Category Archives: addictions

Royal Caribbean Cruises: Mayan Cacoa Company Excursion

20191231_143345-1In my last blog, I wrote about our fantastic shore excursion to the Mayan ruins at San Gervasio in Cozumel, Mexico. While I loved exploring the ruins and got some amazing pictures, for me the highlight of the trip was our stop at the Mayan Cacao Company. There were a couple different shore excursions coupled with the ruins and when I saw this one that also included a chocolate tour…I was hooked. History and chocolate? Take my money and sign me up!

The Mayan Cacao Company is clearly a happening place to be. It was hoppin! I think half the island may have been there when we arrived, but our amazing guide Edwin got us right on a guided tour of the operation. It began in a room (which was thankfully air conditioned after our rather sweaty time at the ruins) dedicated to the history of chocolate. There were some replicas of Mayan statues, actual cacao pods for us to smell, written and pictorial explanations of the history and chocolate making process and some small artifacts from early chocolate making. Our tour guide gave us about a five minute talk on the cultural significance of early chocolate making.

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Next, we headed down a shaded path, where a beautiful red parrot sat squawking at us. Our guide led us to a thatched hut-like building where people were making a chocolate based mole sauce for us to try. We learned about the process and the importance of mole in Mexican cooking and then got to try a small corn tortilla with the homemade mole on it. Although only the briefest whispers of cocoa were present, I thought it was quite tasty. My husband and son both loved it too. My daughter, the insanely picky eater took a bite, made a face, and handed it over to me. Her brother was eyeing the extra portion so I gave it to him.

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We continued to wind down the path and our guide stopped to show us some cacao trees and explain how they are nurtured and cultivated. She also showed us actual cacao pods on the trees and explained a bit about how they are harvested.

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Along the path we passed another gorgeous parrot. This guy was green and even more talkative. I’m not much of a bird fan, but after their earlier interaction with parrots (they got to hold and play with one), they wanted to stop and talk to these birds too. I took pictures, which was really pretty brave of me!

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The next stop on our tour was the demonstration room. As we shuffled inside, we were handed a little wooden spoon with some not quite liquid, not quite solid chocolate on it. Our presenter explained that it was fresh chocolate which had just been made during the last demonstration. It was DELICIOUS! My daughter, who at least loves pretty much all things sweet, devoured that sample, which was a shame because I definitely wanted another one!

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The demonstration was really pretty cool…and not just because we were in another wonderfully air-conditioned spot. The presentation was about 10 minutes long and explained the entire chocolate making process. The Mayan Cacao Company is true to its roots and at least the initial process hasn’t changed in centuries. Unlike the Mayans though, now the cacao is served in delicious bar form and not as a very watery, very bitter unsugared drink. As we watched, he pounded and ground the spices together to make the samples of chocolate for the next group.

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After the presentation (you can watch thefull version here), we got a chance to try the original Mayan cacao drink if we wanted. Of course my husband, son, and I grabbed some. There was a little station where guests could add some spices like cinnamon to the drink. Man, it was bitter! I cannot believe people actually enjoyed it at all. But I drank it up, even if it made me grimace a bit.

Luckily right next to that cacao station was a bar with frozen chocolate drinks for sale! I guess they also served non-chocolate drinks, but why bother? My sister, husband, and I each grabbed one. Although they all looked pretty much the same, we each tried a different flavor of liquor! I got a chocolate daiquiri, my sister got a chocolate margarita, and my husband got a mud slide. Of course we had to taste each other’s drinks! I think I liked the mud slide the best, but my daiquiri was pretty good. The drinks were made with HUGE chunks of the Mayan Cacao Company’s chocolate. My only complaint is that the chunks did not get blended enough so the bottom of my cup was basically a solid chunk of chocolate.

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As with pretty much every tour I’ve ever been on, it ended in a gift shop. And this was a glorious gift shop! They had samples of each and every one of their chocolate bars (about two dozen). They also had samples of some of their jams. Of course we had to try them all. I was surprised by how much I actually liked their dark chocolate. I don’t know if I’m just slowly becoming a dark chocolate convert or if theirs is just really good, but most of my favorite ones were dark chocolate! However, I ended up buying my favorite bar which was milk chocolate with cranberries, almonds, and grapes. My kids got the milk chocolate and hazelnut bar to share, although they had a hard time agreeing on one bar. My daughter thought they should probably sample all of them twice, but I made her commit to a bar after only one round of sampling!

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As a chocoholic, it’s no surprise that I loved this part of the excursion. If we ever find ourselves back in Cozumel (fingers crossed), I definitely plan to stop by again. If you are cruising the Caribbean and get a chance to stop in at the Mayan Cacao Company, it is a must visit!

 

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Royal Caribbean Cruises: Briliance of the Seas Windjammer Cafe

20191228_120846When I told my nine year old daughter that we were going on a cruise, she cried. They were not tears of joy.

She’d been on a cruise once before when she was 5 and had a pretty scary experience. We were at the pool enjoying our very first few hours at sea when a boy much larger than she was ran on the small inch deep section she’d been playing in, and knocked her over into a deeper part of the pool. If this image is hard to picture (because it is definitely hard to explain), the picture below shows the different depths of the pool. Luckily I was right there, jumped in, and saved her. But still, she had horrible memories of it and did NOT want to go on another cruise. There were tears, there were protests. It was initially pretty awful.

20191228_164226So I slowly started reminding her of all the good, not scary parts of a cruise. I think it was when I said the magic word–BUFFET–that she stopped her tears.

My kids both ADORE buffets. They beg and plead for them. I am not really a fan, but my daughter, who has some major texture issues and is a rather picky eater, loves them. I think it’s mostly a chance to find foods she feels completely comfortable with and definitely knows. The rest of us are rather adventurous eaters and love Indian, Thai, and Cajun food, all of which she despises. But a buffet means everyone will be happy, right?

So, when I told her that she could eat several of her meals not only with her cousins (who she adores), but also at a buffet, she was suddenly delighted. I’m the opposite. The older I get, the less enamored of buffets I am. With the exception of The Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, as an adult, I have never been to a buffet that has blown me away.

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And I was not blown away by The Windjammer Cafe on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. Breakfast had pretty standard breakfast fair. There were made to order omelette stations, which I skipped because I did not want to wait in the daily lines. There was also just about every form of breakfast meat available. There were biscuits and gravy (with very bland gravy), grits (which were even blander), and several different ways to eat eggs. There were several dozen different types of breads and pastries. My daughter was THRILLED that there were donuts. When I told her she couldn’t have one because she’d had one the morning before, she was quite upset. But then she found out they had pancakes and a topping bar with chocolate sauce, so she thwarted my attempt to get her to eat something healthy by getting two of those. There were also several types of cereal and yogurts. My personal breakfast favorite (aside from the bacon) were these little yogurt, fruit and granola parfaits. I ate one every day. They were super tasty and very impressive.

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For the most part it was like every other decent, but not exciting breakfast buffet I’ve ever been to. In all fairness, I’m not much of a breakfast fan, so I was bound to be underwhelmed. My kids, gave it two thumbs up for breakfast.

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Lunch was a bit more my speed. There were a variety of sandwiches and chicken, tuna, and egg salad to make my own. There were also a lot of different cold salads. I’m always a huge fan of those. Sadly, they only had the delicious chickpea salad on the first day of the cruise. If I had known that I would have had more of it. I appreciated the traditional salad bar as well as it helped me feel I could offset some of the unhealthier options. One thing I noticed was a lack of cooked veggies, so it was nice to always have salad options. There wasn’t much variety of fruit, but if you like melon and pineapple, this buffet will be heaven. My kids were happy that they could get burgers, hot dogs, and pizza every day for lunch. Since my daughter would pretty much live on pizza and hot dogs if I let her, she was thrilled. She was also thrilled with the dessert table at lunch. She loved having access to the ice cream machine, cookies, cakes, jello and fun parfait creations. My favorite thing about lunch was the chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve. I have always been a sucker for a swirled cone!

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One big draw of cruises is having dinner in the formal dining room. It’s fun to get a little dressed up and order fancy meals and desserts. We did eat three of our meals in the fancy dining room, but dinner was actually when the buffet had the biggest draw for us: Indian food. Oh my goodness…this cruise had some fantastic Indian food. Every night there were at least two different offerings, one with meat and one vegetarian as well as either roti or papadums. I think I may have eaten my weight in papadums over the course of the cruise. I tried every single Indian dish they offered in the Windjammer and there wasn’t one I didn’t LOVE.

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After spending the day at Grand Cayman, the feature at the buffet was Caribbean and Indian cuisine. That night there were four different Indian offerings as well as Jamaican meat patties, fried plantains, and jerk chicken. It was, without a doubt, the best food I had on the cruise. I could have eaten it every single night and been blissfully happy. My mom, husband, and son who also love Indian food agreed. It was spiced perfectly. I had been worried that since it was being mass produced for a cruise that the flavors would have been dulled down to suit all taste buds, but that was not the case. It was spicy and flavorful and amazing! I definitely needed some extra water that night.

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For those who needed some milder dishes (like my nephews and daughter), there were still some great offerings at dinner. Every night there were a couple of different chicken and pasta dishes. There was always a carving station with roast beef, ham or chicken ready to be served. Just like lunch, there were two different salad bars, and tons of different  rolls. One of my personal favorite items was the steak, pork chops, and chicken they had cooked to order. I wanted a steak one night, so I walked up to the counter and ordered it medium well. It was done in a few minutes and it was tasty. Every night they had made to order options. One night they had a stir-fry option. One night it was a make your own pizza option. The night we were in Cozumel The Windjammer Cafe had a Mexican fiesta, but since it was New Year’s Eve, we decided to eat in the formal dining room to celebrate. I am still a bit sorry we missed this night as Mexican food is my favorite.

And of course, my favorite part of any meal is dessert. Like most buffets, dessert can be hit or miss. They often look much better than they taste. But let’s face it, it’s easy to make desserts look good. The plate below is a perfect example. And yes, I did try some of all four. The pecan pie and coconut cookie were just ok. Nothing special. I only had about two bites of each. But, the lemon meringue pie and the sugar free chocolate mousse were fantastic! I actually hate meringue, but this one was delicious. It wasn’t the stiff meringue I’m used to, so my guess is that it was some sort of hybrid recipe, but even as full as I was, I could have eaten a dozen of these. The lemon was so tart that it made the back of my mouth water a bit, just like I like it. And despite being a no sugar added dessert, that dark chocolate mousse was delish! I also had an insanely good chocolate cherry parfait dessert one night, but sadly the picture did not turn out very well.

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One of my favorite things about the Windjammer was the different seating options. Because it was pretty crowded in the morning, we often found ourselves eating in the outdoor section of the restaurant, which was right at the back of the ship. We had some lovely ocean views and breezes as we dined. I also like the veranda area which is still air-conditioned, but set off and a bit quieter. Since the walls are floor to ceiling windows, there were lovely views while we ate. We found ourselves sitting by windows several times, and it just added to the relaxing vacation vibe I wanted.

While The Windjammer Cafe may not be the most impressive buffet I’ve ever eaten at, it was pretty good. I would definitely suggest the formal dining room for breakfast (eggs Benedict!), but it was great for a light lunch and the Indian and Caribbean food at dinner blew me away. It may be a few more years until we find ourselves traveling the high seas again, but after this experience, I know it will be far easier to get my daughter on board!

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Travel Tuesday: Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas balcony rooms

balcony view.jpgMy family and I just returned from a 5 night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. This was actually our second trip on the Brilliance of the Seas, and this time I felt like I had a real handle on the ship. We did a 4 night Thanksgiving cruise on Brilliance of the Seas a few years ago with my in-laws. It was fun, but this trip was about extended family and cousins, so I knew there was going to be a different vibe entirely.

This cruise there were 9 of us: myself, my  husband, our kids (aged 9 and 12), my sister, her husband, their kids (aged 13 and 15), and my mom. We knew we were going to need some space, which is not easy to find on a cruise ship. If you’ve never been on a cruise ship before, the first thing you need to realize is that the rooms, even when they give them names like suites and veranda balcony, are usually much smaller than their land counterparts. There are exceptions to every rule, of course. Some of the luxury suites on the larger ships are simply amazing. For example, this Ultimate Family Suite from Royal Caribbean makes me wish I was insanely wealthy and 8 years old.

But, since we are not fabulously wealthy, we decided on balcony staterooms, which not only have a bit more space, but offer a little outdoor get away and spectacular views while sailing. Personally, I love sitting on the balcony and reading a book. It’s the perfect escape from the world. And yes, I may have actually even taken a quick cat nap on my balcony after a VERY EARLY shore excursion in Grand Cayman.

master bed.jpgOur balcony stateroom slept four, although on initial glance, it wasn’t obvious. When we walked in the room, all we saw was the Royal king bed (two twin beds that are joined together) and a couch. Since we’d been on this very ship before, we knew the couch actually folded out to a bed AND that there was a secret bunk bed lurking above it. Each night while we were at dinner, our room steward would turn down our bed, fix the blankets on the bunk bed for our son and pull out and make up the couch bed for our son. Then,  in the morning when we went to breakfast, the couch would be restored so we had more living space.

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Unless you are in a suite, the bathrooms on cruise ships are tiny. But, the designers know how to work with small spaces. There is tons of storage both in and out of the bathroom.

bathrooom 1In the bathroom, one of the mirrors opens to reveal great spaces to store all of your toiletries. The shower may be small, but the shape and curtain mean little water escape and there are several racks for stowing  toiletries as well. The four of us had no trouble fitting all of our bathroom items in the bathroom. It’s important to note that unlike most hotels, cruise ships do NOT provide travelers with toiletries. There was a container in our shower of a combo shampoo/body wash. This was fine for my 12 year old, but the rest of us brought our own shampoos and conditioners. Royal Caribbean also provided small disks of soap in the room, but it’s not like a regular hotel, so bring what you need.

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Plus, there is even a clothes line that stretches across the shower to hang wet bathing suits. There is a surprising amount of towel storage, including four hooks on the back of the door (and the towels are hooked to fit).

dresser.jpgThe closet and desk/dresser also hold hidden places to stow all of your items. After we unpacked all of our clothes (there were only 8 hangers in our room…we had to ask for more), we were able to store our suitcases in the closet floor. Thanks to the built in shelves in the closet, we had plenty of room to store our pajamas, under garments and anything that did not need to be hung in the closet. The dresser/desk also had six drawers, hidden storage behind the mirrors and several shelves on the end where we stored games, books and some toys our daughter brought with her.

medicine cabinet.jpgOne of my favorite things about our room was the giant, heavy curtain that we could pull closed to divide the room in two. That way the kids had their bedroom and so did we. It may not have been perfect privacy, but it did allow my husband and I to read and even stream some shows after our kids had gone to bed. The small bedside lights kept it bright enough for us in our “room,” but the curtain meant the light didn’t disturb the kids. I also really appreciated the bedside tables on either side of our bed for additional storage.

balcony.jpgAnd then there is the balcony. It’s small, but it’s perfect. There are barriers put up on either side so that you don’t have to see your neighbors (but you can definitely still hear them). You get your own little piece of the ocean and it is glorious. I spent quite a bit of time on my balcony just enjoying the quiet, the breeze, and the sun. And the views in the morning and evening were simply magnificent.

Being on a cruise ship is a bit like living in a tiny house. There are hidden spaces for storage and dual purpose items everywhere. What seemed like a bit of a small room turned out to be plenty of room for my family of four. I think the balcony rooms are perfect for families. There is just enough room to spread out a bit, but the rooms are still affordable. They are also highly sought after, so if you want one, better move quickly!

And if you need someone to help you maneuver those sometimes rough vacation waters, drop me a message.

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Munchie Monday: The best Godiva ever

Godiva cranberryIt seems that whenever I fall in love with a piece of Godiva chocolate, they discontinue it. Well, not discontinue per say, but remove it from the case where I can buy individual pieces (or maybe a dozen). Sure, Godiva gift boxes are great and if someone wants to get me one, I’ll accept it and be beyond thankful for it, but I prefer to make my own little gift boxes with my favorite chocolates. Who wouldn’t?

Which is exactly why I was miserable when Godiva took my absolute favorite chocolate ever, the raspberry cordial, out of the case. I loved it so much that I even bought the chocolate assortments it would show up in, and suffer through the far inferior cherry cordial to get it. But then, even that disappeared. It has been years and I still miss that cordial. DeBrand’s has a piece that is similar and I’ll admit I shop at DeBrand’s way more often than Godiva now as a result.

Because I love all things tart, my second favorite piece at Godiva was the holiday cranberry truffle. I’d wait all year for it to come out, go to the store and buy a dozen or so each holiday season. It couldn’t replace the raspberry cordial, but it was a solid backup.

And then they pulled it from the cases too. It’s like Godiva has some sort of strange vendetta against me and wants me to be unhappy. Thankfully, it is still available in the holiday collection, so I can still get it. However, now I get one each holiday season, which breaks my heart.

20191222_190606The truffle itself is a masterpiece. Even though it is wrapped in dark chocolate, which I am not a huge fan of, the fact that it is paired with this perfect, crisp, tart center, makes the dark chocolate the perfect mix. This fantabulous center would wither inside milk chocolate. The center has that perfect cranberry bite. It’s just fruity enough to make it pleasant, but tart enough to make my mouth water a bit. It reminds me a bit of the cranberries in the cranberry apple crisp I make. The perfect blend of sugar and tart.

I can’t see a way this  truffle could be better. Unless Godiva came to their senses and started putting it back in the case. Each holiday season I hurry in to my local Godiva boutique in hopes they’ve come to their senses. And each year I am disappointed and leave with a holiday box like this one and nothing else.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 7/10 (when it was sold in the case it had a fantastic bit of cranberry sugar on it.
Value: 2/10–if I could buy these on their own, the value would be 10/10, but they came in a “Limited Edition Holiday Collection: which had four truffles available all year round and only two “holiday” truffles. I didn’t want the other ones, so I was NOT happy about the price I paid.

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Disney’s Polynesian Resort: Pool cabanas

20191009_162339When I suggested to my mom and sister that we take a girl’s trip to Disney World, I knew I was going to be doing the planning. Of course, I don’t mind this at all as I LOVE planning Disney trips. I also knew where I wanted to stay: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Now, it didn’t take much to convince my mom that this would be a great choice for us. When I mentioned that we’d be able to ride the Monorail straight from our hotel to the Ticket and Transportation Center and then quickly switch to the Epcot Monorail, she was pretty much sold.

But, when I mentioned that we could rent a pool cabana at the resort and just hang by the pool while a cabana attendant brought us all the food and drinks we wanted, she was sold.

All of the Deluxe Resorts at Disney have cabanas for rent. While the cabanas at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Yacht Club Resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort and Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa are a bit swankier-they include TV’s, Bluetooth speakers, mini fridges with water and soda, and fruit/snack baskets–they are also quite a bit more expensive–ranging from $99-$249 depending on season and rental length.

20191009_160709Regardless of which Deluxe resort you pick, cabanas are available from 10 am-7pm or you can do half day rentals from 10am-2pm or 3pm-7pm. We decided we wanted a leisurely morning, so we opted for a half day rental from 3-7. During the first week of October, it only cost us $35. Sure, we had no TV, fruit basket or fridge, but we got to lounge by the pool in VERY comfy chairs and have a dedicated cabana attendant bring us whatever we wanted from the menu (which we paid for).

20191009_160752ThePolynesian has three cabanas located at the much quieter Oasis Pool, which I have to say was super relaxing. During the four hours we spent in our cabana, one of the other cabanas was in use (although they left about an hour before the rental was up), and maybe a dozen other people were in and out of the pool at various times. There were four kids there in those four hours and they were younger kids who were pretty quiet. Not that I have anything against kids being loud at a pool. It’s a pool. I expected crazy hijinx and kids laughing and splashing, but it really didn’t happen. People with kids were enjoying the Lava pool with its cool volcano water slide and super spiffy kids water treehouse-type area.

The weather was a bit cooler on our pool day, highs only reached about 76, so we didn’t really venture into the water. That didn’t stop us from having fun though. We spent our time trying various drinks, snacking on wonton chips, and just talking. As much as I love all that the Disney parks have to offer, I think it is essential to have some down time outside the parks. Every good Disney trip needs a day right smack in the middle where everyone can leisurely move through their day and just enjoy time being together without any lines or rushing to meet a Fast Pass deadline.

20191009_162921The drinks we had were AMAZING! I cannot rave enough about my frozen margarita with Dole Whip lime. The drink alone would have been worth it, but I flipped over the chili lime salt on the rim. I loved it so much that I searched it out at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. I found a packet of it, scooped it up, and brought it home for drinks at home. Incidentally, I also used it to season my pumpkin seeds this year and it was life changing! My sister’s blueberry lemonade (with vodka) was a close second. Of course, my mom’s Frosty Pineapple, which was Dole Whip and rum was tasty too. I was not as enamored of my second drink, a cucumber and mint vojito (a fun spin on a mojito with vodka instead), but honestly, anything after that Dole Whip lime margarita was gonna be a let down.

20191009_171308My mom has decided that we are now cabana people and any time I suggest going somewhere beachy–we are always planning our next trip–she immediately asks if there are cabanas available. She just doesn’t think that she can go back to a life where she doesn’t lounge while people bring her frosty tropical drinks. I can’t disagree.

Even if I was staying at one of the other Deluxe resorts, I would pay the $99 for a half day rental. The cabana was a lovely way to relax and recoup after a long day of traveling followed by an even longer day at Epcot. Plus, it helped us reset and prepare for the longest day of our trip: Epcot with the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party.

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Munchie Monday: Godiva Bundt Cake Collection

20191201_142644Any time Godiva has something new, I have to try it. They may have been beaten out by DeBrand’s as my favorite place to shop for chocolate, but I still have some serious brand loyalty. The problem, is that recently I have not been impressed with their new offerings. The old standards are still fantastic. I am not sure there is a better truffle than their holiday cranberry truffle. I am still angry that they no longer offer it directly out of the case. As it is, every year they sucker me into buying a holiday truffle sampler so that I can get it. That may seem smart on their part, but I buy one sampler and I would easily buy a few dozen. I love it that much. So really, they are losing out on mega profits, just from me!

So, when I walked in to Godiva and saw the Bundt Cake collection, I was definitely excited. Thanks to the opening of Nothing Bundt Cakes, I’ve had a resurgence in my love for all things bundt (I went through a phase about 8 years ago where I was always making bundt cakes). I was also skeptical. I wanted to like them, just like I’ve wanted to like all of their special collections. This blog, however, is a history of mostly failed special Godiva collection pieces.

But, ever the chocophile/glutton for punishment, I bought three of the six pieces in the collection. Since I am not a huge dark chocolate fan, I skipped all three of them: dark chocolate ganache, dark chocolate orange, and dark chocolate salted caramel. I almost went for the salted caramel, but I’ve been burned by dark chocolate varieties of this so often that I stuck with the milk and white chocolate pieces.

Godiva almond bundtFirst up was the milk chocolate almond bundt cake. I was very pleasantly surprised. The filling was on the drier, crumbly side, much like their almond butter truffle, but despite that texture, it was amazingly creamy. It tasted a little more hazelnut than almond, but I think that’s true of most nutty pieces Godiva produces. Like all things Euroopean, they love their hazelnut. Adding to the nuttiness of this piece were the crisped rice pieces embedded in it. It was odd because even though I knew they were rice, they somehow reminded me of the crunch of nuts and deepened the nutty flavor. This one was quite tasty and I was encouraged.

Next up was the white chocolate cinnamon pecan bundt cake. Although the inside flavorGodiva cinnamon bundt sounded appealing, lately Godiva and I have not been seeing eye to eye on their white chocolate. Ok, that’s not quite fair, as a whole I have lost my enthusiasm for white chocolate. It tends to leave behind a grainy, film in my tongue that just bothers me. I was sure this would be my least favorite…but it turns out I was wrong. This one was my absolute favorite. It was simply fantastic! It was creamy without any of that white chocolate film. The filling in this one was less crumbly than the almond one and a bit more like most of their non-liquid fillings in their truffles–softer, but not runny. I loved the subtle crunch of the pecans in the filling. The cinnamon came in at the of the bite, giving it a warm feeling. I was reminded of sitting next to a fire on a cold winter day, eating those candied roasted pecans that are sold at winter farmer’s markets. YUM!

Godiva coconut bundtI finished off this grouping with the milk chocolate coconut bundt cake. I was most excited by this one and sadly, most disappointed in it. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. I actually did, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. I wanted it to be more coconutty. I could taste the coconut, but it seemed like an afterthought, not the star. The inside of this piece was not the liquid filling of a raspberry cordial (my favorite candy from Godiva), but it was definitely closer to liquid than solid. Texture wise it’s similar to the one inside their coconut truffle (which I also find a bit disappointing). This is a perfectly good chocolate, but I wanted it to scream “I’M COCONUT!” like an excited child. Instead, it sort of mumbled, “yeah, I’m coconut,” like a bored teenager. Fine, but after the delightful white chocolate cinnamon pecan bundt cake, it was a let down. Not the way to end my tasting of this collection. Had this been the first one I tried, I might have thought more fondly of it.

Still, I am happy to say I have once again gotten excited about a Godiva special collection. This gives me hope for future purchases and it’s why I keep trying these collections. I may have to kiss a few frogs, but eventually I get a prince!

Overall:

Taste: 8/10
Appearance: 7/10
Value: 8/10

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Gluten-Free Disney Day 4

20191010_140356Day four of our trip found us back at Epcot, ready to enjoy round 2 of the International Food and Wine Festival. If you have never been, it is an absolute must! While I’ve gone with my husband and children in the past, I am now convinced that the best way to experience this amazing event is sans children.

My sister started her day with a gluten-free donut at Kona Island at the Polynesian Village and Resort where we were staying. My mom and I decided on a little extra sleep instead of striking out in search of something to nosh on. Honestly, I’m not generally a breakfast person. I’d much rather save my calories for lunch and dinner…and dessert!

20191010_135411We took a slightly different turn at Epcot and headed over to the Flavors from Fire booth. A friend who lives in Orlando told me that the Smoked Corned Beef was the best thing thing at the entire festival, so we had to try it. I was also super keen on trying the Steakhouse Blended Burger. Neither were gluten free, but since my sister’s sensitivity is one that allows her to eat items that have touched gluten (ie just remove the bun), she was still able to sample part of the burger and loved it. We offered to get it sans bun, but she insisted and I’m glad she did because it was amazing.

 

Having been kind enough to humor us with our quest for grilled foods, my sister wanted to try a gluten-free item she saw in our passport book. The Active Eats kiosk had a Fruit and Nut Energy Snack (pictured at the top of this page) that she wanted to sample. Since our goal was to share as much as we possibly could, I get to sneak a little bite too–but I only took a little one since this one was completely gluten-free. It was tasty and completely healthy. She paired it with an M.I.A. Key Lime Hard Sparkling Water, which may have diminished the healthy aspect a bit, but none of us minded!

20191010_151218We made our way through the center of the festival, heading toward Mexico this time. As soon as we saw mimosas at Shimmering Sips we had to stop. There were four mimosa flavors and three of us, so we tried almost all of them. My sister got the key lime, my mom got the frozen strawberry one, and I opted for the blood orange variety. As much as I liked mine, my sister definitely had the best one. Then again, key lime is one of my favorite flavors of all time. My sister also snagged a Banana Almond Soft-serve Sundae. While it wasn’t technically gluten-free since it came with a chocolate almond streusel, she told them about her allergy and they left it off for her. It was pretty tasty. To be honest, since soft-serve often has a slightly grainier texture, with the fresh berries I hardly noticed it wasn’t real ice cream. The banana flavor was a bit off-putting to me, but that’s only because I’m not a huge banana fan in general. My sister was double happy because it was also vegan. While she’s not a vegan, she also has to limit her dairy, so it was an ice cream-like treat she had no worries about eating.

On our quest for tasty treats we could all enjoy, my sister zeroed in on the Islands of the Caribbean stand. She wanted to try the Jerk-spiced chicken, which had the GF stamp of approval next to it. My mom wanted the Ropa Vieja Empanada which did not, so we got both. Sadly I forgot to get pictures of these two dishes. They were both beyond delicious. My mom and I were hard pressed to decide which one we liked better, although we let my sister have most of the chicken.

20191010_165744Ever since my mom first saw the passport book she’d been dying to hit the India kiosk. She is a HUGE fan of Indian food, but cannot get it in her hometown. Every time she visits me, we take her out for Indian food. She wanted it all! Since the Korma Chicken came with Naan bread, we skipped getting a second order of Naan, but happily indulged in the rest. The Madras Red Curry was gluten-free and so was the Korma Chicken itself. As long as she steered clear of the Naan, she was fine. Honestly, although they were both good, the GF curry was my favorite. We all fought for the last bites of these tasty dishes.

20191010_174148At this point we were pretty full, but my sister wanted to try one more morsel. It was from the Africa section. It was a Kenyan Coffee Barbecue Beef Tenderloin. It came with a sweet potato and corn mealie pap and Kachumbari slaw. It was not, however, gluten-free. She talked to the chefs and found out there was a tiny bit of soy sauce in the marinade. She decided to risk it and it was spectacular! Someone with a severe gluten allergy obviously would not want to take this risk, but I think all the delicious drinks we’d had in the interim might have added to her decision to throw caution to the wind. She’d also had a Year of the Piggy drink in China, an Italian margarita, some of my mango Lassi with chai liqueur, and a Whiskey Adventure (which was fantastic) that day. Thankfully she did not get sick that night.

This was also the night that we went to the Frozen Ever After Dessert Firework Party, so we sort of skipped any sort of formal dinner. We’d grazed our way around the park from about noon until 6 and we purposely left off eating for awhile so we’d have plenty of room for our delicious desserts. But that’s another blog post entirely!

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Munchie Monday: Disney World Chocolate Truffles

Disney truffles boxOn my most recent trip to Disney World I was looking for body wash for my cousin. I know that seems like a very odd and random item, but last October we went on a family trip to Disney World together and she fell in love with a body wash she’d found in the hotel gift shop at the All-Star Music Resort we stayed at. While it was not the scent provided for us in our actual hotel rooms on that trip, as luck would have it, it WAS the scent of the products in my hotel room at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. I rushed right down to the gift shop to buy it for her, but they didn’t have it.

I kept my eye out and while we were at the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, I was pleased to find that they did have it both as a single bottle and in gift sets. Since she just wanted the body wash, I bought her two bottles to take home. It wasn’t until after I bought them that I realized this would mean checking my bag on the flight home, not something Delta lets passengers do for free. With my checked baggage fee, those bottles of body wash cost me almost double!

Since I’ve been to Disney so many times, it’s rare I buy myself any sort of souvenir to bring home. But as I was shopping for my cousin’s body wash, I saw this adorable little truffle gift and had to grab it. When my mom saw it, she gushed over it too. She’d already bought my sister something and figured it was only fair to get these for me. I felt bad since she was paying for the entire trip, but my love for chocolate took back over and I gladly accepted the gift.

all three chocolates from disney.jpgConsidering we’d gone on the trip to gorge at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, there was no time to try my chocolates on the trip. We had far too many other delicious treats to try. So it wasn’t until I got home that I had a chance to actually try them.

The reason they caught my eye in the first place was the adorable designs on them. I loved the playful Mickey ears and Mickey and Minnie romance theme around them. There are only three flavors in the box, plus a solid chocolate “card” with Mickey and Minnie on the telephone.

Disney dark chocolate truffleSince I’m a save the best for last kinda gal, I started by trying the truffle I figured I’d like the least: dark chocolate with chocolate ganache. I know many people LOVE dark chocolate and I am getting better about it, but it is rarely my go to chocolate. This piece has that unique dark chocolate smell to it…that hint of something bitter and rich that has a slight fruity undertone to it. Although there is nothing actually fruity about the taste itself, I get the same scent from it that I do when I drink red wine. That’s probably why so many people talk of the chocolatey hints in wine that I never quite taste. This piece is surprisingly not that bitter. I think the ganache in the center tames it a bit. It is creamy and smooth, but I definitely needed a drink of water after I’d eaten it to rinse the slightly bitter aftertaste away.

white chocolate disney truffleNext up was the white chocolate with red velvet ganache. Like all white chocolate, it has that buttery, artificial feel to it. As a kid I LOVED white chocolate. As an adult, I think I like dark chocolate more. This piece reminded me a bit of vanilla birthday cake frosting, which is odd since red velvet is really just a clever way of saying red chocolate. It definitely reminded me of eating cake though, which was fun. But, I felt like it left a slight film on my teeth. Then again, I find this is almost always true of white chocolate…and cake frosting.

disney milk truffleFinally I was down to the milk chocolate with strawberry ganache. This is the one I was most excited about because it is in my coveted chocolate wheelhouse. I have to admit I was most disappointed in this one. The chocolate wasn’t super creamy the way I like my milk chocolate to be and despite claiming to have a strawberry ganache, I tasted no fruity hints at all. I even tried just eating the ganache to see if I could catch a hint of it. I could not.

Honestly, I’m glad my mom bought this collection for me. I think I’d feel very guilty spending my own money on it as I have no intention of finishing it. I will no doubt end up taking it to school and letting my students sample them. It’s not entirely surprising, but teenagers are not at all picky about the chocolate put in front of them.

Overall:

Taste: 3/10
Appearance: 10/10
Value: I don’t remember the cost and they were a present, so this one is hard to judge

 

 

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Frozen Ever After is delicious

blue treatsWhen my mom, sister and I decided to have this year’s girls’ trip at Epcot for the Food and Wine Festival, I was super excited. Sure, this was my fourth time attending, but neither my sister or my mom had ever even been to Epcot, so I was thrilled I’d get to show it to them. I was also more than a little stoked to get to once again try tasty treats from around the globe, which is the real star of Epcot in October.

My sister loves fireworks and was very excited we’d get to see them multiple nights. However, she and my mom also have some mobility issues, so I was worried about their ability to stand through the viewing. I knew there was no way in the world they’d be able to sit down on a curb and watch the show. Heck, I may still be able to do it, but I won’t lie and say I like the idea of sitting on the ground or standing through a show either.

I remembered seeing the Tomorrowland Terrace being used as a special fireworks viewing area on previous trips and I knew Disney did special fireworks and meal packages, so I decided I should look into it. When I did, I found that each of the four parks has some sort of fireworks and dessert party.

Wait, I can not only snag a place to sit during the fireworks, but I also get all I care to eat drinks and desserts? SIGN ME UP!

Epcot’s version happens to be the Frozen Ever After Dessert Party. It includes a buffet of desserts, a few savory treats, drinks, special fireworks seating, and an after hours ride on Frozen Ever After. So not only do you get tons of fun desserts, but it comes with something even better than a Fast Pass to ride one of the most popular attractions at Epcot. Again, SIGN ME UP!

fondue

We arrived at our designated party space, which is close to the Mexico pavilion only to find out that due to inclement weather, our party was moved inside. So, instead of sipping drinks and snacking on treats near the lovely World Showcase lagoon, we had to walk back over to Norway to find our indoor location. This was my only real complaint about the event. My guess is that by inclement weather, they were referrin to the wind, which had picked up a bit. My mom and sister were pretty tired at that point (it was 8 pm) and walking back to Norway, even though it wasn’t far, did annoy them a bit. The cast members who were supposed to lead us to the special room they had set up, were far back by the actual Frozen Ever After ride, so we nearly missed them. It was dark and we couldn’t see their signs. Luckily we found them and were ushered upstairs into a series of secret rooms inside the Norway pavilion.

room for frozenWell, after we checked in and were given special glittery writsbands to indentify us as members of the party, we were ushered in. I wish they’d made it clear there was an elevator available. I didn’t need it, but my mom and sister could have used it. Thankfully the line was moving slowly so we were able to rest on every stair. For anyone who has trouble with stairs though, there is an elevator available, so ask for it.

The room was decorated in full glitz and was cozy without being too crowded. There were snowflakes everywhere and they at least tried to capture the feel of Frozen.

Olaf lightEveryone is assigned a table, so we ended up sitting with a family, a couple and a woman who was on her own (10 of us at each table). Our table had an adorable Olaf lantern on it as well as very pretty, sparkly linens. Once we found our table, we had about an hour to eat and drink as much as we wanted. And there were LOTS of choices! 

One benefit of the Frozen dessert party is that unlike the dessert parties at some other mom's plateparks, this one does have adult beverages available. Anyone over 21 can have as many beers, glasses of wines or signature cocktails as they like. Someone suggested to us that if we wanted more than one alcoholic beverage that we should order two at a time because lines can get long, but honestly there weren’t that many people at the party and we had no trouble getting drinks. I only had one margarita, but my mom and sister each got two with no wait at all. They got the Olaf-inspired pina colada, and it had little candy bits in it to replicate a melted snowman. That’s supposed to be cute, right?

Olaf cupcakesFor any kids or those who don’t want alcohol, there are canned Coke products, coffee, an assortment of teas, water, and special juices with cute Frozen themed names like “Frozen Heart.” I actually had a big ol’ cup of water because even in the evening after drinking a lot of water, I still felt dehydrated from being in the Florida heat (it was about 86 degrees that day). I also had a Coke Zero because I am very addicted.

After we got our drinks, we headed to the tables to get some food. There was a great spread to choose from. The decor was adorable. I loved the snowman cake decoration that was used to hold all of the blue velvet Amy's platecupcakes. I also thought the blue light blocks all of the treats were situated on were very cute. There really was something for everyone at this buffet. There was a delicious no sugar added lemon curd with blueberries (also gluten free) that my sister worshipped. There were coconut macaroons, a key lime tart with an orange glitter glaze, eclairs, almond cookies, ice cream, fresh fruit, a salted caramel bread pudding, cheese fondue with both bread and veggies to dip in it, and some sort of savory snack mix that I did not try. There was even a special celebration of Olaf. They had a slice of Olaf’s birthday cake and nitro frozen custard with chocolate sauce.Olaf's cake

smoresMy absolute favorite though was Olaf’s warm double chocolate s’mores pudding. I didn’t initially want the scoop of ice cream the cast member scooped on top of it, but in hindsight, it was perfect. The pudding was simply amazing. It was rich and creamy and everything I want in a dessert. The chocolate was melty and smooth. The marshmallows did not overpower. And the soft, graham cracker inspired bread pudding sort of base was like a cloud on my tongue. I actually ended up eating not only mine, but also stealing my sister’s!

About 45 minutes after we started nibbling, cast members came around and handed out special 3D snowflake glasses to help us watch the fireworks. These seemed a bit silly at first, but when they were on, they made any light look like snowflakes. After using them to view the fireworks, I don’t think I ever want to watch fireworks any other way. It’s difficult to describe, but it made them even more beautiful. Plus, looking out across the lagoon to Future World, there were tons of other lights (including the torches) that took on a cool, special snowflake effect.

Since our party had been moved inside, the one real negative is that our special firework viewing area did not have tables set up. Since we were toward the front of the party leaving the dessert pavilion, we were also some of the first people to arrive at the viewing area, so my mom and sister could at least lean on the railings in order to watch the fireworks. Many people, especially the ones with children, did end up sitting on the ground. There was plenty of room and no one was squished in our area, which makes sense since we should have had a bunch of tables and seats. We saw the brand new Epcot Forever show and I was blown away  by it. I was not sure what to expect, but Disney did not disappoint. I especially loved the illuminated kites. It was also pretty cool to hear Walt Disney’s voice during the show as well as music from the nearly 40 years of Epcot’s history.

DSCN0708As the rather lengthy fireworks show came to an end, we had to wait a few minutes for the crowds to disapate a bit. Then, we were led back to Norway for our faster than Fast Pass ride on Frozen Ever After. I’d really wanted my mom and sister to be able to ride it since I think it is an adorable ride AND it moves at a ride pace they can appreciate. Thanks to this party, I didn’t have to use a Fast Pass for it. And since the park was closed, there was no one in line for the ride. We still got to go through much of the queue, so they could see the sights, but we waited less than two minutes in the line, hoped in our boat and took our ride. They both loved it.

We left Epcot, full of yummy treats, dazzled by fireworks and content with a great last ride. Even with our dessert party being held in doors, I still think it was 100% worth the money we paid for it. I would absolutely do it again with my husband and kids. Although next time we might look at the Star Wars inspired party at Hollywood Studios.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An enchanted afternoon at the Enchanted Rose

forrest room.jpgOn Tuesday October 8th, Disney opened its latest lounge, the Beauty and the Beast inspired Enchanted Rose at the Grand Floridian. While I was not there for the initial opening, I did get to go the very next day.

My mom, sister, and I were enjoying a girls’ trip to Disney World. Despite growing up in Anaheim, home to the original Disneyland, my Mom had only been to Disney World once. Back in 1980 when she went, there was just the Magic Kingdom and although the Polynesian Village Resort where we stayed did exist, she’d never seen it. My sister, had never been at all. For me, this was the perfect chance to show them the wonders of Disney at a pace I knew they’d enjoy.

Enchanted Rose signWe planned our trip rather light. Although we had four nights at the Polynesian, we only had two park days planned. Both were at Epcot and both were intended as a means to eat and drink our way around the world (which we did, but that’s another post). In between our bacchanals, we had a day of rest and relaxation and it was on this day that I realized The Enchanted Rose had just opened.

It was just after noon and we hadn’t eaten yet, so we figured it was the perfect time to hop on the monorail and head over. We noticed they had a menu which includes appetizers and figured it would help offset our otherwise liquid lunch.

rosesThe monorail lets travelers off on the second floor in the Grand Floridian and since it wasn’t quite 1 yet and we weren’t sure where the Enchanted Rose was, my mom and sister went into the gift shop while I investigated. It took less than two minutes to figure out that the Enchanted Rose is also on the second floor, tucked away in the far right corner from the monorail exit. The sign outside the bar hints at its elegance, especially the lovely live roses on the table right below it.

The bar is definitely the center-piece in this beautiful movie inspired lounge. It was beyond lovely and I found myself wanting to sit at the bar, something I never really want to do. The chandelier, which Disney says is inspired by Belle’s iconic golden ballgown, is breathtaking. But, since my mom and sister were with me, and the place was pretty empty, we went ahead and entered the Garden Room, which is inspired by the enchanted forrest surrounding the Beast’s castle (pictured at the top of this post).

enchanted bartender

As if these two spaces aren’t lovely enough, there is also a patio and a library room. We really wanted to sit in the library, since we are all HUGE book nerds (English teacher and a former librarian in our party), but it does not open until 4pm, so if you too want to feel as if you are in the Beast’s reading room, you have to arrive a bit later than we did. Still, I enchanted librarydid manage to get in and have a quick looksie. There is actually a bookcase in the room, but it is down on the farther end of the room and it was not easy to get a picture at that angle.

Another interesting tidbit of information we found out AFTER we’d ordered our drinks, is that the kitchen doesn’t open until 5pm, so while we had visions of appetizers to help soak up some of the VERY potent drinks we ordered, that was not an option for us at 1pm. While my sister, who is a bit pickier about what she eats due to her gluten allergy, was not enthusiastic about the very limited menu at the Enchanted Rose, I am an adventurous eater and love to try new things, so I was particularly disappointed I did not get to try the crab and gnocchetti gratin. enchanted envy

enchanted loveWhat the Enchanted Rose does have is darn good (and strong) drinks. It even has two signature cocktails that come with their own “stories.” I didn’t quite know what this meant, but loved the idea of a Love and an Envy cocktail. I debated between the two for quite some time before settling on Envy.

And what does a cocktail with a “story” mean exactly? It means that the server brings out everyone else’s drinks first, confusing you just a bit. Then, they bring out this really cool drink cart:

enchanted drink cart

Then, as they slowly make your cocktail, they tell you the story behind it. For envy, it is the tale of all the girls in the town who were green with envy over Gaston’s affections for Belle. While each ingredient is added, so is another portion of the tale. Once the drink (and the tale) are complete, the server hands it over and you get to enjoy. I don’t know about Love, but I can honestly say that Envy was delicious!

I actually recorded our server making my drink, so if you want a sneak peak, you can check it out here on my YouTube channel (along with several other Disney and Universal Orlando videos).

Even though the Enchanted Rose is a lounge with deliciously strong drinks, children are still welcome. I can’t imagine they’d want to stay long as it does not have much to offer children. The menu is not kid-friendly; my very adventurous son would probably try everything on the menu, but my daughter wouldn’t try anything except the truffle fries and only because she’s had truffle fries before and no one explained to her what a truffle was. The decor is beautiful and has clear ties to Beauty and the Beast if one is looking for them, but it’s not whimsical the way kids would want. I felt a bit bad for the two kids who were seated two tables away from us. They were clearly stuck there while their parents had a drink. They weren’t old enough to have phones and seemed bored.

Still, if you are a true Disney fan or even a Beauty and the Beast fan, it is a must stop on your next Disney vacation. And, if you need help planning your next trip, I’d be happy to help at no cost to you.

 

 

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