First, our Embarkation went ok. The terminal isn’t set up well. You have to haul your luggage to the end of the terminal to drop it off, then walk back the way you just came to start the boarding process. This wouldn’t have been so bad but the signage was lacking. But after this everything went smoothly and we were on the ship relatively quickly.

The ship wasn’t as grand as some of the other ships I’ve been on, but it was still nice and had all the amenities you needed. Other then having an American theme there was nothing special about this ship.

We had a balcony cabin on the Starboard side of the ship on the 9th floor – cabin 9100. I had heard the cabins were small, and they are, though they didn’t seem much smaller then other lines. But they were poorly designed. You walk in the cabin and the bathroom is on one side with a closet on the other side. Then there are the beds and near the balcony is the sitting area. The problem was that the placement of the beds made it nearly impossible to get around the room, especially at night if you had to go to the bathroom. And if you had to get your luggage around you had to pick it up and lift it over the beds to get around.

Our cabin met its purpose, as did the ship and considering how much time is spent in port I think the ship is well suited. I do think a balcony is a great advantage for this cruise. Although the view at the ports wasn’t all that great we did sail the Na Pali coast one afternoon and also sailed by the volcano another night and it’s really nice to have a balcony for those things.

Jun 03

10 Things not to do in New York City

Having worked in NYC for the past 10 years, as well as being a tourist in the city on several occasions I’ve noticed some things that tourist do that you’ll want to avoid when visiting. These are some tips to keep you from acting too much like a tourist, since I know most of you are trying to blend in at least a little bit.

1. Ask where Times Square is when you’re in Times Square. I was standing on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue and someone asked me where Times Square is. If all the bright flashing lights don’t give away Times Square I don’t know what to tell you.

2. Ask where a Broadway show is by the name of the theater. Believe it or not I have no idea where the Minskoff Theatre is, I wouldn’t even know where it was if I was standing in front of it. But ask me where the Lion King is and I’ll point you in the right direction. Even better, tell me the street address, that’s the easiest way for a NYer to tell you where something is located.

3. Wait to cross the street until the the light changes. They seem to do this in other cities, but not in NYC. It’s a sure sign that you’re not a local. I don’t suggest doing what a lot of locals do though, stick your baby carriage into a lane of traffic to see if it’s safe to go.

4. Drive, this isn’t just about looking like a tourist, but for your sanity and safety. Parking is expensive and while the driving isn’t nearly as bad as in other cities I’ve visited, it’s not for the feint of heart. If you do, watch out for the people sticking the baby carriage out into the street to see if you’re there.

5. Leave valuables unattended.. Putting your bag on the back of your chair at an internet cafe or at a restaurant and then not pay attention to it. People do this all the time and have their stuff stolen. Anyone who has lost their passport can tell you that you want to be even more careful when your stuff is valuable, like a passport or a camera. People are always losing cameras, passports, drivers licenses and usually you will find that the person left it unattended or just wasn’t paying attention.

6. Not know the name and address of the place you are staying. So you’re out having some dinner, drinks and in general enjoying yourself and now it’s time to find your way back to your hotel. But was the hotel on East 42nd Street or West 42nd Street, hmmmm. Know where your hotel is, maybe take a business card from the hotel. When you’re too drunk to remember where it is you can hand the business card to a cabbie and they’ll take you home. Otherwise, you’ll be wandering around the city for a while…

7. Travel in packs with matching outfits/backpacks/hats. This is a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist and you’re generally considered on the more naive end of the tourist scale making you a good candidate for pickpockets and scams. The good thing is you’re in a big group and hopefully looking out for each other.

8. Go to see the Christmas Tree lighting in Rockefeller Plaza. I plan to do a post on this when the event is closer. But this is a made for TV event and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see the actual tree, but don’t expect to see anything else.

9. Take a Livery Cab. ALWAYS, ALWAYS take a yellow Taxi. Unless of course you previously booked with a livery service. This is particularly important when arriving at the airport, you will find men trying to entice you to hire them. They will typically overcharge you, may not drop you off where they are supposed to and may try to scam you along the way. If they do try to scam you, call the police. The threat might get them to do things right, if not the police will help sort things out. Taxi’s either use the meter or if picking up from an airport use a flat rate depending on where you are going. I will cover this topic in another post in more depth.

10. Stay at the Marriott Marquis. I know this sounds crazy, but I stayed here once and unless I got a really good price, I wouldn’t do it again. It’s a nice hotel with some great amenities, but the elevators are AWFUL! Possibly the worst I’ve ever dealt with and we have bad ones at work. Any time I am there and need to visit any of the pre-lobby floors (the lobby is on the 8th floor) I take the escalators. There are other nice hotels in Times Square consider some of them first.

Jun 01

Wailua River and Fern Grotto

On our last day of the cruise Tara and I did an excursion to Wailua River and Fern Grotto, I would say that this was my least favorite excursion, though I did still enjoy it. It was a group of around 90 people and we were picked up from the ship and taken on 2 different buses. Our driver/guide was really good and had a fun personality. I ended up talking to him quite a bit about my camera.

Opaekaa Falls

Our first stop was at Opaekaa Falls for a photo stop. The falls were nice and there were a bunch of chickens around. There are chickens running free all around the island and are quite a nuisance to the residents.

After that we met our boat that would take the whole group down the Wailua River. The boat was large enough to hold us all, but we didn’t have a good view of the river from our seats. I think it would have been nicer with a smaller group on one of the smaller boats. But sailing on the river was relaxing. Once docked we walked a bit to the Grotto which was pretty to look at, though not up to the beauty of some of the other things we had seen on the trip. While there, we had a couple local performers who played and danced to the Hawaiian Wedding Song. Then we went back to the boat to sail back, this time we had entertainment from the local performers who showed us some of the Hawaiian dances and taught us how to hula. After that we went back to the ship with a quick photo stop at a coastal area.

Fern Grotto

Overall it was an enjoyable excursion, but the group was too big and the sites weren’t as cool as the other things we had seen.

May 29

Helicopter Tour of Kauai

On the first day in Kauai Tara and I took a helicopter tour of the island and it was fantastic. At times during the trip I wondered if Hawaii was the most beautiful place I had ever been to, I was able to say it was towards the top of the list, but I couldn’t say it was the most beautiful. Kauai changed that, it’s the most beautiful place. It was so beautiful that I almost cried. Our friends from the Hana tour had a woman actually cry when they did their helicopter tour. It’s that beautiful.

I was looking at pictures today from the tour and it’s even more beautiful then I remembered. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and on this tour we visited the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon. Waimea Canyon was created by lava, but the the caynon is much more lush and green then the Grand Canyon. It’s not nearly as large, but I thought it was prettier. Then we moved onto the Na Pali coast… Tall cliffs leading to beautiful blue water, it’s even more beautiful because of how difficult it is to get to – helicopter, boat and in some areas LONG hikes. Or you could watch it in a movie, though it’s not the same as being there. We also visited the wettest place on earth, Mt. Waialeale.

If you go to Kauai you MUST do a helicopter tour, it’s the only way to see some of these places. Tara was scared to go on the helicopter, but overcame the fear because I told her it was worth it. She LOVED the helicopter and wanted to go back up once we got back.