Carnival Splendor Review

Though this is my fourth cruise, I don’t consider myself a cruise person. I go on cruises to spend time with friends and family. Cruise #1 was with 7 female friends, Cruise #2 was with three other couples, Cruise #3 was with four other couples, a toddler, and my in-laws.

This time I cruised with my parents, my in-laws, my aunt Ying and uncle Yan, and of course G. I picked the Carnival Splendor because it sailed out of New York (dad hates to fly), and because I liked the itinerary, a 7 day cruise visiting Boston, Portland, Saint John, and Halifax. I am big on planning so before booking the trip I read pretty much every review on Cruise Critic and knew what to expect. I did not have high expectations but was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this trip despite injuring my left foot three days before we sailed off.

Embarkation: Carnival asks that you arrive after 1pm. My group arrived at Pier 90 at 11:20 and was on the ship in under half an hour with no waiting whatsoever. All four of our rooms were also ready so we dropped off our luggage before heading to the buffet.

Food: Out of all the cruise lines I have sailed with: Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival, I actually like Carnival’s food the best. In my experience I would rate Carnival’s food offerings better than Celebrity, and Celebrity’s food offerings better than Royal Caribbean. In fact on my Alaskan cruise with Royal, I was craving an instant noodle so bad because all the food seemed bland. One pregnant friend that I was traveling with on the same cruise felt the same way I did and she got one off of our really nice waiter from Bali and then tipped him generously. Note: I did not try any speciality restaurants on any of my cruises because I don’t believe in paying extra for dinner when dinner is already included in the price especially when I eat very little for dinner in the first place. If it wasn’t for my relatives, I would opt for the buffet every night and just eat some veggies and fruit.

I found the lunch buffet to be well set up with three buffet stations serving the same kinds of food (various cold salads, 6 hot entrees, some days were better than others, especially on the day they served roast turkey with gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce). Additionally there were other smaller stations such as the Indian food station (tasted good most of the time), the burrito bar (not so good), the sandwich bar (not bad), The Grill (hamburgers were decent, hotdogs looked too scary to try), The Rotisserie (Never knew what the big deal about roast chicken was and still don’t especially when fried chicken is so much better), Mongolian Stir Fry (sucked, G can make better food than this and he is a very much a newbie when it comes to cooking).

With that said here are some of the food I enjoyed most on the cruise:

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Cape Cod Seafood Shacks Review

What I love most about our annual Cape Cod Trip is the food. Last year we ate at Cooke’s Seafood (Hyannis branch), Chatham Pier Fish Market, and Arnold’s. This year we skipped the first two, revisited Arnold’s, and added Original Seafood Restaurant & Captain Frosty’s instead.

FYI: If you love lobster rolls, Cape Cod is a must visit at least for New Yorkers. So much better than any NYC lobster rolls.

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At Arnold’s we had their regular lobster roll, clam strip sandwich, onion rings, and clam chowder. Verdict: The fried clam strips were still amazing but our portion this time was smaller than last years. Their regular lobster roll was SO MUCH BETTER than their hot lobster roll which we tried last year. Arnold’s regular lobster roll contains extremely fresh lobster with only a smidge of mayo and lemon so the true taste of the sweet lobster really came through. The only minus for me at is that Arnold’s lobster roll only contained claw and knuckle meat.

Arnold’s clam chowder was very delicious because there were so many clams. In fact there were so much clams that there may have been even more clams than potatoes! The only thing I found disappointing at Arnold’s was their famous onion rings. They were too thin so couldn’t really taste the onions and tasted mostly batter.

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At Original Seafood Restaurant we had their lobster roll, clam strip platter, and onion rings. Verdict: Best onion rings I have ever had. And their lobster roll was scrumptious as well. What I liked best about Original’s lobster roll is that it contained lots of tail meat. Portion wise there was more lobster in Original’s lobster roll versus Arnold’s though the pricing was similar. Arnold wins in the clam strip category though Original’s is still pretty good.

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At Captain Frosty’s we had the seafood sampler plate which contained fried clam bellies, fried scallops, fried shrimp, clam cakes, and fried haddock. We also ordered a bowl of clam chowder. The chowder disappointing because there were too much potatoes and not nearly enough clams. Fried clam bellies was good but I still prefer strips over bellies. Fried scallops and fried shrimp was also decent but the fried haddock had a slight fishy flavor so G and I left the haddock alone but finished everything else. If you like fried fish, Cooke’s Seafood (Hyannis branch) does it much better. But what was amazing at Captain Frosty’s is their clam cakes which is basically salty fried dough with clam bits inside.

Captain Frosty's Clam Cake

Up close and personal with Captain Frosty’s clam cake.

Overall Verdict: Will definitely revisit Arnold’s and Original Seafood next year and stop by Captain Frosty’s to pick up a large order of their clam cakes.

Cost: All the seafood shacks in Cape Cod are similarly priced. Every meal was around $40-$50 for the two of us and I think Arnold’s is cash only.

Big John’s Texas BBQ Page Arizona Review

G and I stopped by Big John’s Texas BBQ after our tour of Antelope Canyon. G is always down for BBQ and since I had read good things about Big John’s on Tripadvisor we decided to give it a try.

Big John's Texas BBQ Page Arizona

We shared a Sampler Plate which contained beef brisket, pulled pork, spicy hot link sausage, 2 baby back ribs, cowboy beans, and cole slaw. It was a lot of food and I am glad that I did not order my own platter since we did not even manage to finish this platter. At $15.50 for the platter, it was a good deal considering the quality and amount of food. Is this the best BBQ ever? No, but it is very tasty especially dipped in their homemade BBQ sauce. Additionally the cowboy beans and cole slaw are probably the best I have ever had. Their coleslaw was so fresh and tasty with the correct tangy to mayo ratio that I bought one just for the road. I would have gotten another order of the cowboy beans as well but the nice cashier gave it to me for free.

What stood out to me was the service. The lady working at the cash register was so friendly and helpful. I happily left a tip in her tip jar which in turn led her to be over the top helpful in that she gave us a free side (the aforementioned cowboy beans) and wanted to refill our drinks before we left which I declined as I limit G’s soda intake.

If you are ever in the Page AZ area give Big John’s Texas BBQ a chance, it was the best meal we had in Page over the course of our two day stay. You can do far worse in Page than Big John’s.

Big John’s Texas BBQ
153 South Lake Powell Blvd. Page, AZ
928-645-3300

Zion National Park – Spectacular

I thought I would let the beauty of Zion National Park speak for itself. All I can say is that I loved my visit there and I loved the town of Springdale. It was the highlight of my November 2013 Roadtrip. I now understand why so many rave people rave about Zion National Park.

Zion National Park

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Can’t wait to go back. This time I will be sure to spend more than two days. A three day minimum is needed to see Zion in all it’s glory.

The 5 Best Things I Ate in Hawaii

Iyasume Musubi: A Musubi is basically a sandwich with rice instead of bread. Normally I would not recommend anything with SPAM in it but the SPAM, egg, and bacon musubi at Iyasume’s was incredible explosion of flavors. So delicious that I went back for seconds and thirds and brought it on the plane ride home and made it myself at home as well.

Iyasume Musubi

Morimoto’s rock shrimp. The spicy and non-spicy renditions are both excellent. FYI portions at Morimoto’s Waikiki is larger than other branches of Morimoto’s. I asked the waiter and he said it is because Hawaiians have bigger appetites and demand bigger portions even in fine dining restaurants. Which makes fine dining a relatively better deal in Honolulu than in NYC. =)

Morimoto’s rock shrimp

Yakiniku Hiroshi: Their sliced Wagyu borders on heavenly. Pricy but it is top quality. Did you know that the right way to eat wagyu is not in steak form but thinly sliced and on a grill? I didn’t until I came here.

Yakiniku Hiroshi

Sweet Home Cafe: Amazing shaved ice, just as good as those in Taiwan. Hot pot is also delicious as there are so many amazing broths sans MSG to choose from. Too bad their service is severely lacking, but I would still be back the next time I am in Honolulu. The shaved ice and hot pot is really that good.

Sweet Home Cafe Honolulu

However the very best thing I ate in Hawaii, I didn’t take a picture because honestly I didn’t expect it to be that delicious but it was. I just picked up a seemingly ordinary sashimi bowl at sashimi shop. I had no idea that it would be the freshest sashimi that I had ever had. And only for $15!!! It was so so good, beats many of the top shelf Japanese restaurants in NYC, Hong Kong, and Toyko that I have been to. Sometimes people look at me like I am crazy when I tell them that the best sashimi I ever had came from a no name shop in Honolulu, but it’s the truth. The question is how can I find it again? All I know is that it is located on a side street on the way from walking wise from The Royal Hawaiian to Trump Hotel Waikiki.

In-N-Out Burger Review

I didn’t eat many burgers growing up. My dad’s motto was why eat a burger when you can eat a steak? But really there is something to be said about a burger done right, especially with a side of perfectly fried fries and an ice-cold Coke.

This is where In-N-Out excels. Freshness is the key word. From the beef patty to the crisp lettuce to the flavorful tomato, pickles, onions, to even the bun itself. My favorite is the original double double as I find their famed animal style with grilled onions to take away some of the freshness of the burger.

How does In-N-Out stack against others in the fast food market? I think it is way better than Shake Shack, Five Guys, and eons ahead of McDonald’s and Burger King. And an In-Out-Burger is cheaper as well at around $7 for a double double, medium fries, and medium drink.

How does In-N-Out stack against the gourmet burgers in the $16-$25 price range? I prefer an In-N-Out burger over gourmet burgers. Not that the gourmet burgers aren’t good but why pay so much for a burger when a full meal from In-N-Out is under $7 and tastes just as good if not better? Though if you do like gourmet burgers, I highly recommend Jean Georges’s Nougatine (because you can order their molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice-cream afterwards) & Hillstone (because I love their shoestring fries).

In-N-Out Burger Review

Somboon Seafood Bangkok

Bangkok is one of my favorite cities. I have visited twice and only for 10 days total but during that time I fell in love with the food. I don’t recall having a bad meal in Bangkok or Phuket or Pattaya for that matter. To me Thailand represents delicious food. So much so that my most memorable dining experience of all time was at the Taling Chan Floating Market. Another great meal that sticks out is Somboon Seafood Bangkok.

Somboon Seafood is a well known and highly regarded seafood restaurant with several locations scattered across Bangkok. But because it is so famous, there are several fake Somboon restaurants located in close proximity to the real Somboon. If you ask a cab driver to take you to Somboon Seafood, chances are high that they will take you to a fake Somboon because the driver receives a commission from the proprietor of the fake Somboon for bringing you there. My tip for spotting the differences: the prices. Curry crab at the real Somboon is around $10USD – $20USD, Curry crab at the fake Somboon $50USD-$100USD or even higher! There are quite a few negative reviews of Somboon Seafood across the web, but I wonder how many reviewers actually ate at a real Somboon versus the fake ones.

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G and I ordered: (1) Curry crab (2) Crab vermicelli (3) Grilled Cockles (4) Crabmeat fried rice (5) Stir fried morning-glory (2) 2 Cokes. Total cost $40USD including tip. Easily one of the cheapest and best tasting meals we ever had. To circumvent the fake Somboon restaurants, I picked the Somboon branch that was located inside the Chamchuri Square mall. So when I gave the taxi driver directions I only told him to take us to the mall and not the restaurant.

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Crab with vermicelli. Amazingly enough, it was the vermicelli that was the star. It absorbed all the flavors of the crab, cilantro, and garlic. Since G hates cilantro, I pretty much finished this entire dish myself while he focused on the curry crab.  A perfect 10/10 for taste for me at least.

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Grilled cockles. It was my first time eating cockles and they tasted like clams. These were especially good after dipping them in the house green sauce. 8/10 for taste.

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The decor was nice and clean and had A/C. After our big lunch, G and I took a stroll inside the mall which contained shops where the locals shopped and nothing like Siam Paragon or CentralWorld.

If you love seafood, I highly recommend a meal at Somboon.

Location of Somboon Seafood: Several branches in Bangkok, the one we ate was at: Room 101-103 Ground Floor, Phya Thai Road, Chamchuri Square. Sam Yam branch in Bangkok http://www.somboonseafood.com/e-index.html

The Big Ship in the Sky: Marina Bay Sands

What surprised me the most about Singapore was the lack of crowds. My parents and I were in Singapore for a long weekend towards the end of April 2012. During that time, we did not feel crowded at all even though we did all the touristy stuff. Case in point, we visited Marina Bay Sands on a Saturday afternoon and it was extremely empty. I am not complaining by any means as that made for a great escape from the crowds of Hong Kong. At first I thought it was due to the rain, but I was then told that it rains often in Singapore.

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Nary a tourist as we walked from the Fullerton Hotel towards Marina Bay Sands. It was a pleasant half hour stroll as it was a rainy and overcast day. I much prefer the rain to the blistering sun in Singapore.

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The Singapore skyline seen from Marina Bay Sands. It made me realize how compact Singapore is.

Marina Bay Sands Louis Vuitton

The largest Louis Vuitton Store in the world. It is one of the two floating pavilions attached to the Marina Bay Complex. It looked like every other Louis Vuitton store I have ever been to. No need to make a special trip.

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The entrance to Marina Bay Sands Shops. Most of the shops were high end luxury shops, Chanel, Prada, Ferragamo, and the like.

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The promenade outside Marina Bay Sands, where the nightly light show is held. If only Hong Kong’s waterfront was empty like this.

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Inside the mall portion of Marina Bay Sands. Even the Ding Tai Fung had no line. We were able to stroll in and get a table at around 1pm on a Saturday with no waiting at all. Unheard of in Hong Kong.

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands all lit up during the Light Show which was much better than Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights. Longer in length as well. No crowds either from where we sitting which was near the Merlion. This show is a must see attraction.

We also visited the casino part of the Marina Bay Sands complex. What surprised us was the tight security. My parents and I had to show our passport 3 times to three different sets of people to enter the casino and an additional time while exiting. For tourists, visiting the casino is free. But if you are a local, you must pay around $100USD for the privilege of going inside the casino to gamble for the next 24 hours or you can purchase a yearly pass to gamble at around $2000USD!

For the most part we enjoyed Marina Bay Sands. The only area that we were less than impressed with were the bathrooms. For such a newly built property and high-end mall, the bathrooms were short-changed. Uninspired decor, cheap thin bathroom stall doors, cheap fixtures that was already rusting, plastic garbage cans, but at least it was clean.

Many find Singapore and Hong Kong alike as cities. I beg to differ. They each have their own unique identity. Singapore is very tranquil with lots of clean air and polite people. Hong Kong is full of excitement, culture, and amazing views. What they have in common is that they are both world-class cities that is very safe for visitors.

Antelope Canyon Page AZ Review

National Geographic Magazine made Antelope Canyon famous. But does Antelope Canyon live up to the hype? I would say not, at least not for me.

(1) You must be accompanied by a guide in order to view the canyon. And though the tour time states 90 minutes, you really only get about 50 minutes at most inside the caves. Quick 20 minute walkthrough of the canyon along with 7 other people in your tour group and exit on the other side where you get 15 minutes OUTSIDE of the canyon. And then you go back the same way you came in.

(2) It is expensive. G and I paid $50per person to walk with a guide who just hurried us along inside the caves. Every time I wanted to stay and admire the scenery the guide called out to me as there was another tour group right at our heels. When our tour guide was explaining to us the meaning of a certain spot, we can also hear the tour guide behind us explain the previous location that we were just at.

(3) It was crowded with lots of tourists even though it was off season when we went. There was always a group ahead of us and behind us, except for the first 5 minutes we were in the canyon.

(4) Air quality in Page is not the best. There is a huge coal plant right in town, less than 3 miles away from Antelope Canyon.

With that said, the views were nice but probably worth at most $10 per person. I mean consider the fact that Grand Canyon National Park only charges $25 per car for 7 days access while Antelope Canyon charges $50 for 50 minutes per person. Keep in mind that no maintenance needs to be done to the caves!

Page AZ Coal Plant

The coal plant right in Page AZ. It was the first thing I saw in Page and perhaps affected my entire perception of Page.

Drive to Antelope Canyon

If you decide to visit, either wear a face mask or book with a tour group that uses an enclosed vehicle. The roads are extremely dusty. The Japanese tourists we saw were well prepared, all of them were wearing the white surgical masks during the ride to and from Antelope Canyon.

Antelope Canyon Entrance

Entrance to Antelope Canyon which is basically a slot canyon. I think it would have been better if we went to see the other no name slot canyons instead of Antelope Canyon. Antelope canyon is not big and it was crowded. At least 100 tourists in narrow spaces is not my idea of fun. Our guide told us that during the summer that numbers swells to as large as 500.

Antelope Canyon noon time

There is no denying that Antelope Canyon is beautiful but it was hard to get pictures of the canyon without others in it. I think out of the hundreds of shots G and I took, there were less than 10 shots without people unless we were aiming at the ceiling.

Antelope Canyon Page AZ

You can also book a photographer’s tour if you want to spend more time in the canyon itself. But be aware of the fact that you must possess a tripod in order to book the photographer’s tour. And though you would have more time, it would be still hard to avoid the other tourists.

Overall: Not my cup of tea. As pretty as Antelope Canyon is, there were just way too many tourists even though G and I visited during the off season. Remember you have to go there with a guide and there is almost always a group in front of you and in back of you.

Monument Valley and The View Hotel

It could be the butte’s or perhaps it was the cloud formations. But there was something about Monument Valley that took my breath away. It’s not just the view, but the spiritualness of the place. A feeling unlike any other that I have experienced. Pictures cannot capture the mystical aura surrounding Monument Valley.

Monument Valley Sunset

G and I arrived at Monument Valley right around 4pm right before the start of the Golden hour. It was the first time that my breath has ever been taken away. For a comparison of how huge the buttes are check out the blue car in the picture (you need to click the picture to enlarge it and find the speck of blue).  [Read more...]