February 1, 2012

Cooking in St. Kitts

Dear Epic Readers,

I hope this post finds you well. As promised, here is the third issue in my Travel Tuesdays series. So grab a pirate’s punch and let’s hoist off on an epic adventure to St. Kitts.

Located in the Leeward Islands, St. Kitts and its sister island Nevis are two beautiful jewels in the Caribbean.  St. Kitts was originally settled by the Kalinago people, who named the island "Liamuiga," which means fertile land on account of its rich volcanic soil.   St. Kitts has since then been settled by the Spanish, Huguenots, English and French. It is an independent Commonwealth realm and Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state.

If you are trying to figure out the ideal time to visit St. Kitts, a very special treat will be waiting for you if you go between December 18th and January 3rd. During that time you will be able to visit their annual Carnival and join the party, or as the locals say, "jump-up in de band".

We arrived in St. Kitts on a cloudy day that quickly became sunny and bright. While waiting for our tour group to assemble, I meandered my way over to one of the locals and we had a wonderful conversation about her view of modern St. Kitts.   She shared that the changing social landscape of the island was creating a clear division in St. Kitts between the haves and the have nots. I thought this was too bad since they have many academic opportunities for post secondary graduates, such as the International University of Nursing, the International University of the Health Sciences, the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and the Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College.   If only young Kittitians had more intentional opportunites to access that education, maybe that systemic divide would eventually diminish.  It was a refreshing and honest take on island life that I have definitely heard before from other natives of smaller islands but I was still fascinated to get her take on it.   All too soon, I had to say goodbye and hurry off to join my group.

We were herded into a van and ambled on our way past a few of the universities mentioned above, to the Fairview Great House & Botanical Garden. When we arrived there we were greeted by a beautiful Kittitian woman in traditional garb who gave us a guided tour around the great house and later on throughout the botanical gardens. She was very well versed in the history of the Fairview and had a great knowledge of the traditional plants and their nutritional and medicinal usages. We were also able to sit in a cooking demonstration with their head chef.  My only disappointment was that I had anticipated participating in the cooking of the traditional Kittitian dishes but instead had to observe as the chef lectured and cooked.

Now if you are curious about the historical Fairview great house, it was once the residence of a French military commander before becaming home to various significant families such as the Mannings, humanitarian and New England lawyer John Gardiner, abolitionist lawyer James Stephen, and the great grandfather of the reknowned English Novelist Virginia Woolf. Later on the Lam family ran one of the island’s first full service hotels, “Fairview Inn”, which was known for its parties, especially the New Years Ball.  Mr. Kishu Chandiramani purchased it in 2008 and restored it to its former glory.

Now that you have some background, let’s check out some pictures of the Fairview great house and its surrounding botanical gardens in the vlog below.  I am also including a recipe that I was given for ‘Creole fish in a tomato broth’.  To all my foodie friends…bon appetit! 

 

Cheers,

 

From the beautiful island of St. Croix

 

Char a.k.a Epic Mom

 

   

Creole Fish in a Tomato Broth

1 Fish Fillet of your choice

½ cup diced tomatoes

½ cup diced green bell peppers

½ cup chopped onions

½ clove garlic

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig parsley

1 cup tomato juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 cup water

Cajun seasoning to taste

 

Method:  In a hot pan add olive oil and unsalted butter.  Lightly sauté onions, garlic, and green bell peppers till golden brown.  Add brown sugar, Cajun seasoning, tomato juice, water and lime juice.  Bring to a boil and let simmer.  Submerge fish fillet in pot and reduce the liquid by half to intensify flavor.  This should take 10-15 minutes. 

Recipe courtesy of Fairview cooking class.

 

January 25, 2012

Fashion and Fun in St. Croix

 

Dear Epic Readers,

I hope this post finds you well.  As promised, here is the second issue in my Travel Tuesdays series.  So grab a pirate’s punch and let’s hoist off on an epic adventure to St. Croix USVI.

Between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, south-east of Puerto Rico is sunny St. Croix.  It is the largest of the three inhabited U.S Virgins Islands, St. Thomas and St. John being the other two.  Originally it was named Santa Cruz which means Holy Cross and since then it has been given other monikers such as the "Garden of the Caribbean".

The two main towns are Christiansted which has historic Danish architecture and Frederiksted which showcases Victorian architecture. The eastern part of the island has many gorgeous beaches whereas the western part of St. Croix has a small rainforest, sandy beaches and rolling green hills.
 
Here are two exciting highlights of the island:
 
Now that you have some background, let’s check out some fashion and have some fun in the sun.  
 
Cheers,
 
From the beautiful island of St. Croix
 
Char a.k.a Epic Mom
 
 

January 18, 2012

Review of The Celebrity Summit

The Celebrity Summit is a fine ship.  She is ten years old but still quite lovely to look at.  The Summit has beautiful exterior glass elevators that offer its guests a stunning panoramic view of the ocean.  As you move along the corridors, you will be fascinated by the works of art, reminiscent of an art gallery. 

The ship was inaugurated October 1st 2001.  It is 91000 tons, goes at a cruise speed of 24 knots and has occupancy of 2,034.  The Summit is a member of the Celebrity Cruises’ Millennium-class ships.  It offers 80 % ocean-view staterooms and 74 % with private balconies.  This ship has accommodations (like modifications in suites) for physically challenged guests.  Her passenger demographic is 30-65 years old, including couples, singles and families with toddlers to teenagers.  There are quite a few North Americans, South American and European passengers on board. 

There are many options of things to do on board.  Hubby and I actually went on a self guided tour on our first evening on board.  We started at the top and worked our way down, making our own fun along the way and joining in the regularly scheduled activities as we encountered them.  We had a great time.  Here is a summary of the highlights to be had when you are cruising the decks of The Celebrity Summit.

The Restaurants

Dining at the Normandie Restaurant on the Celebrity Summit (named after the French ocean liner), is an elegant affair.  There is a $40 per person surcharge for the dinner that lasts three hours.  From the moment you step foot into the room you are greeted to a gastronomic experience of extraordinary proportions.  Immaculately dressed waiters will present you with cheese trays to tempt you, cook flambé entrees at your table, and lure you into choosing that last tempting piece of dessert.  The service is exceptional and for the true foodie, you will want to sample the signature dishes that only The Normandie has to offer.  Hubby and I enjoyed an incomparable birthday meal there, complete with a surprise slice of birthday cake courtesy of the kitchen.   

We ate most of our meals in the wonderfully elegant two-level Cosmopolitan Dining Room.  It has glass windows that are two decks high that allow the warm, natural light to cascade in and offers remarkable views of the sea. The food was delicious and its presentation exceptional.  Every night, guests are offered select options of gastrointestinal treats featured from the Normandie Restaurant and other Celebrity ship restaurants.  There is also the choice of planned seating or paying a bit more at the beginning of the cruise for flexible seating. 

The Waterfall Cafe offers casual dining from 6:30 a.m. to 12:30am.  This includes breakfast and lunch buffets, pizza, afternoon tea and late night snacks. There are four buffet lines so you don’t have to wait in line.  You can get Asian food and pasta.  Check out the pancakes and waffles section with a selection of toppings for breakfast. The particular location of the waffle and pancakes seems to be the best kept secret on the ship because most people didn’t realize it was there until later on in the week.  Don’t forget to pop by this section at lunch to get a tasty sandwich made to order, including yummy Paninis.  The Waterfall Cafe also has floor to ceiling windows and glass floor areas so you get great views while you eat. 

Poolside during the day, you can get hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken breasts and fries. Look forward to the themed midnight buffets.  

The Aqua Spa Café by the thalassotherapy pool serves breakfast, lunch and light dinners. The menu includes low-fat cereals (including oatmeal), bagels and yogurt for breakfast. You can also get salmon, salads, wraps or chilled soups for lunches and dinners.  All of the meals offered here are exceptionally healthy.

Passengers can also order room service meals from the lunch and dinner menus during the hours those meals are being served. While on board, don’t forget to try Celebrity Summit’s Cova Café di Milano, which features sumptuous pastries, chocolates and specialty coffees from Cova of Milan, Italy.

Coffee, tea, milk and hot chocolate are available at no charge in the buffet and in other dining venues when meals are served. In the buffet they also have no-charge dispensers which offer several kinds of juices in the mornings and switches to iced tea, lemonade and fruit punch etc. later on. You can also get any of these drinks from room service at no additional cost. There is a charge for pop and any bottled or canned beverages. Drinks beyond fountain drinks, non premium coffee and tea are extra everywhere on the boat so your options are to charge your drinks to your room key and take care of the tab later or to purchase a drink plan at any of the bars.

Entertainment

There is a kids club called The Fun Factory which has an indoor playground with a ball pit and an outdoor playground.  It also has a cinema, small pool, Wii, play stations, etc.  They have activities for the whole family including arts & crafts, movie night, talent shows, food making and decorating.  They had “dinner parties” for the kids so parents could have a date night. 

If you have tweens or teens, they will enjoy going to hang out at the video arcade or checking out a movie at the theatre.

The Celebrity Theatre is the place to catch all full production shows.  It is a beautifully designed space spread out on the fourth and fifth levels of the ship.  It has shows at 7pm or 9pm so it is never uncomfortably packed.  Grab a seat, order a cocktail and get ready to be wowed.  Enjoy a spectacle of Broadway shows, comedians and other musical extravaganzas.  The performers are enthusiastic and talented, especially the aerial performers, who were out of this world.   

The Rendez-Vous lounge located on deck four is the place to be if you want to dance the night away.  You can also check out Michael’s Club for cigars and Cognac. Then pop over to the Summit Observation Lounge for spectacular panoramic views, live piano music and dancing.   If you’re feeling lucky, then try your hand at Blackjack, Roulette or Craps all at the Fortunes Casino.

The musicians throughout the entire cruise were truly talented and clearly passionate about their music.  They had us singing to the oldies and dancing to calypso, pop and Latin beats.

Fitness

If you’re in a Zen mood, then start out with a yoga or “Chilates” (Celebrity’s moniker for Pilates) class*.  Then head on over to the AquaSpa.  It has full Service Treatments. Their Renew spa and health program is broken down into three categories: “Ageless” (medi-spa stuff like Botox), “Longevity” (pain management options like acupuncture) and “Energy” (fitness classes).  There are classes available to learn how best to take care of your body and skin.  I chose to forgo most of those options and just get a hot stone massage that was out of this world followed by a stint in the Sauna & Steam Room.  I was totally relaxed by the time I got back to my room.  

The Thalassotherapy Pool comes from the idea that you can use seawater as a form of medical therapy.  Stand under the streaming water or lie on the slats and luxuriate in your surroundings. 

If deep sea diving has done irreparable damage to your do, then pop into the beauty salon for a touch up as you contemplate the ocean view laid out in front of you.

For more strenuous fitness activities, check out the Fitness center with free weights, treadmills, rowers, exercise bikes, step units, and aerobics exercisers etc.  If you want to work out some more, there are Aerobics classes and deck sports including basketball, golf simulator, ping pong, shuffleboard, and a jogging track.

Activities

Daily activities include shopping for duty-free items such as jewelry, fragrances, and souvenirs etc. at The Emporium.  Check out the Photo Shop for cruise photos of you and your friends.  Other fun activities include Modern Line Dancing, Karaoke, Latin dance lessons, swimming and playing water volleyball in the pools. You can also join the staff for themed activities like the poolside dance party at 10pm, which was led by the Cruise Director and the lead singer of the main band.  It was lots of fun (I danced so much I had to throw off my pashmina and shoes just to keep going).   If you need a quiet moment, head to the library or board games room. 

An activity that was affordable yet completely worthwhile, was their iLounge classes.  It was $15 per class or all 6 classes for $30 which is virtually unheard of anywhere else. You can take classes from an Apple-certified staff member, Learn how to use iPhone®, iPad®, iPod touch®, and MacBook Pro® and see how easy it is to use applications like iTunes®, iDVD®, iPhoto®, iMovie®, iWeb®.  You can also browse the web on MacBook Pro laptops, or buy the latest Apple iPods, laptops and other gadgets, duty free.   

General Pros and Cons

Pros:

·         It’s nice to have such a diverse staff on the ship; we really enjoyed looking at everyone’s name tags to see where they’re from.  This prompted some interesting conversations.

·         Champagne, hors d’oeuvres and fresh fruit upon arrival was a wonderful welcome.

·         Getting the itinerary of the following day each night so we can plan accordingly.

Cons:

·         The cabin bathrooms need some serious work.  Ours was quite dated and in need of repair, especially the shower.  (On a positive note, I hear the Celebrity Summit is scheduled to be renovated in early 2012.)

·         Passengers on Celebrity Summit can surf the Web in the cyber cafe at a flat or package rate, but their Wi-Fi leaves a lot to be desired.  They also disabled Skype and all other VOIP communication on board so you will not be able to Skype your family back home.

*Means extra charge

Conclusion

All in all, we had a wonderful time on the Celebrity Summit. I wholeheartedly recommend this ship to anyone considering going on a cruise.  I would give our overall experience on the Summit two hearty thumbs up!  Tune in next Tuesday for my travel review, “Fashion & Fun in the Sun in St. Croix”.

January 16, 2012

Why not travel?

It all started with a one word question, "why?"  My friend and I were having a discussion about travelling.  You see, before we had kids, there’s nothing Dave and I liked to do more than plan a vacation, hop on board a plane and spend as much time as possible running around frantically to see every site the city has to offer.  No town was too mundane for us; we would immerse ourselves in the culture as much as possible so our adventure would feel more authentic than touristy.  So when I told my friend that there is no possible way Dave and I could travel the way we love to, and we were bound to stay at home for the foreseeable future because our kids are toddlers.  He was quiet for a moment then asked me, "Why!" Well that one question sparked a fire in our wandering spirit and before you know it, all the grandparents literally moved into our house to spend quality time with their grandkids. We were shuffled into a taxi, boarded a plane, hopped on a boat, and in two shakes of a rabbit tail we were cruising the high seas. 

We decided to do the Southern Caribbean Cruise on the Celebrity Summit.  It was departing from San Juan, Puerto Rico then going on to St. Croix, U.S.V.I.; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Roseau, Dominica; St. George’s, Grenada; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and then ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  And let me tell you epic readers, it was seven days of elegance, relaxation, fun and adventure. 

Starting tomorrow, I will be publishing a new series of posts called Travel Tuesdays with Epic Mom.  This project will commence over the next few weeks and will hopefully brighten up your winter days, get you excited about spring break and have you dreaming about the summer.  I will be reviewing the Southern Caribbean Celebrity Summit Cruise, and through posts, photographs and vlogs, it will be like you were practically there yourselves.  So grab a Pirates Punch and let’s hoist off on an epic adventure in the Caribbean.

 

January 11, 2012

Epic Mom Travels

Join Epic Mom on January 17th for the start of her new series

"Travel Tuesdays",

where she will be reviewing her latest adventures with Celebrity Cruises!

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