Nancy's Notes From Florida

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

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Posts Tagged ‘cruising’

Cartagena, Columbia – Day 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 9, 2016

Cartagena, Columbia – Day 2
Celebrity Cruises

Our second day in Cartagena, we were determined to head back to the Dungeons and shop the arcades. Our tour guide from the day before had offered to take a group into town, but we missed the ride. So we caught a taxi with another couple and split the twenty dollar fee. The driver dropped us off in the Old City but couldn’t tell us where to find the Dungeons. We noted our location so we could head back there for pickup and refused his offer to wait for us, or to come back at a specific time. We figured it wouldn’t be hard to flag another taxi in the same place.

We’d obtained a shopping map from the ship, but the streets were not labeled correctly or with any detail, and it only pointed out the ship’s recommended stores. We found these okay, but they weren’t where we wanted to go. Nobody seemed to understand when we asked about the Dungeons, or else they pointed vaguely and said the arcades were blocks away. We strolled along the streets, admiring the architecture and the wares sold by the street vendors.

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We peeked inside a cathedral that was crowded on this Sunday morning. Many patrons sat in the pews. We saw the famous clock tower.

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We climbed the wall and admired the view. The ancient wall is an attraction in itself.

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By now we were hot and tired. We trudged back to our place of origin. Buses sat waiting for their groups, but we spied only one lone taxi. The driver didn’t speak English and shook his head at my gestures. He must have been waiting on a return fare. It looked as though other cabs were driving by another section. Maybe we could hail one there. But the streets were flooded from recent rains, and it didn’t take long for us to realize that getting over to that spot would be difficult. Plus the cabs were zooming past as though already occupied.

Maybe we could find another place by the wall where there was a taxi stand. We wound through the streets, sweat dripping down our faces. Feeling lost and on the verge of collapse from heat exhaustion, I wondered what would happen if we needed medical assistance in this foreign place. We stopped passersby to inquire about a taxi, but no one spoke English. Overheated and panting, I feared we wouldn’t make it back to the ship.

Shoving aside a sense of panic, I staggered onward. As though by divine providence, I saw the familiar and very welcome face of our tour guide from the day before. He must have dropped off his load of tourists there and was hanging around waiting for their return. I waved to him. He recognized me and waved back. As we approached, I said we were ready to go back to the ship. He offered to take us to the Dungeons, but I didn’t care at that point. We followed him on a fifteen to twenty minute hike through the maze of streets to another section by the wall. Here he got us a cab and negotiated with the driver on our behalf. Greatly relieved, we dove inside the air-conditioned interior and settled back in our seats. The fare was supposed to be $15 for the two of us, but when I handed the driver my $20, he nodded and kept it. I was so glad to be back at the ship that I let it go.

A shuttle ran between the end of the pier and our ship. We gladly climbed aboard. Once back in our cabin, I rinsed my face with cold water. My complexion was red as a beet. We’re Floridians, so our sweat glands had done their jobs, but all the walking in the high heat defeated even us. Truly our guardian angels were watching over us that day to bring the tour guide our way.

Once we’d recovered, we took the shuttle back to the entrance and shopped in the spacious, air-conditioned gift shop where they sell emerald jewelry, native crafts, coffee, candy, and more. Outside, the port area is attractively landscaped with birds on display. You can catch a taxi out front. Just remember to arrange for pickup if you go touring on your own.

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After having been so stressed out, overheated, and dehydrated, I succumbed to a scratchy sore throat. This was the beginning of a cold which my husband caught from me. No doubt our resistance wore down that day, but we learned a lesson. Columbia isn’t like the Caribbean islands where people speak English and you can easily hire a cab. Nonetheless, Cartagena’s Old City is a beautiful place with flowers and ironwork on second-story balconies and romantic carriage rides. Visions of Romancing the Stone will play in your head. But now I understand how the heroine felt when she got lost on the wrong bus.

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Next Port: Georgetown, Grand Cayman

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Cartagena, Columbia – Day 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 8, 2016

Cartagena, Columbia – Day 1
Celebrity Equinox

Cartagena is a cosmopolitan city with skyscrapers in the new city and Spanish Colonial architecture in the walled old town. We came into the port where massive cranes showed a bustling cargo operation. Across the water is the modern cityscape, impressive in its sun-bathed brilliance.

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Our air-conditioned bus tour took us through city streets and up a hill with winding hairpin curves to the highest point in the city. Ten crosses along the way marked the road for drivers. At the top is La Popa Monastery, now a tourist attraction. Built in the 1500s, it serves as a museum to the past. Outside the entry gate are vendors hawking their wares. These natives can be very persistent, and you are expected to haggle for a good price.

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Once past the gate, we entered a brick plaza. Our guide took us into the building. Inside was a two-story courtyard like the one at Vizcaya in Miami. We viewed the Chapel with its wooden pews and enormous gold ornament on the dais.

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Outside, we took photos of the panoramic view. You could see the city and the sea beyond.

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From here we drove downhill and toward the old town, where we stopped to view Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. This is the largest fort South America. It’s fully intact and very formidable. If you were marched inside as a prisoner, likely you weren’t coming out. It reminded me of the Count of Monte Cristo’s story. This was like something you’d see in a movie. We didn’t go inside on our tour, but it would have been a very interesting excursion. Vendors hounded us again, selling costume jewelry, leather belts, handbags, colorful paintings, hats, sunglasses, and tacky souvenirs.

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Next we entered the walled city. This was the first time I’d actually been inside a city with an ancient stone wall fully functional with ramparts and all. We had a quick stop at the Dungeons that are now shopping arcades with 23 enclosed stalls. We’d barely time to look around at the leather goods, souvenirs, coffee beans, woven hammocks, linen tablecloths, tee shirts, hats, mugs, and jewelry. Here it would have been nice to have an hour or two to shop instead of twenty minutes.

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Then we joined our guide in a walking tour of the Old City. It’s a maze of streets, lined by vendors selling more of the above. We saw fruit carts loaded with mangos, peeled pineapple wedges, bananas, and coconuts. Food vendors sold fried corn cakes.

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At the Emerald Museum, we went inside for a quick tour. According to our guide, Columbia has three main exports: coffee, emeralds, and a third item not mentionable. We all laughed at that remark, knowing what he meant. I enjoyed the displays in the museum, but this part ended in a rushed visit to an adjacent gift shop. Then we emerged into the bright sunshine to carry on.

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Next we went inside the Naval Museum, where we browsed among interesting displays relating to the region’s history. A folkloric show was performed for our benefit. This lasted about ten minutes, and we each received a bottle of water for refreshment. While I liked seeing the museum, this part I’d give up in favor of more shopping time at the arcades. Restrooms were available here, at the monastery, and by the Dungeons. We vowed to return ourselves to the arcades tomorrow. This was an excellent tour, covering many of the city highlights.

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Next Port: Cartagena, Columbia – Day Two

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Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 2, 2016

Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
Celebrity Equinox Shore Excursion

On our way out of the port town, we noted tin-roofed residences painted coral, aqua, and sand colors. Barbed wire and guard bars on windows were widely evident. So were electric wires in overhead tangles. The city had a third world look, although our guide said education is mandatory, and they have a high literacy level. Nicaraguans take the more menial jobs. It’s a mountainous country but not near the coast, where our air-conditioned bus took us to the Tortuguero Canals to see the wildlife. The mountains rise 12,000 feet in the highest place. Our tour guide was excellent, keeping up a running commentary along the way. He’s a Catholic who goes to church only on three occasions: “when we hatch, match, and dispatch.” He went to school to become a professional tour guide, and his training shows.

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The open-air boat ride took about two hours. A roof provided shade as we cruised slowly along, stopping up close to see animals such as a small red dart frog, a sloth, howler monkeys in the trees, various birds, a blue butterfly, iguanas, and Cayman gators that are smaller than alligators. The water was murky brown, possibly stained from mangrove roots.

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Back at the boathouse, we used the restrooms and ate a snack of juicy sweet pineapple and fresh bananas. We gulped down the cold water offered. There’s a small souvenir shop with tee shirts and carved wood items, plus Costa Rican coffee for sale.

Traffic in Limon was congested. Driving in the city was a free-for-all with cars going every which way at intersections and no traffic lights. If there’s wealth in this country, we didn’t see it by this coastline. A tour to the rainforests would be another good choice, but since the mountains are distant, it probably takes a while to get there from this port town.

We noted a gift shop near the entry gates, but it didn’t look too inviting. Since we don’t need any more wood carvings or native handicrafts, we passed on this opportunity and went back to the ship.

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Next Port: Colon, Panama

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Celebrity Equinox – The Food, Part 2

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 30, 2016

Day Three found us at Murano, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Celebrity Equinox cruise ship. We had exquisite service in elegant surroundings. Our meal began with a complimentary fried scallop. Next I had a crab and smoked salmon parfait with salmon caviar. We chose Chateaubriand for two which the waiter carved tableside. It came with fingerling potatoes and asparagus. For dessert, I had the chocolate soufflé.

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On another day, we attended the complimentary wine tasting for Elite members that came with four glasses and breadsticks. The complimentary tea party had waiters circulating with a selection of open sandwiches with smoked salmon, shrimp, egg salad, and ham. Then desserts followed. After the rum cake, I couldn’t even eat a scone.

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And so ended our journey, with us boarding as passengers and rolling off as cargo. With the holidays upon us, it’ll be a while before I lose these extra pounds. And then we’re likely to be on board our next cruise and starting all over again.

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Coming Next: Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

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Celebrity Equinox – The Food, Part 1

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 29, 2016

The Oceanview Café’s breakfast buffet had stations for omelets or eggs made to order, toast including bagels and English muffins, rolls, Danish, croissants, muffins, yogurt, berry medley, cereal, whole or cut fruits, scrambled eggs with Cheddar cheese. English breakfast. Asian breakfast. American breakfast. Bacon, ham, sausages. Smoked salmon. Herring. Roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables. Grilled zucchini, sautéed mushrooms, Eggs Benedict. Hungry yet? Our only complaint is that the buffet opens at 7. If you’re an early riser, you can only get fruit and yogurt before then. It would have been nice to have pastries available earlier.

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Lunch could be taken at the outdoor grill with burgers or hot dogs and French fries, at the very small spa café by the solarium pool on Deck 12, where some items cost extra; in the formal dining room, or at the Oceanview Café. Here you had a choice of freshly carved meats, deli meats, sandwiches made to order, various salads, salad bar, hot dishes, Asian foods (we particularly liked the vegetable fried rice), Indian foods, British foods, soups and breads, pizza and garlic toast, pasta, and an array of tempting desserts including an ice cream bar. Free drinks included lemonade, iced tea, a fruity drink, water, and hot beverages at a coffee station. The Lavazza coffee served throughout the cruise was very good. Real half-and-half was available in urns along with milk. Inside the ship, you can get free desserts at the coffee lounge but no free sandwiches or appetizers like on other cruise lines. I missed having this extra choice. For a ship of this size, free dining choices are limited.

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Dinner on Day one for me was Shrimp Louie with Avocado, a Chicken Egg Roll, Caesar Salad. Prime ribs came with buttered French green beans and mashed potatoes. The portions of all the meals were generous. For dessert, I had apple pie a la mode. Dinner Two was a shrimp cocktail, braised lamb shank with broccoli, carrots, and mashed potatoes. Other meals included braised beef short ribs, vegetable Wellington, lobster with butter sauce. The salads at dinner were varied each night, like kale with roasted walnuts, dried cherries, and diced butternut squash. The French onion soup, available each night as an appetizer along with shrimp cocktail and Caesar salad, looked delicious but would have been a whole meal for me. My mouth waters at the thought, and now I want a crock of hot onion soup with melted cheese on top. I miss these scrumptious meals.

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Coming Next: The Food, Part 2

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Celebrity Equinox

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on November 23, 2016

Celebrity Equinox Cruise Part 1: The Ship 

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Celebrity Equinox is a beautiful ship. She seems relatively new with a clean look and modern furnishings. As usual on Celebrity, we were greeted on board with a welcome glass of champagne. After dining at the buffet lunch in the Oceanview Café on Deck 14, we made our way to our cabin on Deck 8. Located in the center near the stairs and elevator, it was closer to the aft side than forward. We unpacked, finding all the cubbyholes and shelves to put away our things. The bathroom was the best ever on any ship we’ve encountered. It had adequate counter space, enough storage, extra toilet paper and tissues. And the shower was the best. Plenty of room to move with a soap dish, bar soap, and even a thick steel rod to rest my foot on when I shaved my legs. Lotion, shampoo, more bar soap, and conditioner were other amenities along with robes for each of us. The shower head was forceful enough and the hot water was nearly instantly available. Amenities also included small glasses for our toothbrushes.

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Our room had a desk, a flat-screen TV above a console with drawers, and an enormously long couch where another person could easily have slept. Our balcony let out from sliding glass doors, and even this was a generous space with two chairs and a small table. The drapes folded over each other so no light shone through at night, and no peephole in the door also ensured a dark interior. The bedding was soft and the pillows comfortable. The safe was large enough to hold my iPad, and the room also came with a stocked fridge. Cabin service was excellent, and we still got chocolates on our pillows each night although no towel art on this cruise.

We explored the 15 decks before the lifeboat drill that was held without life jackets in a lounge or dining room, depending on your muster station. Then it was time for dinner. We skipped the first night’s show since it was a juggler, and that’s my least favorite entertainment. All the other shows were great and varied between the ship’s singers, dancers, and acrobats to a ventriloquist and a variety of solo singers.

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Deck 15 has a grassy lawn area where you can sit and watch the view, or observe a Hot Glass Show during the voyage. Deck 14 has the Oceanview Café and the outdoor grill. Overlooking the pool below are many lounge chairs, some undercover to provide shade. This ship had more shaded seating spots than I remember from other cruise lines. Even the pool areas on Deck 12 had wide overhangs to protect the lounge chairs. If you got too humid, you could sit in the solarium with its covered glass roof and air-conditioning. On Deck 5 by the life boats are a few scattered chairs on an outside deck but not many, and you can’t walk all the way around the ship there.

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The shops inside the ship did not have merchandise that appealed to us. It was one of the poorest selections that we’ve noted, at least for our tastes. Not even the costume jewelry attracted me except for their occasional sales. These were held in a crowded corridor instead of a lounge like other ships. They had the usual souvenir logo items, resort wear, hats, liquor, fine jewelry. All seemed pricey.

In the evening, musicians played in the central atrium on deck three. This was generic-sounding except for a cello player. A small dance floor here sufficed since there wasn’t anywhere else to hear dance music except after 10pm in the Sky Lounge. This is a shortcoming of this ship that has limited lounges with dance floors. There’s a Gastropub that serves small plates and beer; another lounge with occasional piano music; a Martini bar. But nowhere else with a dance floor. The Sky Lounge forward on Deck 14 was a favorite place of mine for quiet daytime sea views and for the evening cocktails for Elite members. But it would have been nice if they’d had dance music here earlier instead of the atrium where you’re in view of people several decks high. That’s not very private. Regarding the music, these same bands played by the pool. We like Caribbean music when cruising and sitting outside, and this group played the same generic tunes you get on the radio. But overall, we loved the ship, the relaxed environment (few kids running around) and the excellent service.

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Coming Next: The Food and the Ports of Call

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Writers Conference on Cruise Ship

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 14, 2016

Cruise with your Muse aboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas.

Fun-in-the-Sun Conference sponsored by Florida Romance Writers.

FRW Cruise2017

Join us to see the beautiful blue seas of Cozumel with Keynote Speaker Elizabeth Hoyt and Special Guest Speaker Michael Hauge.

Guest Speakers

Sail from Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, February 16th, 2017 and return to port on Monday, February 20th, 2017.

Editor/Agent appointments, writing workshops, and social networking events.

Interior Cabin: $480.72 per person with a $50.00 on board credit per cabin
Promenade $441.47 per person
Oceanview $563.22 per person with $100.00 credit per cabin (H)
Balcony category E3 $642.47 per person (E3)
Junior suite $1050.72 with $300.00 credit per cabin

These prices are only sample fares, contact our travel agent at 305-666-1010 to get the current pricing. Promotion offers are frequently available at lower prices.

Cruise includes ship accommodations, ocean transportation, meals onboard, entertainment, taxes, and port charges. Cruise fee deposit is due when you reserve your cabin and is paid directly to our travel agent. 

Pre-sail Party on Wednesday night February 15, 2016. Details TBA.

Conference fee:
FRW Members –  $160 conference fee through 7/1/16
RWA Members – $180 conference fee through 7/1/16
Non-members – $200 conference fee through 7/1/16
Companion/Spouse  $50 conference fee

To Register, go to http://frwfuninthesunmain.blogspot.com

 

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The Final Journey

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 21, 2015

The Final Journey on the Celebrity Constellation
Day 9, Sunday, December 6, 2015

We arose to the rising sun over the sea, looking forward to our final day of relaxation before we’d have to disembark.

 

We were wined and dined with a wine tasting as Captain’s Club Elite members.

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Later we attended an afternoon tea in one of the dining rooms. Add in breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and we were eating nearly all day.

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As we were strolling by the pool deck, I was startled to see a guest reading my cruise mystery, Killer Knots. What a thrill this gave me! Imagine the chances to finding someone with my book in their hands! I introduced myself and offered to personalize her copy. Susan was kind enough to let me take her photo:

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The rest of the day, we packed our suitcases, lounged around, and enjoyed the ocean view. The trip was almost at an end. We’d had a wonderful time, and the weather gods had been with us. Now we could face whatever waited at home with renewed energy.

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Day of Departure
Day 10, Monday, December 7, 2015 on the Celebrity Constellation
We sat in Ocean Liners with other Elite members waiting for our number to be called. Pastries and coffee were available. We were off the ship by 9am. And so ended our journey. It’s time to plan the next one, after I lose the weight I’d gained.

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Labadee: An Island Paradise

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 20, 2015

Day 8, Saturday, December 5, 2015 on the Celebrity Constellation

Labadee is a beautiful beach hideaway private to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line. It’s at the very tip of Haiti if my geography is correct. The sea is a magnificent aqua color and mountainous terrain adds beauty to the scenery.

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RCCL (which owns Celebrity) supplies chairs and towels for all guests. All you need do is tip the beach attendant to put a chair where you want it. Then you can laze about, swim, or participate in various activities sponsored by the cruise line. Bring sun screen, sunglasses, a hat and beach sandals. It gets hot.

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Plenty of bars and rest rooms are scattered about for your convenience. The peninsula is big enough that you can even ride a free tram around to the various stops. Be aware that swimming is allowed on one side only, at the bay with its multiple beaches. The other side faces the ocean and is suitable for sunbathing and admiring the sea.

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The beach barbecue is always fun. You can choose hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs, or chicken plus side dishes and cookies. Free cold drinks are available in dispensers.

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At one end of the place is a zip line and roller coaster up on a hill. Near this at the base is the shopping village, where you can buy lovely gifts for your friends at home. Mahogany bowls, colorful Haitian art, native jewelry, dolls, wood carvings and more all can be yours, preferably for cash. Bargaining is expected.

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This area had grown since I’d last been here, and I lost my cousin Janice among the warren of shops. We reunited later at the tram stop. An air-conditioned indoor section offers a respite from the heat. The marketplace is a good site to pick up gifts for folks back home. Here’s a lovely serving dish I couldn’t resist:

Bowl

I could revisit this setting endlessly. The scenery is magnificent; the bay water gentle and warm; the beaches rife with palm trees and lounge chairs. Food is provided, and there are shopping opportunities. What more could you want?

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P1050363Nancy and Janice Trio

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Coming Next: The Final Journey

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San Juan Food Tour

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on December 19, 2015

San Juan, Puerto Rico
Day 7, Friday December 4, 2015 on the Celebrity Constellation

We took the ship’s Food and Cultural Tour of San Juan for $82.00 per person. It turned out to be a moderately strenuous walking tour so beware if you think about signing up for this one. Having seen the old city and visited the rainforest, we were looking for something different to do. This fit the bill. We got a nice tour of the city along with several food stops.

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Our first stop was for Puerto Rican coffee and a pastry covered with powdered sugar. This coffee is unsweetened but tasted good to me without adding sugar. The pastry was like a beignet, a soft warm concoction that was easy to consume but one that wouldn’t be on my daily diet.

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From here we went to a restaurant where we sat at one long table. We made our own Mojito cocktails: Add 4 to 5 mint leaves to glass and crush with pestle. Add a spoonful of natural or light brown sugar. Use pestle to blend. Pour in 1 shot of rum. Add club soda.

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Using a thicker pestle, we ground up fried plantains then added shredded (pulled) cooked chicken with Creole sauce. This Mofongo was our main dish, served with rice and red beans.

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For dessert, we headed to another restaurant for a flan that tasted more like cheesecake.

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Here we are on the ship waiting to leave port:

 

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Dec. 7 – 21
Win a pair of Arizona crafted earrings and a silver evening bag for your holiday parties. Two runners-up will each win a signed hardcover Perish by Pedicure (A Bad Hair Day Mystery). http://nancyjcohen.com/contest/

Coming Next: Labadee

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