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Weekend Cruise on the MSC Divina

May 21, 2014   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

We just returned from a fun, short cruise on the MSC Divina. It was a spontaneous, Groupon-fueled decision. Having never sailed with MSC before, this was the perfect excuse to try out the line without a huge commitment. It wasn’t our best cruise, nor the worst, with equal delights and frustrations along the way.

It took over an hour to check in at the Port of Miami, which is probably the longest we’ve ever had to wait to get on a cruise ship. Going through security was a breeze, but then we came upon a huge snake line and knew we were in trouble. MSC provided free bottled water, pineapple juice, and San Pellegrino (the first of many touches signaling we were sailing on an Italian line). When we finally got to the front, we were told our cabin had been assigned to someone else – the second cruise in a row that has happened to us. What is the point of a confirmation with a cabin number on it only to have it be wrong? Good thing we decided to carry out luggage on with us! The person checking us in took our passports and left for 20 minutes to figure out what was going on. After having a small panic attack, he finally returned and we were on our way aboard.

Because it was such a beautiful day out, we had this view of Miami from the top deck:

Miami

Having been downgraded two decks, we were pretty upset… until we realized that we had actually been upgraded from an interior cabin to a balcony cabin! It had a partially obstructed view, but it was lovely. The cabin was quite spacious and the bathroom had an actual bathtub in it (not just a stall shower), which you never see.

MSC Room

The MSC Divina is only a few years old and the entire ship was very clean and polished, even the casino which is usually a smoker’s haven. The ship boasts multiple decks for sunbathing and a good number of pools and hot tubs. There is also an entire class of Yacht Club cabins. They are separated from everyone else and have their own private restaurant and pool. All passengers in these cabins have their own personal concierge and get expedited check-in/disembarkation.   So, it’s basically first class. We experienced a version of this on the Celebrity Reflection in their Aqua Class rooms.

We did not have enough time on board to fully take advantage of all of the amenities. Segafredo brand coffees were available in multiple places along with gelato and specialty desserts. There was a wine bar serving recognizable brands plus more obscure European ones, plus specialty pizzas. Eataly Steakhouse had an outpost of the Eataly Market next to it. I lost count of how many different bars and lounges there were, but there is surely something for everyone, whether you’re looking for an American sports bar or a place to have an Aperol Spritz. Yes, a lot of things on the boat cost extra money, but we were pleasantly surprised to find many of the food and drink options to be very affordable.

Just a "diamond" staircase in the Atrium   Eataly Market    Dessert Case

Gelato   Gelato and Coffee

The other highlight on board was the entertainment. To be frank, most cruise shows are terrible, especially the large-scale ones that take place in the main theater every evening. However, we heard that the shows on this ship were good, so we gave them a shot. They were terrific! On the first night, there was a trippy Alice in Wonderland show anchored by The Mad Hatter. It was wonderfully weird and featured some impressive Cirque du Soleil-type acrobatics. There was a tribute to Michael Jackson the second night, which featured an impersonator who looked and danced like MJ. The biggest problem with the shows were that they were too short at just 45 minutes each. There was a wide variety of other entertainment offered at night including a White Party, a ’70/’80s party, karaoke, a comedian and an Elton John impersonator. This was in addition to all of the live music in the different lounges and public areas.

Alice1   Michael1    Elton

Now for the bad news. The food on the ship was wildly uneven and the dinners in the main dining room at night were among the worst we’ve ever had on a cruise. MSC is still stuck in the past of having two formal seatings for dinner at either 6:00pm or 8:45pm. This is so horribly inconvenient when you just want to eat when you’re hungry, but still have a nice sit down meal without paying extra in a specialty restaurant and making time for all of the evening shows. Of the four couples at our table the first night, we were the only ones to return for the second night and we regretted not going to the buffet. It wasn’t all bad, but we’ve had so much better and there was a sense that the wait staff knew.

The service in general was friendly, yet disorganized. Announcements were very hard to hear. Instructions kept being given to sign up for things by a certain time (like your table assignment for dinner or if you needed to change your disembarkation time), but every time it turned out not to matter. Disembarkation was a total mess. We were directed to meet in one of the lounges only to be made to walk clear across the ship and down a deck to get off. With all of this being said, we would give MSC another shot and see what a longer cruise is like.

Oh, the boat also traveled to Nassau in The Bahamas for a day! Having been there before, we wanted to go to some places we hadn’t been before: the Queen’s Staircase/Fort Fincastle and John Watling’s Distillery. Both were excellent and are within walking distance from the cruise port. We also went to our usual stop at Arawak Cay for the fish fry and a few cold Kalik beers, and passed through the Straw Market. The commercialization of these places, especially the latter, was very surprising a little sad. However, Bahamians are some of the most friendly people and Nassau is always a fun day trip. Side note: We were docked next to two Royal Caribbean ships, the older Majesty of the Seas and the newer Oasis of the Seas. The difference between these two ships was striking and showed just how much bigger the ships have gotten since the 1990s.

 

QS1 Cannon Fort Fincastle  Da Haus Arawak Kalik John Watling1 John Watling3 John Watling4     John Watling5 Lighthouse+Atlantis

Stay tuned – Global Itineraries is traveling to New Orleans and California this summer!

All pictures were taken by Global Itineraries.

Euro Trip 2013

Jul 17, 2013   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  3 Comments

Your friends at Global Itineraries have just returned from a glorious two-week trip to Europe.  We’ll try to touch on the highlights here and also include a number of pictures.  If you want to read our reviews of individual hotels and restaurants, check them out under the name sjc1020 on www.tripadvisor.com.

My husband left early and spent three days in Rome before we were reunited in Milan.  I sent him with a brief guide, which you can find on the Sample Itineraries page of this website.  The rest of the trip went like this: 1 night in Milan, 2 nights in Interlaken, 2 nights in Bern, 3 nights in the French Countryside (Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume), 1 night in Nice, 2 nights in Genoa, 1 more night in Milan and 1 night in Dusseldorf.  It was a lot of moving around, but completely worth it!  We bit the bullet and purchased a 15-day Eurail pass, which is really the only way to do a trip like this.  It seems very expensive initially, but will end up costing you far less than individual flights and train tickets.  Plus, the master train timetable book they sent us in advance was invaluable.  Watch out for reservations.  Sometimes, you are required to purchase a reservation for a specific train on top of the pass you already have.  This was extremely confusing and frustrating for us because one person would say we needed a reservation and another would say the opposite.  Or, we would be told a train was full, but were then able to get on it anyway.

Personally, my favorite country had to be Switzerland, which was a pleasant surprise.  Every person we encountered was so friendly, helpful and welcoming, and nearly everyone spoke English.  Staying at the famous Balmer’s Heberge (hostel) in Interlaken allowed us to meet some incredible people, participate in one of their legendary group photos, meet the founder, Erich Balmer, and gain access to a lot of adventure sports.  The shop/restaurant next door provided us with the unbelievable experience of riding an ATV (4-wheeler) through a valley of waterfalls.  Who does that?!  We couldn’t believe how tall the waterfalls were and it was beautiful to see the large Alps in the distance.  Other popular adventure sports in this region include canyoning, paragliding, skydiving, rafting, etc.  We also took the funicular up Harder Kulm, Interlaken’s home mountain, for some incredible views and then went to a special chocolate tasting at the famous Schuh Interlaken on the main street in town, the Höheweg .  The Black Forest Cake in the shop was to die for AND had the cherry liqueur Kirsch in it!

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Bern was just as wonderful, but also completely different.  The city is very walk able and you can really get around it in one day without too much trouble.  Of course, we loved seeing the BärenPark, or Bear Park, at the west end of the city, although we thought there would be more bears!  Check out the adjoining restaurant, Altes Tramdepot, for some great, locally-brewed beer.  The Zytglogge (clock tower) was somewhat of a letdown, but we enjoyed the Houses of Parliament (you must reserve your free tour spot in advance!), all of the artful fountains running up and down the central street, the Cathedral Minster and Einstein Haus.  There is also an Einstein Museum, but we were much more interested in seeing the small apartment he lived in while in Bern.  His life was fascinating – watch the film on the second floor.  An unexpected highlight was staying at the Holiday Inn Westside.  It was less than 10 minutes away by train from the city center and the price of our room included a HUGE daily breakfast buffet AND free passes to the Bernaqua spa and water park linked to the hotel via shopping mall.  Finally, we made sure to try the ubiquitous local dish, rösti, which you can find on practically every Swiss menu right next to the fondue.  It’s really a glorified potato hash with any number of toppings.  We had it at Le Mazot and it was great.  If you’re looking for a budget meal in this expensive country, go for the rösti!  Or go have a nicer, traditional Swiss meal at Restaurant Zunft zu Webern not far from Bear Park.

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We were extremely privileged to spend three nights of the trip staying with our friends and their children at their house in the town of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume in the French countryside.  It was not touristy in any way and we were able to really experience the Provence region.  We are wine-lovers and were happy to discover good rosé!  An incredible amount of local wine, cheese, sausages, spreads, baguettes and croissants were consumed.  There were trips to their grandmother’s house and the very local Chateau de Pibarnon winery plus a vigorous hike up to Pointe du Cap Roux for stunning views.  It was just wonderful, and we even got to spend a few hours in both Marseilles (go to the waterfront to see all of the boats) and Cannes (smaller than you would expect).

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Our time in Provence-Nice-Genoa-Milan was marked by hot July weather (don’t expect a lot of air conditioning or even many fans in this region), sometimes nice/sometimes unhelpful locals, gorgeous views, medieval buildings and streets, and to-die-for gelato and pesto.  Word to the wise: the beach in Nice is rocky.  Plenty of people were on it, but it wasn’t our cup of tea.  If you’re in Nice, go to Old Town for the best sights, food and nightlife.  The main shopping street was crowded and kind of sketchy.  Don’t miss Fenocchio Glacier.  They have 94 FLAVORS: 59 ice creams and 35 sorbets plus some really interesting sundae creations.  If you’re in Genoa, go out of your way to have any kind of pasta with pesto on it.  It’s the local specialty and you won’t regret it.  Head to Bar Barto in the small Piazza delle Erbe to hang with the locals, have great pesto and drink their homemade beer.  You can also check out Cantine Matteotti, a wine bar hidden on a side street with glasses that start at 1 Euro!  Get your culture in at the three Palazzos-turned-museums on Via Garibaldi that make up the Musei di Strada Nuova.  It was worth being rudely directed around by the volunteers for the chance to see an original Caravaggio painting and Paganini’s famous Cannon violin.  Then go down the street and see Rosa at Profumo di Rosa for great gelato and a friendly experience.

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Milan was… meh.  For people not there to spend lots of money on expensive clothing, it was the right choice not to stay long.  Try to find good risotto if you can.  Also, try to get yourself on a guided city tour, like we did, to see the major sites: Il Duomo, the Arcade, La Scala Opera House and Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper painting (which you can’t take pictures of, but it’s housed inside the unassuming building on the left in the fourth picture below).  Sites like www.citydiscovery.com have all-inclusive tours that let you skip the lines.  All of these sites were beautiful and very much worth seeing.

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Our trip really ended on a high note in Düsseldorf.  We spent the afternoon/evening with a friend who lives about two hours south of the city.  She had the hot tip on a 90-minute walking tour of the Old Town with a very funny guide.  And we did see other things besides the Rhine River and the street that is referred to as “the longest bar in the world”.  The day was filled with history, shopping and lots of eating and drinking.  We managed to get to two of the city’s five well-known breweries, Zum Uerige and Zum Schlussel.  Uerige had the better beer, but Schlussel made fantastic sauerbraten and schnitzel dinners!

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End Note #1: Most of the hotels and hostels we booked for this trip charged us a small deposit fee ahead of time to reserve the room and then asked for payment upon arrival.  We assumed that all of the places we went to would accept credit cards.  They didn’t.  And there was no mention of cash-only on the email confirmations.  This happened twice – once at our B&B in Genoa and again at the hotel in Dusseldorf.  In Genoa, we were able to go to an ATM and pay the next day, but I’m not sure if this would have been acceptable in Düsseldorf.

End Note #2: Being American, we’re used to leaving generous tips for the waitstaff when we go out to eat.  However, in many European countries, tipping is not the norm.  Besides Germany, none of the other countries we visited expected us to tip at restaurants.  Also, some places will charge you for bread, water or a couvert per person so be aware.

As usual, all of the photos that appear were taken by us.  Thanks for reading!

Short Cruise on the Carnival Victory

Feb 23, 2013   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

Imagine our surprise/horror when Global Itineraries found out that the Carnival Triumph had an engine fire the same week that we were supposed to go on its sister ship, the Carnival Victory!  We already knew it was an older ship and had avoided the Carnival line for many years, based on its reputation.  However, we survived and are here to blog about it!  You should know that we have already taken multiple cruises on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess and Norwegian, so the Victory had a lot to live up to.  We’ll start with the good; Pro #1 was that there were so many young people on this ship!  We are in our 30s and it has been difficult for us aboard other ships when everyone is significantly older and all of the nightlife ends at 10pm.  Carnival’s tagline as “The Fun Ship” was certainly on full display the entire cruise.  Pro #2 was that Carnival managed to get two hilarious comedians on-board to perform three out of the four nights.  We went every night and would have happily seen them a fourth time.  Shout outs to Roman Murray and Happy Cole!  If only the staff had put them in the big theater and not a smaller one where all of the seats got filled 15-20 minutes before showtime.

Ok, onto the Cons.  DO NOT GO ON CARNIVAL FOR THE FOOD. We consider ourselves to be foodies and the offerings on Carnival were mediocre most of the time.  Yes, we had some great appetizers in the dining room and yes there was that really good slice of pizza at Pizza Pirate we had on Day 1, but overall it was just ok.  There is a sushi bar at one end of the casino which only serves you two rolls, one piece each, from about 5:30-8:00pm (the whole endeavor was cute, but clearly an afterthought).  The great food came from Mr. Z’s in Key West and Casa Denis in Cozumel.  Also, expect lots of smokers and more smoking approved areas than normal.

We just have to put this out there: our room was not made up when we arrived, possibly because no one stayed in it on the previous voyage.  We’re pretty easygoing and don’t really need special accommodations.  If it was just the fact that there was no newsletter in the room, who cares?  But, there was a pair of underwear on the floor and you could see the ship’s age (13 years) in the not so fresh coverlet and in the shower.  Did we mention there was a pair of ladies underwear on the floor?!  Yeah.

Finally, the whole operation could be described as inefficient and the staff as lackadaisical.  The safety drill really took much longer than it should have and we had to stand on a very long line to get back onto to boat in Key West while standing in the rain.  They also decided to paint one of the pools after we set sail from Key West so the jacuzzis next to it were basically unusable due to paint fumes.

Did we have fun?  Yes.  Did we meet some great people?  Yes.  Did we enjoy the ports of Key West and Cozumel?  Yes.  Will we ever go back on a Carnival ship again?  Oh, we don’t think so.  Anyway, thanks for reading and here are some of the pictures that we took!

CarnivalVictory

Le Ship

Towel Animals and Chocolate equal fun!

Towel Animals and Chocolate equal fun!

Painting a pool when people want to use it

Painting a pool when people want to use it

Front Pool Area with said pool

Front Pool Area with said pool

Ernest Hemingway's favorite bar

Ernest Hemingway’s favorite bar

Another popular watering hole

Another popular watering hole

Our personal favorite

Our personal favorite

Key West-opoly, anyone?

Key West-opoly, anyone?

The completely Disney-fied port where our ship docked in Cozumel

The completely Disney-fied port where our ship docked in Cozumel

Our delicious Yucatecan lunch at Casa Denis, Cozumel

Our delicious Yucatecan lunch at Casa Denis, Cozumel

It was REALLY windy, but beautiful on Cozumel's main shopping road.

It was REALLY windy, but beautiful on Cozumel’s main shopping road.

Celebrity Reflection – Our Trip on the Inaugural Sailing!

Dec 5, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

Greetings!  It is thrilling to be writing this blog post about the amazing two-day trip we just took on the Inaugural voyage of the newest Celebrity Cruises ship, the Celebrity Reflection.  This is the last ship in the Solstice line, which Celebrity has been rolling out since 2008.  Believe it or not, we won this trip through a contest from www.tastingtable.com, a fantastic website dedicated to foodies.  Check them out!

The Celebrity Reflection is an absolutely gorgeous ship.  Everything is brand new and very modern.  When we walked onto the ship, we could immediately see a Gelateria and a Tea/Coffee/Pastry Bar.  There was also a bar with a top made out of ice and another bar making “molecular” drinks.  Riding the elevator up through the Atrium, one could see a huge tree propped up by metal supports right in the middle of the ship.  Go up to the top deck and you’ll find a large lawn with real grass that contains hammocks, cabanas, over-sized Adirondack chairs, a place to play croquet, a few casual restaurants and an art studio!

Our AquaClass balcony stateroom was very spacious and comfortable and included a couch.  Enjoying complimentary champagne on a lounge chair watching Miami go by is not a bad way to spend some time!  I was surprised by how much storage space there was, especially in the bathroom, although you can still count on the usual tight fit in the shower as is the norm on every cruise boat.

Overall, the food was very impressive.  Celebrity has always had a reputation as having some of the best food amongst the cruise lines and the Reflection certainly lived up to this.  Our two dinners in the main dining room were well-received by everyone at our tables.  Highlights for me included a just-creamy-enough cream of mushroom soup and a mouth-watering Chateaubriand.  Our only complaint was that there were fixed seatings for dinner and we were forced to eat quite late.  Also, the show times didn’t exactly line up with dinner.

We were also extremely lucky to be invited to a panel discussion at Blu Restaurant which is only available to guests staying in the AquaClass rooms.  The panel included Scott Hocker, the Editor-in-Chief of Tasting Table, Jeff McInnis from Top Chef Season 5/Miami’s Yardbird Restaurant, representatives from the Celebrity culinary team, a food writer and someone from the James Beard Foundation.  Our lunch at Blu, which serves healthier fare, included mushroom and pea risotto, a perfectly-cooked sea bass and the most wonderful Valrhona chocolate dessert with coffee accents.

Not to go on too much, here is a collection of photos to give you a taste of what we experienced.  Click on the picture to make them larger.  Stay tuned for February when Global Itineraries sets sail on the Carnival Victory!

 

The Leaves Are Falling

Oct 2, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

The wonderful season of fall is finally here.  However, it is still 85 degrees at our house in South Florida!  Luckily, Global Itineraries just had the chance to visit family and friends in Kingston, New York over the weekend.  Did you know that Kingston was the first capital of NY before it moved to Albany?  There are many beautiful Victorian homes still standing in town and there are historic downtown and waterfront districts to walk around while you’re there.  We were lucky to have some time to stop by Forsyth Park & Nature Center to see a bevy of cute animals for free.  Eating and drinking highlights of our trip included SkyTop Steakhouse, Ship to Shore Restaurant, Keegan Ales, Stockade Tavern and La Roma Pizza (down the road from a cool old school roller rink called Wood’n Wheel).  We also drove up to ski mecca Hunter Mountain for their annual Oktoberfest Celebration.  Even though it’s a bit early in the season, we were not disappointed by the wonderful fall foliage already on display around the mountain.  Finally, we walked across the relatively new Walkway Over the Hudson that offered stunning views of the Hudson River.  You can enter the walkway from the Highland side or the Poughkeepsie side, and there are great views of the Mid-Hudson Bridge.

We hope that you enjoy some of the pictures from our trip, and please tell us where you are watching the leaves turn this year!

On Hunter Mountain, the leaves were changing…

…and the beer was flowing!

     

Some of the animals currently residing in Forsyth Park

A view of the Mid-Hudson Bridge from the Walkway Over the Hudson

OMG, we couldn’t get enough of Brian Kane’s art piece in Albany International Airport

Thanks for reading!

A (Somewhat) Rainy Weekend in Key West

Jun 26, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  1 Comment

Hello Everyone!  We here at Global Itineraries just returned from a long weekend in Key West.  Tropical Storm Debby kept the sun away most of the time, but it’s hard not to have a good time in Margaritaville!  Here are our highs and lows from the last three days, with pictures.

Highs: Baby’s Coffee, Flying Monkey’s Saloon, Happy Hour at Alonzo’s Oyster House, Mr. Z’s, the amazing people at Fury Water Adventures, key lime pie at Blue Heaven

Lows: The Day’s Inn Key West, being on a catamaran in a rain storm, dinner at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill

Part of the fun of going to Key West is the drive down.  There are so many things to see and all of the Keys look a little bit different.  If your legs need a break from driving, stop at The Rain Barrel in Islamorada which is a funky artisan’s village.  You can’t miss it from the road as there is a GIANT lobster in the parking lot to greet you.  Stop again about a half hour outside of Key West at Baby’s Coffee.  We may have just had the best frozen mocha ever.

Don’t stay at the Day’s Inn Key West.  Our last experience at the Travelodge was a good one and you usually can’t go wrong with a national hotel chain.  WRONG!  The room felt really dirty with a lot of mysterious stains on the rug, chair, etc.  The comparably priced Lexington Hotel next door looked so much nicer.  At least it came with free shuttle bus service to downtown Key West every 15 minutes, but there was no free breakfast – only juice in the lobby every morning and coffee/tea/hot chocolate anytime.  Also, don’t eat at Kelly’s Caribbean Bar & Grill.  You may be tempted because it’s in the old Pan-Am building.  You may be tempted because it was once owned by Kelly McGillis of Top Gun.  You may be tempted by their happy hour.  Don’t be fooled!  The routinely run out of beer and everything we had was either cloyingly sweet or too salty.  Just don’t do it.

I have to give a HUGE shout out to the people at Fury Water Adventures.  We embarked on what was supposed to be a Rum & Reggae Snorkel & Sunset sail.  It was already cloudy out at 5:00 so the chances of seeing a nice sunset were already slim.  There was reggae music and an affable crew on the way out and then an abbreviated snorkel due to the impending storm.  After seeing a lot of fish, including a barracuda(!), it was back on the boat for a quick getaway back to the dock.  There was reggae and there was rum.  There was also a big storm that soaked the entire catamaran before we could make it back.  Despite the rough conditions, Captain Tony never made us feel unsafe.  The crew was in great spirits and everyone had as much beer, wine and rum punch (did you know they still made Hawaiian punch??) as they wanted.  If you want a to go on any kind of water adventure with a capable crew, definitely go with Fury!

Ok, ok, you’re probably wondering about all of the great things to do in the heart of Key West.  See the entire island from the very fun (but somewhat bumpy) Conch Tour Train.  Take a picture at the Southernmost point and the end/beginning of U.S. 1.  Go to the beautiful Hemingway House to learn all about the author’s time in Key West, take in this historic home and see all of the six-toed cats.  Then grab at drink at his favorite bar, Captain Tony’s, just of Duval Street.  Finally, experience the beautiful sunset in Mallory Square with all of the tourists and eccentric vendors (when there isn’t a Tropical Storm, that is!).

Best Happy Hour?  Hands down, it’s at Alonzo’s Oyster Bar on Front Street below the A&B Lobster House.  The entire bar menu plus all drinks are half price from 4 to 6:30 everyday and you’re sitting right on the water!  You cannot find a better deal, and our peel n’ eat shrimp and conch fritters were delicious.

Best Bar?  Well, there’s just too many to choose from, but at least half of the bars on Duval Street give away 2 for 1 drink cards.  Ask the concierge at your hotel!  You will save a lot of money.  Do not be tempted to follow the masses to Fat Tuesday’s.  You’ll see a lot of people walking around with their insulated bottles, but the frozen drinks are far better at Flying Monkeys which is attached to Fogarty’s.  The drinks are strong, cold and delicious.

Best Late Night Dinner/Snack?  No question, it’s Mr. Z’s.  Really, I think the cheesesteak we just had was better than the ones we had in Philadelphia which is a strong statement!  The blend of meat, melting cheese, onions and mushrooms on a roll was just perfect.  The roast beef sandwich was good too!

Best Key Lime Pie?  Totally debatable, but we had a very good piece at Blue Heaven restaurant off of Whitehead street.  Admittedly, the huge pile of merangue on top is probably not for everyone, but the tart pie was perfectly balanced out by the sweet graham cracker crust.

On our drive back, we stopped at the lovely Schnebly Redlands Winery.  It’s off the beaten path in Homestead, FL, but the grounds are beautiful, the staff is nice and the fruit wines are very interesting.  Dinner was at Scully’s Tavern in Miami, which was featured a few years ago on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.  Thumbs up to the Incrusted Dolphin Sandwich and Judge Judy on the tv.  The famed Scampi Wings were tiny and somewhat dried out.  Oh well – that’s another travel adventure for the books!

Baby’s Coffee

The Southernmost Point in the U.S.

Mile Market 0, a.k.a the end of U.S. 1

The Old Pan Am building

An adorable six-toed cat at the Hemingway Home

A slice of Key Lime pie at Blue Heaven

Serenity at the Schnebly Redlands Winery

All photos courtesy of Global Itineraries

Memorial Day Weekend in Naples

May 29, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

Summer is here and we here at Global Itineraries couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate its official start then with a Memorial Day Weekend road trip!  So, we hopped in the car and drove from the Fort Lauderdale area across the infamous “Alligator Alley” (actually I-75) across to the west side of the state to Naples, FL.  It was hot hot hot all weekend long with no rain.  Everyone we encountered was so friendly and the city is immaculate – no garbage on the streets, perfectly manicured everything and no homeless/vagrants as far as we could tell.  Just a beach town with a high population of retirees and golfers.  Here are some of the highlights:

The Hilton Naples – What a fantastic hotel!  Clean with great amenities.  We told the front desk that it was our one year anniversary and they gave us free access to the Executive Lounge on the fourth floor AND a free box of delicious chocolates from a local shop called Norman Love.  I don’t know how people usually get access to the Lounge, but it was a real treat.  We received a complimentary Continental Breakfast in the mornings and complimentary hors d’oeuvres in the evening.  Coffee and tea seemed to always be available outside for anyone with key card access.  We also enjoyed the hotel gym and the gratis water/juice and cookies that appeared in the lobby every afternoon.  The hotel also provides a complimentary shuttle service to the beach complete with towels, chair and water.  Bring your earplugs, though, because the walls are thin!  Here are pictures of the exterior, the pool and those chocolates:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naples Zoo – Naples has a small, but very nice zoo that can be seen in 2 hours or less.  This is not a place to spend all day, but is certainly worth a trip as they have a nice variety of animals.  Do not forget to bring sunscreen and water during the summer months!  You will be outside the entire time and it was HOT when we were there.  Make sure to see the Feature Show, which takes place at 11am and 3pm daily.  Zookeepers bring out animals you can’t see on display, such as a two-toed sloth and an ocelot.  The monkey islands boat ride is also something worth checking out.  Otherwise, just walk along the main path and you may just come across this guy:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silverspot Cinemas – Naples has gotten on the bandwagon of the luxury movie theater and has done a pretty nice job.  The seats in this theater were basically over-sized easy chairs and were so comfortable that you felt like you were in your own living room.  Pros: you can enjoy wine and other drinks at your seat and choose your seat ahead of time so that no one else sits in it.  Cons: The price.  $16 for one adult ticket to a regular (not 3D) movie).  Also, it didn’t seem like you could take the gourmet food inside the theater with you; instead you must eat it in the cafe in the lobby.  Don’t know what drink to order?  They did have some interesting promotions:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to eat? – I have to say we were somewhat underwhelmed with the food we ate in Naples.  The much-heralded Simply Southern BBQ, very incognito in a strip mall, was just ok (but boy was that mac n’ cheese good…), and the Roy’s Hawaiian outpost at the Bayfront offered beautiful views with very inconsistent and generally underwhelming food.  We still don’t know what Hawaiian fusion is!   Similarly, we didn’t understand all of the buzz about Adelheidi’s Organic Sweets on Fifth Avenue.  It’s laudable that they use organic, natural ingredients, but the gelato was really nothing out of the ordinary.

There were some food highlights, however.  We had a lovely dinner at Citrus Seafood Restaurant on Fifth Avenue.  We were able to sit outside as the sun went down, watching the crowds walk by.  The owner is obviously passionate about all things seafood and made us excited to eat there.  I will say that our trio of ceviche appetizer was just ok, but both the Maine lobster tower and the fish tacos were perfectly prepared and full of flavor.  Similarly, we had a nice lunch at The Cafe, tucked away just off Fifth Avenue on 8th Street.  They have delicious sandwiches and salads and many drool-worthy items in their bakery case.

Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about another restaurant in Naples that we had dinner at last summer called Cracklin’ Jacks.  It is a down home Southern restaurant if we ever saw one with things like alligator and fried catfish on the menu.  Go for dinner and they will literally fill your table with bowls of vittles:

Thanks for reading and happy traveling!

 

Thinking About Seattle

May 7, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

We here at Global Itineraries just read an article on fodors.com about author Jim Lynch’s perfect day in Seattle, and it got us thinking about our spectacular trip there in September 2007.  Rather than staying in a hotel, we bunked with friends and saw family in the quiet suburb of Bellevue.  However, downtown Seattle was easily reached by car or bus.  Certainly, a highlight of any trip to Seattle has to include a visit to Pike Place Market (as referenced by Mr. Lynch).  The atmosphere is so vibrant and alive, and you can’t miss the fish-throwers!  Not that this is the only thing to see there.  The market has plenty of vendors selling produce, meat, cheese and clothing.  You can also find freshwater pearl dealers who let you choose your own oyster as well as a fantastic magic shop.  Plus, you can walk across the street to get a coffee from the very first Starbucks!

In a collegiate frame of mind?  Check out the University of Washington’s beautiful campus.  As you’re enjoying the scenery, don’t forget to look up.  You’ll see some of the coolest gargoyles staring back at you!

If it’s a nice day, Gasworks Park is a great place to spend some time because it gives you an amazing view of all of Seattle’s fantastic houseboats!

There’s a fantastic restaurant right near the park if you’re feeling hungry.  It’s called Ivar’s Salmon House.  Not only do they have great food, but the interior was modeled after a traditional Native American longhouse.

If you have the time, make sure to hop on a ferry to Bainbridge Island.  The ride is short with some beautiful views.  Once you get there, you can rent a bike, walk around or just indulge in some ice cream from Mora Iced Creamery – yum!  It’s right near the ferry terminal.

Feel like seeing some art?  Head downtown and walk into the lobbies of some of the buildings like Benaroya Hall.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the work of Dale Chihuly everywhere!

Seattle is a great city to visit, just be sure to bring your umbrella.  Happy Travels!

 

New York City Trip!

May 1, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  9 Comments

We here are Global Itineraries are getting so excited for our trip to New York City May 10-14.  We used to live there and love visiting whenever we can.  So what are we doing there?  Besides a wonderful family wedding, here are some of the places we plan to visit this time around:

Auction House – Head to the Upper East Side for this non-traditional bar that looks like a living room in an old    mansion/castle.  www.auctionhousenyc.com

 

 

 

 

Brinkley’s – A great pub and restaurant in SoHo.  Yes, this adorable bear is their logo!  www.brinkleysnyc.com

 

 

 

 

 

Central Park – The one and only.  We’re looking forward to a Mother’s Day picnic here, weather-permitting!

 

 

 

 

 

City Hall Restaurant – The site of the wedding!  Can’t wait for our first visit to this TriBeCa favorite!  http://cityhallnewyork.com

 

 

 

 

El Castillo de Jagua – A Lower East Side favorite for Cuban food.  It may be a dive, but they have fantastic lunch specials including Cuban sandwiches and chicken with rice and beans.  http://www.yelp.com/biz/el-castillo-de-jagua-new-york-2

 

 

 
Lower East Side Tenement Museum – One of the most amazing museums in NYC.  This National Historic Landmark is open to the public for tours and tells the stories of real immigrants who lived at 97 Orchard Street from 1863-1935.  www.tenement.org

 

 

Wo Hop – A Chinatown institution.  This greasy spoon is 24 hours and is an infamous place to go for cheap Chinese.  Make sure to dine in the basement and not upstairs, order the roast duck chow fun and pick up a t-shirt before you leave! www.wohopnyc.com

 

 

 

 

Wolfgang’s Steakhouse – Can’t get into Peter Lugar’s in Brooklyn, arguably the best steak restaurant in town?  Then head over to Wolfgang’s where a former Peter Lugar’s chef now works.  www.wolfgangssteakhouse.net

 

 

Hungry for More Hunger Games?

Mar 27, 2012   //   by sleveene   //   Uncategorized  //  No Comments

Are you obsessed with The Hunger Games like the rest of America is?  Full confession: Global Itineraries is obsessed with it too!  There has been a lot of curiosity about where the series was filmed, much like with the Twilight Saga.  If you want to continue the movie experience by going on a travel adventure, then it’s time to pack your bags for North Carolina.  While the cast and crew hung around in Asheville and Charlotte when they weren’t filming, a lot of the outdoor action in the movie took place in the beautiful DuPont State Forest.  Check out this article from cnn.com that will give you the full scoop on where scenes from the movie took place: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/26/travel/hunger-games-travel/index.html?hpt=hp_c2.

Yes, the NC Division of Tourism has made it easy for you to plan this trip.  At the bottom of the article is a link to a bare bones 4-day itinerary as well as 12 places to go to really experience the movie.  However, if you’re looking for a more detailed, custom itinerary for your vacation then drop us a line and we’d be happy to plan your ultimate Hunger Games getaway.

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