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Farewell to Crystal Serenity

An overnight short hop across the English Channel behind us and we are safely docked in Dover with views of the famous white cliffs right from our balcony.

All packed, we are now ready to disembark the Crystal Serenity and board the bus to make our way to London Heathrow airport.

Upon reflection, as this adventure is coming to a close, I can say that we will remember it for a long time as we first and foremost were able to spend quality time together in a seamless flow of discoveries, lovely meals, and comfort ashore & aboard. Enjoying Crystal’s thoughtful luxury provided by a team of passionate staff that tirelessly makes even the smallest detail feel effortless was a treat for both of us.

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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 6

An early morning of country driving along Normandy coastal routes brought us to the town of Ouistreham where the British landed at the sector called Sword Beach. Views of a lovely chateau along the way inspired French country living dreams in me for a moment. All that movers into perspective as we digested the experience of the sites.

On we travelled after visiting the monument at Sword Beach to the town of Courseulles-sur-mer where the Canadians landed at Juno Beach. By far the most educational and well built memorial site is tge Canadian pavilion at Juno. A quick stop at the cemetery rounded out our tribute to Canada’s effort in WWII .

We continued on the the hill above Arromanches on the Gold beach sector, where a new art installation commemorates the 75th anniversary of the “day that changed the world.”

Our final stop came at Omaha beach and the American cemetery which was completely packed and most impacted by the ceremonies as grand stands and tribunes were being broken down while we visited.

May the lives lost and the efforts exerted by the Allies never be in vain. Our lives today are made possible in all the diversity and freedom only because of all the grade men and women of our ancestors of the greatest generation.

In my humble opinion, nothing brings this reality into light quite like a visit to the grounds where operation overlord took place on June 6th 1944. I recommend it to everyone at least once in a lifetime.

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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 5

Safely docked in the picturesque French port town of Honfleur, we had prepared an activity filled day. First we picked up our rental car for tomorrow’s drive to the Normandy landing beaches and then we walked through Honfleur and it’s famous Saturday market with some of the most beautiful white asparagus I have ever seen.

The weather has somewhat stabilized with much less wind and only sporadic sprinkles which made our exploring much nicer.

In the evening, we joined the Crystal Gala event at the Palais Benedictine (monastery and distillery) in Fecamp, Normandy.This amazing venue is the home of the “elixir of life” – a brew with 24 herbs and spices distilled 4 times and aged in oak barrels before being bottled for consumption. Each batch takes 18 months to complete and it is exciting to see that Benedictine liquor is making a strong comeback with new and inventive mixologist creations such as the one aperitif we tasted. (Recipe below).

Beverage aside, the gala evening was themed “roaring 20s and many attendees dressed up for the occasion. The meal was an exquisite Norman feast of local delicacies from foie gras to cheeses of every shape and flavor. Mains consisted of either Atlantic cod or lamb shoulder, each perfectly cooked.

As it so happened it was my mother-in-law Julie’s birthday today and the event couldn’t have been more special. From lovely comedic relief with the 20s troup and violinist duo to the Broadway star Rachel Wood’s performance of “anything goes,” the night was truly special and the setting was out of this world (note the backdrop of the abbey room and the wooden roof construction).

Happy birthday Julie!

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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 3 & 4

Strong stormy conditions – not unlike what the Allied troops encountered 75 years ago – made it necessary for our captain to change navigation. Instead of stopping in La Coruna, we sailed on across the Bay of Biscay toward tge tiny British island Guernsey.

While disappointing, this change gave us more time for meetings and to enjoy the fantastic on-board lectures about WWII at tge 75th anniversary of the invasion that changed the course of history.

The opened up time also allowed us to taste the creative food at Nobu’s only restaurant at sea called Umi Uma which is outstanding in freshness and creativity.

Over a mid-day update we learned that weather continued to plague us and that Guernsey was also cancelled. This meant an additional afternoon of sailing before we reached our stop in Honfleur, France. Overall we are having a fantastic time aboard and the days are flying by fast.

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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 2

With a first rather wavy night (thank you Atlantic might) of rest behind us, the ship docked in Porto early morning or us to explore. Conveniently located at the mouth of the Douro River, this wealthy city of fortified wine fame is worth exploring.

We started with a morning of business sessions and then left the ship on an afternoon drive. Our first stop was the hillside terrace of the Relais&Chateaux hotel Yateman located opposite of Porto on the ravine in Gaia. The views from there are absolutely spectacular as is the port house of Taylor’s right down the hill which is owned by the same family. Afterwards we crossed the Douro River and discovered the narrow streets with its narrow cobbled streets.

Our special tour included a VIP visit to the British Factory House – the union hall of the by now well-established port wineries. It’s interior is most fascinating – from the library to the port decanter collection and the dining room, this private meeting place is stunning and historic. Loved the visit.

Back at the ship, we set sail for La Coruna in Spain. Stay tuned for more of my adventures.

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Aboard Crystal Serenity – Day 1

After a lovely day of riding the historic yellow trams and walking through rainy Lisbon, Julie and I enjoyed a bite of Portuguese pasteis de baccalau (fish fritter) at a spectacular local stand.

Then we returned to our abode – The Lapa Palace Hotel to grab our stuff and headed boarded the Crystal Serenity docked in Lisbon for our first adventure aboard the venerable luxury line to sail for 5 nights to London.

Here we are sailing under the 25th of April bridge – headed out to the Atlantic.

Join us on our adventure along the Iberian coastline.

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An ode to the world’s best custard tartlet

Yes, there is such a thing as food tourism, meaning returning to a place simply for the pleasure of enjoying a particular dish or meal!

That is exactly what I did yesterday myself. I have dreamt about this day for over 13 years since our discovery of this very special of bakeries in the Belém neighborhood of Lisbon. The “world’s best custard tartlets” being crafted here by the millions since 1837, the Pasteis de Belém is simply fantastic.

From its crunchy yet super thin shell to the perfectly balanced custard, this tasty treat is best enjoyed at the bakery when it is still slightly warm to the touch with a sprinkle of cinnamon and powdered sugar.

Yes, take-out is offered but eating them fresh is the unrivaled experience. The challenge with take-out is that once the tartlet cools off, the custard (egg based as it is) sets up and becomes dense. Trust me, the taste changes at that stage – so eat it fresh for maximum enjoyment.

The line outside is for take out clients while over 400 seats in a maze of rooms and chambers takes you into the inner sanctum of the baking area, a sight not to be missed.

Simple yet so well perfected, this treat is worth a trip around the globe to be enjoyed. Will I be back someday? You bet.

The taste, the experience, and the memories made with my tastebuds make this one of my all time favorite food pilgrimages. So much so that the image is worth repeating.

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Lisbon’s Charm revealed

From one bridge to another – while it looks like a mirror image of the Golden Gate – this spectacular man made wonder is called the 25th of April bridge and it spans the Tagus River from Lisbon to its suburb of Almada. It is noteworthy that not only are both suspension bridges, they have an indirect link from a construction perspective. The 25th of April bridge was in fact built by the American Bridge Company whom also constructed the Bay Bridge linking Oakland to San Francisco.

In town to board the Crystal Serenity for a special recognition event tomorrow, we had time to see the charm of this often overlooked European capital. After a rather long flight (6 hours spent connecting in Philadelphia due to weather) we landed in Portugal’s capital Lisbon and made our way via metro and bus to the hotel. As it has been 13 years since my last visit here, I had kind of forgotten how steep and hilly Lisbon is – schlepping luggage only made this more adventurous to say the least.

The views and setting of our room at the lovely Lapa Palace hotel made the effort well worth it. A quick shower later, we made off exploring with stops in Belem at the monument dedicated to the Portuguese seafarers whom discovered much of the Western Hemisphere and the tower of Belem.

Then we took the tram 15 line back to Lisbon and meandered the streets of the commercial district and the Alfama neighborhood which is forever linked to the music style that is Fado. Views of the streets and sunlit rooftops complimented our 16k steps today which included a fair share of stairs.

All those steps we needed to earn a very special treat which I will dedicate its own blog to tomorrow – stay tuned.

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Montego Bay continued

A long night of sleeping allowed me to return to a human state and function properly. A new day also meant new impressions of this destination – and resort as well as a business update discussion.

It is important to disclose that our stay at Hyatt Zilara (adults only) is co-sponsored by Delta Vacations and Playa Resorts whom also operate the twin resort of Hyatt Ziva (families with kids). That said, my stay is effortless so far. Food is fair and the room is fine, albeit a bit loud due to the connecting door which transmits a lot of noise from my neighbors. I learned secrets at 1am I was not supposed to hear – I’ll leave it at that.

In the afternoon we had an opportunity to tour a few competitor properties – an activity I find interesting and educational.

AM Resorts adults only “Secrets White Orchid & St. James” was our first stop. These twin-resorts mirror each other with 350 rooms each. Massive and crowded (they were both at capacity) are the words that come to mind. Definitely not my cup of tea but a lot of folks like the hustle and bustle of music, pool activities, and food stalls. It is an all-inclusive set up so no wrist bands or card swipes for every consumption.

Our second stop was at the intimate AM Resorts brand Zoetry Montego Bay – a 4 Diamond rated hotel per AAA. Encompassing just 62 rooms, the hallmarks that jump out are elegance and flair. I personally rate it an 8.5 out of 10 after our comprehensive visit. The grounds are lush and green, the SPA is quaint (located in the owners villa on the premises) and the restaurant & bar are perfectly located – including a local icon the jerk shack. I love the swim-out JR Suites the best. The gal in the picture is my Delta Vacations account director Paola from Italy.

Last stop was a 30-minute drive away at the Excellence Oyster Bay. Opened just last fall, this 275 room resort is next to Falmouth Harbor (frequented by Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise line’s). From the pictures you’ll see that the vegetation is still young and privacy for the swim out suites is not yet there.

Contemporary in design, the resort is spacious and stretched out along the lagoon. All in all a great venue for peaceful R&R for young at heart guests.

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Montego Bay awaits

I have to admit that I am a bit jet lag challenged these past few days as I returned from Australia last Saturday and I am already off to my next destination. This week it’s Jamaica for a special event with Delta Vacations in Montego Bay.

Upon arrival in this Caribbean island nation, we were greeted and whisked away to our resort for the next 3 nights – the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall.

Held in a white colonial cottage style, this adults only resort is perfectly situated on a calm stretch of private beach. Stay tuned for more details of my stay over the coming days.