Summer of 2015: End of Summer Cruise on the Love Boat

We kicked this summer off with our 7-night cruise to the Mexican Riviera on the Carnival Miracle, the only ship that sailed to the Mexican Riviera in May. So today Rich booked us an end of summer cruise with a 4-nighter on the Ruby Princess. As much fun as we had on our Carnival cruise, it wasn’t exactly the best fit for us – we’re more Princess than Carnival. And this is a rare opportunity to cruise on the Ruby before she sets sail for Hawaii.

That leaves the possibility of a 7-night on the Crown Princess in the spring or a spring WDW trip or skip a spring trip altogether for a 20th anniversary trip to Hawaii – all possibilities for 2016.

In the meantime, we’re looking forward to wrapping up the summer of 2015 with this cruise.


Summer of 2015: Birthday, Beach, Napa Rose Wine Weekend: Day 3, Part 2, the Napa Rose Chef’s Counter

We left our hotel at 5:00 pm heading to Kathy’s special birthday dinner, arriving just a few minutes later at the Grand Californian gate where we checked in with the guard and proceeded to valet parking.

We checked in at the Napa Rose front desk where they knew our name since we were the only ones with reservations for the 5:30 pm seating at the Chef’s Counter (officially, there’s a 5:30 seating and an 8:30 seating). We were seated in the lounge until the Chef’s Counter was ready for us. While we waited, we ordered drinks, a glass of Scharffen Berger for Kathy and a glass of La Crema Chardonnay for me.

Note from Kathy: We were both still trying to wake up after our short nap, hoping the wine would help us out. If it hadn’t been for set dining times for the Chef’s Counter, we wouldn’t have been dining so early. We chose 5:30 because 8:30 seemed too late for us and, at the time we made ressies, we were supposed to be staying at the beach, which would have made us getting back even later.

Rich_NRRich reviewing the wine list in the Napa Rose Lounge

Kathy_NRKathy sitting in the dark area of the Napa Rose Lounge. 🙂

Soon they called us, and we carried our drinks into the restaurant where we seated at seats #5 and #6 at the Chef’s Counter, the only ones there at this time. We were already excited.

NR_KitchenA Quiet Napa Rose kitchen before service begins

We met Michael our server and Dan the Sous Chef who stood near us expediting orders for the restaurant as we ate. (we posted a live pic of Michael).

Throughout the night, we also interacted with Nico, another server, and Juan, another sous chef. Dan asked us if we had any allergies, how we liked our meats cooked (medium rare), and what types of food we preferred — including which foods we did not like.

We both started with an amuse-bouche, hamachi on a bed of smooth potatoes.


This was a great way to start the meal, especially with our love of hamachi. From this point forward in the meal, we were mostly served different dishes.

Note from Kathy: With being served unknown courses, it was difficult to snap a pic and take in the names and ingredients of every dish and eat and enjoy it. We’ll do the best we can as we recall each dish from our photos.

Next for Kathy was a fresh green salad with anchovies and a tuna tartare crostini.

IMG_1078Tuna Tartare Crostini

I had the most amazing grilled octopus. I can state unabashedly that this was the best octopus I have ever eaten. It was grilled and crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside.


Kathy was then served clams three-ways in a lobster broth — clams in the shell, clam ravioli, and breaded razor clams. We had to ask for a spoon so Kathy could every last drop of the delicious broth.


I was served a lovely plate of halibut with a potato salad — not your ordinary picnic potato salad, this was a marvelous creation of potatoes, herbs, and red wine vinaigrette.


By now we were just finishing our glasses of white wine, I discussed with Michael our next wine choice. When I suggested that perhaps we would enjoy the La Braccesca Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (an Italian red blend), Michael wholeheartedly agreed. It was a nicely savory (not fruity) with plum, coffee aromas, and a hint of spice. It turned out to be a perfect pairing for the rest of the meal.

IMG_1081La Braccesca

Next was the pheasant risotto for Kathy. Perhaps her favorite bite of the night.


I had the veal scallopini. It was flavorful and tender, although perhaps a little salty for me.

IMG_1084Veal Scallopini

While we were eating these courses, Juan was preparing a dish in front of us as he had been doing during the meal, but this dish was for us — pork wrapped in pig’s ear with peach. We started to share this dish, but Kathy quickly demurred and let me finish it. An odd dish, but I was up for anything.

IMG_1086Pork in Pig’s Ear

Note from Kathy: I was not into the idea of pig’s ear at all. I did take one bite and that was it for me.

This was followed by a bright, palate-cleansing sorbet.


The main entrees were served next. Kathy had the lovely beef tenderloin with beef cheeks.

Note from Kathy: While I would love to have eaten an entire bowl of the pheasant risotto, the tenderlin was my best bite of the night – even outshined the beef cheeks. Superb!!!

IMG_1089Beef Tenderloin with Beef Cheeks

I had the veal loin with mango salsa and eggplant. The veal was very hearty and tasty, brightened by the fresh mango salsa. I am not a big eggplant fan, but it was woven into the dish so perfectly, I didn’t even know what it was.

IMG_1088Veal Loin

Michael then asked if it was alright if they chose the desserts for us, and we gladly agreed. He then asked the pastry chef what her two current favorite desserts were, and she prepared them for us.

Kathy was served a peanut butter and chocolate dessert with a crunchy base. It was absolutely scrumptious.

IMG_1091Peanut Butter and Chocolate

I had the cheesecake with cherry sorbet. Wow, delightful! Even the crunchy tuile was even delicious.

IMG_1090Cheesecake with Cherry Sorbet

After all this incredible food, we were allowed to linger while we finished our wine, watching all the work of the busy kitchen around us.

What an absolutely amazing experience! We had so many courses, and we often had different dishes. And it was fun to watch many of them made right in front of us in the kitchen. The service was impeccable, of course. Also it was fun to watch Dan expedite all the restaurant’s orders next to us. Fantastic fun was had by all.

Note from Kathy: Wow! I didn’t realize how many courses we’d had – so caught up in the excitement of it all!

Sadly, too soon it was time to go. Before we left, we asked Juan to take a picture of us at the Chef’s Counter.


As we left, Michael thanked us and gave us each a pair of Napa Rose truffles to go. We thanked Michael, Juan, and Dan, and made our way to the lobby to sit a comfortable environment and listen to some beautiful piano music as we watched the fireplace in the background.

The crowning moment to the wonderful birthday dinner experience was when the pianist ended his set with a rendition of Happy Birthday. Nothing could be better!

Note from Kathy: Everything about the GC is understated and it doesn’t have much of a Disney feel. In fact, my birthday was so played down, you wouldn’t know I was there having a birthday, which is rather unusual for Disney. It would have been nice if “happy birthday” had been written on the dessert plate or acknowledged in some way. So it was extra nice when we heard “happy birthday being played by the pianist in the GC lobby.

Also, the one negative about the Chef’s Counter is that you’re watching all of these other dishes being prepared and you want to be able to order one. Next time, we might actually order off the regular menu, which will be a first for us. But, overall, it was a fascinating, fun, and delicious experience!

Rich took my picture just outside Napa Rose where the menu was posted, but something reflected off of something and made for a rather unusual pic. 🙂


PS – We noticed a seating of 4 people around 7 p.m. at the other counter. Perhaps, when the 5:30 seating isn’t full, they also offer a 7 p.m. seating or perhaps it was suggested or requested as a walk-up – this we do not know. 7 p.m. would have been a better time for us.

Summer of 2015: Birthday, Beach, Napa Rose Wine Weekend: Day 3, Part 1

Sunday, July 13, Day 3

Today was the day of the big birthday celebration. Knowing it would take 45 minutes to an hour for coffee, Rich got up, started the coffee, and then got back into bed. Eventually, we got up and drank a few sips before he went to the breakfast area and brought back another plate of eggs, sausage, tots, and muffins. This time we made do with the in-room coffee.

Then we packed our beach bag and headed down Harbor Blvd. for the beach. But, first, we had to stop off and see my childhood home, like we do on most trips.

We noticed there was a house for sale a few houses down and I got out and grabbed a flyer. We’d buy it in a minute if we were in the market for a $650K house. To think, we bought ours in 1967 for about $26K.

Then we dragged ourselves away and drove to Newport Beach.  Arriving at around 11 a.m., we were about an hour too late to snag a parking place so we backtracked to Huntington Beach where there was tons of room. We parked, and carried our chairs, umbrella, and blanket to a spot near the waves. This was sublime. We watched some kids and their surfing lessons and once they left, we took turns splashing in the ocean.

Unfortunately, we were not in our swim suits because the forecast said it would be fogged in at the beach but it was perfectly sunny and beautiful and I regretted not wearing a swimsuit – I so wanted to dive right in. The water was warmer than usual, too. As it was, I rolled up my denim cutoffs, but kept tripping on the different levels of sand, trying to avoid getting my jean shorts wet. I failed. 🙂

I sat back in my chair and told Rich, “We must live near the beach.” I grew up not far from here and Rich grew up near Wildwood, NJ and he loves Huntington Beach because the long, wide beach reminds him of Wildwood. Once we were in a shop on the pier and a couple of girls mentioned, “Wildwood,” so there must be something to that.

Rich ran back to the cafe and brought back a couple of hot dogs and a churro to tide us over until our fabulous birthday dinner at Napa Rose that night. We had ressies for the 5:30 p.m. Chef’s Counter.

IMG_0219After lunch and some more beach fun, we drove back to our hotel via one of our favorite Huntington Beach Mobile Home parks, wondering if we could, perhaps, live there. 🙂

Summer of 2015: Birthday, Beach, Napa Rose Wine Weekend: Day 2

Note: Day 2 probably won’t be of interest to anyone outside of ourselves because it was about church and lunch with family in Los Angeles.

Sunday, July 12, Day 2

We woke up and Rich started the coffee. Forty-five minutes to an hour later it was ready – lol! In the meantime, Rich headed for the breakfast area and loaded up a plate of eggs, sausage, potatoes, and muffins and 2 cups of coffee and brought it all back to the room. I then divided the food onto 2 new plates from the kitchen. I was happy to see that the potatoes were now tots, a big improvement over the other potatoes we’d eaten across the country and back.

We showered, dressed, and then drove to Whittier in L.A. County. We’d discovered that not only is there an Eastern Rite and Western Rite (Latin or Roman) in the Catholic Church, but there is also a Western Rite and an Eastern Rite in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Western Rite in the Orthodox Church is very rare, although there is one in the Orlando area.


It was a small, friendly, warm church and because there were special events this morning, the service lasted for about two and a half hours. We had plans to visit Rich’s aunt north of L.A. and we were running late. So busy talking about the church service, we missed our I-5 exit and ended up driving through downtown L.A. and Hollywood on 101.

The traffic was backed up and we didn’t see how we’d get back on track and be on time. So Rich called his aunt and she instructed us how to get back on track. We were only a half hour late. (Btw, we’d last reported having lunch with his aunt at the Queen Mary in Long Beach on our October beach trip.)

We toured her little cottage and she shared pictures of his Uncle Charles. I’d always heard how alike Rich and Charles were and I’d seen the common gestures at our wedding. But in this photo, Charles was about Rich’s age now and the resemblance was uncanny! She shared photos of their Star Trek cruises and autographed photos, plates, and other memorabilia. We were all missing Charles!

We then made our way to the local popular barbecue joint for lunch just down the road. It was packed on a Sunday afternoon! We enjoyed the meal and company and then headed back to Aunt Eillean’s place for a tour of her garden. Her two kitties were a bit shy and we mostly just got a glance of them racing by – lol!


We hugged, took some photos and said our good-byes with plans to get together again this fall at a recreational area not far from our home in Las Vegas.

It was pretty hot that day in inland L.A. and we were still dressed in our church clothes, making us even hotter, so on the way home, we stopped off at Del Taco for a couple of milkshakes – the usual vanilla for Rich and strawberry for me.

By the time we got back to our little villa in Anaheim, it must have been close to six p.m. Totally exhausted, we rested for a bit and then finished off the bottle of wine, ate a few crackers with cheese and had milk and cookies for a bedtime snack before hitting the bed.

Oh, but of course, we couldn’t go to sleep until after the 9:30 fireworks were finished. And then we went to sleep.

Summer of 2015: Birthday, Beach, Napa Rose Wine Weekend: Day 1

Who: Rich and Kathy
When: July 2015
Where: Anaheim
Why: Kathy’s Birthday

Saturday, July 11, Day 1

The Plan

You can read “the plan” here, but as usual, the actual didn’t completely match “the plan.” For one thing, we started thinking how we’d rather be staying closer to Disneyland after the birthday dinner so we moved our ressie from Huntington Beach to across the street from Garden Walk in Anaheim.

The Actual

We left our home in Las Vegas at 9 a.m. on a Saturday and arrived in Anaheim a little after 1 p.m. We made a quick stop at Tommy’s in Barstow for a couple of tamale lunches, and to top off the tank. Normally, we travel on a Friday for our 4-day weekends but with my birthday on a Monday, we switched the trip to Saturday through Tuesday. Traveling on a Saturday is always busier traffic-wise, and we much prefer not to travel on a Saturday.

This was our first stay at the RI in Anaheim West Gate, and we were hoping for the best. With its location across from Garden Walk, we might actually make it over there. We love the space of the RI studio and think of it as our own DVC Villa, but this one only had a queen bed and we’re more comfortable with a king bed. The couch was in an odd space, so we rearranged the furniture much more to our liking. Unfortunately, the RI makes us feel like we’re moving across the country since we’ve stayed in so many on those trips. At least, it’s given us a nice status with this hotel chain.

Another benefit of staying near Disneyland Resort is that, after a short rest, we were able to pop in. If we’d been staying near the beach, we would have spent the evening there.

We valet parked at Downtown Disney at 5 p.m. (when valet begins), and walked through Downtown Disney, heading for our home-away-from-home, the Grand Californian. DD was packed as we figured it would be and could only imagine how busy the parks were. Summer at Disneyland is busy enough but even busier with the special 60th anniversary/birthday.

We checked out the GC gift shop, one of our favorite shops, and I found my favorite beach cover-up that also doubles as a robe. Mine was getting ratty from the cats’ claws sitting on my lap in the morning. We used our points and purchased the robe/cover-up.

Then we headed for the Hearthstone Lounge, our favorite first stop. We ordered our favorite Habanero Margaritas and Robusto Flatbread. Service was friendly and efficient. Our server had a familiar face, although I don’t recall his name. We love it here. And when we’re sitting there soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying a drink and/or a snack, we don’t want to be anywhere else.

We posted a couple of “live” pics of the margaritas and flatbread on Two4Disney using the WordPress app, which was new to us. We enjoyed posting here much more than Facebook (we have deleted our accounts). It suits us better to share our stuff at “home” and we enjoy visits by family and friends. It is/or would be nice to visit their place, too, if they have blogs of their own – much better than FB. Really dislike that whole concept.

Anyway, after our refreshment, we walked to World of Disney to see what “60th birthday” items we might find. We’d read that new items will be available on the actual date (today, 7/17), but we found  60th Minnie and Mickey beanbags to add to our collection. We also posted a “live” pic here.

I love, love, love polka dots (I am a Minnie girl, after all), and so when I saw this blue polka dot Minnie top, I had to have it. I wore it to the beach in the pic we posted here. Rich looked for a 60th t-shirt for him but we only saw one on display and nothing to buy. Oh well, as it is, our points still only almost covered our 3 purchases. Ever the gentleman, Rich says the Minnie & Mickey beanbags are enough for him. If we return in the fall for a park visit, we’ll see what we can get for him then.

On our way back to DD valet parking, we had to stop and listen to the Rayford Brothers and when they started singing “Little Sister,” an Elvis song, I had to capture the performance on video. I posted a “live” video here. I wasn’t sure the uploading from my iPhone would work via the App but it did. Woo hoo!!!

Disneyland’s Downtown Disney never disappoints and you can have such a blast without entering a park. Since our APs have expired, we’re still debating on whether to renew in the Fall or hold out for a WDW trip.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from Disney property and return to our little villa, but after the crowds, it was actually a relief once we got there. I’d forgotten to pack the mini bottles of wine for the trip so Rich went down to the onsite market and brought back a bottle of Chardonnay and we each had a glass before going to bed.

And then the 9:30 fireworks went off. They were loud! We thought we were back living in Windermere. 🙂

Summer of 2015: Birthdays, Beaches, and a Blast to the Past

beachkathyhatsmWe just returned from celebrating my birthday in SoCal, hanging out at the beach, Disneyland Resort, my old neighborhood, and catching up with family. We posted a few “live” pics, and we hope to start the trip report soon.

We had a blast, but it reminded me of how much I miss living near the beach. After splashing around in the water, I totally did not want to leave the beach and told Rich, “We have to move closer to the beach!”

Reading some older posts, I ran across this one and because Florida is always on our mind somewhere, I thought it would be fun to post an excerpt from that post and to think about what we wrote here almost 3 years ago right before we left Florida the second time around.

August, 2012

This morning was another one of those glorious Florida mornings and as I walked the neighborhood full of those Florida homes I love so much, I realized I may cry when the long hauler pulls up. The only other time I’ve done that was when we left Oregon in the first place. I was sitting out on our back deck when I saw the truck and I was surprised by the tears that flowed. I didn’t want to give up our first house where we’d started our new little kitty family. (Sad to return without the Budster!)

This time I have to give up Florida. And while it’s been difficult living here this time around, I do love it. As I strolled the neighborhood, I also realized that Florida represents my chance to relive my SoCal childhood as an adult. Disney, beaches, and affordable single-family, single-story homes with pools. That’s the way it was back in the ’60s when we lived in Orange County, California. Everybody I know who grew up there bemoans the fact that it’s no longer like that. And we all try to find our new SoCal. Florida was my new SoCal. Unfortunately, my childhood friends, schools, and family were missing from the Florida scene.

I will definitely miss opportunities to drop in on Disney, swim in the warm ocean, and meet up with new Disney friends when they’re in town. This was a brutal decision to make and many times, I didn’t think we’d make this choice. I thought maybe this time Florida would win.