Non-Jamaica Party

Anyone who read my Six on Saturday post yesterday will know that we were due to fly out to Jamaica yesterday. Plans got thwarted by Corona Virus and the holiday was cancelled, the same as thousands of other people during this time.

We should’ve been waking up this morning in paradise, but hey, we’ve woken up at home, safe and well and with our fur babies, and the sun’s shining so things could be a lot worse. Perspective is a great thing.

Still, I would love to see this place another time …

… and wake up in one of these cute beach bungalows.

We decided to embrace our non-Jamaica holiday with a Jamaican themed party for two at home. One of the major pros of lockdown, and in particular, being furloughed, is time. I find myself with lots of time to do things that I wouldn’t otherwise manage to fit in. In many ways, this is a good trial run for retirement! I spent some of my extra time over the past week planning and preparing our Jamaican party. I made and coloured in Jamaican flags, I researched Jamaican food and added it to our online shop, I made a Jamaican playlist on Spotify and I ordered Jamaican themed props!

Here we are channeling our inner Usain Bolts in the garden, modelling our Jamaican flag and Rasta hat complete with dreadlocks. No idea if the neighbours saw us, but I bet they were a bit confused if they did!

After this I set about preparing our exotic fruit platter for lunch. I had no idea that you heat up a coconut before preparing it (thank you Google!) It makes the shell come away from the flesh so you can separate them easily. This was followed by a protracted sit in the bistro (which, coincidentally I’m pointing to in my Usain photo) whilst listening to the aforementioned playlist in the sun.

When lunchtime came around I prepared beer can (bacon) sandwiches for lunch and we enjoyed them with Old Jamaica drinks and the fruit platter.

I know Nando’s Peri Peri sauce isn’t Jamaican (Portuguese I think) but I’m sure Peri Peri is popular in Jamaica and this is the only one I could get! I had the grape soda and it really got me in the holiday mood because the only time I’ve had grade soda before is in Orlando which, whilst not exactly on Jamaica’s doorstep, is a lot closer than we are here! Everytime I have it I can’t decide if I actually like it or not! It’s a very unusual taste which doesn’t resemble grapes in the slightest!

I really didn’t know if the Jamaican fruit flag would work, but I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

After lunch we whiled away the hours sitting in the sun, listening to Bob Marley and reading or playing swingball (another perk of lockdown – who knew how much fun swingball is?)

The menu for dinner was Jamaican jerk chicken with rice and peas and coleslaw followed by banana and rum cake. I found the recipe for the jerk chicken on the BBC Good Food website, but I have to admit that the rice and peas was from a packet. We didn’t have quite all the ingredients for the jerk chicken marinade but I cobbled it together. I blended a couple of spring onions, a small onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a splash of olive oil, a pinch of dried thyme, a splash of soy sauce, some lazy ginger, a couple of chillis, a sprinkle of brown sugar and a tiny pinch of Chinese five spice (it was supposed to be all spice but we didn’t have any) and then put a few slits in some chicken breasts and slathered them in the paste. It was supposed to have lime juice in too but we didn’t have any limes. Could’ve tried lemon juice I suppose. I left it in the fridge for twenty four hours to do its magic and then just bunged it in the oven for forty minutes yesterday. Et voila …

I made the banana and rum cake on Friday after I managed to finally get self raising flour – whoop! This was also a BBC Good Food recipe and it turned out pretty well. It didn’t taste loads of rum but there was a definite hint of the Caribbean about it.

Here it is just out of the oven …

… and nicely presented. I just shaved a few bits of coconut over the top, added the chopped banana and whipped up some sweet cream cheese ‘cream’ to go with it. Delicious!

You may have noticed the cocktails behind the jerk chicken. Well, you can’t really have a Jamaican party (even a non-Jamaican party) without rum! I had lots of fun pimping up our cocktail glasses (jam jars because we were jammin’!!!) with fruit, umbrellas, stirrers and little flags that I made.

Here’s the ensemble.

So there we have it. Our non-Jamaican party! It was lots of fun and now I’m going to attempt to spend the next week not thinking about what we would be doing in an alternate universe where we had got on that plane yesterday! I’m especially not going to think about that from Wednesday on when the weather’s going to take a turn for the worst. For now, I shall bid thee farewell and traverse to the garden for some sun while I can, and I may even take a cheeky slice of banana and rum cake with me. Happy Sunday all!

Six on Saturday 30th May – a Jamaican Affair

So right about now we should be about twenty minutes into our flight to Jamaica but instead, ‘wat a gwaan?’ That’s Jamaican for what’s going on? (apparently!) We’re having a non-Jamaican lockdown party for two instead. We’ve got Bob Marley playing on repeat, we’ve got all sorts of Jamaican themed food and beverages planned, and this happened in the garden earlier.

So I’ve decided that the theme for this week’s Six is yellow, green and black in honour of the Jamaican flag. Yellow and green is obviously easy to find in the garden, but I’ve had to be a bit more creative with the black!

First up is this lovely Pansy which is yellow and as close to black as you generally see in nature. I’ve added a lot of pots filled with bright bedding plants to the garden this year. It’s nice to have the time to spend titifying the garden at the moment (although I would really like some normality soon). At least the weather’s good so we can all get out into our gardens for some light relief (those of us that are lucky enough to have them, of course).

I’m counting this next photo as green and black (like the chocolate – yum!) Well, it’s green runner bean plants in a black flexi-tub! I hardened these off for a few days early in the week and planted them out on Friday. It’s my first time growing runner beans so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a good crop. You can’t see, but I drilled lots of holes in the flexi-tub for drainage.

I may have included this Geum in a Six before, but it’s beautiful and it fits in with my theme so I hope you don’t mind seeing it again. It was a sale table find last year and, as so often happens with sale table plants, it didn’t do a lot last year, but this year it’s covered in flowers and the bees love it. My other Geum (Totally Tangerine) has just five petals per flower, but this one is wonderfully layered and was a real surprise because I was expecting similar blooms to Miss Tangerine.

Next I’ve included another green and black offering, my gorgeous Pittosporum. I’ve a feeling I paid full price for this because I just couldn’t resist the contrast of the two colours of leaf. It lives quite happily in a container by our swing chair so we can enjoy it while swinging (that sounds wrong!)

Here’s some green. These are Nigella seedlings that have, overnight, developed their first true leaves. I sowed these in a pot and they’ve been in the greenhouse ever since. I think I need to do some research to see if I need to thin the seedlings out. There are rather a lot of them.

I’ll finish with more yellow. I guess many people would count Buttercups as weeds, but they’re bright and cheery so I’ve left some of them this year. They remind me of my childhood too – who hasn’t held a buttercup under their best friend’s chin to find out if they like butter or not?

Right, I’ll get back to my non-Jamaican party now. It’s nearly midday so it’s almost acceptable to have a Pina Colada, right? 🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲🇯🇲

Don’t forget to pop over to see the Propagator for more (probably not Jamaican themed) Sixes.

Harmony of the Seas Western Caribbean

So, I’m lying in bed with a slight (entirely self-inflicted) headache, waiting for 11am to roll around so I can order an Uber Eats Maccy Ds to neutralise the alcohol consumed last night, and I can hear Storm Ciara kicking up a fuss outside, so I thought it would be the perfect moment to start the post about our cruise which I promised last weekend. As an aside, am I the only person in the world who was annoyed when McDonalds extended their breakfast time to 11am? I’m sure it made perfect Golden Arches business sense, but on a morning like this one, I don’t want rubbery egg, I want a big fat burger and fries with extra grease, and now I have to wait an extra thirty minutes for it. Thank goodness for Uber though – at least I don’t have to venture out into Ciara’s midst to get my fix!

I can start pretty much where I finished the last post, because this time three weeks ago (time difference aside) it was embarkation day and we were making our way to IHOP on International Drive for our decadent brunch (the picture of which I will share again because it was just sooooo good!) …

… before we excitedly headed off down the I4 and the FL-50 E to Port Canaveral to board Harmony of the Seas. We could see the ship from quite far out – she was the only cruise liner docked at Port Canaveral that day, and there’s no mistaking her! She’s huge! She was, until overtaken by her sister, Symphony, the biggest cruise liner in the world and, in case anyone’s interested, she was made using steel plates and sheets produced by the company that I work for, ArcelorMittal. She was completed and delivered to Royal Caribbean in 2016 and that year she was on our calendars at work so I looked at her every day for a year as I changed the date, and I vowed then that one day I’d sail on her.

Where do I start with describing her? We boarded on deck 5 which is one of the main entertainment decks, so we entered into hustle and bustle.

These photos were taken on our last day so it’s quieter, but on embarkation day it was buzzing with people boarding and trying to find their way around as well as crew welcoming people and offering directions, and people who’d already learnt the ropes and were taking advantage of the restaurants, bars and cafes.

It was all quite overwhelming so we found a lift (or elevator as 99% of passengers seemed to be American or Canadian) and went to gain our equilibrium in our stateroom.

It didn’t stay that tidy for long! Our luggage was delivered before too long (always a relief when you’ve had to leave it with a random guy on the quayside!) and we actually completely unpacked rather than living out of our suitcases like we normally do (mainly because there wasn’t anywhere convenient to leave the cases with easy access).

The cabin had every modcon necessary. We had aircon that actually worked well, lots of drawers and hanging space in the cupboards, and also a free to use safe that was big enough to take my iPad. There were plenty of plug sockets (most US style and one European) including one next to the bed which was very handy for charging our phones/watch/AirPods overnight. The bathroom was very nice with a decent shower which always had hot water despite the vast number of passengers on board (six thousand six hundred from sixty five nations plus two thousand two hundred crew from seventy five nations apparently). We also had a fridge which was handy for the two bottles of wine that we were allowed to bring on board with us and also leftovers from the breakfast that you could order from room service (this was handy for port days when we had excursions booked and needed to be off the ship early).

I ordered granola, yoghurt, honey and a fruit plate and made myself an almost Slimming World friendly breakfast! You could also have croissants, Danish pastries, toast and preserves, cereal and milk, donuts (American spelling, obviously) or for a charge, a full American breakfast or a breakfast Margharita (is that even a thing?)

As you can see, we had a big porthole which looked out to the starboard side. The ship has staterooms with balconies but we weighed up the pros and cons versus the cost and decided a porthole would be best for us. The sea facing balconies were several hundred pounds more. We could have had an internal facing balcony for a similar price …

… but as you can see from these photos, there’s much less privacy because of the balconies opposite and with the porthole you have the advantage of being able to see where you are on port days. We also enjoyed sitting in the window with a glass of vino watching the sea slip by as we sailed off into the sunset.

It also became a good place to display my new fridge magnets.

In the photo above with the pink slides snaking their way down ten decks from sixteen to six you can see the boardwalk. Here you could find the Doghouse which served various different kinds of hotdog and other speciality restaurants, the Aqua Theatre, various shops including the Royal shop selling Royal Caribbean branded items and the carousel.

In the next photo you can see Central Park. This was an oasis on deck eight. It was always quiet, sometimes with peaceful live piano music. There was one inclusive restaurant in Central Park and a couple that required a supplement.

All the plants and trees are real. As it was open air there were umbrellas at each end just in case there were any showers.

I’d be hard pressed to mention everything that there is to do on the ship, but I’ll give it a go!

There are two rock climbing walls …

… three water slides seen here on the model because I somehow neglected to take a photo …

… one dry slide called the Ultimate Abyss which was AWESOME …

… two flowriders where you could have a go at surfing or body boarding …

… a mini golf course …

… a zip line which sent you zooming over the Boardwalk ten decks below …

… and an ice skating rink.

There were four pools, twelve hot tubs, hundreds of sun loungers (including really cute child sized ones), a casino, art gallery, card room, climbing wall for kids, full size basketball court, two table tennis tables, two arcades, an escape room (we got out with about five minutes to spare), an adults only solarium, a gym and spa, hairdressers and beauty salon and a running track on deck five.

Excuse the horrendous photo of me, but it’s proof that we did it!

You could eat in twenty restaurants. We stuck to the ones included in the price of our cruise. There was Sorrentos serving pizza and anti pasta, Cafe Promenade where you could go for a hot drink and a cake, the Doghouse that I’ve already mentioned and a couple more that we didn’t even manage to fit in, but we had most of our meals in Minibites on the pool deck serving breakfast and lunch (great nachos) and Windjammers which was a massive buffet restaurant with more food than you could possibly eat! In addition to this there were many bars including the Schooner Bar which had live music every night and various quizzes, the Rising Tide Bar which slowly moved between decks five and eight, and my favourite, the Bionic Bar where you ordered your cocktail on an iPad and then a big robot arm made and served your drink.

We went to see three shows (which wasn’t all of the ones available!) We saw Grease in the Royal Theatre on our first night …

… which was really good.

A couple of days later we watched 1887 in Studio B which was the ice rink …

… and the final show we were lucky to see because it had been cancelled the previous couple of nights because the weather wasn’t good enough. It was in the Aqua Theatre and was called the Fine Line.

There was aerial acrobatics, diving from height and lots of water! The stage in the pool raised and lowered depending whether the performers were in, on or under the water.

Phew! With all that at your fingertips you’d wonder if it was worth actually getting off the ship! Of course we did!

First stop was Perfect Day at CocoCay which is an island in the Bahamas which is exclusively for Royal Caribbean cruise passengers.

It has a water park, several beaches and inland pools, a market and, conveniently, a couple of all inclusive restaurants. As with the ship, drinks are extra, but as I’d paid for a freestyle soda cup which I could refill whenever I liked for the whole cruise and on CocoCay, and twenty four bottles of Evian, we didn’t need to fork out for any drinks.

We’d booked a swimming with pigs excursion here so we headed off on a speed boat to a nearby island for this quite early. This was brilliant. There were tiny four week old piglets right up to huge sows, all of whom were very keen to eat the apple on sticks that we were given to feed them. At one point one of the tour guides knocked over a box of apples (I’ve a feeling it might have been accidentally on purpose!) and we found out that pigs can move pretty quickly!

Sorry about the swimwear shot – there might be a couple of these!

We were supposed to be going parasailing in the afternoon but unfortunately this got cancelled because the forecast was for rain. Given the rain that did appear, I’m very pleased we weren’t up in the air! Anyway I’m glad I booked the excursions the way round that I did, because we can parasail anywhere but we can’t swim with pigs anywhere else. We had the money refunded so we were able to book an excursion when we got back to Florida.

The second day was at sea and was actually a bit chilly, but we found a sheltered spot and I settled down with a book, hubby with his music.

On the third day we docked at Costa Maya in Mexico, not far from the Yucatan peninsula. We got off and had a look around the dock. The weather was beautiful this day.

It was a really busy and bustling port and there were four cruise ships in so after we’d had a scout around we decided to head back to the ship for some lunch and sunbathing.

You can see how big our ship is in this photo that I took on the way back.

The ship next door is the Seven Seas Explorer and she has capacity for seven hundred and fifty passengers and five hundred and fifty crew so she’s not exactly a tiny rowing boat but she’s dwarfed by Harmony.

Day four saw us arrive in Roatan which is an island off the coast of Honduras. Here we’d booked a snorkelling tour and time on a private beach. The second biggest reef in the world, the MesoAmerican reef, runs down the coast of Central America so we were excited about snorkelling here. It was actually a little disappointing in terms of the sea life that we saw, but I think this is because we’ve spoiled ourselves for snorkelling by doing it in the Maldives. If you want amazing snorkelling, the Indian Ocean is the place to do it. Anyway, we did see a couple of rays, some sea urchins and best of all, starfish.

Back on the beach it was idyllic. We had sun loungers right on the shore and the weather was beautiful. We were lucky – our tour guide, Jordan, told us that it had rained the day before. There wasn’t a drop in sight for us.

Day five took us back to Mexico, this time Cozumel island.

You wouldn’t believe how long I had to wait for people to get out of the way so I could get this photo without random strangers in it! The port area here was nice. We had a look round all the shops and watched snorkelers swim around. We almost went to eat at Bubba Gumps (one of our favourite restaurants) but decided we would save our money and eat back on board Harmony. We took advantage of the various photo opportunities though.

Day six was at sea again so we made the most of the facilities. We went down the Ultimate Abyss (twice), went ice skating, hubby went on the zip line one more time (it started to drizzle just as I was about to go and they closed it, but I had already been on so no big deal), escaped from Escape the Rubicon, the on board escape room and then set up camp in a huge squishy chair in the solarium to read, listen to music and do some puzzles. Sounds so simple, but it’s just blissful to have the time to do these things without a little voice in the back of you head telling you that you should be cleaning or cooking or tidying or working or any other number of mundane (but unfortunately necessary) tasks. One of the things I love best about holidays is just time!

On our last day we were docked back at Port Canaveral by six am, and we had to be at our meeting point by quarter past seven. Early, but al least we had a good few hours to still enjoy being away. We’d used the refunded money from our cancelled parasailing to book a trip on an airboat.

This was great fun, but boy it was cold! It hadn’t warmed up enough for any alligators to surface unfortunately which was a shame, but we have seen ‘gators before in Florida so not the end of the world.

I’m quite partial to this photo that I took on the way round.

We saw several really big birds and we got to try deep fried alligator (maybe best that we didn’t see one!) I won’t be rushing to eat it again, I’m not a massive fan of meat anyway, and it was quite chewy, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.

After the tour we were dropped back at the airport with our bags. It was still only morning and we didn’t fly until six thirty, but Orlando airport’s a good one and we looked round the Universal and Disney shops, had some lunch and I caught up on the Crown on Netflix. The iPad and AirPods are just perfect for travelling. I love all my technology!

Wow, that was a long blog! Are you still with me? I really enjoyed reliving our a,axing holiday! Now, how quickly can I save up to go again? We’re not done with you Harmony!