oh ship! cruising to the caribbean

Ahoy! I just returned from my first cruise vacation with my best friends, where we were soaking in the rays and swimming in some of the bluest waters the Caribbean has to offer. From stunning sunsets in the middle of the ocean to snorkeling in a coral reef in Turks & Caicos, this cruise exceeded my expectations, and I am ready to start planning my next one!

I have to admit, this cruise vacation was my idea, but I was skeptical. Up until the cruise, I had an irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and I am prone to motion-sickness — I mean, I take Dramamine and wear Sea Bands in Disney and Universal just to tolerate even the most basic rides. Despite all of that, a cruise vacation is something Connor and I have talked about for a long time, and I finally agreed to try it out.

Planning the Cruise

One of the most important aspects in terms of travel to Connor and I is that we see as much of the world as possible, whenever possible. We always try to plan trips to new destinations whenever we have the opportunity, and planning this cruise was no different. After some research, we found a 5-day cruise through Carnival Cruise Line that lined up perfectly with the travel dates we wanted. The cruise was to the Eastern Caribbean, stopping in Nassau, Bahamas; Half Moon Cay, Carnival’s private island in the Bahamas; and Grand Turk, the capital of Turks & Caicos. The cruise would be leaving from Miami the day after my birthday, and we would return just days before Connor’s — happy birthday to us!

5F4370DA-DB30-47B3-A93D-D3292B47FA49We reached out to some of our friends from college, who immediately agreed to come on the cruise with us. We decided to fly to Florida the day before the cruise, but the flights to Miami were ridiculously expensive (hello spring breakers). We opted to fly to Fort Lauderdale and take a car to Miami instead.

We booked a room at Hotel Riu Plaza Miami Beach, located right on Collins Ave. The hotel is a quick walk or ride away from restaurants and bars all along the strip, and beach access is a very short walk from the hotel property.

The last step in planning our vacation was choosing an excursion for the trip. Carnival’s website was informative, and the reviews from past cruise-goers were extremely helpful when it came to picking the best one! We decided to book a snorkeling and private beach excursion in Turks & Caicos — with hundreds of glowing reviews, we knew this was our top choice!

Note: We debated purchasing the Cheers! beverage program on the ship, which would have included all spirits and cocktails priced below $20, as well as sodas, coffee and other bottled beverages, for $51.95/day + an 18 percent gratuity added. We chose not to purchase this program, and we ended up saving money!

Tip: To avoid charges for water (water is only included when you are dining), bring a refillable water bottle on the trip!

Day 1 — Miami

After stopping at the hotel to drop off our bags, we headed to Dolce Italian for my birthday dinner! The food was absolutely amazing, and we certainly did not feel rushed as we dined through several courses of meals. I highly recommend trying the Caprese and the Sunday Gravy Pizza as appetizers, and the Lobster Ravioli for dinner.

Day 2 — Departing Miami

We woke up the morning of the cruise, packed our bags and headed to Market at EDITION for a delicious brunch. Try the Eggs Benedict, the Guava Cream Cheese Donut or the Cinnamon Bun — it was all so, so good.

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After brunch, we headed to the Port of Miami where we checked our bags, checked into the cruise and boarded the ship. Check-in was relatively quick and easy, and before long, we found ourselves soaking in the sun on one of the top decks of the ship with drinks in our hands. One muster drill, a Dramamine pill and a couple of hours later, Carnival Sensation finally left port, setting sail for the Bahamas!

We were able to get into our rooms (which were all in a row!) not long after we boarded the ship. Our friends surprised us by having the room decorated for our birthdays and getting us a cake! They truly are the best! Our steward even made us a birthday cake out of towels and left us cards to help us kick off our celebration!

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9F1A0655-483E-41BF-8C2D-6E464AB6FB67Day 3 — Nassau, Bahamas

Our first day off the ship was in Nassau, and we disembarked in the middle of a bunch of shops and stands, with Atlantis nearby. We headed to a public beach where we were able to sit right by the water, grab a few drinks and enjoy the Bahamas weather. We also stopped at Señor Frogs for some food and drinks on our way back to the ship!

Day 4 — Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Our boat anchored down near the coast of Half Moon Cay, and a smaller boat picked us up and brought us to land. Half Moon Cay is Carnival’s private island. The beach was amazing, the water was a beautiful shade of blue and there was plenty of space to soak up the sun! Lunch was provided on the island, and drinks were plentiful whether you were on the beach or sitting at Captain Morgan On the Rocks Island Bar. After sipping on some Miami Vice’s and swimming in the ocean, we headed back to the boat to take off for our third destination of the trip!

4C36F11B-E1ED-4737-91A8-3C30684BF6AADay 5 — Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos

Connor and I agreed that our day in Grand Turk was definitely our favorite part of the trip. Our entire day was spent on the excursion we booked, and it was such a great experience. After popping into a store or two, we boarded a 100-person catamaran and set sail for a coral reef in Turks & Caicos. After grabbing the GoPro, we descended into the water and swam with a school of fish. Getting the chance to get up close and personal with the sea life was amazing.

Once snorkeling was done, the rum punch was brought out, and a dance party ensued on the way to a private beach. The catamaran docked on the beach, and we were able to get out and swim in the crystal clear waters for a while. Eventually, we sailed back to the dock and boarded the ship for the last time on our trip!

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Day 6 — Day at Sea

To be honest, we thought we would have to wake up extremely early to snag a spot on deck for our day at sea, but after having some breakfast, we wandered up to the pool deck and found five seats together right away. We spent the day in the jacuzzi, reading, drinking, snacking and going down the water slides.

By far, my favorite part of our Day at Sea was the Alpha Male Competition! After some convincing, Connor agreed to enter the contest. He competed against other men on the cruise in three rounds, and he won!

Aside from being crowned as the Alpha Male, he also received a bottle of champagne (that we popped on the top deck at sunset) and a trophy of Carnival Sensation — the trophy is already on display in our living room!

7C2B6CDF-CAA7-444A-A638-4143ABEEA05DDay 7 — Miami / Fort Lauderdale

On our final morning of the cruise, we grabbed some breakfast at the buffet before we disembarked. We went to the airport to check our bags early, and then headed toward the beach for some lunch. We went to Rock Bar in Fort Lauderdale for a few 45 oz margaritas (we shared!) and some fish tacos, and we enjoyed our last few hours of warm weather before heading back home to 20 degree weather!

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Dining Options on Carnival Sensation

Breakfast

For most of the trip, we chose to eat breakfast at the buffet because of the wide range of options available, and because it was usually the quicker dining option for us. From scrambled eggs and omelets to breakfast burritos, bagels, hash browns and waffles, there was something for everyone here! On the days that we had a little more time, we ate in the Fantasy Dining Room for a sit-down breakfast. Here there were options such as Eggs Benedict, French Toast and Frittatas.

Lunch

We were always off the boat at lunch time, so we picked up lunch or snacks on land; however, our two favorite stops on the ship were Guy’s Burger Joint and the Soft Serve machine at the buffet — thankfully, both were included in our cruise package! It doesn’t get much better than unlimited fries and chocolate swirl in a cone!

Dinner

When we booked the cruise, there were several dining options available for dinner: Early, Late or Your Time Dining. We chose the “Your Time” option, which meant that we had a window from 5:45 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. to go to the dining room for dinner each night. Our group was seated in the Fantasy Dining Room, and with a versatile and sometimes adventurous menu, the food was great! From Shrimp Cocktail and Ox Tongue (yes, I tried it and actually liked it!) to Fried Portobello Mushrooms, Spanakopita and Seafood Pasta, each meal was delicious. I can’t forget the Chocolate Melting Cake for dessert each night! It was definitely our group’s favorite dessert!

The staff in the Dining Room also celebrated my birthday and Connor’s birthday whenever they had a chance! Each time they celebrated our birthdays, we were given a small cake, and the restaurant would sing happy birthday. It was such a sweet gesture!

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Entertainment on Carnival Sensation

E4F0BAC0-BC0C-4992-9AD1-FAF0F47E950EThere was always something to do while we were on the ship every evening. From the Welcome Party and a Murder Mystery event based on Clue, to a game night, comedy club, dance club and casino, we had plenty of activities to partake in throughout the cruise! There was even an adult-themed scavenger hunt, which provided us with a lot of laughter and a very interesting night!

Our group’s favorite part of being on the boat was the professional photographers’ stands — and it showed. We must have taken well over 100 photos between the five of us, and you know we had a great time doing it!

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I am happy to report that after five days at sea, I am over my irrational fear of sailing on large boats, and my motion sickness did not get the best of me. Our cruise was absolutely amazing, and I am already brainstorming ideas for our next cruise vacation!

love is in the air

Love is in the air, as Galentine’s Day (thank you, Leslie Knope) and Valentine’s Day are fast approaching. Whether you are spending these holidays with your best friends or your significant other, there are plenty of ways to celebrate! Instead of going out for a night of dinner and drinks, consider these options to help you celebrate love, friendship or togetherness this month!

  • Take a class: Do something that is outside of your comfort zone by trying something new with your partner or friends. Whether there is a dish you have always wanted to learn to make or a SoulCycle class you have been dying to try, take the leap and sign up! Look up local classes in your area for some ideas.
  • Cook a three-course meal: Getting wined and dined at a restaurant is great, but it can be even better at home. Plan out a menu to cook together that includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. Pour the wine and get to cooking!
  • Travel somewhere new: Sometimes last-minute trips are the best trips. Hit the open road and plan a quick weekend trip to somewhere you have never been before. Exploring a new city, whether it is in your home state or a neighboring state, is bound to bring you a weekend of adventures!
  • Host a party: Who doesn’t love a good excuse for a themed party?! Have your guests come dressed in red or pink, throw on some classic love songs, serve some festive drinks and let everyone mix and mingle! Spread the love by asking guests to bring red or pink sweets for all to enjoy!
  • Simply Local recommendation: Bury the Hatchet: If celebrating Valentine’s Day isn’t exactly your thing, try a different take on the day. Grab your friends and head to Bury the Hatchet for some good, old-fashioned axe throwing. Bury the Hatchet has locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Kansas.

No matter what you choose to do or who you spend the day with, I hope you have a great Valentine’s Day filled with love, laughter and fun memories!

winter slumberland

Connor and I absolutely love the Christmas season, and celebrating with our friends is one of our favorite parts about this time of year. To officially kick off the holiday season and the countdown to Christmas, we hosted our second annual Winter Slumberland event!

Winter Slumberland is a brunch idea that we came up with where everyone invited shows up in their best Christmas jammies and we eat, drink and be merry! From brunch, mimosas and holiday-inspired desserts to Christmas movies and spending quality time with each other, Winter Slumberland is definitely one of our favorite parties we have ever hosted! Read on below to see how we prepared for this fun holiday brunch!

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To get ready for Winter Slumberland and the holiday season, we decked out the apartment with Christmas decorations. This year, we decided on a blue and silver Christmas tree. With some neutral decorations and pops of red, we worked to transform our apartment into a winter wonderland!

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Once the apartment was decorated, it was time to focus on the menu for Winter Slumberland. From French Toast Casserole and bagels, to quiche, monkey bread and Oreo truffles, there were plenty of options and sweet treats! We also made some holiday treats that were almost too cute to eat! Read on below for some of these fun holiday recipes!

Christmas Tree Brownies

This recipe was so much fun and simple to construct. Start by making your favorite type of brownies and let them cool (for approximately 15 people, we made two boxes). Once cooled, cut the brownies into triangle shapes and add in a small piece of candy cane at the bottom for the tree trunk. Then, we used food coloring to dye vanilla frosting green. With a piping bag, we created a zigzag pattern on the brownies, and we topped them with some crystal and pearl sprinkles for ornaments! Last, but not least, star sprinkles for the tops of each tree!

Santa Hat Pancakes

Another easy holiday recipe! Stack several mini pancakes on large toothpicks (we used six to eight pancakes per stack). Cut the tops of strawberries off to remove the stems and create an even base. Slide a strawberry on top of the pancake stack, and top it with a mini marshmallow! Sprinkle some powdered sugar over the pancake stacks before serving!

Snowman Donut Kebabs

These snowman donut kebabs only require 4 ingredients to make! Stack three mini powdered donuts on a kebab stick. Use a piece of fruit rollup to tie a “scarf” on top of the second donut. Then, add an orange gumdrop nose in the first donut and two green gumdrop buttons in the other two. Finally, add in eyes made out of coal by using black food coloring!

With tons of food to eat, mimosas, coffee, and hot chocolate flowing, and a room full of friends, we spent the day lounging, laughing and celebrating the true meaning of holiday spirit: togetherness.

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how to maintain long-distance friendships

Growing up, one thing I always took for granted was just how close my friends and I all lived to each other. Almost all of my friends lived anywhere between a 5 to 20 minute drive from my home. As we have gotten older, those quick drives have turned into hour-long commutes, whether it be by car, bus, train or plane. Living far from friends can be difficult; however, the friendships are not impossible to maintain. Here are a few tips for keeping your long-distance friendships stronger than ever:

IMG_6104Find the halfway point between you and your friends
A long commute is not that bad all of the time, but now and then it can become tedious. Find the halfway point between all of you, and start researching the towns in that vicinity. Not only will it cut down the time it takes you to be reunited with your besties, but it also gives you an opportunity to explore new places together!  

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Plan a trip
Visiting a place you have never been to before is a great way to be reunited with your friends and satisfy your travel bug. Whether it is a new city or a new state, vacation time with your friends gives you something to look forward to and plan out together.

Send a care package
If you have friends who moved far from home, they may be feeling homesick, especially at this time of year. If your besties cannot make it home for the holidays, send a care package with their holiday and hometown favorites to cheer them up!

Schedule time to see each other
With everyone having lives of their own, plus the distance between you all, the days of calling up your friends 15 minutes before you want to do something are long gone. Whether you meet for dinner and drinks or an afternoon of binge-watching Netflix in sweats, planning a day to get together in advance guarantees you and your friends will get to spend time with each other.

FaceTime
By far, this is the easiest way to get your best-friend-fix when you cannot see each other in person! While a spontaneous FaceTime call is always welcome from friends, setting aside planned time each month helps make sure you stay in touch and up-to-date on each other’s lives. FaceTime also now has a group chat option, but if you don’t have an iPhone, try using Snapchat’s video chatting feature!

I hope these suggestions help keep you and your friends closer than ever, despite the distance between you all! Do you have other ways you maintain long-distance friendships? Feel free to share them with me in the comments below!

the one where we plan friendsgiving

One thing I have learned over the years is the importance of celebrating friendships. Your friends are your chosen family, and what better way to express your gratitude for them at this time of year than by hosting friendsgiving?

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The rules of friendsgiving are simple: the hosts cook the turkey, gravy and any other menu items they would like, and the rest is up to the guests! From appetizers to side dishes and desserts, it gives guests the opportunity to choose what they would like to bring.

Connor and I have both hosted and been guests at friendsgiving, and no matter what, it is an enjoyable evening filled with good food, laughter and memory-making. Here are some tips for hosting your own friendsgiving event this November:

  • IMG_0181Plan the menu: There are Thanksgiving staples that everyone loves, but writing up a few suggestions will help your friends think outside of the box for other foods to bring if you have a larger guest list. Surprisingly enough, there is such a thing as too many mashed potatoes! Also remember to include food options that cater to any diet choices your friends may have, including vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or gluten-free options!
  • Ask your friends to prepare dishes ahead of time: Cooking the turkey is hard enough; having to worry about friends preparing their dishes at the same time that yours is finishing up can definitely get hectic. Instead, have your friends bring their already-cooked meals to the house, and set up sternos for food items to keep everything hot before and throughout dinner!
  • Set up the food buffet style: While setting the table is lovely, with a large group of people and a plethora of food, buffet style just makes everything easier. To make the table setting feel cozier while everyone is dining, light some candles and scatter some small pumpkins and other fall decorations on the table.
  • Processed with VSCO with acg presetMake the event BYOB: Having a few staples on hand is great, but asking friends to bring their favorite types of wine, beer or liquor contributes to the potluck vibe of the evening, and it gives everyone a chance to share their favorite beverages with the group! If you are feeling creative, add a signature drink to the menu, like this apple cider mimosa: apple cider, champagne and a brown sugar rim is the perfect combination for a festive, fall beverage!
  • Go around the table and ask everyone to say one thing they are thankful for: Everyone is going to be so excited to dig into the amazing dinner and desserts that have been prepared for the evening, but it is important to remember why you are all together — to celebrate your friendships and express gratitude for each other. After all, this is what brought you all together for friendsgiving in the first place!

I hope these tips help you host a wonderful friendsgiving event this holiday season! Here is a sample menu to help you get started with the planning! Hope you enjoy gobbling up these tasty dishes!

friendsgiving menu

appetizers
• veggie platter
• meat and cheese platter
• chips and dip / salsa

main course
turkey
gravy
mashed potatoes

• sweet potatoes
• stuffing
• cranberry sauce
• salad
• green bean casserole
• corn and/or other veggies
• mac and cheese
• pasta
• chicken or eggplant parmesan
• dinner rolls

desserts
• apple pie with vanilla ice cream
• pumpkin pie
• pecan pie
• brownies
• cookies
• doughuts

drinks
• red and white wine
• beer
• cider
• sangria
• soda
• hot apple cider
• hot chocolate
• coffee
• water
• signature drink