The food is the best part of a cruise. You can eat all day if you want. On Celebrity Apex, you’re assigned one of four main dining rooms – Cosmopolitan, Tuscan, Normandie or Cyprus. Each one has some specialty dining items. You have to make a reservation to switch and inform your waiter. The menu has a number of regular dishes and only a small selection of new items each evening. We did not like this lack of variation. It was more fun when you stay in the same dining room and get a different themed menu each night. Specialty dining cost $60+ to eat dinner in the steakhouse, sushi restaurant, raw bar seafood place, Bistro, and others. We ate breakfast and lunch at the Oceanview Cafe. You could also get burgers, hot dogs, turkey burgers and fries at the Mast Grill between the Solarium and outdoor pool. This site had soft cream as well. You could get regular ice cream at a station in the buffet and also pizza at the rear. Lighter options were available at the Eden and Spa cafés. Here are some of the different dining rooms. Our dinner companions were my cousins Janice Sklar and David Sklar and friends Ann Meier, Pat Babcock and Jacki Beirne.
This beautiful restaurant was for more exclusive passengers:
Breakfast was our favorite meal. Everything you could want to eat for this meal was available. I had smoked salmon every day. My husband enjoyed the herring. You could have eggs made your way, omelets, or eggs benedict. Or hard boiled eggs were offered, albeit with shells on. There was French toast, pancakes, waffles, muffins and Danish, fruits, potatoes, breakfast meats, and more.
Lunches included light fare in the Eden and Spa cafes, a full international buffet at the Oceanview Cafe, pizza, or the Mast Grill with burgers and hot dogs. And the desserts! Here are some, but we’ll get to the rest later.
Day 1 Dinner at Cyprus
Braised Lamb Shank
Greek Custard (like Crème Brulee)
Apple Pie a la Mode
Day 2 Dinner at Cyprus
Braised Short Ribs
Sacher Torte with Vanilla Ice Cream
Day 3 (Belize) Dinner at Normandie
The lighting where we sat was dark and the service very slow. But I enjoyed my meal of melted Brie, seared duck breast, and apple crumble a la mode.
Day 4 Dinner (Cozumel)
Turkey Parmesan with Spaghetti
Day 5 Dinner (Grand Cayman)
Beef Short Ribs
Chocolate Lava Cake
Day 6 Dinner (Second Dressy Night)
Lobster Tail with Rice and Broccoli
Leg of Lamb
If this isn’t enough, these amazing desserts were on display at the lunch buffet near the end of the cruise. Cut up slices were served upon request.
Each day, our newsletter listed tons of activities that you could do on board Celebrity Apex. But some were lacking that you could find on other ships. There wasn’t any bingo, which is a big draw elsewhere. No cooking classes that we would have enjoyed. You could do arts and crafts, take dance classes, go to the art auctions, or attend various seminars but nothing to do with culture or history. Even the Destination Talk was lacking. It showed the highlights of each port and gave important information but there wasn’t any colorful display of what you could buy with giveaways, shopping recommendations, maps or coupons.
The evening entertainment was excellent. We enjoyed the production shows the best. The Tree of Life reminded us of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The theme appeared to be changing seasons. The singers and dancers wore street clothes, which didn’t impress us as much as the spectacular special effects and the huge movie screen with changing scenery in the background.
We liked the Crystallize show better with its superb aerialists. The theater itself is in the round, a new concept on a cruise ship. You have a good view from nearly anywhere with no columns obstructing the line of site. However, seating was limited, and you had to arrive at least twenty minutes early to guarantee a space. The second-floor seating, so I was told, was for higher tier guests. Showtimes were 7pm and 9 pm. Being early risers, we never made the additional late-night shows.
We particularly enjoyed the pianist who gave a concert one night. Accompanied by the ship’s orchestra, he played variations of popular movie themes. He ended with The Mandalorian, a Star Wars TV show that we watch. There were also a violinist and a guitarist on board, both of them talented professionals.
As repeat cruisers at Elite level, we enjoyed certain benefits. Aside from the free bag of laundry and Internet minutes, these included free drinks from 5 to 7 every evening except embarkation. We could get them at any lounge but not in the restaurants. We shared the same status as our friends, Ann Meier and Pat Babcock, so it was fun to meet them at each event.
The Welcome party at Eden included an aerialist performing a sample of their show. We didn’t sign up in time for the Backstage Tour, so we missed that one. We did attend the Senior Officer’s Party where servers brought around drinks and appetizers. Below is the ship’s captain.
The Music & Mixology event was fun and unusual. A talented bartender juggled his wares as he mixed three drinks. If I recall, they were a Manhattan, Mai Tai, and Spiced Pimms.
A Wine Tasting was held in the Tuscan Restaurant. I took a photo of the bottles since we were not given printouts of the wines with room for notes as in the past.
In the mornings from 8 to 10am in the Bistro lounge, we could get a free Mimosa, Bloody Mary or Bellini along with a choice of light menu items. I liked the fruit and chocolate croissants.
We appreciated our benefits and felt as though our loyalty was properly recognized. This was a fun part of the trip.
This delicious dessert is amazingly easy to make. If you can’t find a chocolate pie crust, use a regular graham cracker crust.
1-1/2 cups 2% reduced fat milk
3.9 oz. box Instant Chocolate Pudding
6 oz. chocolate pie crust
2 cups thawed frozen whipped topping
Pour milk into a large bowl. Add pudding mix. Stir with a wire whisk until blended. Spoon half of the mixture into the pie crust. Take 1 cup of whipping topping and fold into the remaining pudding mixture in the bowl. Spoon this mixture over pudding layer in pie crust. Spread the remaining whipped topping on top. Refrigerate until served. Serves 8 to 10.
This is a delicious all-in-one brunch dish. I had trouble getting it out of the baking pan. Maybe I needed more cooking spray, or a cooking spray/flour mixture. I’d like to try it in a rectangular pan to see if it comes out easier without the fluted sides. This dish may also serve more when cut into squares. Feel free to add other vegetables or seasonings. You can also add breakfast meats if you want a heartier dish.
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
1 dozen large eggs
12 oz. can Pillsbury Butter Tastin’ Flaky Layers refrigerated biscuits
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
½ cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a bundt pan with cooking spray. Cut up biscuits into bite-sized pieces.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Mix in frozen hash browns and sliced mushrooms. Add the Cheddar cheese. Fold in the biscuit pieces and mix to blend. Pour mixture into the prepared bundt pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake another 10 minutes or until top is browned.
This year at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, many tempting food choices await at the booths around World Showcase. I lucked out this year with all good selections. Accompanying us were Sue and Mark Bernstein and Ann Meier.
At World Showcase, we turned left toward Mexico. Our first stop was Lotus House at China. I got the Pan-fried Vegetable Dumplings. They were very tasty and served drizzled with a sweet sauce. I would get these again.
At the Refreshment Outpost by Africa, I got an Ice Cream Float with Tangerine soft serve ice cream and Cream Soda. It was a refreshing drink. This is always my husband’s go-to stop for a hot dog.
Potato Pancakes with homemade Applesauce were found at Germany’s Bauernmarkt Farmer’s Market stand. I thought I’d get one potato latke and ordered two portions, one for me and one for Richard. It turns out we could have shared. On each plate were two thick potato pancakes. They could have been a bit thinner and crispier, but I liked them nonetheless.
At La Isla Fresca (between France and Morocco), I had the Coconut Tres Leches: Vanilla cake soaked in oat milk, almond milk, and coconut milk with toasted coconut. Custardy taste with whipped topping and toasted coconut melted in my mouth. Oh-so-good! Perfect accompaniment was Florida Orange Groves Winery Tropical Perception White Sangria, a light white wine that wasn’t too fruity.
As always, the displays of flowers and topiary were inspiring.
The Festival of the Arts during the winter months at Epcot is always fun to attend. You can view art works on display and sample dishes at food booths around World Showcase.
Here are some of the items we tried:
Duck and Dumplings at the Artist’s Table by the American Adventure. Smoked Duck Breast, Ricotto Dumplings, Petite Vegetables, and Duck Jus. I liked the smoked duck flavor, and the meat was easy to cut. I’ve had better at higher end restaurants, though. The ricotto dumplings were interesting, almost like a potato texture.
Three-Meat Meatloafwith “Peas and Carrots” came with Green Pea Pudding, Carrot Ketchup, Shaved Carrot salad, and Snap Peas. This was a dish that appealed to my husband. He said it was “average,” meaning it wasn’t anything special to his palate. Same location as above.
Red Wine-Braised Beef Short Rib with Parsnip Puree, Broccolini, Baby Tomatoes, and Aged Balsamic at the Pastoral Palate by Germany was by far the best of the batch. The boneless meat was supremely tender and tasty as well. This one would be on my repeat list.
General Tso’s Chicken Shumai at The Painted Panda by China came with three pieces of shumai. These were tasty and enough to share. I’m a fan of Trader Joe’s frozen chicken shumai and so I knew I’d like this version.
On a second visit, our friend Ann Meier had the Napoleon with Beets, Cashew-Herb Filling, Pepper-Pine Nut Sauce, and Balsamic Vinegar Caviar from the France pavilion.
Then Ann tried the Carrots Three Ways from Morocco while I had their Chicken Skewer.
Next, we’ll look forward to the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival. A whole new tasting experience begins March 1st with a fresh set of “outdoor kitchen” choices.
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With the holidays rapidly approaching, you’ll be thinking about menu items for your festive dinners. These items are some favorites of mine, aside from the traditional roast turkey meal. Personally, I look forward to the leftovers more than anything. These are dishes you can try on other nights or add them to your holiday menu.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP
This soup serves as a starter dish for a dinner party or can be a meal in itself with a salad on the side. It’s perfect for chilly fall evenings.
Melt butter over medium heat in large soup pot. Add onion and cook until translucent. Then add squash and carrots. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring often. Add spices and cook until vegetables start to caramelize. Add chicken broth and thyme. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and discard thyme sprigs. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. (It can be frozen at this stage.) Stir in molasses to blend. Add half-and-half and mix to combine. Ladle into individual bowls and serve hot.
If frozen, defrost gradually and then reheat in large pot. Stir in molasses and half-and-half and serve as above.
I love roast turkey same as anyone, but this is an alternative if you don’t feel like roasting a whole bird or even making a boneless breast of turkey. You can slice the tenderloins into serving sizes and make a nice presentation with the sauce. If the liquids get absorbed during cooking and the tenderloins aren’t done, add more broth.
2 lb. turkey tenderloins
2 Tbsp. butter
½ cup chicken broth
½ tsp. dried thyme
4 Tbsp. molasses
2 Tbsp. light rum
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown turkey on both sides in melted butter in large skillet. Remove tenderloins from pan and place into greased baking dish. Deglaze pan with chicken broth and pour drippings over turkey. Sprinkle with thyme. In a separate bowl, combine molasses and rum. Spoon over tenderloins. Bake turkey in oven uncovered for 45 minutes or until cooked through. Slice and serve warm. Makes 6-8 servings.
RITZ CRACKER DRESSING
I use the terms ‘stuffing’ and ‘dressing’ interchangeably. However, if you want to be technical, stuffing is a seasoned mixture of bread, vegetables, and oil or butter that is stuffed inside poultry. Dressing is cooked in a separate dish on the side. In the South, cornbread dressings are popular. This recipe is inherited from my mother.
3 or more rolls of Ritz Crackers
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 eggs or ½ cup egg substitute
8 oz. container chopped onions
8 oz. container chopped celery
6 oz. matchstick carrots
White wine (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Crumple crackers into a large bowl. Add eggs, mix, and set aside. In a frypan, sauté chopped onions and celery in olive oil until wilted. Add to crackers along with grated carrots. Sprinkle in salt and garlic powder to taste. If you want to moisten the mixture further, add some white wine. Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes.
SWEET POTATOES WITH MARSHMALLOWS
You all have your favorite sweet potato recipes for the holidays, and here’s mine. It’s quick and easy, which is how I like to cook.For a larger crowd, add extra cans of potatoes.
(2) 40-oz. can sweet potatoes or yams
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
½ cup light corn syrup
1 bag mini marshmallows
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain and mash potatoes and put into large bowl. Stir in melted butter and corn syrup. Pour into greased 9x13x2 inch baking dish. Sprinkle marshmallows on top and bake 20 minutes or so, until dish is heated through. Remove when marshmallows are lightly browned. Serves 8 to 10.
Personally, I prefer jellied cranberry sauce and buy the cans for expediency. This recipe is easy if you want a healthier version.
12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
1 cup water
In a medium pot, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer about 10 minutes or until cranberries are softened. Cool and store in refrigerator until served. Makes 2 cups.
This is a light dessert if you want an alternative to pumpkin pie.
1 ½ cups fat free milk
1 oz. package sugar free instant butterscotch pudding mix
½ cup canned pumpkin
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground allspice
½ cup fat free whipped topping
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Whisk milk and pudding mix in large bowl for two minutes. Set aside. In another bowl, combine the pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Add to the pudding mixture. Gently fold in whipped topping until blended. Spoon into individual dessert cups. Sprinkle nutmeg on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 4 to 6.
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Magical Dining month in Orlando is an opportunity to try new restaurants or to revisit a favorite one at reasonable prices. For a fixed amount of $40 per person, you get a three-course dinner. Our first stop this year was The Back Room Steakhouse in Apopka. We actually went twice, because my husband got a gift card there as a birthday gift. The atmosphere was elegant with good service. The first time, we had Thai Chili Coconut Shrimp, 10 oz. Prime NY Strip, and Key Lime Pie. The shrimp and the dessert were really good. The steak was okay. I wish they’d offered a beef fillet instead. I’m not a big steak person but chose this entrée because I don’t eat much meat at home.
The next visit, we indulged in the Braised Short Rib Egg Rolls, Sauteed Norwegian Salmon Filet, and — how could I resist? — Key Lime Pie again. The egg rolls were deeply fried and rather heavy, making me prefer the lighter spring rolls from Trader Joes. The shrimp was much better as an appetizer. The salmon was perfect and I chose a baked potato and broccoli as an accompaniment.
My overall impression? If you live west in Apopka, this is a nice choice for a fancy occasion although the prices can be steep. It might be worth another trip for Magical Dining depending on the menu. However, where we live, we do have lots of other options.
Our second experience was at TerraMia Ristorante E Trattoria in Altamonte Springs. Here we shared the Antipasto TerraMia and the Burrata Pugliese for appetizers. Both were excellent. For an entrée, I had the Agnello Abbruzzese, a barolo braised lamb shank served with genovese sauce. It was very tender with lots of meat that fell off the bone. Richard had fish, the Branzino Mediterraneo pan-roasted in a white wine garlic sauce with cherry tomatoes and served over pasta. He enjoyed his dish. For dessert, I chose the Torta Alla Pera, a classic neapolitan cake filled with cream and pear. This did not impress me. I didn’t taste any cream inside and there was a small half slice of pear on top. I can make a better cake myself. Richard got the Selvanera Cake, an Italian version of black forest cake.
Overall, the food was excellent, but the atmosphere was extremely noisy. Maybe it’s better on a weekday, but the bar overwhelms the restaurant and does not make for a cozy, intimate experience. If you’re looking to sit at a lively bar, you might like this scene. We prefer a quieter evening.
If you’re a home cook who enjoys trying new recipes, you might want to attend a cooking class at Publix Apron’s Cooking School if you have one nearby. We’ve been to many of these classes before and this experience was just as enjoyable. We prefer the demonstration-style class rather than a hands-on lesson so we can sit and enjoy the food without any effort. The chefs offer tips and tricks as they show us how to make the various dishes, and a different wine accompanies each course. It’s the best bargain out there for a gourmet meal.
Our welcome wine was a Hawks Crest Rose that was a golden rose color and had a light body. It was not a favorite of mine. A toast to our friends, Es and Rick Cohen, for sharing the evening with us.
The first course was Grilled Pear and Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Bacon and Honey. I thought the bacon and cheese flavors overwhelmed the pear but overall, the tastes blended well. The topping was melty while the bread was crispy toasted. The chef used a ceramic knife instead of a metal one for the fruit so it wouldn’t discolor when exposed to air. This first course came with a KungFu Girl Reisling that tasted slightly fruity and had a pale-yellow color. It would be good to sip alone or would go great with baked Brie and crackers.
Next was Seared Salmon Sliders with Tarragon Aioli and Watercress. Using fresh salmon, this dish would require some effort to make and would be just as good without the bread. The aioli added a nice flavor to this tasty and substantial dish. The wine was a 14 Hands Pinot Grigio with a golden color. It paired well with the salmon.
The main dish was Maple-Lacquered Duck Breast with Roasted Apples and Brussel Sprouts. I’d forgotten how much I like duck until I bit into this tender meat. Yum, it was so good. I miss French restaurants with duck and orange or cherry sauce. This paired with a Chateau St. Michelle Merlot in a deep burgundy color and a medium body. I like this brand of wines that we’ve had before.
Last was the dessert, a Rainier Cherry Crumble topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Lip-smacking good! This sweet treat was accompanied by a Chateau St. Michelle Red Blend wine.