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Every year my wife and I try to go on a trip at least once. We started 2019 with a cruise through the Caribbean from San Juan to Miami.
2018 was a full, busy, stressful year. My dad passed away after a three-month fight for his life. Work took off even stronger and busier with practically three months straight with no days off. So we were ready for some relaxation, adventure, a lot of food and yes, lots of drinking.
Cruises are a perfect getaway for Mariela and I since I like to discover, walk, find new places and she, although loves all that, she prefers to relax, have a few cocktails and chill. The one thing we both love is the food we get to discover, new flavors, new forms of cooking and the fun time eating.
On the cruise, Mariela loves the dining room with the great service and the dressing up, so do I but I really like the buffet with the view to the open sea. So usually, on days at sea, we have breakfast and lunch at the buffet and dinner in the dining room. But when we visit ports, we discover places usually out of the touristy area. We try local flavors, we look for the local beers, meet local people.
On the first day of this cruise, we went straight to the buffet overlooking San Juan, grabbed a beer and started celebrating our time off. San Juan is beautiful, and I know that I live in it. But when one is on vacation one gets to see it differently. I see why people from all over the world love San Juan and Puerto Rico overall.
After the buffet and some beers, we discovered Schooner Bar, a private club-like bar with pool tables, chess, stage and various bourbons and whiskeys among so many other spirits. We sat in front of a glass window overlooking the Puerta de Tierra neighborhood of San Juan. Mariela with a sauvignon blanc and I had an Anchor Steam that I hadn’t had since my time living in New Orleans.
If there is lamb on the menu, I get it, as is not every day I get to eat it. The great thing about the ship is that you can have various appetizers if you want, so I do.
That night we sailed off my home city to the Dominican Republic. I was so excited as I have never been to it. So the next morning we woke up in Punta Cana. The view was beautiful from the ship. There is no port there so we hopped on into a ferry boat to the coast. As we arrived there were kiosks with local beer and rum waiting for us! Great welcome!
As we walked into the area we realized it was mostly a touristy place, then I wasn’t so thrilled. Never-the-less we walked and tried to discover the place and at the very least eat and drink. Drink we did. We headed to a cigar bar Mariela devised and pull me into it. After a while looking at the cigars I decided on an Arturo Fuentes Gran Reserva and accompanied it with a Brugal XV. According to Master of Malt, in order to achieve XV they use a selection of ex-bourbon casks and casks which previously held Pedro Xímenez Sherry, aged between 3 and 8 years. A very smooth rum, with hints of honey and essence of wood. Mariela had one, two, let’s say a few. And although I had three I also had a Venezuelan beer, just to taste it. Good, but to light for me, so I kept drinking the Brugal XV. As the time to board came upon us, so did the buzz. That night was the Captain’s night and Mariela was really looking forward to it. She had a dress and my suit ready! So we went back to the ship. As we arrived at our stateroom we laid on bed for what we thought was just to nap a little before the big dinner. We woke up at around 10 pm. Yeah, we missed the Captain’s dinner. No choice, we went to Windjammer to see if there was any food left. Yes, we found some food!
The next morning it was a sea day, so we had breakfast, we stayed by the pool, I read for a while. At the time I was reading Eight Flavors: The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Loman. Then we had lunch, a beer we played Mini Golf, another beer, and another, then we had a snack at the Solarium bar with more beers and more reading. We do really enjoy days at sea because we really get to relax and do nothing.
As dinner time approached, and as we did the previous days, we sat in the main bar and had a few cocktails before dinner. Mariela was having a French Rosé, I can’t remember which one, and I was having a ginger-bourbon cocktail. Then we went to the Main Dining Room!
On our fourth day, we woke up in Nassau, The Bahamas. We had high hopes for Nassau, so we got up early, slipped in comfortable clothes and got ready for walking, discovering and lots of eating.
After a while walking through downtown going in and out of shops on Bay St, visiting The Queen’s Staircase, the Parliament, the Water Front, and a short road trip to Atlantis and walking through endless halls of colorful attractions, we had lunch in the Greek Islands Restaurant right on Bat St. It was recommended by one of the officials of the Jewel of the Seas and while having lunch there we saw them eating in the restaurant. Yes, it is a Greek restaurant, and from first glance, it wouldn’t make any sense to eat Greek food in Nassau. But, Greek immigrants started arriving at the Bahama’s in the late 1800s to work in the sponging industry. After that industry died down, most Greeks started opening restaurants and after that new Greek immigrants started arriving in the Bahamas as restaurateurs and cooks.
The Greek culture and food are so embedded into Bahamian daily life that today many restaurants are Greek or Greek influenced. The Greek Islands Restaurant serves Mediterranean food alongside Bahamian and sometimes the two styles are so blended that in the same plate you get ingredients and styles from both cultures.
We had Bahamian beers and Greek-Bahamian food overlooking Bay St. Service was good and food was so different and delicious, the whole experience was great, and with that side story of the Greek-influenced Bahamian culture, it made it a lot better.
Back on the ship, we had another lunch in the Windjammer, I mean the food is just there waiting to be eaten, don’t judge!
Another ginger-bourbon cocktail and the French Rosé and that night at the Main Dining Room was another great dinner!
That night under the pitch black Caribbean sky I ordered a Woodford Reserve neat and light up my Cuban Romeo & Julieta. Life was good.
We woke up in Miami the next morning but the plans were not to stay in Miami, we were going straight to Ft Lauderdale, to our TRYP Hotel. We wanted to go back to Las Olas. About a year ago Marela and I visited Miami and Ft. Lauderdale (I will write about that). So on this trip, we wanted to eat again in Las Olas but this time we wanted to try different restaurants. Las Olas and Southern Florida are becoming one of our favorite places to visit.
We stopped at BSquare Burgers and Booze. I remember very well the TV screens on the NFL playoffs, and for some reason, lots of Eagles fans down in Florida and I was the only one wearing a New Orleans Saints hat! I don’t want to brag, but that night the Saints beat the Eagles 20 to 14.
The food was wow, really good. I ordered a full rack of Baby Back Ribs, but these ribs were so juicy and bathed in a Blueberry BBQ Sauce that merged all the flavors so deliciously great, I was in heaven. I paired it up with a Copper Point Lager. Mariela ordered the bottomless Mimosas and to eat she ordered a MCDUCK Buerger – nothing to do with MacDonalds. The Bsquare McDuck is a 6-ounce duck burger with foie gras, crispy shallots, concord grape, and Juniper-Berry Glaze. One of the greatest burgers ever tasted.
Next day we flew back to San Juan. My Mother-in-law had lunch ready for us and it was a home treat; fried pork chop served with home-made mofongo and two fresh slices of avocado.
Usually, our trips, whether in Puerto Rico or abroad, are based on the food we want to try, the restaurants we want to visit, and around that, we walk, we discover, we learn. It’s always fun to learn about other cultures and places through food and drinks.
While I learn about the history of Puerto Rican food, I want to find places that have a historic meaning, a great impact in a town or city or even a state or country. Food is an experience, a learning one for that matter.
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