Dinner at Rose’s Luxury

Happy Valentine’s Day! I wanted to share how Ben and I celebrated early a few days ago, but please remember to love yourself, however you are able to best do that.

This is my 400th post on this blog, and I have officially been posting twice a week consistently for an entire calendar year. I’m really proud to have reached this point and may be taking a small hiatus in posting regularly while I pull myself together and refocus. (Might not, we’ll see how I feel!) Thank you so much for being with me this past year and these past 400 posts.


I have a lot of thoughts about the DC food scene, but I will admit that it is improving. (I’ll put up all my gripes about the DC food scene and places that have shown this improvement in the near future!) Last year, Washington DC was recognized as Bon Appetit magazine’s Restaurant City of the Year and also received its first-ever Michelin stars, and that is thanks to many great new restaurants and chefs that have made enough of a name for themselves to do fresh, bold things.

But we aren’t here to talk about the hot new places. Rose’s Luxury has been one of the most-hyped restaurants in the District since I started working in the area. It earned a Michelin star last year and can be reliably found on Washingtonian’s 100 Very Best Restaurants list year after year. I’ve only ever heard good things from friends who’ve visited the restaurant, citing that yes, it is worth the hype!

Where does most of the hype come from? 2 things:

  1. Their most famous dish, a pork & lychee salad
  2. The fact that they do not take reservations, so people have to start waiting in line at 3pm in order to get a table for dinner… 2.5 hours later.

They do take reservations for large parties (6 or more), but I couldn’t find that many friends so I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to eat at Rose’s.

BUT THEN! Towards the end of last year, Rose’s Luxury announced that they would be accepting reservations! For parties of 2! With the purchase of a gift card that could be used towards that meal!

TL;DR Rose’s Luxury does an impressive job of combining a lot of different flavors in a balanced and unexpectedly delicious way, all while injecting a bit of sassy personality along the way.


Despite the name, Rose’s Luxury is not a luxurious, pretentious, fancy restaurant. In fact, you might walk past it if you’re not paying attention.

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Photo: Travel & Leisure

Inside, the ambiance is similarly not-stuffy and, in fact, more on the hipster-trendy side. Rose’s has a lot of personality, and it shows in their decor. We were seated upstairs near the bar, and walked past my friends’ favorite seating area that is lit overhead by globe string lights.

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“All unattended or misbehaving children will be given a shot of espresso & a free puppy.” Better keep your kids in line!

Behind me was a shelf with books and fun knick-knacks. A certificate in dining from Hooter’s did not escape me among the otherwise very Pinterest-worthy collection. The servers were dressed casually and otherwise indistinguishable from guests, who were not dressed to the nines for their 9pm dinners. In the bathroom, behind a small mirror was a window that overlooked the dining area below and still had elements of the personality that was subtly embedded in the entire restaurant experience.

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“All employees must wash their hands before returning to work. Fortunately, we hire smart enough employees that we don’t have to remind them to do so.”

We had a gift certificate to blow on our 5th Valentine’s Day together, so let’s get into the food!

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The meal kicked off with a soft potato brioche w/ bacon butter. This wasn’t particularly outstanding as far as breads go, but I liked the soft texture and the warmed, soft bacon butter a lot. I only wished it didn’t crumble so much because I want bread to go in my belly, not on the board.

LITTLE BITES

We enjoyed these little bites, and they were a great way to prep us for what is, I believe, the core of the Rose’s Luxury experience: pulling off interesting, unexpected, and bold flavor combinations.

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Stuffed dates w/ cultured butter & walnuts // Ben took a bit to warm up to these, but I really liked the sweet and soft dates, the savoriness and warmth of the butter, and the slight crunch and bitterness of the walnuts.

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Foie gras tart w/ hazelnut, white chocolate, & Asian pear // This was the strangest of the little bites because of the white chocolate chips embedded in the not-sweet foie gras filling of the tart. But it still came together because of its creaminess and it complemented the sweet flavors of the chocolate and the pear. Kind of hated it when I first bit into it, but found myself liking it a lot by the time the bite was gone.

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Sake & wasabi-marinated oysters w/ apple granita // I don’t usually like wasabi very much (sorry wasabi pea lovers!), but these oysters were great because of how the very different flavors and textures came together. It was a bit much for one slurp, but I liked how the frozen apple granita helped mollify the burn I would’ve felt from the wasabi and even from the sake, while still allowing some of flavor of the oyster to come through.

SMALL PLATES

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Pork sausage, habanero, peanuts, & lychee // Here we are. The most famous dish at Rose’s Luxury, cited in over 250 reviews on Yelp. At the bottom were herbs and on top was a dollop of coconut cream that, as you stirred the whole thing, would melt over the salad and act as the dressing. There were a lot of flavors happening in this small plate and I do think this is a good example of how Rose’s Luxury really pushes the envelope with combining flavors. Ben and I found this salad a bit too salty and not really worth the hype, to be honest. It was tasty and honestly, I do admire what Aaron Silverman did with this flavor combination, but it didn’t change my life and I wouldn’t go out of my way to get it again.

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Fried brussels sprouts w/ benne tahini, eel sauce, & bonito // The prominent flavors in this one were brussels sprouts and tahini, both of which are very strong flavors. I felt this was maybe the least successful in terms of balancing the flavors of all the components, but it was still tasty because the sprouts and tahini were an interesting combination. I just didn’t think the other flavors had much of an effect in the quantity that they were used.

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Crispy squid w/ Yemeni hot sauce, romaine, & sweet lemon puree // By the time this came out, Ben and I were starting to feel the effect of the food. We hadn’t really eaten that much, but I think we felt very satiated by the sheer quantity of flavors that we were consuming. The flavors were pretty well-balanced in this one, although I didn’t detect much heat from the hot sauce and I’m not sure if that was intentional or not. The squid itself was… prepared okay? Not that crispy, but it’s hard for me to find a calamari I don’t like.

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Thai-marinated pork blade steak w/ nahm prik slaw // Again, by the time this came out, Ben and I weren’t as eager about the food anymore. I was also really sleepy by this point in the evening, as we were seated for dinner at close to 9:30pm and I have been getting sleepy very early because I’ve been attempting exercise in the mornings. As a result, I don’t really have any thoughts about this pork dish, it didn’t stand out as particularly good or bad.

PASTA

If you’re thinking that maybe we were regretting ordering a pasta… you’d be right. I was nodding off at this point in the meal and my belly was trying to come to terms with how many flavors and ingredients it had met over the past hour. We ordered the farro reginetti w/ garlic, kale, & mustard greens and… it was okay.

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The two of us, personally, do not like our pasta cooked very al dente, so the bite-y pasta was a bit of a struggle when 10:30, 11 was rolling around. The taste was fine but… pretty ordinary, to be really honest. A touch of sauce didn’t really help how overwhelmingly al dente this pasta was, and I wasn’t super excited about the leftovers I brought to lunch the next day.

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However, our server, Janine, sent a “gift” of a little bit of their Martelli spaghetti w/ tomato, chili, basil, & Parmesan and that was coated in maybe the best pasta sauce I have ever tasted in my entire life? I like my tomato sauces to be a bit sweet, and this was the perfect amount of sweetness that I could tell wasn’t the result of the sloppy addition of sugar. We only were able to take some of this home because we were so done with the meal already, and having those two bites to enjoy over the weekend was nothing short of glorious. I really want the recipe for this tomato sauce, it was the highlight of the entire meal for me and we didn’t even order it! Thank you so much, Janine!

DESSERT

Listen, I know I said that I was basically passed out and unable to eat but I didn’t come all this way to celebrate Valentine’s Day and not eat dessert. You just gotta open up that dessert compartment in your stomach and you’re good to go. Based on Janine’s recommendation, we got the coconut ice cream with burnt caramel coconut and kiwi.

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I didn’t love this, unfortunately. The ice cream was tasty, but I think it felt weird to have more coconut after the coconut cream from the pork & lychee salad during a meal where my mouth was constantly being surprised by different flavors and how they were combined. A repeat performance by coconut was like, “Hey… what are you doing back here?” Also, I did not like the burnt caramel coconut. It was sticky in that unpleasant way that lent it a kind of poor mouthfeel and I found the bitterness to just not really work at this point in the evening. And kiwi was a fun choice but I’m not sure I loved the tartness of the kiwi with the sweet and creamy ice cream. I know that people really love this dessert, but I think I just wasn’t in the mood for more coconut or for a flavor to come from burnt-ness.

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At the end of the meal, our receipt was brought out to us with a sesame brittle and little touches that made us smile.

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1 Hooray! 2 Side of Winning, 1 Helluva Time, 1 Side of Awesome, all free of charge

I enjoyed my time at Rose’s Luxury but I’m glad I never had to wait hours to eat here. I don’t think it’s worth that kind of wait, and as a result I don’t think it’s worth the level of hype it has achieved. That being said, Aaron Silverman and his team are doing some incredible things with food and flavor that I think DC needs more of.  Even the small plates format – which I normally loathe here in DC – works for this because you are getting small punches of these crazy flavors.

Rose’s Luxury
717 8th Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 580-8889
www.rosesluxury.com

Reservations for the tasting menu can be made for groups of 6-8. Private parties for 8-12 on the rooftop garden can be reserved and include a different tasting menu.


What are some of the most famous and/or hyped restaurants where you live?
What makes a restaurant worth the hype for you?

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Sin City Demands Sin… | Spring Break 2016

Last time on Spring Break 2016, the bachelorette party crew enjoyed a lot of good food, some poolside chillin’, and an amazing concert at the new T-Mobile Arena by The Killers, with Wayne Newton, Shamir, and special appearances by the Blue Man Group and Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons. After all that excitement, it was time to get ready to leave Las Vegas…


Thursday was our last day in Vegas, and I woke up with the sun yet again despite how dead-tired I was the day before. But it was going to be our last time seeing the desert and the craziness that is Las Vegas, so we just enjoyed it while packing our things. At this point, Kristine had already flown to LA (which I momentarily forgot when I woke up and thought I had kicked her off the bed whoops) so Megan, Jennifer, and I just chilled and finished the champagne and orange juice we had while waiting for the boys to pick us up in the rental cars and watching HGTV. (I think I understand why people get so into HGTV now; we watched two full episodes of Flip or Flop because we just felt too invested.)

I was so willing to wait through anything, though, because the bachelor and bachelorette party crews were finally uniting over a magical thing: gluttony at Wicked Spoon. I am a big fan of buffets and was pretty excited to try out the caliber of buffet that Vegas offered, seeing so many trips by so many friends that checked off this Deadly Sin off their list.

Welcome to Wicked Spoon
Welcome to Wicked Spoon

Considering that we had been waiting in our hotel for this epic food-stuffing for over an hour, we were completely famished. Walking in was a little bit overwhelming for me, because I knew that I wanted to pace myself but also that I wanted to eat a lot of food and fast. These, as you can imagine, are conflicting goals. So, I took a stroll around the buffet to get an idea of what I definitely wanted to eat and what could be passed over in case I got too full.

A view of the buffet
A view of a portion of the buffet (the salad part, because goodness knows I needed this section)

Wicked Spoon is nice in that they do small, individual portions of food instead of having you scoop out too much of every dish and realizing that you got too excited too soon. (This happens to you too, right? … right??) So they call it “small plates”-style but it’s perfect because you just get a little dish of food and you don’t have to share anything muahahahah!  This also aids in pacing because you can only fit so many little dishes onto your plate.

Let’s just share some photos of my food now, shall we?Read More »

Spring Break 2015: Key West (Day 2)

Last time on Spring Break 2015, we spent a day in Fort Lauderdale and then spent 4 hours driving to Key West. Upon arrival, we had a taste of night life and curled up on a beach to recuperate before another full day of fun.


I wish I could say that I awoke peacefully to the gentle warmth and glow of the sun, peeking over the sea as I slept with the smell of salt and sea in my hair.

Sunrise on the beach
Beach sunrise…
Sunrise on the beach with waves on the rocks
Breathe in the serenity… it doesn’t last

In reality, we had barely settled into our sleeping positions on the beach and in the car when I learned something the hard way:

Key West has feral chickens. I found out when, at 3 AM, I heard a rooster crowing its lungs out. And then no fewer than 2 roosters joined that one. There was a proud rooster, with a confident crow, and a very sad rooster with a depressingly dejected one. I wish I knew why 3 AM was when they decided to start crowing, because cartoons and movies have told me that roosters crow when the sun rises. Clearly, these roosters didn’t get that memo.

Rooster
Cocky…

I was under the impression that these roosters belonged to one of the houses nearby, but when I woke up, I saw them wandering around. A cocky rooster strutting around and still crowing, a few hens, even some chicks! I was very excited to see those adorable chicks but I do with I was less cranky at this point in time. I can sleep through almost anything. I’ve fallen asleep standing up, I routinely sleep in any and all public transportation, I have even nodded off on the stairs. But there are 2 things that will keep me from falling asleep no matter how sleepy I am and that will wake me up no matter how deeply I’m sleeping: (1) Snoring and (2) ROOSTERS CROWING. I discovered the power of the rooster crow when I was in China over a decade ago and first successfully stayed up all night thanks to the roosters next door.

Chick next to chicken
Chick + chicken = almost forgiven BUT NOT REALLY

Let’s move on from the roosters, as we kept seeing them throughout the day (they’re everywhere). Just know that every time I saw them, I tried to give them the most menacing glare I could.

I did get to enjoy a really serene ocean sunrise when I was done staring down these roosters and their families. From there, we went to breakfast at Southernmost Beach Cafe. (Since this is Key West, “southernmost” was a recurring theme in the naming of local establishments.) I filled my belly with chicken and waffles because we already had two smoked salmon omelettes at the table.

Chicken and waffles with candied pecans and cayenne maple syrup
Chicken and waffles with candied pecans and cayenne maple syrup
Eggs benedict
More eggs benny!

We had a big day ahead of us in Key West! First, we set up at a proper campsite at Boyd’s Campground, which provided a nice spot for us to rest our heads next to the water.

View from our campsite
View from our campsite
Our tent and our rental hatchback
Our tent and our rental hatchback

We walked around for a bit, getting our bearings and seeing what this town looked like in daylight. (I was so surprised by how many people were sunburned that early in the day. Did these folks not know how the sun works by now?)

A romantic and somewhat unsettling statue
A romantic and somewhat unsettling statue
Pelican? at the docks
A friend we made while walking

Our biggest adventure was: snorkeling! I’ve never been snorkeling before and I was so excited because, I mean, I’ve been obsessed with The Little Mermaid for so long and with marine life in general for so long now. The idea of us being out there, swimming with the fishies LITERALLY was so exciting to me. The weather was perfect for a day out on the sea and the Floridays crew was so nice to us! They were friendly but not too friendly because they understand you’re out here to get to know the fish, not the captain of the boat. I felt really safe and at ease, even when I started feeling nauseous and watched half of the other passengers throw up over the side of the boat. (For those interested, going snorkeling with Floridays includes beverages. I just had myself a ginger ale because of my belly, but you could have something with more of an edge to it if you wanted, as well.)

View from the boat
The only photo I have is from our boat ride out to the reef…

Being my first time snorkeling, I had a bit of trouble with the breathing. (So much for those mermaid dreams.) I got water in my goggles and in my snorkel pretty often, and at one point, I had floated to a really shallow part of the reef. I was too scared to move for fear of kicking at the coral with my flippers, but the waves were really rough in that area to the point where I was worried the water itself would slam me into the reefs. But wow was it amazing. The fish weren’t afraid of me — even though I was covered in a lot of SPF 90 — and I saw so many different kinds of fish and coral out there. It was seriously one of the most magical experiences I’ve ever had an it was easily the highlight of Key West for me and one of the high points of the entire trip. I wish I had photos to share but I will seriously cherish the memory of being as close to a mermaid as I will ever be. Also, I cannot recommend snorkeling in Key West enough, especially with Floridays.

Of course, since we were in Key West, I was told by friends that it was mandatory that I get key lime pie on a stick dipped in chocolate. So I did!

The classic - key lime pie, frozen, put on a stick, dipped in chocolate
The classic – key lime pie, frozen, put on a stick, dipped in chocolate

Since we had some time before sunset, we had dinner. Kind of. First, we stopped by The Conch Shack because, when in Key West and not eating key lime pie, you gotta try some conch.  Between the 4 of us, we split a conch sampler (conch fritters, conch ceviche, cracked conch, and fries) and a seafood sampler (conch fritters, fried fish, fried shrimp, and fries). This was literally a little shack with amazing fried seafood and — the highlight of this shack — misters that would spray a fine mist of cool water on you as you walked round to the seating area. Delicious food, refreshing mist… stop by here when you want to get some conch in Key West. As it turns out, we wanted to balance out our meal more, which is why we split our orders at The Conch Shack. We stopped by Hogfish Bar & Grill for a more traditional dining experience. (We didn’t have hogfish but yo, hogfish are terrifying looking.) I wanted to balance out all that fried goodness I had earlier, so I ordered a ceviche with the waitress’s promise that it had lots of veggies. We had okay food there, but we really just wanted to wait for sunset with ice water in a cool restaurant, to be totally honest. (It was open air, so there was no AC, but being out of the sun and in front of a fan really helped.)

Sign denoting Conch Shack

Food from Conch Shack
Yummmmmmmmmm

We rounded out the evening by going to Mallory Square for the Sunset Celebration. Talented street performers come out and put on some amazing shows while vendors provide food and handmade crafts. It was super cool in that it highlighted these local talents in this beautiful place. The performers themselves! I mean they should be on America’s Got Talent, they were incredible. I wish nothing but the best for them.

Man in top hap doing a hand stand on chairs
Not pictured: the 8 (!!!) chairs that were stacked below his hands/feet

It also didn’t hurt at all that Mallory Square is gorgeous at sunset. This is definitely another must-do Key West activity.

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The evening ended with us returning to our campsite — a proper one this time! — and settling down with cold drinks in front of a small bonfire we made. The bonfire was short-lived, as the gravel that comprised the artificial “beach” we camped on had a tendency to POP. A lot. It was pretty dangerous actually, but the fire felt nice because it was that toasty, cozy, dry heat and not the gross humidity that we had been dealing with since touchdown. We all bundled up in our tent (which got a little too warm because there wasn’t much airflow through it) and had a pretty good night’s sleep.

Campfire

Spring Break 2015: Fort Lauderdale (Day 1)

Yelp had their annual spring break in Fort Lauderdale this year. Even though I have gone to Yelp’s Winter Break in Atlantic City, I never really give any thought to going to Yelp’s Spring Break because they’re usually pretty far and I don’t like thinking about the travel logistics. Even when my friend Annie tried her darnedest to convince me to go along with her and our friend Tim, as they were going to make a stop at the Bahamas, I was not too keen on risking vacation days while I was interviewing for new jobs. HOWEVER, the plan then changed to include dining at Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World and I was instantly sold. Fast-forward a few weeks later, and we were ready for spring break!


After I taught Ben the virtues of rolling and making things fit into a backpack for travel, we dragged ourselves up at 4 AM on Saturday morning to fly down to Fort Lauderdale. Things went pretty smoothly with long-term parking. Ben wouldn’t let me have a doughnut because we were still trying to keep our bodies beach-ready, but hangriness aside, it was smooth sailing.

It was our first time flying with a budget airline rather than the ones we had accrued miles with, but we were really pleasantly surprised because we were fortunate enough to get front-row seats. That translate to more leg room than we’ve ever had before, which was a wonderful treat for Ben, who, at 6’3″, ALWAYS finds his legs cramped on airplanes. Towards the end of our flight, we chatted a bit with a lovely and extraordinary lady who had visited so many places and accomplished so much but spoke of her life experiences like they were so ordinary. It was kind of fascinating listening to her talk about her past adventures and her upcoming reunion with her brother, and I think that chat really got me and Ben raring to have our own adventures in Florida.

Soooooooo much leg room. Ben is 6'3" so I mean....
Soooooooo much leg room. Ben is 6’3″ so I mean….

Tim and Annie picked us up from the airport and immediately took us for brunch at The Foxy Brown, which had been recommended to them by Blue, the Yelp BPB (Broward-Palm Beach) Community Manager. (Thanks Blue!) I stuffed myself silly and made sure to get my doughnut fix alongside a s’mores waffle and a few bites of the highly touted short rib Benedict.

S'mores waffle
S’moers waffle – Belgian waffle with marshmallow fluff, Nutella, and graham cracker crumble
Doughnut holes
Doughnut holes served with a dusting of powdered sugar and cereal milk for dunking! (Which was needed because these doughnut holes were, unfortunately, quite dry.)
Short rib Benedict + side of fruit
Short rib Benedict had this great braised short rib and a KILLER chimichurri Hollandaise sauce (get more of this on the side, trust me)

After brunch, it was off to my first Yelp activity of the weekend: a tour of the Funky Buddha Brewery. (Apologies for all the lens flare in these photos; my lens was a bit on the dirty side apparently!)

"We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams"
“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams”
Brewing tanks named "Rylee", "Miles", "Tyler"
They named the brewing equipment after their kids!

Now I’m not really a big beer fan (or a drinker at all, to be quite honest), but I really like learning about anything and everything, so learning about their brewing processes was really cool. Funky Buddha also has a lot of super interesting flavors. I tasted a PB&J that really truly had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich aftertaste, complete with that toasted bread flavor. They were very generous with the samples (a little too generous for me, personally, as I really wasn’t going to drink more than a sip of each one — more for my friends!) but I learned a lot about the brewing methods and the equipment. I even got to smell hops at different stages of brewing, which was really cool. I may not be much of a beer drinker, but I do like chemistry and I’m always excited to learn something new.

Trying out the brews
Trying out the brews
Our new Yelp friends!
Our new Yelp friends in front of the super cute and educational infographic about the brewing process!

From there, we headed to the beach because well, spring break in Florida, right? Well, technically, we made a quick dollar store/drugstore stop because we needed a few things like flip flops, glowsticks, and sunscreen. I really appreciated that all of my friends were very diligent about SPF, although they were probably more attentive because they had been sunburned already and not because they are SPF fiends like myself. The beach itself was great. The ocean water was the perfect temperature, it was a beautiful day, I was with my friends, it was a good time.

Blue skies, blue seas, sandy beaches...
It had been a really long time since I last saw the beach… and it had snowed in DC about 2 weeks before taking this photo, so you can imagine how happy I was…

Until I got stung by a jellyfish. UGH WHY. I was just splashing around happily in the ocean when I felt a burning, stinging pain on the backside of my knee. (The armpit of the knee, if you will.) (The kneepit?) Ben, bless his heart, did not think too much of my yelling because he thought I had a leg cramp. It wasn’t until I went from yellling “OW!” to “SOMETHING GOT ME” that he came over to help me back to shore while my friends kept offering to pee on my leg. (Note: This does NOT work, please DO NOT go around peeing on your friends’ legs or on strangers’ legs. This is a crazy urban legend that exists solely to test your relationship with a person after he/she pees on you, I think. Especially because it will only make the pain worse.) We were so confused looking at the sting because, if anything, it looks like someone scratched me underwater. Some of us were wondering if maybe I got grazed by a fish with sharp fins? In any case, now I have an interesting scar on my left leg and a mild fear of things getting me in the water.

Back of knee with scar
Ouch. The scar is, in fact, still there and will start stinging every few weeks or so.

Well, that cut our beach visit a little short, so we headed back to the AirBnB to shower and check out before our final Yelp activity: a pirate party on a river cruise. I put together my simple Elizabeth Swann outfit and we were out the door without too much of a problem. The real issue came with finding parking, which was dang near impossible. We were SO scared that the boat would leave without us, but there was just no parking to be found. The farther we drove, the more we worried, but we saw people in pirate garb running towards the dock. We also had an emergency where Tim needed to go to the bathroom, and the stress was not helping. We parted ways with him as we tried to find parking and he tried to find a bathroom. At long last, we found parking about a mile away and then tried to run to the boat. As you may remember, I’m awful at running, so this didn’t go over great.  Luckily, we found out mid-run that they had postponed leaving so we were able to walk the rest of the way. Phew! (Note to self: Get fit enough to be able to run a mile.)

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Funky Buddha draught
Funky Buddha makes an appearance with an awesomely-shaped draught
The crew - Annie, Tim, Ben, and myself
The crew – Annie, Tim, Ben, and myself

Pirate cruise group sun

Our new friends!
Our new friends!

While the snacks and drinks on the boat were, as Tim and Annie reported, not as amazing as they were on the earlier days of Yelp’s Spring Break, we still ate a decent amount of food, got some pretty sturdy tote bags from SlickDeals, and got to see a truly amazing view from the top of the boat. On the East Coast, we don’t get to see the sun set into the ocean very often, so this was a nice little treat for us.

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At the end of the evening, while other Yelpers were heading to an afterparty, we piled back into our rental car and started a long drive towards Key West. Along the way, I swear I saw more adult video stores and strip clubs along this road/highway that we were driving along than I had seen cumulatively in my entire life. Why do you need so many of those, Florida? It just seems like there were so many that they couldn’t possibly all be doing really well financially? Are people really unwilling to drive an extra 2 miles to get to one, you have to have them so close together also? It was weird.

One of my favorite things about this drive was how clear the stars were. I’ve never seen the stars like this, because I don’t think I’ve ever been this far south, this close to the equator before, so I was able to look out closer to the horizon and see the Big Dipper, brighter than I had ever seen those stars before. I spent a good portion of that car trip with my face pressed to the window, staring up at the stars. I can’t imagine living far from a city, but seeing the stars like that made me really wonder what life would be like if I could have a view like that every day, unmarred by light pollution.

The night wasn’t over after hours of driving to Key West. The AirBnB hosts had recommended an interesting bar called Garden of Eden, which is a “clothing optional” institution. As you climb the floors of this bar, clothing gets increasingly rare. Unfortunately for my friends, I was feeling really tired and cranky at this point and didn’t want to see any butts or nipples, so I passed on paying the all-too-necessary $5 cover charge for some free dancing elsewhere. Duval Street seemed to be lined with little else than bars and more bars, with one particularly cute place called Smallest Bar that lived up to its name. It was indeed the smallest bar I had ever seen.

"Garden of Eden - Clothing Optional Bar"
Maybe one day when I’m feeling more adventurous, I’ll venture in? (Probably not though, let’s be real.)
"Smallest Bar in Key West"
It’s basically a room and at the back is a bar. It was pretty cute though.
Night life on Duval Street
A lot of partygoers were out and about on Duval Street. It was kind of a hot mess.

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The plan for the end of the evening was just to crash on the beach. I felt really weird about this, especially in my tired/cranky state, so I opted to sleep in the car. (I definitely spend a lot of time sleeping in cars anyway, so this comes second-nature to me.) I learned some tricks for doing this overnight (pro tip: open two car windows about halfway, drape a towel over the door, and shut the door so that you can still have fresh air come in through the towels but no bugs or other random things blowing in through an open window!) and slept pretty well.

Until the wild roosters of Key West started crowing at 3 AM. But we’ll get to that on day 2.

Me cheesing in front of someone's scooter because it seemed like a good idea at the time
Not pictured: The owners of the scooter who were walking up behind me

Cruisin’ Again!

This year’s family vacation was another Norwegian Cruise Line trip to Alaska that ended in Vancouver, Canada. I have never been to the Pacific Northwest before, so I was really excited about it although not totally sure what to expect. There was one thing that was familiar to me, and that was coming back home to a cruise ship most nights of the vacation.

We started our trip in Anchorage, took a cab to Whittier where we boarded our ship.

We only spent about an hour in Whittier but it was a gorgeous day and the gorgeous scenery was just… gorgeous.

From there, we went to Icy Strait Point (Hoonah), Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan before disembarking in Vancouver, Canada. Let’s get talking about where I spent a lot of my time during this trip:

Norwegian Sun

If you remember, I had an amazing time my first time cruising ever, and NCL had a lot to do with that. This year, we were on the Norwegian Sun, which is a slightly smaller ship than the Norwegian Star. I basically knew what to expect as the ship was designed similarly to the Star.

The food was, of course, great.

Starters & salads
Entrees……… mmm…

We rarely ate at the buffet, because my parents liked the portion control that comes with the meal service and also not having to carry our plates around and struggle to find a table. (“We’re on vacation, it’s okay to like being served, right?”) The food was good and by the end, I found out you could order more than one of each course from other tables where people were taking full advantage. Needless to say, my brother is teasing me for ordering multiple desserts to this day.

And I’d do it again! All the desserts.

One of my favorite things about our cruise this time around was the camaraderie on the ship. Whereas on the last cruise, everyone was generally friendly but doing their own thing, I made friends on this cruise. I [secretly snuck out to avoid having my family there] went to karaoke every night but the first and there was a nice little crowd of regulars there. Not only did we have regular singers, a few of whom were in the Karaoke Superstar Contest on the last day with me (shout-out to Garrett, Janice, and Coby!), but we also had regulars in the audience who were so nice and fun (shout-out to Carol, Jane, and Rodney for supporting me through the finals!). I’ll write another post about my passion for karaoke, but when you sing in front of a group, you do need to sing FOR your audience, not just at them. On cruises, I usually sing a lot of classic tunes from before the 80s because there are a lot of retirees onboard, ya know? Country songs also tend to be pretty popular. There was also a big sing-along in the atrium which I enjoyed a lot. Sing-alongs are just always a good time and are part of what makes karaoke amazing.

This was our in-house Johnny Cash, Garrett. 18-year-old who just started singing this year and already SO talented.

We also did a murder mystery lunch with a family from Miami. It was one of the few times my brother and I got to interact with other people our age and I had a lot of fun. Everyone played up their characters pretty well and we all had a lot of fun. The food was meh but the murder fun was great 😀

(Also there was an “adult game show” that I can’t talk about because it was just so crazy, but I bonded with my teammates on our no-AARP team and it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t naughty but just very strange and difficult to explain.)

I can’t provide an explanation for this photo.

The cruise staff was, as always is the case with NCL, fantastic and awesome and so friendly. Seriously, I spent so much time around them that I picked up a bit of an Australian accent by the end of the cruise.

The Views

Basically, the Pacific Northwest is full of gorgeous, breathtaking views everywhere you go. I felt like I was in a postcard, or on a water bottle label. Mountains, oceans, forests, bald eagles… just wow.

Hubbard Glacier

MAJESTIC AMERICA

Sitting in a hot tub and looking around at snow-capped mountains covered with verdant green trees against a stunningly blue sky was just… it was a beautiful moment. It truly was.

I don’t know how I will go back to vacationing without cruising, you guys. I really do love it so much.

Saying goodbye in Vancouver