Sailing the Mediterranean with MSC Cruises

MSC Cruise Line (3)Although not a household name in America MSC Cruises is one of the world’s largest cruise lines and offers cruises to a wide variety of destinations from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean and even to the Orient. With my previous experience only being US cruise lines, however, my introduction to MSC came out of convenience.  Because I knew my goal for 2016 Spring Break was to take a cruise in the Mediterranean the options were limited. As the weather in the Mediterranean at this time is not the warmest in March I found many of the cruise lines I was familiar with did not offer the Mediterranean route at that time.  So MSC Cruises quickly became my first and only choice for my adventure.MSC Cruise Line (4)

MSC Cruises managed to deliver a mix of both comfort and luxury in a wealth of offerings that was honestly too much for me to explore on this first trip. Setting off on an adventure is normally invigorating, however the plane, train and automobile it took me to get on the boat wore me out!  Being Jet Lagged is a beast and with daily ports in some really amazing locations it is easy to get busy with the things there are too do off the boat.  Still in really taking the time to explore I was able to find a little bit of everything making it a spot on choice for family entertainment.  From shows to gambling to fantastic swimming pools there was always an option for how to spend your time while on the ship.  With a full list of activities on the daily rooster it almost becomes difficult to remind yourself that vacationing does require some rest and relaxation on the list.

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Here is the quick roundup of some of the most important components of MSC Cruises:

MSC Cruise Line (5)Dining: Throughout my seven days I had what felt like an authentic variety of Mediterranean and European options. Certainly there were days that were a little more of what I like to eat, like this delicioso lobster, but every day there were some basic staples that you could choose like salads and soups.  Each meal had a variety of courses so even if one missed the mark you still left the table feeling satisfied.

Entertainment: The full on theatre show I was only able to catch once but it was a full on dancing and singing spectacle. Each night offered two main stage professional shows as well as a kids dance competition that lasted throughout the sailing.  For me what was a little more accessible was the entertainment throughout the ship from singing to dance lessons.  This is a great way to hop in and be involved as you wander the ship and stay as long (or as little) as you like.  Of course the casino also had a big pull for me but what probably pulled me the quickest was the nightly BINGO games!  If shows are not your speed there was also dance parties in a couple of locations as well as a sports bar and small bowling alley.  In room entertainment was a little more limited as the channels were primarily not English and those that did show in English were all news channels.  After purchasing the Wi-Fi, however, I was able to master Netflix and Chill while finishing our cruise.

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Beauty: Time did not allow for a full spa visit but the sauna options on the cruise were right on point. I avoided the crowd with morning and evening visits to make sure I got a chance to unwind in between all the sightseeing.  I was able to get a pretty good product demonstration including facial while on the cruise and highly recommend it.  Not only did I love the products it is a great use of time during your sea day without breaking the bank.

MSC Cruise Line (6)Pools: When I was planning for a vacation where the temperatures did not even peak in the 70’s, swimming was pretty far from my mind. Once I got on board, however, and realized just how many of the pools were either indoor or offered a hot tub option I had to stop immediately and join in on the fun.  Although there was a pretty big demand at the indoor pools I am sure with the summer months the outdoor pools get a lot of action.  No matter the time of year however, the view of the water from the pools on the top decks is phenomenal.

Customer Service: Perhaps my favorite part of this cruise line was the staff. Everyone was friendly and willing to help.  As I celebrated my birthday on the ship the chocolate covered strawberries were a great night cap and ended an amazing day on a high note.  With the international staff I was able to hear a little about destinations all over the world and they made sure to point me in the right direction and keep a smile on my face.

All in all I really enjoyed my MSC experience!!!  The great attitudes and attention of the staff definitely would have me check out a MSC cruise all over again.

Pussy Control and other reasons why I was completely in love with Prince

PrinceSo like most love stories my love (or obsession) with Prince started rather innocently. I am an 80’s baby but Prince never struck a note in my young mind other than the fun of blasting him as my aunt picked me up from school in her Saab.  No, our personal love story began one fateful date when I asked to use a tape to go running in the park in high school.  My aunt obliged and gave me a mix tap with Prince on one side and Jimmy Hendrix on the other.  So along I went in my run, hearing songs I had heard before on the radio until a new one came on.  I listened as I ran, to the beat, and the funk, and more importantly the words and instantly I was undeniably, passionately, and unabashedly in love with the music of Prince.  The song was Pussy Control and it wasn’t the time of song you would hear on the radio.  In it he jammed but the lyrics, about a girl who grew up to be boss despite everyone doubting her, spoke to my soul.  My run had to stop as a rewind was necessary.  As I began again to run this song became my personal anthem.  Of how I would boss out, take control, not be afraid to be strong and proud, so different than how I saw myself at that time.  Instantly I decide to learn more about this person called Prince.

As my collection of his albums grew I heard in the music of myself, or at least who I wanted to be. Strong, sexual, comfortable in my own skin, smart, vivacious, and fine as hell (well at least in my own opinion and if I believed it well F what everyone else thought).  Then at my first concert I left with my mind officially blown.  I saw this beautiful little man play EVERY SINGLE INSTRUMENT on the stage.  He ran between his piano to a guitar to a bass and then sung and danced, every step sexier than that one before and I was mesmerized.  Over close to two decades after that day I saw him every chance I could in any location I could make it to.  I brought countless albums and found steady solace whenever my day was bad, or good or anywhere in between.   In his life I learned to fight for what I believe, and to be willing to risk everything for that believe, to be who I am and only regret if it is not everything God meant me to be, and that it is okay to be misunderstood as long as you stay on your journey for truth.  I am heartbroken by his death but so happy I was a true fan in life and better yet that I gave this love to my daughter in her mandatory annual Purple Rain viewing or Prince pop quizzes.  As I mourn the loss of this music legend I see a life well lived and one that inspired me and so many others to do them and do it well.  Until the end of time I will truly Adore him.

 

Prince you will be missed.

Sip and Stroll 2016 with the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair

Sip and Stroll 2016 (13)The Sugarland Wine and Food Affair always spells spring to me as a great kick off to the beautiful weather and people that festival season heralds to Houston. This year for their Sip and Stroll even they welcomed in a new venue but with the same delicious favorites making it a must for any foodie’s calendar. The Sip and Stroll hopped over from the Imperial Sugar Factory to Sugar Land Constellation Field in its Saturday fun fare offering guests an opportunity to explore great samplings of food, drinks and even shopping.

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Moving venues is always a little confusing as you wonder if you will have the same experience. The festival did a great job in still pulling in some of the events staples like the crowd favorite Lobster Rolls so you still had a bit of a nostalgic feeling in the new venue. Although I am a fan of the indoor/outdoor combo of the previous venue offered, with the tents all visible this year you have a better idea of things you want to visit with the new set up. What is even more important, however, is that it is still a phenomenal event when it comes to the food and drinks. I love the easy movement the event offers between wine and spirits. The mixologist did some phenomenal things between Mint Juleps and the always dazzling Hendricks refreshers. With this best of both worlds offer, it is a good break for your palette from the wine so you can take a breather and narrow in on your favorite tastes.

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The food was as scrumptious as ever, with an international taste of everything. Where else can you have a little bit of barbeque, lobster, meatballs, and arroz con pollo and it all be mouth watering? Although not a competition, having all great venders descend on the event keeps everyone on their toes and striving to deliver the best they have to offer. When all this is combined with a nice breeze, beautiful setting and a great band, all is right with the world. Well at least in the three hours of the Sip and Stroll Saturday for the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair.

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Tastes and Toasts for all at the Sugarland Wine and Food Affair

Sugarland Wine and Food affair logoThe next four days showcase a shining star on the food and wine calendar for the Houston area with the Sugar Land Food and Wine Affair 2016.  Every year for four days the best of the best is offered with the festival offering culinary, wine and spirits appeal to a wide range of taste.  To be sure attending at least one of these events is a must on your calendar so take a look into matching just what you love with some of this weekend’s offerings:

Cori and Kyra fun 1For the adventurous lush: If you are always on the hunt for a new bar and a different drink look no further than the Hendrick’s Gin On the Rocks Bartenders Challenge. Five master bartenders in the Houston area take on the challenege to find a new and interesting twist on a superb liquor, Hendrick’s Gin.  The Hendrick’s challenge two years ago took gin to places I did not know it could go and made me a superfan of Hendrick’s. If you don’t go for the drinks you will definitely stay for the atmosphere as the fun festivities of the night is a great kick off to a phenomenal weekend.

For the music lover: Saturday’s Sip & Stroll at Imperial is a great way to get out with friends and enjoy both great food and drinks but also great music.  It is a fun, carefree take on such a prestigious weekend with some heavy hitters letting their hair down for some fun in the sun.  With rows and rows of food and drinks it is a great way to unwind, relax and enjoy some of the best of the best in food and wine.  Plus the band is always amazing and keeps you on your feet and moving so you can go the distance with the food.

SFWFA 2015 Grand Tasting (4)For the connoisseur: Despite having attended food and wine festivals throughout the country, the innovation and passion from The Grand Tasting always keeps me wanting more.  In fact the gourmet frito pie I had last year is still on my mind a year later.  This event pulls together some of the most sought after chefs in Houston with some amazing wine pairings.  When attending this event make sure to bring your paper and pen to remember some of your favs and your wallet to get in on one of the best silent auctions around.

For the brunch enthusiast: Set in the Sugar Land Town Square the Bistro Brunch is a chance to unwind after a long week and even longer weekend!  The brunch first introduced me to chicken fried lobster and waffles and I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for that foodgasm!  The brunch is a mellow wrap to the action packed weekend a chance to get adventurous on your take on brunch with an array of lunch offerings.

For the constant student: If tasting is just not enough and you want to learn more and more about the food and drinks you love check out some of the classes offered over the weekend with For the Love of Bourbon & Cheese and the Tasting Mastery series.  These classes can put a refreshing spin on some of your favorites and let you fall just a little deeper in love with the food and spirits that you go crazy for.

No matter your budget or preference take some time to explore the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair.  It’s a guarantee that there is something for everyone!!! Still want more info, check out some of my previous years wrap ups below:

A show the whole family can love with Toruk – The First Flight

Toruk The First Flight Cirque Du Soliel (10)Cirque du Soleil has built its foundation on revolutionizing the circus by combining it with breathtaking acrobats and theatre quality showmanship. This effort was again in full force with the Toruk – The First Flight show that touched down in Houston.  Finding shows that you can take on as a family is difficult, especially with kids of different ages.  You have to consider if it will be enough to keep the hyper ones still and the loud ones quiet and the scary ones from screaming while also thinking about what you as an adult would like to see.  Delivering in perfect harmony and with Cirque du Soleil building on the Avatar movie phenomenal the Toruk – The First Flight had us thrilled at first mentioned and kept everyone spellbound throughout the show.

Toruk The First Flight Cirque Du Soliel (9)

Of course if you love Avatar you will love the show as the visual beauty and out of the world story line continues from the movie. If you are not familiar with the movie, however, there is still so much beauty and intrigue in the Toruk show.  I love how Cirque is able to intertwine a story with great singing, visual and technical performances.  While one second you lose yourself in a song the next you are on the edge of your seat watching soaring jumps and twists.  For my daughter and I, we loved hearing the story of a Avatar prequel and seeing the different tribes all showcasing different aerial feats.  For my young son its bright and ever-changing effects kept him surprised and occupied throughout the show.  It was truly like escaping to a magical world and so good I think it’s hard to really think of it as a show.  The Toruk experience gives you all the oohs and aahhhs you would expect from Cirque and gives the kids and family some of their first taste of the arts that should be enough to get them interested what else there is to offer.

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Eat, drink, party and repeat at Mardi Gras New Orleans

Mardi Gras 2016 Hand gernadeBefore the Lenten promises kick in, you have one last chance to indulge in some of your favorite vices with Mardi Gras and a climatic Fat Tuesday. I am a big lover of the celebration of Mardi Gras and Carnival (in other places in the world) as it usually starts off my month long birthday celebration.  This year I took the short trip over to New Orleans for their world famous Mardi Gras celebration to see check out what the states have to offer for the celebration up to Fat Tuesday.  As New Orleans is always a pretty crazy place this celebration is normal New Orleans on crack but still a great opportunity to grab some delicious food, grab one or two (or three or four) drinks in the Quarter, and make some unforgettable memories.

Mardi Gras 2016 Zulu Ball

As this was my first adult take on Mardi Gras I wanted to add some grown up favor to the mix and there is no better place to do that than at a ball.   Every parade in Mardi Gras ends with a ball so the options are numerous.  After a last minute frantic search for tickets, I attended the Zulu Ball this year.  The Zulu ball was an eclectic combo of picnic and gala with much of the fun focused into family and group tables.  Luckily I am friends with a native who showed me the ropes.  Any chance to dress up is right up my alley and paired with some fantastic performances by Juvenile and Charlie Murphy this gala is a great peak into the true New Orleans culture.

Mardi Gras 2016 Bourbon Street Mardi Gras 2016 beignets Mardi Gras 2016 Old Absinthe House (2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the adult stuff out of the way it was back down to good old Bourbon street fun. I recommend always celebrating something when on Bourbon (even if you make it up) but this year I was actually there to celebrate a friend’s bachelorette weekend.  People become alive when they are witnessing you celebrating a special event and things can get a little crazy when this coincides with Mardi Gras.  IN the day I had a great time with brides challenges and watching others take on bead challenges.  For night time Bourbon Street fun be prepared to pay for club access if the super crowded streets are not your cup of tea.  No matter if you are hitting the pavement or partying in a bar you are sure to see something crazy and uniquely New Orleans while on a stroll in the Quarters.  These amped moments can definitely become unforgettable ones so grab a shot of absinthe from the Old Absinthe House and test your chops at karaoke and dive into a hand grenade from Tropical Isle.   Feel free to eat, drink and be merry as there are few better places than New Orleans during Maudi Gras!

Medieval good times at the Texas Renaissance Festival

Tex Ren Fest 2015 (4)With the end of the year and holiday season always comes another one of my favorite traditions, The Texas Renaissance Festival. Yes it is a festival but more like a festival on steroids offering all of the food and entertainment of a normal festival but without the temporary structures and set ups that a festival builds itself on. Instead The Texas Renaissance Festival is more like stepping back a couple of centuries. As you are whisked back in time you can quickly get lost in a world of magic, or kings and queens or even barbarians if you allow your imagination to go there. If not you can just dive feet first in the celebration of food and fun that makes up the Renaissance Festival. In our group within the first 10 minutes we had fairy ears and food galore and it started what was a wonderful day of enjoying old friends and new friends alike.

Outside of the food which is always a highlight for the festival the entertainment is always on point. From bird shows to fire whips to the Jousting Show a whole day can quickly slip by with still more left to be seen and done. Even topping the amount of options is the fact that you don’t have to just watch, you can take part of the show as screams and yells are what make this interactive shows true entertainment. It is not even just in the scheduled shows as the entire festival gives you the opportunity to hop in and join in on the fun. As you move from face painting to picking up a corset to throwing on a hat you find yourself more and more in the spirit of fun that makes the Renaissance Festival a must for me every year to kick off my holiday season.Tex Ren Fest 2015 (12)

 

Taking Risotto to the next level at the Houston Risotto Festival

IMG_7550Taping into the imagination and creativity of chef’s opens an exciting world of possibilities. Few events in Houston better celebrate the potential for greatness than the Houston Risotto Festival because with just one option of comparison it has to be pulled together amazingly to win. The festival challenges chefs to put their spin on this Italian specialty in an event that has raised hundreds of thousands for local charities since it began. From Thanksgiving spring boards to mushroom explosions the chefs competing in the festival went all out in order to put their own personal spin on risotto. Get the standard rice and cheese mix out of your mind because the result of the challenge on these chefs was food at its finest. There were so many spins on the classic it was dizzying and all of them delicious. In between the mouthwatering risotto stops the festival celebration continued with great Italian wines and antipasto.

While you are making room in your stomach there were opportunities all around to pick your pleasure. With the perfect Sunday weather you could just grab a seat and enjoy the scenery, for the shopper there was an amazing silent auction and several open stores in the design center, for the car buff the displays of classic and sports car was spot on and for the music lover the Italian music transported you to another world. My daughter and I were excited we started off hungry because conquering all the tastings was a daunting feat.   In the end I walked away feeling inspired by the wide range of risotto visions the chefs brought to life and even without a silent auction win feel great about the money raised for such worthy local causes.IMG_7562

Eat, Drink and Be Merry for this Sunday Funday

IMG_5274Yes the summers in Houston are pretty brutal but the good news is that we get not one but two opportunities for nice weather and the perfect conditions for festivals. In the fall we have a wide array of festivals ranging from family fun to grown up libations, so there is literally something for everyone. This weekend on deck are two amazing opportunities to eat, drink and be merry so make sure to get in on the fun and make this Sunday a Sunday Funday to remember.

Houston Margarita Festival

I grew up in a family of tequila lovers so margaritas have always been my thing. If you share a love for this tequila libation then this the festival for you. With 19 types of margaritas on deck how can you go wrong??? On top of the margarita fun there are music, bands and music galore insuring an all day fiesta.

Houston Risotto Festival

If food is more up your alley the risotto festival is a celebration of Italian Food and Wine designed for the whole family. The festival not only offers food tastings but an exotic car display and activities and tours for kids and parents alike.   Best of all the festival has a charitable purpose and has benefited local charities to the tune of half a million dollars since the festival started in 2000.

Dinner Lab Houston – a culinary extravaganza

Dinner Lab Houston coverDining is almost religious here in Texas.  Houston is a city full of great restaurants and chefs with a range of cuisine to fit any palette.  You can get lost in the mix of the amazing food options and oversized plates, however, it can be easy to miss some more adventurous dining and side instead with old favorites that are a sure fire win.  With the descent of Dinner Lab to Houston there is a movement to change the traditional approach to food and replace it with an adventurous walk with a local expert that seeks to redefine eating as an experience.

Dinner Lab Houston (12) Dinner Lab Houston (7) Dinner Lab Houston (6)Dinner lab was born out of the desire to ignite a passion for all things new when it comes to eating.  Instead the typical restaurant, Dinner Lab brings together eaters who like to stride on the wild side with equally progressive chefs in a pop up restaurant.  The result is an experience where everything is new.  You come in to a group environment were much of the night is a mystery, and only one thing is for sure you will be surrounded by others who share your passion for food.  With the drinks flowing and the music bumping strangers quickly become friends as you anxiously await the star of the night…the food.

Dinner lab four courses and chefAs the chef and waiters bring your courses for introduction you begin to fully realize that you are not in Kansas anymore but on a type of food safari.  With an inspired chef you begin to understand the development of pairings of dishes and ingredients that are as full of innovation as they are of passion.  With quality, fresh ingredients, the night is master crafted for a flavor explosion.  I am a fan of the term “foodgasim” and this is a place you are sure to have one.  By the end of the night my thoughts reminiscing about my favorite flavors of the evening could only be interrupted by the lively table mates of mine as we laughed, sang and cheers the night away.  If you are interested in trying new foods, up and coming chefs or just a different experience than the usual then get in on the monthly Dinner Lab experience and prepare yourself for the surprisingly familiar taste of the unknown.

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