It’s getting to be that time of year again … time to sharpen the Ginsu collection, study Food Network Magazine for the spice of life to make my kids happy, and get back in the weekly culinary game. I decided to start early since the complainers are done with the chef being on vacation.
I do 95% of my grocery shopping online. I’m far from a tightwad…as a matter of fact, I am a total over spender, but this saves me oodles and oodles of time, and I get what I need for the week, rather than eating my way through aisles 6 and 14 and buying all sorts of crap because the new packaging looked really edible. But, when I DO get to that gluttonous mecca called the food store, I am a check out magazine addict, especially cooking ones. I think my drool has hit the cashier a few times as I turn the pages while shoveling hot Cheetos into my mouth waiting for the customer in front of me to realize it’s totally ok to bag your own stuff.
Jackpot of the summer: Food Network’s Summer Pasta Cookbook. And, it’s sexy cover girl, Pappardelle with Fresh Corn is my choice for the hottest summer pasta recipe.
Pappardelle is one of my all time favorite pastas. Everyone has their favorite pasta, but no one can really tell you why. They kind of all taste the same, so it must be a texture thing, a fork thing, or a childhood memory thing. I like the thickness and ease of eating and twirling on my fork .. very unladylike.
You will need:
Here is the full recipe:
You can make this your summer pasta swan song, or extend your summer into your winter … I like to do that.
Winter bites. Totally.
"I really didn't say everything I said." - Yogi Berra
As a die hard Yankee fan, so many Yogi quotes come to mind during the day, and I have to just crack up. You may think they don’t make sense, but they really do. In this case, I have to add a Mario Perillo/Yogi Berra disclaimer to my travel critiques.
One of the reasons my dad was as successful as he was, is that his business acumen and ethical prowess transcended even the most acceptable boundaries or bars set by businesses. He was all about loyalty, honesty, and never forgot that every penny in his pocket came from hard work. That Italian kid from the Bronx who rubbed poison ivy all over his face to impress a girl and wound up in bed for two weeks, was obviously into first impressions, and making them last. He parlayed this unquenchable scrupulousness into care and thought for his business, and his passengers who made it all possible.
He once told me the reason the travel business was so delicate and so difficult to maintain and keep afloat was that “you can’t return a vacation.” He explained that so many people, especially those traveling to Italy saved pennies for years for one dream vacation, and now you were responsible to make it happen and make it right. Of course things like delays and weather cannot be controlled, but on the whole, what you CAN control, you need to make perfect. A vacation doesn’t have a broken zipper … you can return a dress and get the same dress. You can’t do that with someone’s vacation.
When I travel, I keep this concept tucked into my travel heart and I tend to be very particular about where I am, and what was promised by a property. I not only think about myself and what I have shelled out, but for other families who may be on a budget and save and save and end up with the short end of the stick. I don’t want to say this place was great just because I have to, or because it makes a good blog post. If a place delivers, fantastic, I love you! If they don’t, they need to know, and so does the traveling public. Properties have a responsibility to give clients what they paid for at the very minimum. Coupled with this comes a clean environment, fresh food, a happy, accessible staff and no hassles, from check in to check out.
Keep in mind too, that travelers need to be open minded, because, well, shit happens. Be realistic in your expectations of a property based on price and destination. Don’t expect a 40 floor Hyatt in Bologna with seven elevators. Don’t expect the speediness of the the northeast in Jamaica. Get what you paid for, but be cognizant of the differences in your homeland and your vacation spot. That is why you travel. Also, remember that customer care and customer service are not about what happens when you don’t have a problem, it’s how they react when you DO have a problem, and how they correct it. If there is an issue, report it to management and give them a chance to react reasonably.
My job at Perillo Tours before I had Devin was (as archaic as it is now,), answering letters and calls from the happies and the not-so-happies. When the not-so-happies were not budging, we needed to make amends, and let them know we wanted them back again to make it right. I take that philosophy with me wherever I go.
Passengers do have responsibilities as well, but the onus is on the company to make it right, within reason. My goal is not to put anybody out of business or to smear a reputation or two, but to get them to “straighten up and fly right,” . Nobody can get their time, their life or their kids’ ages back.
Money is replaceable, but the time shared and moments granted can never be replaced.
My dad had this on the back of his brochure many years ago, and I noticed that many companies have adopted it. I love it, and it puts travelers in a realistic frame of mind as well ...
A TRAVELER’s TEN COMMANDMENTS
In the end, it takes two to tango, but a vacation is not like any returnable item, and for this I say that properties need to be as perfect as they can be, and remember ... returning customers are 90% of good business.
We hadn’t cruised in a long time. I’m thinking this might have something to do with the last two cruises we took: the one to Bermuda where everyone got seasick and Valentina ate a hot dog from her vomit and I had my one and only chemical pregnancy (different from a miscarriage). Or, the *(&^%$ cruise where Eva, age two, got some kind of bug and was in the cabin on borderline IV fluids, gray and motionless. Good times.
We have also had a few good ones to remember which continuously evokes the romantic feeling of that big ship, the all-inclusive, no brainer type of travel. So, since I changed venues for my big 50th, we decided to venture again. Al and I looked at each other and took a big breath, and said ok, let’s give it a shot.
I put my trust and my money in the hands of Melissa Zagans at NCL, and she did not disappoint. We took a Western Caribbean cruise with ports: Miami, Roatan, Belize, Cozumel and Costa Maya. A few caveats I will report later, but all in all, I was completely impressed.
The Norwegian Escape is a mega ship, but that’s what made it so great. It was literally a floating hotel. It was one of the widest, quietest vessels I had been on in my life, and I have to say, I have a tendency for sea legs, but not while I was on board. Sometimes I didn’t even feel the motion at all. (It wasn’t until I got home I had pretty bad rocking for a good three days...ugh).
The food was excellent. The Garden Café was by far; the best cruise buffet I have ever experienced. The selections were always fresh, and incredibly endless, all day, every day. It was creative, non repetitive and the kids just ate and ate. I had my first turkey and ricotta sandwich…wow!! No gaps either from breakfast to lunch to dinner, snacks. They get an A+ here.
Al and I treated ourselves to a HAVEN suite for my big b-day, with a connecting cabin for the little ones and a family cabin for the older kids. Both of the kids’ cabins seemed tiny, until we discovered the top bunk in the ceiling, which was fun for the kids, and added to the sleeping space. Our suite was nothing I had ever experienced on the high seas…spacious and hotel like…large bathroom, the most comfortable bed, ever… (I’m not the only one who thinks so…https://blissbedcollection.com/) the HAVEN amenities were also out of the park with a separate restaurant, pool, sundeck, bar and lounge all reminiscent of a 5-star hotel. Well worth the extra bucks for fun and comfort.
The casino was a ding-ding winner as far as beauty and space, although my wallet didn’t seem to think so, but my luck is nobody’s problem but mine. Lol But, it was so big and roomy you didn’t feel like you were on a ship. Gone I guess are the days of the six slot machines and three tables. Plenty here to sustain your gambling habit.
The kids enjoyed the pools, although, and this is very typical of any ship because of space constraints, they were crowded, but they had two super slides, one of which goes over the water, and the sports deck on the top of the ship was awesome. There was tight-roping, zip lining, mini golf, basketball and other stuff to keep everyone occupied on days at sea. FYI the zip lining and tight-roping is only good if you can channel your inner Evil Kenevil or Arthur Fonzarelli…some moralistic support from Kris Angel might be good, too.
Now, as for the caveats, which, as I found out, seems to be congruent with many luxury liners these days. These did not really put a damper on a great a great vacation, but equivalent to that fly that keeps landing on your food at a barbecue. It’s stuff to be aware of before booking. Always read the fine print.
1. DINING: NCL offers Free Style Cruising, which means free style dining as well, which I love. Gone are the stuffy cruising days of two seating dinners, same waiters, be on time and get dressed, formal evenings. We kind of just said, let’s shoot for whatever time, and even as a group of eleven, we showed up at a restaurant and we ate!
NOW… NCL as well as some other lines offer restaurants above and beyond your cruise price, which are yummy, (Al and I dined away from the kids one night ... guilt!) but, there are more of them than “complementary dining”.
You can certainly add on the ULTIMATE DINING PACKAGE which will cost you more, but allow you much more variety: Japanese, Italian, Brazilian (Churrascaria) and even Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville (which is completely a la carte). There was a decadent bakery, Gelateria and even Starbucks, but of course, all out of pocket.
Complementary dining was all good and we rotated for seven nights. As a basic diner, you could eat in the specialty restaurants but for 15-25.00 per person additional. That would have been a few nights in the casino for one night at dinner for us. If you are traveling as a couple or a smaller family, the upcharges may be ok and worth it.
2.SERVICE CHARGES: Tipping was included…or so I thought…hmmm...but each passenger gets charged approx. 14.00 (yes, per person) per day for service charges, which even when I approached guest services were nebulous. I found out from a friend who sailed on another line recently, she was charged the same. The upside to this is, I did not tip anybody else when I left. So, the good with the bad, I guess.
3. BELIZE: NCL cultivated an island off mainland Belize. There is not even a glimmer of the mainland unless you took an optional tour, but we were fine with the relaxation of the beach and pool. I thought I would have the same privileges as Disney’s Castaway Cay, where everything was on my room charge, and I would be able to eat and drink to my tropical delight. The island was beautifully landscaped, a huge, deliciously inviting pool and the beach was pristine, adequate chairs, (not a lot of shade…lots of searching for umbrellas if you got off the ship too late), gorgeous surroundings. But, surprise, surprise…nothing was included...not even my room charge, and my poor AMEX felt left out and orphaned because they didn’t accept her anywhere. :( Food, drink …all extra. We hung out for a while and got back on the ship, along with most of the passengers in search of food and sustenance they had already paid for.
NCL did a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ly job of keeping the kids and me entertained. What a jolly, well organized entertainment staff!!! My girls fell in love with Tyler Gray and Jackie Tang who were the most enthusiastic, effervescent hosts I had ever had the honor of playing Bingo with! There was always some fun show or game going on somewhere on the ship that appealed to everyone! And, as my husband can attest to, superlative karaoke!
Cruising, in general, is one of the best bangs for your buck (usually) for family travel. It keeps everyone in one spot, while simultaneously allowing for some frolicking, freedom and fun for parents and kids. Your kids can pretty much roam free but can’t get very far.
Hip Mom Hint: Read ALL the fine print and be an educated traveler.
I gotta tell ya…I debated this one for my entire vacation. After reading about our expedition, you might feel my pain. So, pack your bags and come along for a turbulent ride…kind of.
Listen, Atlantis has always done well by myself and my family. My kids love the aquatic chaos, and the ex Merv Griffin Paradise Island Resort and Casino, which still has ghostly presence in the Coral and Beach Towers, was transformed into this beachfront mega resort which I used to find pristine and well run by island standards. Restaurants such as Carmine’s and Virgils, even Starbucks and Ben and Jerry’s found lucrative homes seaside, and the massive casino ding-dings with excitement and money hungry gamblers 24/7. We always invested in the dining package, which could be anywhere from three full meals and high end restaurants like Mesa grill or, ample for us, two meals per day and decent dining establishments.
But, this summer, Atlantis took it’s chances on an all-inclusive package available from August to December (trying to make up for lost revenue in the low season), and it sounded great, but I think a good business move was informing their staff they had an all-inclusive package.
We have done a few great all-inclusives, i.e. Beaches, Barcelo Bavaro, which, with my family, is the way to go. Pay once, eat, drink, vomit…do whatever you want and don’t ask me about it. So, I thought for sure Atlantis with it’s reputation for fun in the sun and food for your brood would have his this out of the park: foul ball.
At check in you receive a map indicating the restaurants that are on your list, and bars where you can utilize your key to gluttony, but when you approached anybody…front desk, bartender, cashier, nobody could answer if you were on a free for all, or a diet. We never knew how much if anything we could have. One staffer said, “well, in the memo it said you could have as much as you want.” In the memo?????? Mega resort Atlantis couldn’t find it somewhere on their to-do list to have a staff meeting about such a huge endeavor as an All-Inclusive package? Just weird and underdone, and unprofessional. Anytime we took a drink or purchased food, we had to ask: “Included?” “Yeah, I think so,” was usually the response.
If you were following my Insta and FB, you were also privy to three days worth of photos of a half eaten pizza slice, and box, and a dismembered chocolate cake which greeted me in my nightstand. My husband who is much less squeamish than I am slept on the side of the bed that flanked the grossness of someone’s last Bahamian meal. Many calls made to housekeeping resulted in a clean up on the last night. I guess they didn’t want me to touch it either. The nice attendant who showed up turned green and apologized after almost dry heaving in the hallway as he carried out the corrugated cardboard box.
In their defense, after I tweeted and posted, I received a call from management begging me to take the post down, and offering me 250.00 resort credit. I thought about it, but I felt it better that travelers knew how an establishment such as Atlantis handled a dirty problem rather than washing it away like it didn’t happen. That’s where true customer service gets the grade. How did they troubleshoot? What was the result?
I was ready to take the 250.00 gesture and shut up after all the hassle with their not so all-inclusive all-inclusive and the late night frat party that died in my nightstand, but, at check out out I begged for all charges to be removed…we had none. We stayed with the pre-paid all inclusive, and I walked out with a zero bill (every hotel holds on to your credit for incidentals), only to find out after boarding our NCL cruise in Miami, that my 250 credit was not immediately issued, and guess what, Atlantis was holding on to 2300 of my Amex credit, which, until I tweeted again, was not removed.
I was ready to give Atlantis a gold star for a customer service remedy, but after seeing another 91.00 charge on my Amex just yesterday, it ticked me off, and the fact that I spent the first three days of what should have been a relaxing cruise trying to recover 2300.00 from Amex via Atlantis, I said, no way….
Atlantis…clean up your act, stop taking massive amounts of credit at the front desk at check in when clients have already paid up front, and here’s an idea….let your staff know when policies change. Maybe we will consider coming back when you really “clean up.”