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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mmmmm.....Chocolate Melting Cake

I would say the 1 thing my friends reminisce about the most from a group cruise we all did on Carnival in 2007 has to be the Chocolate Melting Cake served in the dining room. It is this brownie like cake in a ramekin served warm and just not completely "done". Ice cream comes along side this little gem.
Carnival has given away this recipe on their Blog, The Funville Times. Here it is:

  • 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter
  • 7 eggs, divided use
  • 6 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1/2 cup of flour
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Melt the chocolate and butter and cool for 10 minutes. In a separate bowl, mix four eggs with sugar. Whisk. Then add flour and whisk. Add the remaining three eggs and add the egg mixture to the chocolate mixture. Pour this entire mixture into individual ramekins. Bake until just done, about 15-20 minutes (interior will be melting). Serve with vanilla ice cream.

I am going to try and make this one of these days. I bought the ramekins and I just haven't gotten around to it. I might just book a Carnival Cruise instead!  The Carnival Magic (their newest ship) is coming to Oklahoma City's closest port (Galveston, TX) this December! It even has a jacuzzi that sticks out over the water. I might be too chicken for that but the ship looks awesome. I'm excited they have decided to bring the newest one so close to home.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Travel Agent Poem - "I Am A Travel Agent"

This makes me smile. I love sarcasm.


I am a travel agent.... Of course I remember the reservation you booked six years ago, even though you don't have a confirmation number and you think it was made under a last name that begins with a T.

I am a travel agent.... Its no problem for me to give you seven connecting non-smoking poolside suites with 2 king beds and 4 roll aways in each, and yes it is my fault that the hotel does not have a helicopter pad.

I am a travel agent.... I speak all languages and have visited EVERY destination.

I am a travel agent.... Its obvious to me when you book your reservation for Friday, you really mean you arrive early Saturday morning and want a guaranteed early check in.

I am a travel agent.... My Company has entrusted me with financial information, and yet I cant tell you why your hotel bill for March 1989 has a $50 phone call because, of course, you shouldn't have to pay for calls.

I am a travel agent.... Yes, I am lying when I say there are no more seats left at the lowest price, or all the hotel rooms are fully booked.

I am a travel agent.... No, its not a problem for me to quickly construct several more guest rooms at the hotel you want, and this time I will not forget the helicopter landing pad!

I am a travel agent.... I am capable of checking fares for three people, taking five reservations and answering fifteen calls simultaneously.

I am a travel agent.... I always know where to find the best vegetarian, kosher, and Mongolian barbecue restaurants in every city

I am a travel agent.... I know exactly what to do in all cities without spending money

I am a travel agent.... I take responsibility for airline food, traffic jams, rental car tire flats, weather, hotel locations and the national economy

I am a travel agent.... Don't bother telling me any dates or cities since I am a mind reader and already have the reservation in my crystal ball before you can tell me

The ART of finding a room for 3 in London. This will help you understand my job.

So The Today Show aired a story about the new exhibit coming to Buckingham Palace - KATE MIDDLETON'S WEDDING DRESS! The display including her shoes, tiara, earrings, veil, the cake (less the couple layers they ate) would all be in the room the Queen hosted the reception in until October 3rd. I HAD to go.
Although fully booked with trips I had planned for us, Chrissy agreed to fly to London with me. Within just a couple hours we had our tickets booked and paid for and tickets to the exhibit bought! A couple of hours later Chrissy called with the question that changed where we couple stay...."Can my mom come?" Without hesitation I was like "Sure! I like your mom!" We booked her ticket and entrance and now for the hard part, finding a hotel room that sleeps 3 adults. Sounds easy, right? Nope.
Most hotels in Europe have either a double or a twin bed (sometimes 2 twins). Some luxury hotels have a king bed but it is rare to find one with 2 queens or 2 doubles.  I suppose if I had more advance notice (It's only 6 weeks until we leave) I might have had more options but we didn't.
I hunted and hunted around. A lot of hotels say "triple" allowed but it's 2 adults and 1 child because they are going to bring in a small cot. Some hotels have a triple because there's a "sleeper chair" which is the case at The Melia Whitehouse property which was mentioned on as one of the best Triple rooms in the city. I'm sorry but a sleeper chair does not sound appealing for 1 night let alone 4 nights.
I thought I was in luck. I had points to stay 1 free night at the Fairmont Savoy which is one of the top properties in London. They said on their website they allow 3 in a room. It gave me the rate of 315 pounds a night and with 1 night free I thought this is GREAT! Nope again. When I called (because it was unclear on their website) I was informed it would only have a king bed in the room and they would have to bring in a cot which will be an additional 75 pounds. I'm sorry but this hotel standard rate is around 600 pounds a about $1,000. I'm not sleeping at a $1,000 a night hotel on a cot. It would suck the experience out of it for me. I decided to just save my points for another trip.
I probably spent a good 15 hours just looking online at different hotels, going to trip advisor to see if it was a good deal, emailing the properties to see what the bedding situation is like, etc. Even "American" properties like The Sheraton only had 1 king or 2 twins. I did come across a couple of hotels like The Langham London which would have 2 big beds in the room but it was out of our price range.
We ended up selecting The Mercure London Bloomsbury which offers a room with 3 twin beds! Yay! No one has to sleep on the dreaded sleeper sofa. It is located in Bloomsbury instead Kensington but Kensington was not worth the cot or sleeper sofa in my book.
This hunt really validated my job for me. It is sooo time consuming and I know what I'm doing! I can't imagine working full time and trying to do this for myself in the evening. Travel Agents are worth every penny.

I'm going to be standing right there in 6 weeks!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Viva Las Vegas......but pick the right hotel

I booked a trip to Las Vegas for my big 3-0 months in advance (May 2011)
I won a trip to Las Vegas for being Top 20 Sales in all of the USA and Canada (yay me) with Continental Vacations. (June 2011)
So I am now the self proclaimedVegas expert. I stayed on the 2 ends of the strip, seen Cirque and musician shows, had a mob experience, won a jackpot/lost money, "went clubbing", shopped til I dropped and ate at some really good and some "so so" restaurants.

First trip we stayed at MGM Grand. They had an amazing rate. You get what you pay for. My favorite, almost always true statement. Beds were sooooo uncomfortable and I didn't even have to share a bed with anyone. Originally I had booked a room in the West Wing which are suppose to be an upgrade but then the trip turned into a girls trip since Chris had to work so we moved to the area of the hotel that has 2 beds (West Wing is King only).
MGM is a massive huge resort/casino. I didnt even know parts of it existed until later into the weekend. I might have enjoyed it more if I had realized some of the stuff right there.
The pool complex is also MASSIVE. They have a lazy river and lots of pools and chairs. It's one of the better pool areas I think. The Tropicana says they won best pool but I'm not sure who voted for them. They have tee-pees which is cool, I guess??? Living in Oklahoma the last 12 years have made tee-pees not as novel. Anyway, at MGM pool everything is soooo overpriced. I'm not someone who cringes at vacation prices. I know they are going to be more than in Oklahoma but here's an example. For a strawberry daqurri it was $15. This is from one of those machines and in a 12 oz cup. And this is plus tax and the expected tip. So for almost $20 you get a generic plastic cup with a very processed style strawberry daqurri. IF they were blending it right there with fruit, using top shelf rum and it was going to come with an umbrella and whip cream on top would I spend $20 on a daqurri. I opted out. Instead I paid $7 for a 20 oz bottle of Diet Coke (seriously. Wow.). I could go on and on but I was kind of put out by this.
Another note about the pool is they have this Adults Only pool which is a "nightclub" at the pool. It's called Wet Republic. It's a $20 cover but they seemed to be passing out free passes to cute girls. We made the cut. (Yessssss!) But here's the catch: Once you get up in line you get patted down by security and not just patted down airport style but full on, they think you are going to be sneaking drugs in your bikini top style. We couldnt bring anything in such as eye drops, bottled water, chewing gum......etc etc. "It could have drugs"
I was just looking forward to not being splashed in the pool by people's kids but if they had this big of a drug problem....I opted for being splashed. I guess the pool nightclub scene is very popular now in Vegas. The bartender selling my friends the $20 daqurris told us that they have a big drug problem and people are putting stuff in drinks and they have to have a cop and paramedic on staff. Wooooow.

While in Vegas the first time we saw Beattles Love which is a Cirque show. I was informed by my friends that they didnt think there was enough Cirque going on but I enjoyed it. I have a secret love of music from the 50s and 60s so I sat there happy as a clam and sang along.
Before the show we ate at Kokomos inside The Mirage. They have a pre-set menu that is the appetizer, entree and dessert. It was like $40 for all 3. You have to ask for this. I would put this restaurant in the "so so" category. It was a good deal for dinner time and perfect location for right before a show at The Mirage but I thought the atmosphere was lacking and service wasnt that impressive. Food was pretty good but I dont even really remember what I had so that tells you something right there.

I really liked the sports bar at NYNY. There were huge TVs everywhere and they even had a small tv at the table. Food was good, a little expensive but as expected and service was good. We were there cheering on The Thunder in the playoffs. They lost but we still had fun :)

On the second trip we stayed at The Wynn. amazing room, comfortable beds (still not as comfortable as the W or the Westin) and  this is the casino that I won my jackpot at so it holds a dear place in my heart.
If you sign up for their players club, it's pretty easy to get enough points for the free buffet. They let you use the buffet for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Dinner is like $45 per person so the most bang for your buck. At dinner they had a HUGE bucket of king crab legs. There was almost always a line but the line goes quick. Their breakfast is also amazing. I'm not a big buffet fan but for The Wynn I make the exception.

The Wynn has shopping at the hotel but it's only going to be your fancy schmancy shopping.....Channel, Rolex, Louis Vuittion, and oh you know, Alexander McQueen who designed Kate Middleton's wedding dress. We had fun window shopping and we made our way to Casears Palace which has a little bit of everything (and a fun show in the middle of the mall).

At Casears Palace they have Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab. This was probably my favorite meal and I would go back in a second. They also have a set meal. Mine came with cole slaw which they make tableside for you (I've only ever had guacamole made tableside for me!) and I love cole slaw so I was very excited. The stone crab was so yummy and the portion was so huge I couldnt finish it all.

My jackpot was on the last night. I found I loved Wheel of Fortune and this old school machine. Chris was off taking roulette class at the Venetian so I was alone when I won so no one to do the victory dance with.

All in all Vegas is still a fun destination. I could go on and on and talk about this great jazz show we saw at Caesars or Ghostbar at The Palms (I think the one in Dallas is better) but if you have more Viva Las Vegas questions, just ask me!

Punta Cana, Dominican my opinion

So for a honeymoon (since we didn't get much of one in PV) we decided to visit Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I had a travel agent deal I couldn't pass up at the Hard Rock Resort so that made the hotel selection for us.

This is what I thought:

It is a large property with lots of walking. They do have the golf cart shuttle trams that run all the time with lots of pick up points similar to the Paradisus. Our room was closer to the main building which is where the spa, casino, and most of the restaurants were. I liked being close to that stuff as opposed to the beach but totally a personal preference.

8 pools that line the ocean and some other ones throughout the property including a kids pool area with slides and a lazy river. The pools toward the middle of the property had lots of activities going and music and the ones on the outskirts were more laid back and quiet so it was nice to pick based on your mood. There are lots of waves in the ocean here. People were having fun jumping over them but it seemed almost dangerous to me but maybe I’m just a chicken. I prefer to just float.

The spa was really nice. They even had these massage huts that sat over the water (not the ocean but this massive man made water thing they had).

The casino was huge! All kinds of gaming available and at the far end was a sports bar with tvs up the ceiling with all kinds of sports betting. It was fun watching the Thunder game there.

It seemed the kids there were having a really good time. So many options and they had an activity board with options of fun stuff to do from baseball on the beach to a dance contest, etc. There was also an arcade and a kid camp that seemed like people were using to drop off the littlest ones during like dinner. They had small tables with activities and fisher price type video games.

Lots of music memorabilia everything seeing that this is the Hard Rock which was neat.

The rooms are nice. They have a large bathroom with a shower only (double heads in the shower) and they have a separate toilet area and double sinks. The rooms had either a king or 2 doubles and then a huge Jacuzzi tub in the middle of the room and you stepped down to where the balcony was with a sitting area. They do offer “family rooms” to book which is just adjoining rooms which is kinda hard to find in an all inclusive!
There were more Europeans there than Americans when I went. There are direct flights from Paris, Moscow, Madrid as well as others so there were quite a bit of Europeans. The food reminded me of being more in Europe with how they put things together and some of the menu options. It seemed to be hit and miss on the food which I guess is pretty typical of all inclusive. I’m kind of a foodie so all inclusive isn’t always my favorite way to go. My husband isn’t picky so he liked everything. For example, the beef tenderloin at the steak restaurant was pretty good. The sirloin was not so good. There was a Japanese restaurant and the chef was entertaining and personable. The food was pretty good. They had chicken, steak and shrimp and then calamari.  I didn’t think the buffet was as good as other all inclusives I have visited. I did like the grill out by the pool. They had really good hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. I opted for this at lunch as opposed to the buffet. There was an ice cream shop on property. The ice cream was different. It was still good but not like Braums.

There is tons of poverty in the Dominican Republic. We did a group tour to Santo Domingo for the day. It was eye opening and interesting but we saw a lot of poverty and trash lining the streets all the way there. Santo Domingo claims to have the 1st church in the Americas and to be where Christopher Columbus first landed and is buried. There was lots of history. It did not seem unsafe at all but just a lot of poverty.
We also did a snorkel day trip and that was really nice. The water is really pretty. Not the best snorkeling in the world but definitely better than a lot of places. They took you out and you snorkeled over to these cages they had set up in the ocean. You then snorkeled into the cages where they had sharks and stingrays. I thought I would be more scared but it was really neat. Then we did a cruise down the coast and stopped at shallow area where they let us all swim and they had drink service in the ocean.

There were a ton of water activities and the sand there was so soft and powdery, that was a definite plus.

Over all, I dont know if I personally would go back to Punta Cana (well unless it was free!) but for people who like affordable all inclusives (but the air for some reason is still expensive) with gorgeous beaches it's a great choice. It's an easy place for Destination Weddings too.

More Mexican Stars at the Mexican restaurant at Hard Rock! Wohooo!

Our Room

Fresh Passion Fruit (It was like tropical sweet tarts)

This was the spinach salad I ordered. Gross.

Chris on the beach in front of Hard Rock.

Planning my own Destination Wedding

Being a travel agent and recommending Destination Weddings to brides 40 hours a week when I got married it only made sense that I plan my own, right?

There's a lot to consider when planning a Destination Wedding. What is important to one couple might not matter at all to another couple.
The most important thing to Chris and I was that all of our friends and family could attend.
This ruled out obscure places in the Caribbean.....Hawaii....Tahiti.....because they would be cost prohibitive for many.
I grew up on the West Coast and dont mind the chilly waters of the Pacific. Compared to the Oregon Coast, anything is bearable! After seeing an article about Puerto Vallarta in a magazine titled "Destination Weddings & Honeymoons" it sealed the deal. An employee from Louis Vuitton chose Dreams Puerto Vallarta Resort and Spa for her Destination Wedding and her sunset pictures were gorgeous. I thought, "If it's good enough for her, then it's good enough for me"! All the media travel warnings for Mexico might be a turn off to some of my family but I knew my friends would be game. 
We chose the date of 12/11/10....we liked the number thing and it was prime whale season at that!  After researching the decor options at the resort (which I didn't even think about when I booked the wedding - good one Lia) we opted to hire a local design company called "Chic Concepts" to handle the wedding.
My requirements? I wanted the light up dance floor on the beach and Mexican Stars. I had seen these Mexican Stars (or this is what I call them, not sure on their technical name) when I had been in Puerto Vallarta a few years before and hanging in the tree on the patio at The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas and I couldn't get them out of my head!
I'm not sure how many details people will be interested in. We booked the air/resort packages through Continental Vacations. They had great prices, low deposits and they throw in the airport transportation. I didn't ask for a travel agent "deal", I just went as a regular bride and wanted to see how that all worked out.

Everyone seemed to love the Dreams Resort. Perks of Dreams (which is part of AM Resorts) is the no wrist bracelet policy, no reservations in their ala carte restaurants, service is good and the food is pretty good (for an all inclusive). Everyone who knows me knows I'm pretty picky when it comes to food. I like to plan vacations around food and where I can try new things. The food at Dreams is not as good as their sister Adults only resort "Secrets" but esp if you dont have anything to compare it to, it's pretty darn good.

Chris and I stayed a week at the resort. I wish we would have stayed longer after the wedding. With such a big group coming to the wedding we didn't get much of a "honeymoon" so we booked a week in Punta Cana for April (I guess that's not too bad, right?).

Perks of a Destination Wedding:

No Stress! (well minimal stress)
Amazing memories
Great pictures

Bummers of a Destination Wedding:

You don't get to freeze that top cake layer (Do people really like eating it a year later anyway?)
You can't take your bouquet home with you to dry
Not ALL of your family/friends will be able to attend
Things available at home (like I wanted ranunculus flowers) might not be available in a foreign country (unless you are like Oprah or something)

All in all it was a great trip. Everyone was pleasantly surprised on how safe they felt in Mexico, the value of the all inclusive and the weather!! It was about 78 degrees the whole time. (I totally recommend going to PV in December. The whales where jumping out of the water behind us!)

Are there things I would do different if I got to do it all over again? Sure! But that's the great thing about having a travel agent who's done this before. I have lots of advice I can pass on :)

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