April 7th 2018 Sailing Date
Today is our first time cruising with Royal Caribbean on the Anthem of the Seas. We woke up early and brought Fred to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. Hopped back in the car and made our way south to Bayonne, NJ. Anthem of the seas departs out of Cape Liberty Cruise Port which is 4 hours south of Boston. We hit very little traffic and made our way into the car lane to drop off luggage. I was very happy to see that there was a space to unload your luggage before parking. We parked the car and made our way into the terminal. We were hoping to wait for friends who were meeting us but there isn't really anywhere to wait before security. We had upgraded our balcony room to a Grand Suite and so we were able to use the suite line for security (where there was only 1 group ahead of us). After security we went to the suite check in line and only had about a 5 minute wait. A few days before our cruise we filled out online our documentation and uploaded our pictures. This helped our check in to be extremely fast. We walked through the suite entrance but this only brought us down a long hallways to the escalator that everyone else uses.
We swiped our paper upon entering the ship but our pictures needed to be verified so it took an extra minute for that to be figured out. I'm not in love with Royal Caribbean's new check in process. You print off your cruise documentation and that is your key to getting on the ship, drinks, and purchases until 1:30 pm when the rooms are ready. When the rooms are ready you will find one card in envelope outside your stateroom and one card inside the room. While waiting for our friends we decided to head to the Schooner Bar for some kick off vacation cocktails. My John Collins (made with Tito's Vodka) was nice and refreshing even with the unpleasant temperatures outside. Our friends texted us (cell service was awful at this point prior to logging into Voom) that they were boarding so we left the area and met them at the entrance.
The 6 of us (4 adults and 2 toddlers) made our way up to deck 14 for some lunch at Coastal Kitchen which is a dedicated restaurant for suite guests. Coastal Kitchen has a reserved environment, amazing staff, and delicious food! I read reviews from disappointed guests and was worried but we were more than happy at the restaurant all week. With twin toddlers we knew we would be a loud and messy table so we made sure to compensate with extra gratuity to the staff.
Greg and I were in room 8638 a Grand Suite. Upon entering our room we had a small hallway, a living room area with tv, couch, chair, table, coffee/tea, closet, mini fridge, and desk. The bedroom offers a king size bed, two nightstands, a desk, large closet, and a tv. The bathroom offers a shower/tub combo, toilet, and two sinks. The balcony provides two loungers, a table, and chairs. The room was a great size and offers plenty of storage.
Unfortunately, our room was not clean at all! We found crumbs on our floor, red sticky melted something on the walls, tables, and handles. We called the attendant line and didn't get a great response so we pulled out my antibacterial wipes and cleaned ourselves. While heading out to meet up with our friends Greg ran into our room attendant who apologized for the room and explained that he had to clear immigration today and unfortunately had to rush everything. Soccoro assured Greg the room would be clean before the evening was done. We both understood his point of view and didn't let this start ruin our trip. Also not a big deal but we didn't receive our specialty waters for a couple of days.
The 6 of us went to the 12th floor to the Concierge Lounge where we enjoyed some hor d'oeuvres and introduced ourselves to Ricardo (the suite concierge). Ricardo and I had been messaging during the week for our cruise and he was wonderful in helping us reserve a Cabana on CocoCay.
At 5:30 we went to the Coastal Kitchen for dinner. Greg and I don't normally dine this early but when you're with two cute toddlers you do what you have to do. Meal time for the 6 of us usually went like this: Make our way to the restaurant entrance, one kid ready to go, one kid needs to burn off energy. Divide and conquer! Depending on the day some of us go into the restaurant park the strollers, set up the Ipad, and get settled in while the other party would walk one of the kids around and then join us. We were very thankful that the staff set up a particular table for us during the week, always had two highchairs ready, and always treated us as if we weren't loud and messy.
After dinner we decided to get a cocktail at the Schooner Bar. This is where my friends son started to get over his fear of the elevator. Thanks to the pretty green or red lights and the pinging he was happy, excited, and would repeat over and over ....oooohhh, oooohhh up, down! He was pretty well known during the week lol.
Prior to a whale watching trip out of Boston I did not suffer from motion sickness. On the past 3 cruises we've been on I have suffered motion sickness but controlled it with Bonine. I had to switch medications though because of my dairy intolerance. I've been using the CVS brand motion sickness medicine since it's the only that doesn't contain lactose (during this trip I did find that Dramamine naturals and Dramamine for kids both don't contain dairy). On this trip I was in bed early almost every night! The CVS brand pills made me very tired (especially after my 2nd dose). On my next cruise I'm thinking I'll just have to see what happens with the touch lactose in the pills.
With everything packed and ready to go we decided to get dressed and head over to Borough Market one last time. I'm not very fond of cooking and cleaning while on vacation but I was inspired and wishing to cook with so many amazing products found at the market.
For breakfast we decided to over eat and order 2 "porchetta" sandwiches from Roast Hog (even though it was only 10 am). What I like about Roast Hog is that they are always consistently good. I also purchased some packaged goodies from Free From Bakehouse to bring with me on the plane.
Back at the hotel we relaxed a bit and made sure we emptied all of the drawers. The phone rang and it was the front desk letting us know that our driver from Eddie Manning's was downstairs for us. The driver was a little early but we were ready anyways so we headed downstairs to check out of the hotel. It ended up being a good thing that the driver was a bit early because we hit traffic all throughout London. Even our driver's shortcuts weren't available due to road closures.
We arrived at Heathrow with plenty of time to enjoy some lunch. Thanked our driver and headed into check in. Our luggage was easily checked in, security wasn't that busy, and then the halls were packed with people. We decided to eat at Gordon Ramsay Plane Food (wasn't thrilled about it after our experience at Maze) because the menu looked good and it was the quietest part of the airport.
For cocktails I ordered the Le Grand Fizz (I can never turn down St Germain) and Greg ordered the Make Bourbon Great Again (which even came with a campaign button). I can't remember what Greg ordered but my Quinoa salad with ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend) was delicious!
At Heathrow Airport you don't get your gate assignment until just before boarding. After our lunch we still had time before we would get our gate assignment. We walked through a couple of the shops, called home, and sat down with our books. When it was time we made our way over to our gate (which happened to be the one we left out of on our last visit). Boarding with British Airways was a little more chaotic than out of Boston but we found our seats and squished into them. This flight we found we had a little less leg room, the passengers in front of us also reclined almost the whole flight, and the sun was shining into our eyes from the row ahead of us.
The food definitely wasn't as good during this flight and I never received my actual dairy free snack. We noticed that one of the flight attendants handed out the special meal snacks and then tried to get them back from people so when they finally got to us they didn't have mine.
We landed in Boston and thanks to our Global Entry we were through customs, found our bags, and were in our car all within a half hour of landing. Finally, we got to my parents house where Fred was waiting for us! Little did he know that he'd only be happy with me for a short time as tomorrow he'd be groomed and in 2 weeks we'd be heading out on vacation again.
Here's the crazy route I walked throughout London today!
On our last stay in London we stayed at The Hoxton Hotel. We loved the Shoreditch area and so I knew I wanted to head back there at least for a little while. I made my way on foot up to Old Spitalfields Market. Wow did the market change! There are so many more restaurants and vendors here inside and outside. Very cool! I walked through a couple stores and perused the smaller vendors before making the hard choice of what to have for lunch.
Here I go...Dumpling Shack (do you see a theme with my dining habits). I ordered the dan dan noodles and pork and leek shengjianbao. The dumplings were tender, juicy, and flavorful. The dan dan noodles were perfect. The noodles were the perfect combination of savory, salty and heat.
After lunch I hang around the area for a bit and had a nice chat with a friend back home. It was really nice after a hectic week to have a reminder of normal life. Once I was off the phone I made my way to Brick Lane. Brick Lane is famous for Indian cuisine and street art. With my dairy allergy I'm always cautious with Indian food since a lot of it contained ghee (clarified butter). I wandered around on my own for a bit but I would recommend a tour to see all of the incredible street art.
I was heading back to the market when Greg called me and said he would be leaving work a little early and so I said I'd meet him at his office. We walked back together to the hotel and dropped off some of our belongings before we continued our walk to Westminster Abbey.
Our route took us along the river, over Westminster Bridge, and since there wasn't a line we went right on inside Westminster Abbey. Once inside we showed our prepaid tickets and a helpful guide provided us with a map. We opted to not use the audio tour (I know how interesting those can be but they just aren't to our liking when traveling).
Over the past couple of years I've been working on both of our ancestries. One day we were watching The White Princess on Showtime and a few names started to sound familiar. Not familiar from history books but familiar from Greg's ancestry. Come to find out Greg descends from royalty in England, Spain, France, Italy, Scotland, and more. As we were walking through the Abbey we would find ourselves at the tombs of many of his relatives.
I'm not sure if it's because we both are interested in British history, art, writing, or churches in general but we absolutely loved our visit. On our walk back we walked past the Battle of Britain Memorial, Whitehall Gardens and over Golden Jubilee Bridges.
We were enjoying the weather and were a little hungry so we stopped at Giraffe World Kitchen. We chose a table outside in the sun and order a couple of cocktails.
For snacks we chose Smoky Chorizo, Crispy Patatas Bravas, Salt & Pepper Squid, and the Karaage Chicken (fried chicken). All of the small plates were good with the exception of the Karaage Chicken. Greg didn't seem to mind but the chicken was incredibly over salted.
Back at the CitizenM Bankside we started the process of packing. I knew we should have brought the bigger suitcase! Luckily we figured out the puzzle and got everything under weight for British Airways!
Our last night in London was kind of boring but we were happy with burgers from Honest Burger (if you're reading this please open a restaurant in Boston) to go, a free movie in our hotel room, and a nice glass of wine from M&S across the street.
Let me tell you a little more about myself. I absolutely love traveling! If I'm not traveling, I'm researching travel. I'm even starting a course to become a travel agent. With all that being said I hate flying, I suffer from anxiety, and I am a horrible worrier. Thanks to pills prescribed by my doctor I am able to fly without completely freaking out. I made it to London with very little problems however once I was there my anxiety hit! All week long I had anxiety attacks, and then exhaustion from the attacks. I do not take medication for it and usually can calm myself down via breathing, meditation, working out, or talking with family and friends.
This morning I was pretty tired from everything and just enjoyed a slow start to my day. There are so many sights that I would have loved to rush to in London but sometimes you just need to listen to your body and mind and take a step back.
To start my day I ventured to the nearby Tate Modern Museum (one of my favorite museums). The lines to see the special exhibits were pretty long and I had plans in the afternoon so I opted for the "free" exhibits (I did make a 10 euro donation before entering). I love contemporary art, sculptures, and pieces that make us think about more than our eyes see. I haven't had the opportunity lately but when I'm home I create abstract paintings with a variety of mediums. I am constantly inspired by the amazing pieces of artists as well as unique perspectives from the places we visit.
London can be an expensive city but I love that everyone can experience a piece the art community for free. Here's an article from Visit London about the 23 free museums in London (keep in mind that donations are appreciated).
I took in a little more of London while slowly making my way to the Sanderson Hotel for my afternoon tea. I was thrilled that the sun was out and the temperatures were warming enough for me to wear one of my favorite dresses.
Prior to arriving in London I made an online reservations for one at the Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea. I checked in to the restaurant and quickly used to the restroom to wash up. I opted for a table inside since it was still a little chilly outside. My server welcomed me and presented me with cards and bottles of the various types of teas I could order. Tip: you are able to order a pot of tea in one flavor and when finished try another flavor. I ordered my tea along with a glass of champagne. I was happy to see that the restaurant offered a vegan menu (no need for Lactaid today) but unfortunately I was slightly disappointed.
The atmosphere is lovely, the place settings adorable, the service professional and the food appearance is whimsical. My disappointment was in the flavors of the food. For the savory dishes the scotch egg was very good but the rest of the sandwiches were overwhelmed by avocado. The sweet items were mixed. The meringues were too soft and ended up being chewy (Meringue cookies should have a crunchy exterior while the inside is tender), the marshmallows were too sticky but the cakes were very good. My time at the restaurant was relaxing afternoon and even though it wasn't perfect, I would go back and try their regular menu.
I made my way back to the hotel via cab and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing with a movie and glass of wine.
When Greg got out of work we crossed the street and decided to try some tapas at Camino Bankside. We were seated right away even without a reservation. We ordered a couple of cocktails and perused the menu. Our server came back with some olives for us and we opted for the tomato bread, padron peppers, Iberico de belotta ham, baby squid, octopus, and patatas bravas.
The Iberico ham is always delicious and I do enjoy eating it on its own but it's also very nice with the tomato bread. The squid was hot and crispy, the peppers were tender and not overly hot, and the octopus was tender. The patatas bravas were tasty but a little on the sweet side. At first it was a little off putting to me (I prefer mine to be completely savory) but once you combined both sauces it was satisfying.
We made our way back to the hotel but did stop at the small M&S store for more water and snacks. We did frequent this small grocery store throughout our time in London and can recommend it.
Monday morning means Greg heads into the London office and I'm on my own for sightseeing. Our room at the Citizen M Bankside is on the small side (meant to be) so I let Greg get ready first and out the door before I get ready. I head towards the Tate modern museum (stopping for some Starbucks along the way) and cross the Millenium Bridge. My first stop of the day is for some shopping in Covent Garden. I popped into a variety of stores but made purchases at Hotel Chocolat and the London Transport Museum shop. I ended up leaving the area with chocolates for friends, perfume for myself, toys for kids, and quirky tokens for everyone.
My next stop was requested by Greg, Forbidden Planet. Forbidden Planet is full of collectibles, comics, and entertainment paraphernalia. Inside Forbidden Planet I was looking for some blank figurines for Greg to customize but I came out with a Kidrobot collectible and some Harry Potter gear for Porscha.
I haven't visited Chinatown in London before so now was a great time to visit since I was in the area. I decided to enjoy lunch solo at Beijing Dumpling House. I definitely ordered too much food for one person but I wanted to try different items and get a feel of the restaurant overall. I really liked the ambiance of the restaurant although it was a little awkward when I'm facing the front of the restaurant and then a gentleman was seated at the table in front of me facing the back of the restaurant. The staff were welcoming but not overly friendly.
I ordered the honey garlic ribs, pickled cucumbers, and the pork xiao long bao (also known as soup dumplings). I've ordered these exact items from a couple of different menus over the last year (I may be predictable lol) but the ribs and pickled cucumbers were the best I've tried. The ribs had a good amount of meat on them and we well balanced between sweet and savory. The cucumbers were refreshing and were not overpowered by garlic as I've had in the past. The xiao long bao's were good but I still prefer the ones from Gourmet Dumpling House in Boston.
Time to walk off lunch! I made my way over to Carnaby Street. I had finished my shopping for the day but my sister and I love the unique shoes from Irregular Choice. Irregular Choice shoes are feminine, quirky, and bold. The perfect accessory for us! I had instructions to head to the store and see if that had a couple of different styles available in my sisters size. It's not exactly easy to work with staff at a store while waiting for responses from your sister with a time change while she's at work. Luckily I found shoes that she was looking for (think Star Wars) and got to see the fun and quirky store for myself.
As the sun was finally coming out and us pedestrians were thawing I hopped in a cab and headed back to the hotel. I had such a good time chatting with Steve my cab driver! We chatted about traffic, construction, geography, traveling, blogging, It was really wonderful having a fun chat with someone after spending the day solo.
Back at the hotel I poured a glass of wine, put on a free movie, and relaxed until Greg was done working for the day.
I made way back across the river and met up with Greg and a few of his co-workers. Our first stop of the evening was to their favorite local pub, Three Cranes. We ordered beers and wine (for me) and were able to snag the table in the back room so that we could all sit down and chat. I'm not sure how many rounds we enjoyed but the room was filled with conversations about work, life, travel, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, and lots of laughter. The proprietor finally had to ask if we were done because he was wanting to go home.
I definitely needed some food and luckily I wasn't alone in this. Around the corner from Three Cranes is Thai Square Mansion. Luckily the restaurant allowed us to order before closing. We ordered a couple of duck spring rolls, a couple chicken masaman curries, and a couple green curries. The food was very good and I really liked the contemporary feel of the restaurant.
After dinner the three of us said our good nights to the rest of the group and walked back to our hotel.
After our late night, we slept in and started our day later than originally planned. Once we were ready we made our way on foot to Buckingham Palace. Halfways there we realized that we were hungry. Up and to the left of us was Giraffe World Kitchen. On our previous visit to London we dined here for lunch and knew we could get a good meal. Greg ordered his usual sweet breakfast of pancakes with a side of bacon. I decided to give the Shakshuka a try. Shakshuka is a North African dish of eggs cooked in a tomato sauce with herbs and served with crusty bread. I was hoping to include chorizo but that item contained dairy. The service was friendly, fast and the food was good and filling.
We continued our walk to Buckingham Palace. We stopped along the way and were able to catch the end of the changing of the guard. After a few pictures we made our way to Harrods.
Our first stop inside Harrods was to the food halls. Yes we're foodies, yes we always think about food, and yes we are thrilled when we try something new. We were at the fruit section and were thrilled to be able to try some Custard Apple. Custard apple is creamy, slightly sweet and delicious (keep in mind that it does contain seeds though). The wonderful staff helped us purchase a couple custard apples and a Mangosteen (a favorite fruit I first tasted in Bali). We then shopped for tea, curds, cookies, jams, and also just had to purchase a couple very pretty Cronuts (I know it's years later but this was our first time trying them).
Greg's co-worker met us inside Harrods and we explored the other departments (mainly women's clothing) before heading to lunch. For lunch we all agreed on The Burger Bar (who doesn't love greasy burgers and french fries after a night of delicious cocktails). Unfortunately, the service at The Burger Bar was awful. We were seated right away which was nice but we couldn't get anyone to look at us even though we were seated at the bar. I eventually asked for menus and then we had another incredibly long wait for someone to take our order. The woman working at the bar area seemed to only be able to work on drinks and milkshakes. The waiters seemed to be helping everyone but us. Again, I had to ask if we could order which was derailed yet again by me stating that I have a dairy allergy. Finally, a supervisor or manager came over and took our order. All of our burgers were good and the french fries were crispy but it definitely wasn't worth the cost. Now we can say we shopped and ate at Harrods though.
We decided to walk back to our hotel via Picadilly Circus so that we could get a few touristy gifts for family/friends. Once we did our shopping I had to take a cab back to the hotel, my tendon was starting to hurt again unfortunately.
This evening we had dinner reservations for the 3 of us at Hutong. If I'm being honest I wasn't that excited about dining at Hutong. I thought dining inside the Shard would be unique and offer us amazing views of the city. In the end the service, food, ambiance, and views wowed us!
When you enter the Shard you have to go through a security scanner and then the staff check your name and reservation and show you to the elevator. The three of us checked in and were helped with our coats. We were a little early for our reservation so we opted to enjoy a cocktail in the lounge. The lounge service was a little on the slow side but the relaxing environment and the delicious drinks made up for it.
Before we could settle our bar bill we were told our table was ready. The staff helped carry our drinks to the table and instructed the staff to add our drinks to our dinner bill. Our table was right up to the windows offering us fantastic views of London. The ambiance was low lighting, dark wood, red lanterns and welcoming staff. We ordered vegetarian spring rolls and Iberico pork dumplings to start. The starters were hot, savory, and delicious. For entrees and side dishes we ordered dan dan noodles, roasted Peking duck (served two ways), and seafood fried rice. The dan dan noodles weren't as spicy as I hoped but they were tasty. The Peking duck was first sliced table-side for us and served with sliced green onions and rice wrappers. The second part of the duck was served stir fried with lettuce wraps. I can't speak to the seafood fried rice as it didn't appeal to me that evening.
After dinner, the sleet let up so we decided to walk back to the CitizenM and enjoy the fresh air.
My first full day in London was spent exploring with Greg (no work until Monday). A couple blocks from the Citizen M Bankside hotel is Borough Market. Our breakfast was definitely unorthodox. Greg enjoyed a porchetta inspired sandwich (pork, herbs, arugula, and crunchy skin) from Roast Hog. I decided to go a sweeter route and ordered a delicious dairy free cupcake from The Free From Bakehouse. To wash down our breakfast we went across the street to Starbucks. I can't live without my Matcha Lemonade. Unfortunately, London doesn't know how to make a Matcha Lemonade. The barista was happy to listen to me on how to make it and was happy with the end result and was all ready to Instagram it. Later on in our stay a barista (at a different location) tried to give me lemonade, milk, and matcha in a glass - so thankful I looked at it before sipping!!
We walked along the river to Shakespeare's Globe Theater where we had tickets for a tour. The tour takes you through to the outside of the theater, inside to the first level, and then up to the second level. During our tour there was a youth group performing and so they ask you not to take any photographs. Luckily we were able to get a few in while the group was backstage. Hearing about the history of the original theater and this theater was wonderful. We both agree that if we get back to London during the season we would love to see a play here!
After the tour we had a very windy and cold walk across Millennium Bridge to St Paul's Cathedral. We pre-purchased tickets and had no wait. Whenever I visit a church I always make sure to light a candle, say a prayer, and be thankful for our blessings. The church is beautiful and I wish we were allowed to take pictures so that I could share them with you.
We did climb all the way to the top of the Dome and the views were well worth it! The climb up and down did help us to work up an appetite and while it is something we could get at home, Wagamama on a cold and dreary day sounded perfect! Wagamama's new Tantanmen Beef Brisket Ramen was hot, savory, and slightly spicy. Perfect!
After lunch we continued walking east to Leadenhall Market. Sadly, the market was closed but it turned out to be a good thing for uncrowded photographs. As we walked back to our hotel we took the longer route and went over Tower Bridge. It was around this point that my foot was killing me (I apparently had a pulled tendon in my foot and saw my dr right before the trip). I was hoping that a cab would cross our path but we had no such luck. We continued walking to our hotel where I finally sat down with a glass of wine and some Motrin.
I was so hopeful for a wonderful dinner at Maze by Gordon Ramsay. After checking in for our reservation the staff helped us with our coats and showed us to our table. Once at our table the sommelier showed us the wine list but we opted for a cocktail followed by a bottle of Sake. Unfortunately, it took at least 15 minutes for our waiter and our drinks to come to the table.
For dinner we ordered 5 piece sashimi for 2, Scallop, Octopus, Foie Gras, Eggplant miso, Congee, and the Duck. I wasn't thrilled with the the way the restaurant brings out multiple dishes at once. We basically had two sessions, appetizers and then entree. I know it's several weeks later but the only dish that was memorable was the Eggplant Miso. The eggplant was tender without being overcooked and the flavor was bold and unique. Our second favorite dish was probably the Scallop. All of the others were just average. My biggest problem is that we hardly ever saw our waiter. We had empty dishes sitting in front of us during both courses for over 10 minutes. The table next to us was seated after us and finished their desserts before our entree dishes were cleared. We asked to see the dessert menu but after waiting and waiting and waiting we decided to say no thank you.
The manager came over to ask if there was a problem and we said yes. There was a big problem with the service. I explained that the food was good, the speed of the kitchen wasn't a problem, but that our waiter was hardly ever around. We spent at least 45 minutes (out of the 2 hours and 15 minutes we were there) waiting for assistance with dirty dishes, had to pour our own sake's, and took forever to receive the dessert menus.
The manager was apologetic and wanted to do something for us but we already paid and weren't looking for any special treatments. I was happy though that he read the notes in our reservation asking for permission to take pictures in the kitchen. It was very nice getting a quick tour, taking pictures, and hearing about the chefs process.
My final thoughts are that for the cost there are many other restaurants in London that offer terrific food and wonderful service.
We ended our night at the bar inside of Citizen M Bankside Hotel with Greg's co-worker. We thoroughly enjoyed many cocktails, waters, and laughs before heading to bed!!