Sunday, May 30, 2010

Carnival Fun Ship Cruises-So Legit


I have been on three cruises; 2 of those before I turned 21, and two of them not with my family. The first one was an absolute disaster for reasons that are way too personal for this blog. The second one was with my dance team-we got to perform on the ship and got to cruise as well. The third one was just this past week with my friend, Jessica. It was one of the best vacations I've ever been on. This could be attributed to the fact that we were both over 21 and not with our families; it could have also been that we went with no drama and came back with no drama. It can also be majorly attributed to the fact that Carnival's cruises have some of the best employees, programs, and amenities associated with their trips.

First of all, their service even pre-cruise is amazing. You can actually call them if you're stuck in major traffic, or had a delay that might cause you to miss your boat. We did not run into this, but I thought it was really cool that they offered this. I don't know how it works, but it seems to be a good option, especially when unforseen issues can pop up whenever, wherever.

Jessica and I kind of slacked on printing out documents. Basically, we decided to print out our luggage tags too late, and could not access them, and did not print out our funpasses. This was no problem as when we checked in, they used our passports to look up our names on the list and gave us the proper luggage tags using that. We also were able to use our passports even though we didn't have the funpass to check in and get our room assignments and Sail and Sign cards. This was a huge load off since we were kind of freaking out that we had not received anything and did not print out our funpasses (yes, I called customer service before that, they said it was fine, but still we were a little worried about it..)

The actual check in and boarding was tedious, but no matter what you're doing, it's always going to be like that. One of the cool things about Carnival cruises is that if you are of age (21), you can bring one bottle of wine that you can bring to your dinner and drink with a $10 corkage fee. We ended up bringing one bottle each to enjoy with our dinners.

The cruise itinerary while at sea was filled with many great activities for everyone. They had Camp Carnival for those younger than 11, and plenty of bingo, karaoke, contests (like men's hairy chest, bartending mixology, and the newlywed/married game to name a few), comedy, and dance shows. Along with all of that entertainment, the ship has a pool, waterslides, miniature golf, and an arcade. There are also plenty of bars, an over 18 and an under 18 dance club, as well as several lounges with different types of music, entertainment, and mixers.

The cruise that we took left out of Galveston, TX on a ship called the Ecstacy. It was a five day cruise to the Yucutan which included stops at Progreso, Mexico and Cozumel, Mexico. Another great thing about Carnival is the amount of approved (meaning safe and will not rip you off or take advantage of you) excursions that they have created in conjunction with companies at the destinations to help you experience these cities in whatever way you desire. They offer everything from beach parties, boating, ziplining, tours of cities, tours of ruins, cooking, dancing, hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling; basically anything and everything you'd want to do in these cities. There is always shopping near the port, or downtown. If you plan to take a cab downtown, I would ask someone who works the excursions what a good company to hail down would be, and how much the average cost would be so that you do not get ripped off; I'd recommend this in any city and country as tourists are usually easily recognizable.

For our excursion in Progreso, we chose something called "Salsa and Salsa"; a fun day that included learning how to make authentic Mexican salsas and guacamole, as well as a mini Salsa dancing lesson. There were about 15 in the group for this excursion. We found the sign for our excursion, and then after signing a waver, were taken to a bus that took us to Merida, a city about 40 minutes south of Progreso. Merida is gorgeous and full of Mayan history. We ended up at a restaurant called Pancho's (named for Pancho Villa). Here, we took seats at a long table with all the ingredients and tools necessary for making salsa and guacamole in front of us. After getting our first round of complimentary drinks, we learned how to make their margarita, which uses curacao instead of triple sec. We then began to make our salsas and guacamole. We made two salsas; Chiltomate and Salsa Boracha. Chiltomate is a standard salsa while Salsa Boracha has a bit more and adds in a shot of beer mixed with tequila. We then made the most amazing guacamole that I have ever tasted. After enjoying more drinks and our salsas and guacamoles, we got to have our mini Salsa dancing lesson. We moved to the patio of the restaurant and met our Cuban Salsa instructor. He was legit as legit can be. It was really hot outside, but learning the moves was so much fun. We learned 5 moves, but Jessica and I could really only do 4 of them.

On Thursday, we arrived at Cozumel and got ready for our second excursion. Jessica and I had chosen a ziplining and snorkel combo adventure. We thought that this was going to include ziplining through the jungle of Cozumel and then snorkeling and relaxing on a beach. We got the last part right, but the ziplining was actually that and a ropes course that was basically an outdoor rock climbing/ropes course. We were pretty disappointed, but tried to make the best of it, and doing the ropes course was fun even though i suck at rock climbing. After the ropes course part of it, we went snorkeling in the Carribean Sea. The water was so clear and blue, and even though I kept swallowing salt water (my body just did not want to get a hang of the concept of snorkeling), we saw some pretty awesome fish and sea creatures including some eel, barracuda, and black sea urchins, as well as huge schools of fish and gorgeous coral. After the end of our excursion, we decided to take a cab back to downtown Cozumel instead of straight back to the port (FYI the cabs are pretty legit there and for 2 people to get from downtown to Puerto Maya--the port where we were docked, it was $7 flat). We walked around a little bit and then went into the Tequileria to see all of the different types of tequila they carried.. After that, we wandered and found a restaurant called La Mission. We both had fajitas, chips and guacamole, and tortilla soup for $8. The food was authentic and fabulous. If you find this restaurant, do yourself a favor and skip Margaritaville and Senior Frogs and try their cuisine instead.

We spent the next day relaxing at sea as our trip had come to its end; we arrived back in Galveston at about 8 am on Saturday morning. Between self debarkation and relaxed debarkation, we decided to take all of our luggage off by ourselves. We were one of the first groups off of the ship, though it still took a couple of hours to get to us. This happens on all cruises though, so it's not a big deal.

Carnival is a fantastic cruise line. They have things to do for the whole family, and for every type and group of people cruising. The food, whether it is served formally at dinner, or through the buffet is always so delicious, and you are never left with no choices. The drinks are a bit over priced, but they're made well and pretty much worth it. I had such a great time on this cruise, and would have no problem going on another one. If you're thinking about cruising, remember, the earlier you book, the better your prices will be.

For more on Carnival, or to book a cruise, check out their website. We booked our cruise through, and I know that our friends did as well, so be sure to check them out for great discounts and prices as well.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


When speaking to my dad about my time in Venice compared to the times that he had been there, I was surprised to hear about how much he disliked it. I absolutely loved Venice; the weather was great, no cars were speeding towards you on narrow streets, and it was absolutely gorgeous. We later realized that his dislike of Venice came from going during the summer, which made total sense. During the hotter months, the water in the canals makes Venice humid, buggy, and muggy and a little more uncomfortable than most cities at this time. I mention this because no one wants to go to such a beautiful place on vacation and be miserable. If you are going to Venice, go in March or April, when spring has finally appeared; the weather will be just perfect to walk around, sip wine outside, and sightsee.

My friends and I went to Venice the weekend of Carnivale, which is a huge celebration in Italy; its almost like Mardi Gras, but a little less risque. It is held for two weeks every year, ending the day before Ash Wednesday. Carnivale originated as a celebration to the victory of the Battle of Serenissima. To celebrate Carnivale traditionally, you must at least wear a Venetian Mask; some people also dress up as harlequin characters or other characters of the like. The costumes always matched the mask that was also being worn, and some people even build it into a theme, dressing up with each other to show allegories or a story. There were so many elaborate costumes that we saw as we walked through the city; it truly is celebrated city wide, all day and all night. When Carnivale was celebrated in earlier times, it was so that everyone in the city could celebrate without the confines of a class system keeping them away from others; as they were masked, no one could tell who was nobility and who was common.

We stayed at Hotel Hesperia, which was very nice and very affordable, but was on the other side of the bridge from where we ended up every night. It was also right across the canal from the Jewish quarter, but as we were only there for the weekend, we were unable to really explore it.

The main Carnivale celebration, as well as the main area of social and tourist interaction is Piazza San Marco. There are plenty of restaurants, stores, and things to do in this piazza. If you walk a out of it, along the canal for a bit, you can find nice places to sit and rest while enjoying a great view. Eating in or near the piazza can get expensive, but it is a nice place to see and experience. The restaurants down the canal all have outdoor seating, and on a nice day, it is so relaxing to have a glass of wine and look out at the view after walking around the piazza.

You cannot go to Venice and skip the Ponte di Rialto, or the Rialto Bridge. The Rialto is the most famous and oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal. It was first built as a wooden bridge with a removable center section so that tall boats could pass through; later, it was rebuilt as the stone bridge that can be visited today. The Rialto has amazing shopping surrounding it and on either side as you cross the bridge. There are tons of fun and different stores all over it where you can buy jewelry or other souvenirs while walking around the city.

As far as nightlife goes, Venice is full of places to go out and have fun. We had a great time at Club Dogado, a lounge and night club near Riello Santa Sofia. They played great music and had good drink specials too. It's best to go to these places in groups as I mentioned in an earlier post; Italians look for inebriated Americans to take advantage of, monetarily as well as other ways. We did have a great time there, and were able to walk home with no problem, though we could have taken a water taxi if it was necessary.

The museum of modern art in Venice is the Guggenheim and it is definitely not to be missed. They have a great collection of pieces, and is a great way to spend a couple of hours inside without missing Venice.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Stereo Skyline, Artist vs. Poet, Cartel, The Maine, We the Kings in Syracuse

When there was a scheduling mistake for their show in Rochester, this awesome tour line up of Stereo Skyline, Artist vs Poet, Cartel, the Maine, and We the Kings moved their show to Lost Horizon in Syracuse. Caitlin and I seriously could not have been more excited. I texted her as soon as I found out, literally having heart palpitations because they were actually coming to Syracuse...not Buffalo, not Rochester, not Poughkeepsie, and not New York City...actually Syracuse.

Lost Horizon is a small venue, so this is where the frustrations came in. Unruly fans are cool and all, but pushing in to a wall of people like you're trying to move a couch is really not cool. Underage drinking is not cool, especially if you don't know how to handle yourself, and calling someone a bitch because they wouldn't move for not cool. Going crazy, dancing, and rocking out at concerts is totally fine, but that was just ridiculous. Caitlin and I both agreed that this show really should have been scheduled at Westcott Theater instead of Lost Horizon.

So aside from all that, the show was explosive. I've been wanting to see each band in this line up, so this tour was beyond awesome. We finally got into the venue at the very end of Stereo Skyline's set. I was sad that we missed it, but we couldn't have gotten there any earlier due to classes and all that stuff. I was introduced to Stereo Skyline by my cousin who works with the father of one of the guys in the band. He knew I loved finding new music and suggested that I checked them out. I've been pretty hooked ever since. Stereo Skyline gave a lot of energy, but the crowd seemed to not be as responsive as they would be later in the show, which made me sad because Stereo Skyline deserved more energy. I'm hoping I get to see more of them soon, and see a full set instead of just one and a half songs. Stereo Skyline is made up on Kevin, Brian, and Rob and their music is full of energy and makes you want to dance. I love Heartbeat and Uptown Get Around, though all their songs are basically awesome. For more about Stereo Skyline, check out their official page, myspace, twitter, facebook, and youtube.

Up next was Artist vs. Poet. This was a newer band for me, so I had not listened to much of them before I went to this show. I really loved their sound and lyrics. They're also from Dallas, so that is kind of cool for me as I will be moving there in just a few weeks. I'm hoping that they will do some local shows so that I can see more of them. They were so down to earth and had such a fun stage presence; the crowd began to pick it up a little more which also reflected in the band's performance. For more about Artist vs Poet, check out their myspace, twitter, facebook, and youtube.

Cartel played next. I didn't realize it, but once I started listening to them (in preparation for the show), I realized that I had actually listened to them a lot more than I know, I just never realized that it was them. They played a great set and got really into the music. They looked like they were having such a great time on stage which I really love about any band
. The crowd got really into their set, and from here until the end of the whole concert, the whole venue was buzzing with energy and excitement. For more about Cartel, check out their official website, myspace, twitter, facebook, and youtube.

The Maine absolutely killed it. They took the energy that Cartel started and held on to it through their whole set. They played some older songs and their new song Right Girl which is so great live. They talked to the crowd, were absolutely in your face, and had everyone jumping and dancing around the whole time. Aside from the songs in the set that they played that night, I absolutely love We'll All Be... They also do an awesome cover of Def Leppard's Pour Some Sugar on Me. For more about The Maine, check out their official website, myspace, twitter, facebook, and youtube.

We The Kings kept the energy up until even after the end of their set. Travis, Dan, Drew, and Hunter had such a great time on stage, telling random stories and being absolutely crazy and hilarious. They played some songs that they rarely played, new songs, and older songs. I have been a fan of We The Kings for a while, but this was my first concert. One of my favorite songs that was really speaking to me that night is Stay Young. This concert was a week before my graduation from college, so it was really getting deep into me. I really love some of their older songs, but it's rare now that they play them in concerts. I suggest you check out their EPs before their first two albums. I love how eclectic they are, and how different, yet put together their music is. Each of their songs has a deeper meaning, and I love the sensitivity and feelings that they evoke in their own ways. For more about We The Kings, check out their official website, myspace, twitter, facebook, and youtube.

For more videos from this and other concerts, check out my youtube channel. All of these bands are going to be on tour again soon; check out the Bamboozle Road Show, Van's Warped Tour, and the bands' own sites and pages to see where you can see them next.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Wine Tasting on the Cayuga Lake Trail

Last weekend, my sorority had our senior appreciation week. This was made up of different activities just for the seniors to do, separate from the rest of the sisters. On Sunday, we were taken on a wine tour in central New York, just over an hour outside of the Syracuse area. The tour that we went on was the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. There are 16 wineries to visit, but we only visited three: Swedish Hill Vineyards, Goose Watch, and Cobblestone Farm Winery

Logo: Cayuga Wine Trail

The standard for the wine tour that we went on was that you would go up to a counter where there would be slips of paper, pitchers of water, an empty vase, a plate of crackers, and slips of paper. The slips of paper had all of the wines available to be tasted listed on them. You first choose which wines you wanted to taste (generally it was 6 different wines). The wines were divided into what type of wines they were: (generally) Dry, Semi Dry, Semi-Sweet and Sweet, and Reds. After this, whoever was working the tasting would walk down the line with the wines and pour you a small glass whenever they had the wines you had chosen.

Our first stop was Swedish Hill Vineyard.
I decided to try:
  • '08 Dry Reisling - i really liked this one
  • '08 Reisling (semi-dry)-this one was crisp, not too sweet and had hints of apple and pear in the taste
  • Doobie Blues (semi-sweet/sweet) yes, I chose this one for the name (love the Doobie Brothers)-it was almost like a moscato, but not quite as sweet, i really liked it
  • Svenska White (semi-sweet/sweet)-this wine was really good, nicely aromatic and had a grapey flavor
  • Blue Waters Cabernet (red)-this wine was a blend of the grapes use in savignon and franc wines. it was pleasantly aromatic
  • Svenska Red (red) this wine was very sweet and kind of reminded me of Manischewitz, but was not bad
  • Radical Raspberry (red) this wine was so sweet and syrupy; it tasted like it should be eaten with a dark chocolate cake. I would not have been able to finish a full glass of this wine, but it was defintely rich and good
  • Jackass Red (red) This is the winery's most popular wine; its an easy, standard red wine, just the perfect amount of sweet and bitter; very pleasant

The next winery on our tour was Goose Watch Winery. I tasted:
  • Rennaissance Red-this was like the Jackass Red; a standard, popular red wine, easy to drink and very very pleasant
  • Red Fox-this was also really good, I liked it
  • Bartlett Pear-this was a white; I personally did not like it because I don't like pears and it had an unpleasant aftertaste to it
  • Snow Goose-sweet white, very pleasant and enjoyable
  • Pinot Grigio-this is your standard white wine, very good, one of my favorites
Goose Watch also had herb tasting that I would have liked to try, but that was not in our plans for the day.

After that, we ended our wine tour at Cobblestone Farm Winery and Vineyard

We loved this stop because in addition to the crackers they gave you at the wine tasting, they also had various mustards, salsa, sauces, dips, and butter to try with pretzels, chips, and bread. There were so many to choose from and all so delicious.

After the excitement about the food and dips, I tasted:
  • 2008 Seyval (semi-dry) it tasted very dry which was probably added to by the citrus element of it, but it was very good
  • 2007 Reisling (semi-dry) this was dry but had some sweetness added in to make it a little more pleasant
  • 2007 Vignoles (semi-sweet)-this was really good, it had a downplayed sweetness that was very pleasant
  • 2008 Vignoles (semi-sweet) this was sweeter than the 2007 and had a really great aftertaste
  • 2008 Lemberger (dry red)-this had a really good aftertaste
  • 2007 Copper Eagle (sweet wine)-this was almost as sweet as the Radical Raspberry and would go well with chocolate cake

I learned a lot from this wine tour both about wines in general, and what kinds I liked and didn't like. Such as the %RS means residual sugar, and the less residual sugar, the drier the wine will be. I learned that I love Pinot Grigio with a meal over most white wines, and am very partial to the standard neutral red wine like Jackass Red and Rennaissance Red. I loved trying all the wines and using their tastes to decide what I would eat with them if the wines were to compliment a meal.

If you're in Central New York, take a day and visit some of the wineries and vineyards on the Cayuga Lake Trail. You won't be disappointed

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ashlyne Huff, Just Kait, and Honor Society in Clifton Park

Last Friday, one of my favorite bands finally came close to Syracuse; well, Clifton Park to be exact, but that is still half the drive that it takes me to get to New York City, so of course I had to go. I had won a soundcheck (would have been my first one), but due to technical difficulties, my friends and I arrived too late and ended up missing it.

This show was a lot smaller than the New York City show, but still had a great and super energetic crowd. Everyone was so into the show; this was the northernmost place in New York that the band had ever played. This was also a special show because it was Andy's first real "hometown" show. The other three are from the NYC ish area, and have played many hometown shows, but Andy has never played a true hometown show until that night. He had so many family members and friends there, and they were all rocking out and showing their support-it was amazing.

Ashlyne Huff really got the crowd into her set with the first song; she reminded us again about her album dropping on May 11 in between songs. She sounded really good at the show, and I really loved seeing her interact with the smaller crowd and hearing her songs again. I'm really loving Make It Rain at the moment and cannot wait for her album to drop. I actually got to meet her after her set, and she remembered me because of my license plate that I had gotten signed last time. She is really sweet and fun to talk to, even if it's for a short amount of time.

For more of the adorable Ashlyne Huff, check out her myspace, facebook, youtube, twitter, and official website.

Just Kait came on next; according to her, she had just woken up from a nap, but she still performed with just as much energy as the show that I had seen last week. She was really into the fans this time, talking to us between each song, joking, and even recognizing some of my friends who were wearing hats since they had hat week on twitter that week. I really love her cover of Hot Stuff-seriously, it's great. She's fun on stage, full of confidence with the guitar, rocking out, but it makes me sad that she always says "hope you like it, and if you don't, I'm sorry"-her music is pretty good and she should have more confidence in it. She really is awesome, and of course since i needed to stretch my back out, I missed meeting her when she was in the back. Maybe another time. Her music is fun with a rough edge, and it's great.

For more Just Kait, check out her myspace, facebook, youtube, twitter, and official website.

Honor Society put on an explosive performance; I'm so glad that Andy's hometown got the same type of show that NYC always gets. Their energy was contagious, and you could really see them all smiling and so happy to be playing their music. They had started adding in some old songs during this second leg of the tour, which I was so excited about. Some of my favorite Honor Society songs are the old ones that don't get played. In fact, my favorite song is an old one that will never be played again. They played samples of No Win Situation and Heartache in the Suburbs and it was so nice to get a refreshing taste of their old music. They looked like they were having so much fun up there singing those songs and I really hope that they continue to add some old favorites in to their sets filled with newer songs-just to mix it up a bit. Andy got to talk about how this was his hometown and how special it was for them to finally get up there; it was cool to here him and see him in his own place and get even more excited than he already usually is. What I love about him and the rest of the band is that no matter how big or small the crowd is, they always give real energy and really make the show as great as it can be. They know how to work the crowd and have fun doing it, which makes their shows so fun to be at, and their music so fun to dance and rock to.

For more on Honor Society, check out their myspace, youtube, facebook, twitter, and official website.

For more videos from this and other concerts, check out my youtube channel.