Review From The Cabin

Excellent as the food is in the regular dining rooms on the Princess cruise ships, I like to enjoy at least one meal in the alternate dining venues. I was curious about the concept of shared dining as advertised in the SHARE restaurant on the Ruby Princess, but as it turned out the sharing bit seems to have gone by the wayside. The tables were separate and we were seated at a table for two. The alternate form of dining in this case is a 6 course menu created by Chef Curtis Stone  - with a choice of 2 or 3 dishes per course, one of which is a vegetarian option.

As Executive Chef on the Ruby Princess, Chef Amadeo is responsible for 260 personnel, of whom 200 are cooks, who prepare 16,000 dishes every day. No- that is not a typo! Think 3000 guests, over 1000 staff, and at least 3 meals a day. An early riser, chef makes his rounds of the many food venues around the ships before meeting with the 29 chefs who supervise the various kitchens, including his Chef de Cuisine and 5 Sous chefs. They review dishes and meal services from the day before to get feedback and hear of any issues, and then review the menus for the current day. Chef Amadeo graciously agreed to take time from his busy schedule to chat briefly with me.

My last cruise on a jewel Princess, the Sapphire Princess, was four years ago and the Ruby Princess was refurbished in 2015, so my first instinct once I had found my cabin was to check out the Promenade deck and see whether the dance venues were as I remembered them.

The Queen’s Baton Relay is a lead up to the Commonwealth Games in which a baton is carried round the world to arrive at the Opening Ceremony of the Games. Each baton is uniquely crafted and carries a message from the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth. The relay begins at Buckingham Palace in London when the Queen hands the baton to the first runner. At the Opening Ceremonies the Baton is handed back to the Queen or her representative, who reads the message. On this journey to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Queensland, Australia, the Baton will visit 70 commonwealth countries before arriving at the Gold Coast for the Games, 4 to 15 April, 2018.

One objective of our New York Week with Kids was to introduce them as many different cuisines as possible. Balanika was our choice for Balkan/Mediterranean cuisine and it proved to be an excellent choice.

I have found my new favourite hotel for future New York visits. Unlike my regular brief visits to New York as a theatre, food and wine writer (NY Spring 2014), this New York visit had a special purpose. My grand-daughter is part of a youth choir which has the exciting opportunity to perform in a program at Carnegie Hall and I decided to join my family in Manhattan for a full week of exploring New York from the perspective of family tourism.

When I took this picture of the Crystal Serenity, I was luxuriating in the pleasures of a ten night "Italian Dreams" cruise. After spending two glorious days in Venice, we embarked on the Serenity, calling at ports from Kotor in Montenegro to Taormina, Sorrento and others finally disembarking in Monte Carlo. The icing on the cake for me of this luxury cruise, was ballroom dancing every night in the spacious Palm Court or the Stardust Club. I loved that Crystal experience even more than I enjoyed an autumn cruise along the Eastern Seaboard from New York to Halifax on the Crystal Symphony.

Persona is the nature of our character that is shown to or perceived by others. My present cast of characters ranges from mother, grandmother, friend, to professor emerita, medical doctor,  writer, reviewer, dancer, coach, mentor and entrepreneur. But at YVR as my daughter (Alo) and I meet up with her friend (NG) with her bubbly preschooler (EP), a new persona is added to my cast... I am instantly dubbed “Aunty Mandy's mom”. And as I explore the environs of our Mexican vacation spot over the next seven days, my “Aunty Mandy's mom” persona will provide a great counterbalance to the luxury traveller/gourmet perspective with  which I usually approach my travel writing.

Sashimi, ceviche - I love eating raw fish - sashimi style or marinated as in ceviche.  One of my best memories from a visit to Lima, Peru was eating a very delicate ceviche at Rosa Nautica, a restaurant located way out on the water.

One of the frequently hinted at, and therefore anticipated highlights of this trip,  was the opportunity to go fishing for piranhas on the Yarapa river, one of the tributaries opening into the Amazon.

I really did eat a  piranha on the Amazon River - it didn't eat me because it was a vegetarian. Really.  I thought  - piranha - big, sharp teeth, man-eating carnivore. But did you know that in the rivers of South America there are more than 30 different species of piranha? And some eat primarily vegetation.

This is an odd confession to make for a theatre and restaurant reviewer who has lived in North America for 40 years. But the first time ever I visited Las Vegas (A.K.A. Entertainment Capital of the World) was a year ago, when I went there for a dance competition. It's a trifle surprising that I had not made it there before since entertainment is what I write about in ReviewFromTheSeat

Browsing the jewelry section in the Brighton Collectibles store to find gifts for the upcoming holidays, my eye was drawn to a pair of colourful earrings.  I had had great success finding what I needed for myself at the previous day's visit to the Las Vegas North Premium Outlet Mall, and had no intention of buying anything more for myself.

Although like many travelers I love to indulge in the trappings of luxurious surroundings, I have been known to declaim smugly on several occasions that “all I really need is a clean comfortable bed, lots of hot water from the shower, a hair dryer, a toilet where I don’t need to squat, and a fast wireless internet”. During this week long stay at the Plaza Hotel I’ve realized that is not really true. My standards are higher than the basics and there are other minor niceties needed to make me a “happy camper.”

This elegant restaurant is the signature restaurant for the Halekulani Hotel. It is a Five diamond (AAA) and five star (Forbes Dining Award) restaurant featuring French cuisine with local tropical ingredients. It was a short walk from the hotel where we were staying. On arrival we were seated at a window table next to an open window, looking out over the outdoor entertainment area to the blue water beyond. A warm breeze wafted in from time to time, and I had a great view of the singers and the Hawaiian dancer on the stage below.

A light Vancouver rainfall dripped from my umbrella as I crossed the street to enter the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. I was wishing I could be enjoying the blue skies, turquoise seas and white sand beaches of the islands of the Bahamas but no matter how many times I clicked the heels of my chic black boots together the grey sky of Vancouver was still shedding rain drops.

Three hundred and fifty kilometres within the Arctic Circle, lies the city of Tromsø, our furthest north destination of this Norwegian Fjords cruise to the Arctic Circle.

At about  7 AM yesterday morning the Queen Mary 2 crossed into the Arctic Circle. I  was watching the seas from my verandah. The sky was clouded and gray-blue waters stretched out to the horizon.

For a theatre-loving foodie, few cities in the world can match New York and on traveling out of New York, I always try to plan a few days in Manhattan before or after my trip.

Situated where the Vienna Ring Boulevard touches the City Park, the Kursalon Wien was built in Italian Renaissance style between 1865 and 1867 and is quite beautiful. The first concert featuring Johann Strauss compositions took place in 1868. The Kursalon has four ballrooms located on two floors and a terrace with views out over the greenery of the City Park. The Strauss, Lehar and Schubert Halls are on the first floor while the Lanner Hall,  upstairs on the second floor, is the in-house concert hall.

For our last evening in Vienna we chose to have supper  just up the road from our hotel, at the Restaurant Koenig von Ungarn. It was located right near the building where Mozart  lived for three years from 1784 to 1787 during which time he wrote Le Nozze di Figaro.

After my somewhat traumatic day of travel yesterday I slept like a Jill-in-her-great-bed in Vancouver. In other words I was in bed by just before midnight, read for about half an hour and then I finally realized why people say out like a light. It was a toss-up whether I or the bedside light were out first.

I absolutely should not have sat back complacently in the comfortable Gatwick Express seats and thought how smoothly my travel has gone so far. For sure the little travel demons read my mind and said “aha – definitely time to stir things up”.

Of course, just as I have begun to feel comfortable moving around in my “hood”, it is time to leave. Some thoughts on departing from London today.

Of the major English Romantic poets I generally prefer the work of John Keats to that of Percy Shelley- but not when it comes to hairdryers. Think about it. When you are impatiently trying to brush and comb your wet hair into some semblance of dryness and order, what would you prefer?

With nothing special planned till this evening when I go to see “A Voyage round my Father at the Wyndham’s Theatre, some more sightseeing was in order. With a limited amount of time, I thought I would take a tour and see where I wanted to spend my last free day in London tomorrow.

Just to clarify. This column is not about rabble rousing, greenhouse gases or salacious sex but I will get to the hot beds later. The column is however about something that has perplexed me since I last stayed in an English hotel, in Hull more than eight years ago. The question goes something like this...

I pass bookstore after bookstore and theatre after theatre as I roam around the West End . My kind of place. I restrain myself from getting carried away buying books. I have one small suitcase for checked luggage and my back pack for my lap top. This is not a trip for acquiring things - except new experiences. At the Crime and Mystery Bookstore on Charing Cross Road however, discipline breaks down and I leave the store with a signed copy of the latest Dick Francis novel. Not even in paperback – poor bulging suitcase.

In that strange unpredictable mix of physiological traits that our genes produce for everyone there are positives and negatives. In my case my hair resolutely refuses to do the usual ageing thing and go grey or white. Instead it sends out tiny silver threads every now and again so in certain lighting it looks as though I have very subtle highlights. Saved me a fortune in hairdresser bills. That’s a positive.

Despite seemingly endless procrastination about getting organized for the trip and despite many welcome phone interruptions, here I am in the Air Canada Lounge more than two and a half hours before the flight. And in answer to those who habitually have to grab the tail of the plane as it is lifting off and who tease me about getting to the airport days before the flight crew, I say “well guess who has time to make a real head start on her travelogue (or travelblog, if you will).”

I am writing this from my compact, and mercifully cool, hotel room in Soho.

The high in London today is 28 C and I have done a lot of moving around dragging my “light” luggage. Since my natural habitat is probably somewhere close to Antarctica or maybe Siberia, I find the air conditioning most welcome.

Does anyone actually get packed and organized days before they are due to leave on a trip? Somehow each time I vow I will plan more efficiently and then I find myself scrambling at the last minute to get everything finished.