Our second day in Vegas began with a late brunch at the Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan. The Wicked Spoon is one of the highest rated buffets on Yelp and TripAdvisor, so we knew we had to go during our week in Vegas. The buffet isn’t as big as say the Bellagio or Caesar’s Palace, but I definitely think the food is better.
I particularly like that a lot of the dishes are in small pots or pans – this really helps me portion control while eating!
We ended the day with Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles LOVE, which was an amazing show. I highly recommend it – especially if you’re a Beatles fan. X is and he absolutely loved it.
Our third day in Vegas started off bright and early at the Neon Museum, which is about a 15 minute car ride off the Strip. We had booked their first tour of the day since we also wanted to hit the Mob Museum and Fremont Street Experience that day.
The Neon Museum was really interesting and our tour guide, Beth, was informative, funny, and charismatic. I think we all enjoyed the tour very much. It was really nice seeing all the old neon signs and learn about neon. I had no idea how neon was made before this, but Beth really passed on a lot of info during the tour.
Our night ended at the Laundry Room after a fantastic Happy Hour at Park on Fremont (4pm – 7pm daily with discounted appetizers and cheap drinks). The Laundry Room was exactly what we needed and was a solid highlight of our trip. The Laundry Room is a speakeasy, so you have to text to make reservations ahead of time. The waitress will then let you in and explain their menu. They have a set menu of drinks, but their mixologist could also come tailor a drink to your tastes. I tried both options and loved both. Hands down, some of the best drinks I’ve ever had I my life.
Back in December, a few friends and I suddenly decided an impromptu trip to Las Vegas was going to happen in January. We started planning in the beginning of December. Or well, S and I planned. The boys, X and M, decided to leave most of the planning to us. We all decided a week would be a good amount of time to explore Las Vegas and allow for mid-week trip to the Grand Canyon (more on this later). Since X and I were flying from the East Coast, we both flew in the night before.
So technically, my first day in Las Vegas was a Friday night – but by the time I had landed, the day might as well have been over! So, I’m starting with our first official day, which was a Saturday, or AKA the day that S and M arrived.
After settling in, we headed over to Bruxie for a late breakfast that wasn’t quiet brunch. Bruxie, located near the NYNY, serves chicken and waffles. After much contemplation, I opted for their Buffalo Bleu Fried Chicken Waffle Sandwich, which features fried chicken coated in buffalo sauce and served with crisp vegetable slaw, bleu cheese crumbles, chives, and ranch dressing.
The chicken was very moist and tender on the inside and super crunchy on the outside. Surprisingly, the “structural integrity” (words that get thrown around when you travel with engineers) of the waffle was very strong. You can hold it up and eat it like a real sandwich without it falling apart!
Our plan for the day was exploring the Strip, which we did very efficiently. S and I had read online that you can’t walk the Strip in one day or you’ll be wrecked after walking through 2 hotels. These people were obviously not New Yorkers (or people who have lived in NYC, like X, S, and M have)!
We walked by the Paris hotel, which is pretty hard to miss with the neon hot air balloon and miniature Eiffel Tower. They have an Eiffel Tower Experience, where you can go to the top of the tower and get a gorgeous view of the Bellagio Fountains. We didn’t opt for it, but I’m sure the view is spectacular!
We also spent a fair amount of time at the Bellagio, checking out their Lunar New Year themed Conservatory and their gorgeous lobby ceiling. The highlight, however, is definitely their Fountains and the show. The Bellagio Fountain show comes on every half hour during the day and then every 15 minutes during the night. We saw the show a few times during the day and a few times during the night.
When it came time to decide on a restaurant to have our annual pre-NYE dinner for my sister’s birthday (because who wants to have to deal with prix fixes on the day of!), she decided she wanted to try out Atoboy, a Korean-inspired small plates restaurant in the Flatiron area. Opened by the former chef de cuisine of Jungsik, the menu at Atoboy features your choice of 3 plates for $36. The tasting menu comes with a bowl of white rice or you can add on their seasonal rice for an extra $2.
I arrived earlier with my mom but they seated us while we waited for the rest of our party. Both the hostess and our waiter confirmed with us that we were celebrating a birthday, a note I had put in our Resy reservation. I love this small attention to detail – something that might be or has been overlooked at other restaurants. Our waiter waited until our entire party had arrived before reviewing the menu with us, as we were new visitors.
We all wanted to try something different from the menu, so we tried to diversify our tasting menu choices as much as possible. For our first course, we picked:
Tofu with Soybean, King oyster mushroom, and Mustard
Littleneck Clams with Avocado, Rice cracker, and Gochugaru
Fluke with Moo radish, Pomelo, and Sesame seed
Beef Tartare with Oyster and Potato
The tofu was the biggest dish of the bunch, but I think my favorite was the Littleneck Clams. The avocado puree-like sauce that it came with was really complimentary to the spicy sauce they used for the clams. The Beef Tartare was also really enjoyable – good quality beef with a great marinade. My least favorite was definitely the Fluke – I’m not a big grapefruit fan so the pomelo was a turnoff.
For our second course, we picked:
Asparagus with Spicy cod roe, Shallot, and Egg yolk
Egg with Sea urchin, Watercress, and Quinoa
Corn with Taleggio, Bacon, and Doenjang
Squid stuffed with Pork and Shrimp, topped with Salsa verde
My favorite dish is a toss up between the Egg and the Squid. I opted to pay an extra $10 for fresh Californian Sea Urchin instead of a puree and it was well worth it. The crispness of the cucumber in the egg really contrasted with the smooth texture of the egg and sea urchin. I really liked the taste contrast as well – the egg had a light and fresh taste while the sea urchin was salty and a little sweet. The squid stuffed with pork was very fragrant and flavorful. It was possibly the most flavorful dish of the night. In fact, all dishes in our second course was spectacular and I think it was my favorite section of the night.
For our last course, we picked:
Octopus with Kimchi, Chorizo, and Parsley
NY Strip Steak with Arugula, Poblano, and Wild sesame oil
Brisket with Foie gras, Ginger, and Garlic
We ended up with two orders of the Brisket because we were very attracted to the concept of foie gras brisket! Again, all the dishes in this course were spectacular and really delicious. I had a brisket dish to myself and boy, oh boy, was it good! The brisket came apart the moment you bit into it and was not stringy at all. The foie gras made it a very, very rich dish. I actually ended up dumping my entire bowl of rice into the leftover sauce (Side note: The seaweed rice was phenomenal and I highly recommend selling out the extra $2 for it!).
For dessert, they have three options (not included in the Tasting Menu). We opted to go with the:
Honey Panna Cotta with black rice vinegar and pomegranate
Pumpkin Cheesecake with yogurt and pumpkin seeds.
Our waiter brought out the Pumpkin Cheesecake with a candle in it for my sister and comp-ed us their third desert, Sujeonggwa Granita with burrata and walnuts. I honestly do not have a single bad thing to say about any of the desserts! However, if I had to pick a clear favorite it would probably be the Pumpkin Cheesecake, which was silky and smooth. The Sujeonggwa Granita was also a brand new experience and I’m so happy I got to try it. Sujeonggwa is a traditional Korean cinnamon punch, which they made into fine granita to top the burrata. The result was a sweet and cinnamon-y topping for the otherwise flavorless burrata. The inclusion of tiny fruit cubes and walnuts added texture to the gooey burrata.
Service was attentive, personable, and on point. We really felt like we were taken care of and as I mentioned earlier, I really appreciate that they made my sister’s birthday dinner special. I’m not one to expect comp-ed desserts or what not for birthday celebrations, but I really do appreciate it when I don’t have to pretend to use the bathroom in order to find my waiter/waitress to ask them if we can add a candle to a dessert.
Another HUGE selling point for me: the music was low and tasteful. We were able to talk and hear each other perfectly find without having to shout at each other. And finally, extra points for being so well-lit. Sometimes, candlelight is romantic. But there’s a difference between being romantic and having to use my iPhone flashlight to read the menu!
All in all, 5 out 5 for Atoboy. In fact, I’d say they’re a 10/5!
Sugarfish, a very popular sushi restaurant in LA, has finally landed in NYC! Sugarfish, opened by chef Kazunori Nozawa, prides itself on delivering the classic omakase experience without the traditional omakase price point. Sugarfish also features Chef Nozawa’s signature warm sushi rice, which is a new experience for those of us who are used to the more traditional sushi rice preparations.
In classic NYC-style, the wait times for Sugarfish have been insane. On any given day, for lunch and for dinner, the wait times can go up to 2.5 hours. I came in with a party of 3 on a random Tuesday afternoon and we were quoted a 1.5 hour wait. It was more or less about that time – but there is a waiting area upstairs where the restrooms are that they don’t really advertise.
Once seated, our waiter came over to explain their menu. They’re known for their three omakase menus: the Trust Me ($33), the Trust Me Lite ($23), and the Nozawa Trust Me ($45). Each menu has some of the same basic items, but the two more expensive menus feature a little more extra as the price point goes up. We opted for 2 Trust Me’s – to keep it simple. The “Daily Special” was Large Scallops, which we ended up ordering on the side to try.
First up was the Organic Edamame, which was served chilled. I actually like chilled edamame since it’s not as mushy as warm edamame. This was a nice opening to our meal!
Next up was the Tuna Sashimi, which came pre-marinated. I really enjoyed the dish – the sashimi was fresh and the marinate was tangy and sweet at the same time.
The first two pieces of sushi to arrive was the Albacore and Salmon. The Albacore came pre-sauced, so we were advised not to dip it in sauce sauce. The Albacore practically melted in our mouths – it was so soft and moist. The Salmon, however, was my favorite piece. It’s perhaps because I’ve always been partial to salmon, but boy was it fresh and delicious!
Our last two pieces of sushi to arrive was the Yellowtail and, since they ran out of Hirame that day, the Sea Bass. The Yellowtail was very tasty – but the highlight of the plate was the Sea Bass. I’ve never had Sea Bass sushi before so this was a real treat. It came pre-sauced with a spicy, tangy sauce that really helped highlight the freshness and clean-taste of the fish.
Our first hand roll to arrive was the Toro Hand Roll. They recommend that all hand rolls be eaten as soon as they arrive since the warm rice will cause the seaweed to wilt. Definitely be sure to eat it as soon as it arrives because crisp seaweed really adds to the mouth-feel of the roll. The toro was tender and melts in your mouth.
I thoroughly enjoyed the previous hand roll but was completely blown away by the Blue Crab Hand Roll! The blue crab was moist, fresh, and had just a hint of saltiness. This is definitely my favorite hand roll of the two.
We finished our meal with our added order of Large Scallop ($7.00). The scallop was super sweet and very fresh – something that’s a common theme at Sugarfish. If you’re a fan of scallops, definitely get yourself an order!
Service was attentive and sufficient. Due to the fact that all items are served as they are made, sometimes we all didn’t have a particular dish at the same time. This wasn’t a huge issue as they’re meant to be eaten as soon as they’re placed onto the table, but it was a tad awkward to be at a different pace as my other dining partners.
I really liked that gratuity is included in the price of the meal – just like restaurants in Japan! All in all, Sugarfish serves up some really delicious and quality sushi. It’s not the best sushi I’ve had (in NYC and in Japan), but for the price point, it really cannot be beat.
Cruising has always been one of my family’s favorite ways of vacationing. Cruises offer everything that one could possibly need on a vacation – quality restaurants, amazing nightly shows, a casino, a spa, and much more. You get to visit a variety of cities and countries and the best part is that all the traveling happens while you’re asleep! I quite like the fact that after a full day out in the port city, I can go back to the ship, have a nice dinner, maybe gamble a bit, and wake up the next morning to a completely different port.
However, not all cruises are the same and not all itineraries are perfect. Going on a cruise to the Caribbean or to Bermuda, for example, is completely different than going on a cruise to Europe or Asia. Recently, my family and I made the jump from our typical Caribbean/Bermuda/Bahamas cruises to an international cruise. At first, we were pretty overwhelmed with the choices. Which part of Europe did we want to go to? When should we go? Which port should we embark on? So many questions!
If you’re thinking about embarking on a European cruise but don’t quite know where to start – here’s a few (hopefully) useful steps to help you!
Step 1: Decide where in Europe you would like to visit. Read up on each part of Europe that cruise lines will follow and decide what interests you the most. One of the most useful resources I used was CruiseCritic.com
Western Mediterranean cruises typically stop in Barcelona in Spain, Italy, and the southern part of France. If you’re interested in arts, culture, café hopping, and boutique shopping, then the Western Mediterranean is for you! Visit the Vatican or Pompeii or go shopping in the leather markets of Florence.
Eastern Mediterranean cruises typically encompass Italy, Croatia, Greece, and sometimes Turkey. If ancient history, blue beaches, and beautiful villages are your thing, then definitely check out the Eastern Mediterranean.
A Baltic Sea cruise will take you to Scandinavia and Russia. For most Baltic Sea cruises, Stockholm, and Copenhagen are very popular ports of call – and most will also include Oslo, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg.
There are also Norwegian Fjord cruises as well as British Isles cruises that will bring you to England, Scotland, and London.
And of course, don’t forget the Canary Islands!
Step 2: Decide on which cruise line you want to use. Once you’ve decided where you want to go, figure out which cruise line is the best for your needs.
For most of the cruises above, the major, mainstream cruise lines will offer an itinerary that meets your requirements. Out of the most popular are Princess, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity, Costa, and MSC. There are also a bunch of luxury lines like Regent Seven Seas, Oceania, Silversea, and Seabourn.
Take a look at the cruise ships themselves and what they offer. I always advise picking the itinerary first – because it’s better to have a good trip itinerary with a suboptimal room than a bad trip itinerary with a great balcony room. You’ll be spending too much time off the boat and around the boat to notice your stateroom!
Step 3: Decide on what to do in each port of call.
Each port of call will usually have an abundance of activities for you to do – some ports will have nearby cities that you can also visit if the port doesn’t entice you. Really get to know the port – and whether or not you want to stay in the port city or venture outside.
There are a bunch of free online resources – but there are also a ton of guidebooks available too. For my most recent Western Mediterranean cruise, we utilized Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports, which was the most helpful guide in the world. I also borrowed my cousin’s Fodor’s Italy guidebook to help me navigate the Italian ports of call.
Step 4: Decide on the specifics.
For most ports of call, after you’ve decided what you want to do, there’s the task of deciding how to do it. Cruise ships will offer you a variety of tours offered through them. There are pros and cons with this.
Pros: You’re guaranteed to make it back to the ship. If your tour misses the due-back time, the cruise will wait for you. You’ve already paid for the tour, you know you can trust people running it, and you can always bring up any complaints to your cruise line.
Cons: There is often an upsell involved since the cruise line is setting everything up for you. Most of the cruise tours are also large and impersonal so if you’re looking for a more intimate experience, it might not be for you.
For me, I found that booking a shared tour and then sharing it on your cruise’s Roll Call on CruiseCritic.com is a great way to get an intimate, personable experience while saving money by splitting the costs. It’s also a great way to meet new friends! We used Joe Banana Limo for Florence and Umberto at ItalyDriver.com for Naples and really had a great time on both tours.
Of course, there’s also DIY! I found that DIY-ing half of our ports really helped us save money and tailor the trip to our specific interests. Google Maps is a great tool for helping to navigate your way around new cities and of course, there are always guides both online and in print!
Step 5: And lastly, make sure you book all the necessary items and tickets.
We booked a pocket wifi for this trip because of how useful it was for me in Japan. We used Webspot, which is a French company but ships to all over Europe. It was super helpful whenever we wanted to DIY a port or simply check-in with our friends and family back home. It was also super helpful to use the Skype app to call our tour guide when we were running a bit behind in Rome.
It’s also important to book tickets in advance to major churches, museums, and tourist sites. For example, it saved us a lot of time pre-purchasing tickets to the Colosseum, Pompeii, and Sagrada Familia. The lines for tickets for those sites can take up hours during peak tourist season!
Our last port of call was Naples, one of the oldest cities in the world, and Italy’s third largest city. Common day trips from Naples include Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, and Capri. Since we knew we wanted to visit Pompeii as well as the Amalfi Coast, a private tour seemed like the best way to go. I met two couples on CruiseCritic’s Roll Call for our cruise and we booked a private tour with Umberto at ItalyDrivers. He picked us up, drove us to Pompeii for a tour with a separate tour guide, and then drove us down to the Amalfi Coast for lunch in Positano and free time in Sorrento.
Our first stop was a morning tour at Pompeii. We actually arrived before it opened, so our tour was one of the first ones in. Our tour guide, Teresa, was amazing – she was informative, funny, and super nice. It was so surreal being in Pompeii, especially as Teresa gave us so much more context and information about the place.
We then drove up the winding roads to the Amalfi Coast – these are definitely roads that a huge tour bus could not make it up!
Lunch was at La Tagliata, at my request. La Tagliata stands on the top of the hill in Positano, overlooking the gorgeous coast. The restaurant is family owned and run. There is no menu – you eat that they cook that day. First to arrive at the table was a bunch of appetizers – family style. Then our waiters delivered an assortment of pastas, also family style. And finally, we received dessert and a shot of lemoncello. For 25€ we left absolutely stuffed! The food was so delicious!
After our delicious meal, we drove back down the mountain to Sorrento for some light shopping. And of course, despite the fact that we were absolutely full, we had to have one last gelato! Raki had a delightfully tart lemoncello gelato that paired really well with the mango. It was definitely one of the best lemon gelato’s that I’ve had this trip!
Umberto brought us safety back to the ship – with time to spare. We were so tired from the day that we just crashed in our room, despite the fact that we had 1-2 hours left.
Our 6th day on the ship was a sea day as we traveled from Barcelona to Naples. We had plans to wake up early and sunbathe on the top deck, but ended up sleeping in. We were so tired from all the ports we were visiting! We had a late breakfast at one of the sit-down, table service restaurants and explored the ship. There was also a lot of lounging on our balcony, just enjoying the sea.
I’m going to take this opportunity to do a review of the ship!
The Norwegian Epic has several free dining options – that is, options that are included with your cruise fare at no additional cost. They have two main dining rooms, one buffet, one 24hour bar & grill, and one Chinese noodle bar. There are also a bunch of specialty restaurants that cost extra, which we didn’t partake in.
We had breakfast in Taste, one of the main dining rooms, a few times –
We also had dinner in both Taste and the Manhattan Room, the other main dining room, alternatively every night –
The Norwegian Epic has a ton of nightly shows but their two main theatre shows were Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Burn the Floor.
Both were absolutely amazing! Priscilla is the Norwegian take on the Broadway show while Burn the Floor is a dance spectacular. They both play twice during the duration of the cruise, so if you can’t make the first showing, there’s always another one!
We stayed in a balcony stateroom, which was a bit cramped for the three of us, but manageable. They clean your room twice a day – once in the morning and once again in the evening for turn-down. We always came back to a towel animal!
And I leave you with the sunset on our first day on the cruise – at Civitavecchia Port.
And the sunrise on our last day on the cruise – also at Civitavecchia Port.