Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Florida Musings’ Category

Publix Aprons Cooking School

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 9, 2018

We’ve enjoyed the cooking classes at Publix Aprons Cooking School in the past. This evening’s Australian Wine and Dine theme appealed to us since we like Australian wines. Did you know we went to Australia on our honeymoon, among other places? Visions of Ayers Rock rose in our minds as we read the menu. This would be a fun night.

This class drew a full house. The place was packed, and three chefs took turns doing the demonstrations. You can choose hands-on or demo classes where the chefs do the work. Either way, you sample the food and accompanying wines. None of the portions or drink pours are huge but your stomach is filled by the end.

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Tonight we started with a 19 Crimes red wine called “The Uprising.” This was really good and will go on my buy list. This brand is fun as every cork relates a different crime. I have two of them in my home office. One reads, #11. Stealing roots, trees, or plants or destroying them. The other one says, #15. Clandestine marriage. Imagine this being a crime. It could provide fodder for lots of stories.

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The started course was Barbecue Shrimp with Spring Pea Salad. This seemed relatively easy to make. The shrimp were tasty, and I liked the pea salad that was served cold. It could easily be heated as a vegetable side dish. Did I mention that you get all the recipes to take home? With this course, we had an Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. It was light golden in color and a bit fruity. We liked it. Our tablemates called it “refreshing.”

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Next on the menu was Crispy Scalloped Potatoes with Smoked Salmon and Crème Fraiche. These potatoes took a bit of effort to make, being sliced and dipped in batter than fried. They were crispy tasty, and I liked the smoked salmon with them, but I’d probably use potato latkes or vegetable pancakes from the freezer section instead. The accompanying wine was 19 Crimes Chardonnay. This was a nice golden color and dryer than the sauvignon blanc with more body.

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The entrée was Marinated Pepper Steaks with Wild Mushrooms and Couscous. We’re not big meat eaters these days, but this dish was delicious. The beef is cut into thin strips, marinated and then stir fried. Then it’s mixed with mushrooms, bell pepper strips, sliced onions and diced roasted tomatoes. The wine was 19 Crimes 2017 Shiraz. It was a deep burgundy color and tasted stronger (or drier) than the first wine.

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Dessert was a Double Chocolate Lamington Cake with Coconut. It tasted like a coconut-coated brownie cake. While appealing to chocoholics, this dish might have been better served with a vanilla sauce. The last wine was a 19 Crimes Cabernet Sauvignon. It tasted very dry to our palates. Out of the three reds, we preferred the first one the best.

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We got the recommended app on our phone called Living Wine Labels. It’s fun to scan a 19 Crimes wine bottle label and see what happens. Overall, we greatly enjoyed this class, although it’s a lot to eat and drink by the time you’re done. We’d better go for some long walks this week to wear off the calories. I already know which class I want to sign up for next. Do you go to cooking classes or experiment with new dishes at home?

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Posted in Florida Musings, Food, Recipes, That's Life | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Nature Trails in Local Parks

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 3, 2018

While our South Florida weather was perfectly temperate last weekend, we took advantage by exploring our local parks. Once the humidity kicks in, it’ll get too hot and buggy. So here’s where we took our daily walks:

Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

On East Sunrise Blvd near A1A is the turnoff into this state park. We parked in the first lot and took the woodsy trail, enjoying the shade and searching for wildlife. We’d seen big turtles here before but they were hiding this time.

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Then we strode down a sandy path to the café and gift shop. Beyond this you can cross to Fort Lauderdale Beach. We walked a while along the street, admiring the glistening ocean and the boats in the distance.

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Our stomachs hungry for lunch, we stopped at the café on our way back and ate burgers. Then we drove around to the Intracoastal side for another stroll, watching the yachts and water taxis glide by.

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Tree Tops Park

Off Nob Hill Road near I-595, this shady park offers nature trails among decades-old trees, a boardwalk over a freshwater marsh, picnic tables, rental boats on a lake, and equestrian trails. It also has a trail on Pine Island Ridge, the highest elevation in the county at 29 feet above sea level. There’s a sculpture dedicated to a great Seminole leader as well behind the main building complex. The park is also listed on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

We like the woods and started at the path near this tower that we climbed to the top for a view among the tree canopy.

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Then we followed to trail to the swampy area where we could see catfish and turtles in the murky water. I noticed an abundance of snails that hadn’t been there before.

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Plantation Preserve Linear Trail

The Linear Park at Plantation Preserve Golf Course & Club is a pleasant trail that loops around for 1.1 miles. This trail offers a historical Indian burial mound, varied native shrubbery, birds, and rabbits. Yes, this was the first time we’d seen the critters, and I counted about eight of them as we strode on.

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Dining Adventures in Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 30, 2018

Aside from our culinary rounds at World Showcase’s marketplaces in Epcot as mentioned below, we sampled the cuisine at a variety of places in and around Orlando over the weekend. At Disney Springs, we ate at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen. The atmosphere was lively in this popular Orlando eaterie, and the service was good. I got their famous fried chicken with creamy mashed potatoes and a cheese biscuit while Richard got a fish sandwich. My dinner platter came with three pieces of chicken. My opinion? The chicken had too much breading. I filled an entire salad plate with the pickings. You can get better fried chicken at Publix for half the price. The mashed potatoes were creamy as advertised but nothing special. The biscuit was surpassed by the ones at Red Lobster. This restaurant is a fun place to try once, but we weren’t impressed enough to return.

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Next stop was a repeat visit to The Big Easy, a New Orleans-style restaurant across the street from our condo in Windermere. I had the red beans and rice that came with corn bread. It was a tasty meal and a large enough portion for me to have leftovers, but it would have been even better if it came with a small salad. Richard had a Caesar salad with shrimp. There was live music and the bar was filled, so it can get pretty noisy inside. We like the food and the prices and will doubtless return here.

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Another night found us at Landry’s Seafood Restaurant, where I had salmon with asparagus couscous and Richard had the crab cake appetizer as his meal. The main entrees came with salad and garlic bread. I like the menu choices here and the prices are reasonable. The crowd tends to be older, but we seniors know a good bargain when we see one. Ask for an AARP discount.

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Following the Orlando Book Festival at Orlando Public Library, we met our family at Shari Sushi in the Thornton Park district. I ordered citrus crusted Scottish salmon with quinoa salad and Greek yogurt, while my husband had the crab meat salad. Neither of us was terribly impressed, although the younger folks among us loved the sushi there. Shari is a popular restaurant, so it clearly has its repeat fans.

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We couldn’t resist a visit to Beck Brothers Blueberries to pick our own basket full of plump, ripe berries. These are always good, and they stay fresh for a long time.

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All of these dining experiences made me gain two pounds, so now I have to work on getting the weight off so I can fit into my mother-of-the-bride outfits.

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Dining at Walt Disney World

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 28, 2018

We always enjoy the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival at Disney World. We bypassed the attractions in Future World to head straight back to World Showcase. The display of flowers floating on the pond and arrayed on its grassy banks provided a splash of vibrant color. The weather cooperated by being sunny and temperate. We turned right toward Canada, beating most of the crowd that seemed to start in the other direction toward Mexico.

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Richard started our culinary tour with the Pear Cider-Brined Shredded Corned Beef and Braised Cabbage from the Cider House at the United Kingdom. $5.50.

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I got the duck confit aka Confit de Canard aux Gnocchi a la Parisienne at France. The tender meat came with gnocchi in a tasty mushroom gravy. $5.75.

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Next we indulged in the Potato Pancakes from Germany at the Bauernmarkt. These were two thin pancakes like you’d make at home on a griddle, topped with fresh apple sauce. $4.25.

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For dessert, we couldn’t resist the Wild Berry Buckle at The Berry Basket, near the entrance to World Showcase toward the Mexico side. It was divine. Blueberries topped a piece of cake that was accompanied by a scoop of berry gelato. $4.50.

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These selections were enough to fill my stomach. I stopped by Club Cool for a free drink of raspberry soda. Here you can sample a variety of soft drinks from around the world. Needless to say, I gulped down multiple samples until my thirst was quenched.

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Another day, we ate lunch in the Wilderness Lodge at Whispering Canyon Café. This was a fun meal with the waitress throwing straws and napkins on the table and people screaming they needed ketchup. Then other patrons would run over with a dozen bottles or so. You could order an all-you-can-eat skillet with chicken, ribs, pulled pork, corn-on-the-cob, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and sausage. I had the tuna melt that was really good.

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A loaf of corn bread with butter started us out. Our son ordered root beer and got a giant glassful.

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After our stomachs were filled, we meandered through the western themed hotel and outside by the pool. Numerous other restaurants and an inviting lounge will necessitate another visit.

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Magic Kingdom is Magical

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 3, 2018

All your dreams seem possible at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. This is where my husband and I came to celebrate our engagement over forty years ago and again when I sold my first book. That title was Circle of Light, and The Lion King had just come out with the song, “Circle of Life”. To this day, I associate that song with my very first published title.

Since we have annual passes and have been on most of the rides, we usually take a stroll, have lunch, and leave. I took a few short videos which you can watch on my YouTube Channel. These include a live show on the main stage beneath Cinderella’s Castle, the train ride, and the ferry from Magic Kingdom back to the Ticket and Transportation Center.

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We ate lunch at Harbour House across from the Haunted Mansion. It’s a fast food place but with more healthy choices. We split a cup of clam chowder and a tuna sandwich on multigrain bread, if I remember the items correctly. It was enough for the two of us.

My favorite attraction, the People Mover, had a line for the first time I can ever remember. We bypassed that one and headed to the Carousel of Progress, another favorite. I love the cheerful song with its message of hope, and how the people in each era thought their time was the most progressive. Don’t we feel that way now about our technology and ease-of-living devices?

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What’s your favorite attraction when you visit the Magic Kingdom?

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Food Frolics in Florida

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 30, 2018

Once again, we dined our way through another Orlando visit. Our first stop on this culinary journey was dinner at The Big Easy in Windermere. My husband had a vegetable po-boy, and I had breaded tilapia with rice and beans and sautéed veggies. The rice and beans were really good and would make a meal in itself with a side of corn bread. We actually returned here for lunch but I got a cobb salad that time. I like the New Orleans-style decorations and the lively bar scene.

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Our next foray was to Morimoto Asia in Disney Springs. They celebrated cherry blossom festival with flowering plants and dinner specials. I ordered the sake sangria. My meal was two appetizers, the Portobello mushroom fries and chicken dumplings.

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We detoured from our usual route to explore St. Augustine. Lunch was at Harry’s where I got the crab meat and eggplant Napoleon. It was delish. This is a favorite restaurant of mine in this city, especially if you sit outside in the breezy courtyard. I wouldn’t do this in the heat of summer, however, with the scorching sun overhead and hungry mosquitoes looking for bait. Then I’d ask for a table indoors.

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Now we’re back home, and I have to lose the extra weight I’d gained. That’s the problem with culinary adventures. You pay for the calories and salt intake when you resume your normal routine.

 

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A Day at Disney World

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 8, 2018

We spent last weekend at Epcot in Walt Disney World for the Festival of the Arts.

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The weather cooperated as we strolled along, enjoying a concert midway. See the video here: https://youtu.be/nFNaTpRF_Is

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Art exhibits tempted buyers all along World Showcase. Here’s an art class in progress by the France pavilion. Disney art, Star Wars, and other subjects appealed to the crowds.

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We stopped to taste some of the marketplace wares. At the Pop Eats! Booth, we tried the Sous Vide Poulet Rouge Chicken Roulade with Apples and Sage, served with Warm Brie Fondue, Blueberry and Beet Gel, garnished with Apple and Beet chips. This dish was quite good. I would have liked to try the Almond Frangipane Cake layered with Raspberry Jam and Belgian Chocolate but was avoiding sweets.

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At L’Arte di Mangiare, I had the Sformato di Melanzane e Pomodori: Tomato and Eggplant Terrine with Fior di Latte Mozzarella. This was tasty and worthy of a main meal.

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Prices seem to have gone up so we didn’t try too many. Plus, my temporary crown prevented me from eating anything sticky, crunchy, or with nuts.

That evening, we headed over to Disney Springs and dinner at The Edison. This cool steampunk establishment has numerous dining rooms, some overlooking the lively bar. At night, one of the downstairs spaces turns into a cover-charge nightclub. I ate a bowl of creamy tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich (3 layers of bread). Husband had crab cakes. Next door is a new Italian restaurant we’ll have to try another time.

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Outside, we peeked at Enzo’s Hideaway around a curve and down a level from The Edison. You go through a tunnel to a bar and yet another cozy Italian restaurant.

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On the way back to the Lime parking garage, we saw a very unique rolling piano. See the performances here: https://youtu.be/nzomu4xLb5Y and https://youtu.be/kLYj5ev-zkk

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Royal Princess – The Food

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 20, 2017

The food in general on the Royal Princess tasted very good. Menu choices were average. For dinner, I enjoyed on different nights the prime ribs, filet mignon, tiger shrimp, and lobster tail. Vegetarian choices were available. We celebrated my birthday with a chocolate treat.

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Thanks to our travel agent Adam Wolf at The Cruise Web, we dined at the Crowne Grille, one of the specialty restaurants. Here I had lobster cake appetizer, mixed greens salad, beef filet with baked potato. Our table shared creamed spinach, sautéed mushrooms, and freshly cooked asparagus. I had a lemon meringue tart for dessert.

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This venue hosted a British pub lunch later on in the voyage. It was fun to eat my favorite cottage pie with a trifle for dessert.

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The buffet seemed to have little variety and was very disorganized. Without any labeled station except for Pastry, you had to hunt through each aisle to see what was offered. The selections for breakfast or lunch didn’t seem to change much from day-to-day. We didn’t go here for dinner so can’t comment on that meal. Nonetheless, you could get plenty to eat whenever you came by. What I did like was that they opened for continental breakfast at 5am and breakfast at 6am. Since we’re early risers, this suited our schedules.

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Outdoors by the pool, you could get pizza or hot dogs and hamburgers. An ice cream station offered vanilla or chocolate swirls, but I thought it tasted more like gelato than a creamy ice cream. Or you could dine at an Italian restaurant for free on one of the lower decks. The International Café was always a favorite. Coffee drinks cost money there, but the food was complimentary.

An annoyance was the lack of drink stations at the buffet. There were a couple of spots that offered coffee, tea or water. Otherwise, waiters circulated and took your drink order. You had to order lemonade. Sometimes we waited and nobody came by. On other ships, these waiters wheel carts around to offer refills. Not so here. They served you individually which made for less efficient service. These same wait staff had to continuously clean the tables to make them ready for new diners. The ship should offer more self-serve drink stations and include lemonade. Also, there weren’t any take-out cups available for coffee/tea. Only ceramic mugs were available.

Food in the dining room for dinner was very good.

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The desserts were noteworthy, and I enjoyed fruit crumbles with vanilla sauce, fresh baked cookies, almond or chocolate croissants, Baked Alaska, and more.

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And don’t forget the tropical drinks!

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Coming Next: Ports of Call

 

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Royal Princess – Ship Review

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 18, 2017

Royal Princess
Nov. 30 – Dec. 10, 2017

This was our second trip on the Royal Princess. Here are my notes.

The Ship

The lifeboat drill took place in a lounge, which is much more comfortable than standing outside in the heat. At least you can relax while listening to the safety spiel.

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Besides the main swimming pool and deck area, there was an adults-only Retreat offering lounge chairs facing another pool. This is open to the air and not covered like the solarium on other ships. Or for a fee, you could enter the more exclusive Sanctuary enclave. Otherwise, it wasn’t hard to find a lounge chair somewhere on the ship. We prefer the shade so we would hunt down a quiet site. Being Floridians, we didn’t feel the need for sunbathing or sweating in the heat.

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On deck 7, there’s an outdoor promenade but it doesn’t go all the way around for passengers. If you want to take a stroll, you can go inside at deck 7 or use the sun deck.

As loyalty members, we appreciated the free Internet minutes and the nightly appetizers (mostly veggies or cheese and crackers, except for a shrimp fountain the last night) offered in the Club Six lounge, but we missed the free drinks and more generous hors d’oeuvres from RCCL and Celebrity.

Shopping was fun here, and the shipboard shops offer a wide variety of affordable merchandise. They had sales every night, although the sale items didn’t differ much. There is a logo store with souvenirs, clothing and hats; a cosmetics store, liquor and chocolate stores, an Effy fine jewelry store, and a costume jewelry store with items from Swarovski, Brighton, and more.

The port talk lady pushed the onboard shops too much. I stayed at her presentation for twenty minutes and then left when she hadn’t even started talking about the ports of call.

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We didn’t inhabit the casino, but it was a busy place. You could browse the photo gallery, attend art auctions, or stroll to the small library and pick up the Sudoku or trivia puzzles of the day. A selection of lounges gave us other places to go for a quiet drink or to listen to the music in the atrium. Plenty of other activities are available to keep you busy if you wish.

The Cabin

We had been upgraded from a balcony to a mini-suite cabin. The storage space was generous enough for all our belongings, and our luggage fit under the beds or upright in the closet. The closet was a good size with plenty of hangers. In this area was a tall built-in cabinet with a safe and more drawers.

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Separated from the main bedroom by a movable curtain, the sitting room had a full-size couch, a small coffee table, a desk with drawers and shelving, plus a chair. The balcony itself was tiny, barely allowing for movement outside, with two chairs and a small table. It wasn’t very inviting being so small.

The tub shower came with a rubber mat so you wouldn’t slip inside the tub. However, the European-type hose contraption was annoying. We would have preferred a stall shower with a fixed showerhead. There’s ample space for a lady to shave her legs. However, the flapping curtain—instead of a glass door—was unpleasant and unsanitary. You never knew who it might have touched last. Also, the drain was on one side of the tub and in the middle. You had to be careful not to cover it with the mat.

There were hot and cold water faucets but no cold water. We couldn’t get cold water for showering or for brushing our teeth. Sometimes the water was too hot even to wash my hands. Try brushing your teeth with burning hot water. Not fun. My guess is that this is due to a heat pump that makes hot water quickly available for showers. The bathroom sink area had adequate counter space and shelving. Bar soap, albeit thin, was provided along with liquid soap and shampoo dispensers in the tub/shower. Hand lotion was also available.

The blackout drapes were good, although some light from the balcony seeped in. Also, LED lights on the TVs shed light at night. The cabin was quiet and the room temperature just right. The bedding was comfortable, although the pillows were overly large. Our bed faced the wall with one of the TVs. Two nightstands come with one shelf each and a couple of drawers.

We had two large flat-screen TVs mounted on the walls, but these had no closed-caption option. If you’re hearing impaired, this is a serious downside and disrespectful to people with this problem.

Our cabin came with a mini-fridge that was handy for holding drinks. Since the staterooms did not offer a coffeemaker, I would get a mug of coffee from the buffet and refrigerate it overnight. I like iced coffee anyway so this worked for me. In the morning, I would sip cold coffee while getting dressed. It helped to wake my brain up until we went for breakfast.

The Entertainment

The musicians were excellent throughout the ship. In the atrium, you could hear a violinist, a talented piano player, or different bands playing either steel drum music or big band tunes for dancing. We enjoy a Caribbean band so appreciated their presence.

You could go to “Movies Under The Stars” that showed popular films by the pool. These same movies are available on your cabin TV the next day if you don’t feel like sitting out in the wind.

The main showtime theater is too small for the ship’s capacity. We had to get there a half hour early to get a seat. There are no second-story balconies like on some other ships. Seats are crammed in, and people ended up standing in the back.

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The production shows during our voyage were blah. One was downright boring where the performers wore black and sang mundane tunes. The third show was cancelled due to “unforeseen circumstances.” No razzle dazzle here at all. Shows on the other nights offered single entertainers. These included vocalists and comedians. Again, not much variety. The only performance that stirred our blood was Tom Franek, a pianist who not only played concert-level music, but did it while standing on his head and putting his hands on the keys backwards. That was the only show with a “wow” factor.

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Coming Next: The Food

 

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Waterhouse Residence Museum

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 10, 2017

Built in 1884 for carpenter William H. Waterhouse, the Waterhouse Residence Museum at 820 Lake Lily Drive in Maitland, FL is available to the public for a peek into the late Victorian era. William and his wife, Sarah, had two children. Charles and Stella lived in the house after them, and soon Stella was left. She lived into her nineties and had no offspring of her own. It’s said her spirit inhabits her former bedroom, and she was happy when the curtains were opened at the window so she could look outside.

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I took a number of photos here but no orbs showed up. So whether or not this site is haunted is questionable, if you believe in such things. Our guide does, or so she led us to think. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is operated by the Maitland Historical Society. The grounds overlook Lake Lily.

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The house is decorated for Halloween in these ensuing photos. The front parlor is where they might have had a coffin viewing before a funeral. The sofa is called a courting couch because the young couple would sit at either end.

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The dining room table is set with lovely china. Note the hand in the center, and the skull inside a cage on the chest of drawers. The room even has a creepy doll. I really liked the lace curtains.

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Next we entered a sort of breezeway, which may have separated the kitchen from the main house. The house is constructed from pine, which is termite-resistant but susceptible to fire. This crank device was where you’d wash and wring out your clothes. That plunger-like device was called an agitator. Aren’t you glad we have washing machines today?

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Here’s the stove and an ice box next to our guide in the kitchen.

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Here’s the bedroom where Stella lived, sample clothing, the master bedroom, a desk with implements of the day. The framed wreath contains human hair. Victorian mourning customs (which you can read more about in my book, Died Blonde) involved preserving a hank of hair from the deceased in jewelry or other remembrances. More bedroom scenes and another parlor.

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Get tickets or see the hours here: http://artandhistory.org/plan-your-visit/tickets

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Posted in Florida Musings, Research, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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