Monday, December 28, 2015

Florida (must try!!) Amelia Island

Amelia island plantation is a beautiful area for a week of rest and relaxation. Amelia island is located within the city of Jacksonville, FL. It reminds a lot of Savannah, GA. 

A lot of people own homes and condos there with the exception of the Omni hotel so you can expect quietness and just pure relaxation.

There are boutique shops, tennis courts (where women's tournament used to take place), 2 golf courses with some of the hole right by the beach, an expanded full fitness center (where they film and host the biggest loser), lots of parks with Wifi, swings, Segway rentals, walking trails by the marsh and a couple of restaurants. 

Marche restaurant which where everyone gets lunch or coffee or ice cream. Service is not great, pricing is not amazing either but when in Amelia. The other option is to come with your grocery all planned out (shopping centers are just 15 minutes away) and just enjoy the beach if you were lucky to rent a beach front condo otherwise, pricing for the Omni restaurants are pretty pricey with a very basic selection. 

The Omni hotel has a beautiful setup, beach front as well as a completely renovated pool area with fire pits everywhere.  

We stayed with our in laws on a beach front condo so 80% of our meals were cooked which I would recommend.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Staycation for Seattle (Suncadia Resort & Swiftwater Cellars)!!

Suncadia Resort and Spa - is a wonderful home away from home, especially for folks living and working in the city like us.  Suncadia has the most breath taking expansive mountain views and river view, it looks like it is located in the Swiss Alps. Our first trip there, we stayed at the Suncadia Inn as oppose to the Suncadia Lodge.  We had a balcony room which is standard at the Inn facing the resort instead of the mountain view / golf course.  At the Inn, breakfast is included, at the Lodge, it is not. The room at the Inn is an equivalent to the One bedroom Suite at the Lodge in appearance. It was amazing, big Jacuzzi tub, fireplace, two rocking chairs on the balcony, king size bed, awesome rain shower, nice TV (does not work with an Apple TV though), keurig machine, coffee, teas and 2 robes.

There are 4 options that you can select from when coming to this amazing place.
You can opt to stay at:

Inn at Suncadia - this is great for couples, since it is very small and private (there is mini fridge, coffee maker, sink, free continental breakfast, one restaurant onsite, closer to fitness/pool/rental center, fireplace in all of their units, big Jacuzzi tub)

Lodge at Suncadia - this is great for families, lots of children activities throughout your stay, there are rooms with kitchens - the one bedroom suite, the studio has a kitchenette, so microwave, coffee maker, mini fridge, and there is even an option for a double bed room with no kitchenette or microwave or fridge - so plan to eat out daily.

Suncadia Rental Home - this is great for large families that are planning to stay for a while, pricier as it is significantly bigger (not really intimate for 2 people)

Trailhead Condominiums - another great place for both couples or families - full kitchen,
allowing for you to cook for your family similarly to a one bedroom suite

The Inn at Suncadia

PRO: The pro about staying at the Inn versus the Lodge, is how quite it is, there are not a lot of rooms so less people and the rooms are significantly bigger for the same prices as the lowest one bedroom at the Lodge.  Includes breakfast and there is a restaurant onsite that offers happy hour. More focus on adults wanting some alone time. It is closer to the fitness center, summer rentals, paddle boarding, mopeds, and pool.  In the winter, the summer rental area becomes an ice skating rink.

CONS: The only downfall to staying at the Inn versus the Lodge is you are aware from the activities conducted at the lodge, specifically kids activities.  There are two restaurants on site at the Lodge, both good, one adult only and the other family.  However, it is not a very long walk, 5 minutes to walk over from the Inn.

The Lodge at Suncadia

The Lodge River View

PRO: The biggest pro with staying at the Lodge to us, is the breathtaking view.  You must get the room with a river view to get this expansive view of the mountains and river. Great place to just on your balcony or outside and have a glass of wine while taking in nature's finest creation.  The other pro is if you have kids, there are a ton of activities that are planned for them. For example: during the winter seasons, there are making ornaments classes, breakfast with Santa, dancing classes, crafts classes and so much more. 

For adults, the resort has a spa located by the main Lodge that has 3 coed hot springs, 1 female only and 1 male only. The cost is $60 a day just to use or if you book anything at the spa, it's included.  The spa has it own menu which is prepared by the main Lodge kitchen so ordering can take up to an hour before you would get your food, however, it is extremely worth the wait.  The food at the spa as well as every restaurants at the Lodge are exceptional and they are generous with their portions.  The spa menu for services are also reasonable and standard comparable to other spas, however, their massage therapist are also exceptional (very experienced, does amazing with a deep tissue as well relaxation massages), they also do specialty services such cupping) in comparison to other resorts.

On the side of the lodge - hiking trails

The ambiance of the spa is serene and absolutely divine.  There are outside seating on lounge chaise on both side of the waiting area with beautiful man made creeks and ponds, with amazing landscaping. Inside, there are giant bean bag seats as well comfortable oversize recliners.  There are also a make your own tea bag station with a variety of loose tea to create your own blend.

We booked our stayed through Jetsetter (use this link to get a 5% savings) to your booking.

There is also a store on site, next to the lobby to buy emergency necessities (i.e., toothpaste, emergent-C, deodorant,etc..), a fresh cup of latte, some pre-packaged meals,

CONS:  Not much, other than some of the rooms does not have kitchenette and a fireplace.  Breakfast is NOT included so you are either eating at the restaurant onsite - which ranges from $12-25 for standard breakfast dish.  With a kitchenette, you can at least have a mini fridge to store some breakfast items or microwave something.

Amenities on site: at the lodge, they do s'mores from 7-9 on the weekends (free) so that is fun. Lots of planned events for kids to participate in, for example: making their own ornament, or breakfast with Santa.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Tips & Suggestions for Cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL)

This is our second time on the Norwegian Cruise line (NCL), first time we did a Hawaiian cruise out of Honolulu on The Pride of America and this round we did the Mexican Riviera out of Los Angeles California on the Jewel.

Our first NCL cruise, we had a balcony which turns out to be smaller than a balcony room with Carnival and Celebrity so this time we opted to get a mini suite for more room hoping it would be a better experience as we were celebrating Thanksgiving with family.

The mini suite rooms are a good size, lots of closet space and drawers for extra storage. There is a sitting area that can be separated by the curtains to separate the area from the room with a couch that can be made into a bed, if you were to chose to make into a room for four. It also comes with one of the four packages, ultimate beverage package, ultimate dinning package, wifi or shore excursions.

Upon arrival to the port, they have a water and iced tea stations and separate lines setup for Suites and Haven suites versus interior, ocean view and balcony rooms which for us, went pretty quickly for the suites side. After getting through the line, we made it on the ship.  

What to expect on Day 1 that could go wrong:

Card keys may not work, if you encounter this, they will tell you to go stand in a long  line for the customer service on Deck 7 at which point, your keys still may not work (this is what we encountered after going down and back, still did not work, my suggestions, find a security person and get them to do it for you at your room).

Safe may not lock, again - my suggestions, call "00" from your room and ask them to send a security person to fix it, do not stand in the customer service line.

If you are getting an adjoining room - do not expect to have the balcony door open, this is a security issue however, you can call "00" and get the door unlock from within your room so you can go back and forth during your cruise.  Also - when booking, make sure your room has adjoining room capability (aka, a door inside your room that you can access to go to the room next door, not all rooms are like this).

Ultimate beverage package 

$550+ in cost if bought separately, however with a suite, we get it free and it is much different than the Celebrity drink package in that it includes alcoholic drinks, soda and wine that are less than $15 a drink, here is the kicker, juices are not included unless it is mixed with alcohol (what?!) so Do I have to order a screwdriver but hold the vodka ? Here is why, they have many types of drink packages, $9.95 a day just for juices, $6.95 for soda, $59.99 for a 24 pack of bottle water, and specialty coffee drinks are a la carte. With Celebrity, all soda, bottle water, specialty coffee drinks, pastries, fresh squeeze juices are included in the premium drink package and are typically included with balcony rooms. 

So what's not included:

No bottle water, specialty coffee drinks (I.e.,bake goods from cafes on ship or restaurants, cafe latte or cappuccino - where these are included at Celebrity). No juices (I.e., can or fresh squeezed).

Some of our experiences on day 1, all the drink specials they have on the menu was missing one or two alcohol that are required to make it.  The daiquiri machine was broken and the bartender "Oscar" was downright rude and instead of attempting to accommodate us after telling us the machine is broken, he started to make drinks for all the servers until I flat out said "are you planning to make our drinks are you just continuing to make drinks for all the other servers while I stand here".  So now the other servers are telling him to make our drinks, he started to make our drinks and of course, this second order, another needed liqueur is out (day 1). The problem seems to be that the tip is already included therefore, there is no need for anyone to have a smile on their faces when serving you or even have a sense of urgency. 

Ultimate dining beverage 

You can only be in one restaurant per day or at least made reservation to only one per day per room. 

You can order one entree otherwise you get charge extra unless you have the package then they void it out.

The pros for this package is, all the specialty restaurants have exceptional service and food. The wait staff are extremely attentive and no wait what so ever as opposed to the main dinning rooms. 

Every restaurant we had dinner in, which we opted to do all 7 nights in the specialty dinning after having breakfast in the main dinning room the second day on the ship and it took almost 2 hours.  The food in the main dinning for breakfast was poor, pancakes, bacon were cold upon arrival (of course it took 40 minutes for us to get our breakfast) and coffee, just get it yourself since we sat for 15 minutes without a refill until I got up and went and got the coffee pot myself. 

A couple of tips and suggestions:

Tip 1: All these restaurants have dishes that has an additional fee by $9.95 or $19.95, however, if you have a pre-paid dinning package, these are also included without an additional cost. 

Tip 2: Buy your specialty dinning online as you will be saving 20% versus getting on it the ship, plus this way you can also avoid the long line on the first day of the cruise. More time for you to enjoy yourself.

Tip 3: Pre-book all your reservations online, don't wait until you get on the ship, again, avoiding the lines and getting the best time.

Tip 4: Make sure if you are going to cancel do it within 24 hours otherwise, they will charge you (we did not have any of these issues even though I did cancel a Teppanyaki - I think mainly because everyone wanted to go here and the time I had was 6:30 - so they had no time getting people in, so this is how you would avoid the charges).  La Cucina seems to be the least popular, so getting those book on the cruise was much easier.

Tip 5: Gratuity of 18% is already included in your purchase of the ultimate dinning package, however, you can opt to give more. 

Le Bistro a French cuisine restaurant, dress code restricted (so no shorts), was amazing, food selections top notch, service was top notch. We had the escargot, onion soup, their salads, lamb chops (yum, no fat trimmings, cut into a lollipop), the lobster (also amazing), and the salmon.

Moderno a Brazilian restaurant, no dress code, up on the 12 deck, was also quite amazing.  There is an array of salads, cheeses, cold meats, and vegetables bar available as an appetizer which is followed by one wait staff at a time presenting their meats (i.e., lamb chops, sirloin, filet, chicken, sausages, there are also 2 fish selections).

Cagney's steakhouse is as the name states, a steakhouse, also fantastic.  Great place for steak options and they are big however, for those who prefer fish/seafood, they also have those options.

La Cucina is an Italian restaurant, great dishes as well and very big portions.

Teppanyaki is a Japanese steakhouse, which seems to be the most popular but was not my favorite.  Food was quite good however, the whole ambience and service were not superb and I feel like the options are limited.  With all the other restaurants, you can have an endless array of appetizers to choose from, with Teppanyaki, you get what they give you, which is a small bowl of miso soup and a small bowl of salads.  Their desserts were also extremely limited and not great.  So although I booked 2 reservations before arriving, I quickly changed it to 1 which by the way, is not an easy task to do. Getting reservations upon arrival on the ship is nearly impossible if you don't stand in a long time the first night.

Room service:

This is the only cruise I know that charges for room service, a $7.95 charge will be applied if you want them to bring food to your room.

Now on to room service and using your phone to call for anyone for issues within your room. No one answers the call for 20 minutes at a time.

Our safe stop working again and at 10:25 we called "00" and no one answers then when I was redialing, I got a busy signal continuously for 20 minutes. So I called room service, receptionist and every number available and no one answers. I continued to try for 20 minutes and finally got someone and the rationale is " it's the first day, a lot of things are going on right now" really?!?
We paid a lot of money to be here for only 1 week (7 days) so are planning to refund us our first day because you can't get it together?? No customer service, nothing works and most everyone that works on the ship seems miserable. What is NCL doing ??!?   This continues to happen throughout the cruise.  Customer service is very slow after 10 pm.

There is absolutely nothing they seem to be doing right that I can write about.

Thermal spa

Another giantic waste of money, for $149 a week just to be in a room where you can lounge in stone chairs and have a view while sitting in the therms bath with everyone else..what?? Why are they even charging for this, the room is the size of 3 state rooms. I don't get it?? 

More details to come...