Surreal Places Series: Travel Locations You Must See
As you start narrowing down your next adventure, consider these surreal places and spaces. These are the first suggestions in our new series focusing on travel locations you must see!
Conjuring up visions of locations that you can barely imagine? Well, the ancient site of Pompeii, would fit that dream. As you take in the ruins, it’s difficult to juxtapose the tragic disaster that occurred in A.D. 79 with the peaceful, majestic Mount Vesuvius of today. While trying to grasp the magnitude of the volcanic eruption, you’ll also be exploring an archaeological site (with homes and streets!) that is so much larger than pictures portray.
Pompeii is a hauntingly surreal place.
This is one place that really messed with my mind. And I feel compelled to visit again — to try to take in the magnitude of this hauntingly, beautiful excavation.
I love traveling by train in Europe; it’s a convenient transportation option especially while traveling through a foreign country. The train stop nearest the excavation is Pompei Scavi-Villa Misteri. It’s a very short walk to the entrance, however you’ll want to wear comfortable shoes as you’ll be walking for the better part of your day, plus the surface is uneven so watch your footing.
United States Virgin Islands
A popular land and cruise based vacation spot, St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands boasts a stunning harbor near Charlotte Amalie. My favorite way to enjoy this view is on from the balcony of a cruise ship.
Blue turquoise water soothes the soul at St. Thomas, USVI.
On St. Croix, an excursion to Little La Grange will entice your senses. A 19th century plantation turned cattle ranch, the house is now the Lawaetz Family Museum showcasing family antiques. Spend time touring the impeccable grounds with tropical flowers and trees.
The gorgeous Little La Grange Plantation House and grounds on St. Croix.
The grounds at Little La Grange.
Headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands? Do not miss St. John for tranquility. In fact, swimming at Trunk Bay Beach is one of my all-time favorite memories. Add it to your vacation itinerary for playing in warm waters amidst an unspoiled setting. We took a boat from St. Thomas to St. John, however, I’m dreaming about an actual stay on St. John! How about you?!
Zion National Park, Utah
Experience the beauty of the steep, red cliffs of Zion National Park. Nestled in this surreal place are forest trails cut alongside the babbling Virgin River.
Zion National Park is a contrast of red steep cliffs and green forested trails.
Of all the parks that we have visited, this is my teen son’s favorite. From horseback riding to hiking, Zion offers a multitude of family activities.
Even teens appreciate the surreal beauty of Zion!
Plan to hike and/or horseback ride in the morning or evening. Avoid the hottest afternoon hours; the heat was brutal during our vacation in late May – early June.
Recommended Lodging: Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale, Utah.
Desert Pearl Inn, Springdale, Utah.
Stay tuned for our second part in the Surreal Places Series, plus watch for in-depth reviews of our recommended surreal places to inspire your vacation plans.
Have you been to any of these surreal places?
Where should we (and our readers) go next?
Chops Grille – an Oasis Dinner Review
Nestled in Central Park on deck 8 of Oasis of the Seas, Chops Grille, a Royal Caribbean signature restaurant, has been serving up steakhouse specialties for over ten years.
We sailed on Oasis in January and June of 2017 and had the good fortune of dining at Chops Grille on both sailings.
Chops Grille is located in Central Park on the Oasis.
A beautiful Central Park location.
As a hallmark restaurant aboard Royal Caribbean ships, Chops impresses diners with a menu featuring hand cut steaks and other entrees with a contemporary flair. In fact, from the appetizers to the desserts, Chops Grille will surprise guests with a mix of traditional and non-traditional fare. There are also some unexpected items — um, tater tots, anyone?!
Entrance to Chops Grille.
Make a reservation for Chops Grille.
With its prime location in Central Park, diners can select from indoor or outdoor seating.
We had a voucher for a complimentary meal that required us to reserve a seating with the restaurant after embarkation. So, we stopped by Chops Grille after having lunch in the Windjammer and were still able to secure an early reservation for Tuesday evening — my birthday. Yay!
Celebrating birthday at Chops Grille.
Once inside the restaurant, the rich dark wood is complimented with jeweled tones in red and gold. Luxurious velvet padded chairs as well as banquettes encourage diners to sit and savor the ambiance during their multi-course meal.
Jewel tones add to the upscale feel at Chops Grille.
Upon arrival, we were quickly seated at a lovely table. The restaurant was empty, however it quickly filled up as our meal progressed through its decadent stages. Of note, service was impeccable on both of our recent visits. We enjoyed that our selections were served as requested (well-done steak for my mom; vanilla ice cream instead of coconut for me) and that our beverages were quickly filled upon ordering.
A welcoming table setting awaits Royal Caribbean diners when entering the restaurant.
Welcoming table setting.
White table setting.
Chops Grille Plate.
As the signature steakhouse aboard the Oasis of the Seas, this Royal Caribbean restaurant specializes in the usual fare of beef, seafood, and chicken, as well as dry-aged steaks and Maine lobster for an additional up-charge. Seriously, you’ll do just as well sticking with the Filet Mignon or other dishes included with the cover charge.
Soups, Salads, and Appetizers.
Chops Grille Menu Items.
We utilized our beverage packages to order drinks, and then our waiter began the meal with freshly baked bread and delicious whipped butter. A great meal always starts with memorable bread service!
For appetizers, three of us went with the Three Cheese Roasted Onion Soup blended with Melted Gruyere, Asiago, and Parmesan cheeses. My husband once again ordered the King Caesar. The soup was on point and the Caesar salad was “to die for”. Sorry, on both occasions, we dug in without taking pictures of our apps. 😉
My husband and son ordered the Filet Mignon, cooked to order — medium, for both of them. Both were extremely happy with their perfectly grilled, seasoned steaks. Both rated it as highly as the memorable filet mignon at Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian in Walt Disney World. For them, that’s saying this entree was exceptional.
My mom likes her steak well-done and as you know chefs are usually appalled by this request. Still, the waiter suggested that her filet be butterflied and thus, it was presented as ordered. She also enjoyed her meal with her steak cooked as she prefers it. Kudos to Chops for their accommodating nature.
Butterflied Filet Mignon, well done.
I’m the picky eater of the group, thus I once again ordered the Roasted Organic Chicken Breast. Tender, moist, and flavorful (that truffled chicken jus is scrumptious!), this entree wasn’t at all boring to my finicky palate.
Roasted Organic Chicken Breast.
Roasted Organic Chicken Breast.
Sides are served family style so we suggest discussing selections prior to ordering. We had Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Tater Tots, Salt Baked Potato, and Creamed Corn. We were pleased with all of these items. The Baked Potato was exceptionally good — probably because the waiter poured melted butter all over it right at the table!
And with a dollop of sour cream!
Baked Potato with Sour Cream.
Everyone at our table raved about this baked potato. We decided that we’d have to try adding melted butter to our at-home versions. 😉
Salted Baked Potato.
Sharing the sides was fun!
Yes, we did get two mashed potatoes!
Tater Tots, mashed potatoes, and cream corn.
I subbed vanilla ice cream in place of the coconut flavor with my Liquid Center Chocolate Cake. This dessert made me want to lick the plate. Every bite of caramelized banana and chocolate-y cake was amazing.
Liquid Center Chocolate Cake .
My husband and son opted for the Red Velvet Cake. With moist cake and hefty helping of rich cheese frosting, this choice is a sweet finish to your meal. My 17-year old son rated it a 9 out of 10.
Red Velvet Cake.
The grand finale was a cheesecake dessert served for the occasion — my birthday — complete with singing waiters.
Chops Grille Facts
- Reservations are recommended for Chops Grille.
- Dress is smart casual.
- Cover charge (currently $42 on Oasis) includes gratuities.
- Open for lunch on sea days.
- Consider purchasing a specialty dining package.
- Suite guests can look at menus while relaxing in the Suite Lounge.
Menus are available for Suite guests in the lounge.
To make reservations, call your travel professional or use the Cruise Planner on Royal Caribbean’s website as this restaurant books up quickly.
While the coverage charge has seen several increases in recent years, Chops Grille is certainly a voucher or dining package worthy pick. Even if we weren’t celebrating a special occasion, I’d pay out of pocket for this delightful and attentive meal.
Have you dined at Chops Grille on one of the Royal Caribbean ships? Share your favorite Chops Grille tips.
Five Cruise Activities for Teens
Having just recently gone on a cruise aboard the Oasis of the Seas, I came to the realization on the first day that I did not want to spend much time in the teen club area or doing organized cruise activities for teens.
Oasis of the Seas.
For one, at 17 1/2 I was one of the oldest at the first event in The Living Room. Also, I felt this cruise was just meant for me to enjoy some downtime and relax. I had just finished my Junior Year of high school with all of the stresses that entails — AP courses and exams, ACT exams, touring colleges, and so on. And I was TIRED and BURNED OUT.
The Living Room space is for teens only!
On previous cruises, I had spent time participating in the organized teen activities from early in the day until 1:00AM, which is usually the ship’s curfew time for under 18 cruisers. Those were some good times and I’d recommend you give it a try. On this trip, I was still out late because there was so much to do on the Oasis that I kept busy even without stopping by the teen club. Flowrider, Comedy Shows, Stargazing, Miniature Golf, Rock Climbing, Diving Shows, and more kept me entertained on the ship.
Try the Rock Climbing Wall!
This time, I wanted to have some fun on my own schedule. So without doing any teen activities, I found out very quickly how to have a good time on the cruise ship. The following list can also apply to those who are in that weird age gap (18-20) where you cannot be part of the teen group, nor can you take part in having a couple of drinks at the bars. For the casino, you’ll need to be 18 on all sailings, except Alaska where you’ll need to be 21. The adult night club requires proof of age (21) as well.
Find adventure aboard the Oasis.
So in no real order of importance, here are my five ways for older teens to have fun on a cruise ship.
There are plenty of shows to go see on board a cruise. Whether it’s a stomach cramping comedy show, a Broadway performance, or anything in between, there’s always a show going on for anyone’s taste. And the best part about it, they are all free. So, get some popcorn and enjoy the show.
The adult comedy show in the Opal Theater on Oasis were hysterical!
Come Fly With Me Show.
Go to the bar. Don’t worry, all bars can make any mixed drink without alcohol (otherwise known as virgin). Got a hankering for a fruity drink? Go up to the bar and order a virgin Strawberry Daiquiri, Lava Flow, or any others you can think of. In my experience, the Lava Flow is certainly one to try. Delicious! I also enjoyed quite a few strawberry daiquiri mocktails. Look for mocktails on the bar menus for more options.
Strawberry Daiquiri on Oasis. Teens can order it as a mocktail!
Get your favorite beverage at Starbucks and watch a sports game at On Air.
Starbucks Coffee on Oasis of the Seas.
Swimming and Other Activities
Most certainly, the cruise ship you will be on will have at least one swimming pool. So put on some swim trunks and cool off in the pool. Maybe you’ll be on a ship that has a slide or some other sort of water attraction, such as the FlowRider (simulated surfing) on the Royal Caribbean ships (Freedom class and higher) or the water slide (AquaDuck) on Disney Cruise Line’s Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy.
Go surfing on the Oasis!
The AquaDuck on the Disney Dream is amazing.
I’ve been on Disney Magic but not since they installed the AquaDunk, a thrilling water slide. And, it looks like other cruise lines like Carnival have some cool slides too.
Carnival Cruise ship with cool water slides.
If your ship offers rock climbing, ice skating, miniature golf, FlowRider, or ziplining, try them out!
Try ziplining on Oasis of the Seas.
On a cruise ship, there are no such thing as calories (it’s vacation!), so go exploring for some snacks. Whether it’s a small sandwich from a café, such as the Café Promenade on Royal Caribbean, or an ice cream cone that you can acquire from the free dispensers on most cruise lines, there’s always something you can find to eat.
These sandwiches were delicious for a late night snack.
And don’t forget to try new foods. At dinner, order a new-to-you appetizer. Don’t like it; no problem. You can order a replacement or move on to the next course.
Tired of dealing with your peers, exams, a busy schedule? Then take the time on your cruise to relax and enjoy being away from reality. Go up on deck and enjoy soaking up the sun (just be sure to put on sunscreen). Take a nap in your stateroom. People watch. Read a book. The possibilities are endless.
A great time to find a quiet place on deck 15 aboard the Oasis is in the late morning while in port. We like to go ashore after enjoying a crowd-free morning on the ship.
Find a quiet place to read on the Oasis, deck 15.
Oasis had awesome fixed binoculars that worked well for looking at the moon at night. You’ll find them by using the port side stateroom corridor and heading forward (not aft) on Deck 14. I think there were signs pointing to the Observation Decks.
Fixed Binoculars are mounted on the forward wings on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis, Deck 14.
Full Moon lights up the sky on Oasis sailing.
I hope you found this short list to be helpful to you in some way. On your sailing, you’ll discover lots of cruise activities for teens.
And as this is my first post on the blog, you can expect to hear more from me in the future. Have a great day and Bon Voyage!
Teens — share your favorite cruise activities. Parents — what do your teens like to do when cruising?
A Balcony Stateroom on Royal Caribbean
There are countless reasons to splurge on a Royal Caribbean Cruise. While a balcony stateroom is an added cost, having a private, outdoor ocean view may be worth busting the budget.
It’s true that you can enjoy the ocean air and beautiful vistas from public decks on the ship. And if your main goal is a cost-effective vacation, then that’s definitely how you should cruise. Plus, there are times that your stateroom accommodations won’t seem as important. For instance, when we sailed the Mediterranean, we were away from the ship for many hours on once-in-a-lifetime visits to exotic locales. When we returned to the ship, we were too darn tired to care that our ocean view was courtesy of a simple window.
If you plan to spend a lot of time on the ship and have some extra funds, I recommend trying a balcony stateroom. Let’s take a look at some of our balcony experiences aboard Royal Caribbean ships!
Take an afternoon nap while listening to the ocean.
The sound of the ocean is conducive to afternoon naps.
When traveling with extended family, we always have our cabin steward open the partition between our balconies. This gives us extra room to visit. When arriving or leaving a port, you’ll find us out here enjoying the view.
Connecting balconies are great for families!
It’s always interesting to watch the goings-on at a port while a ship is preparing to depart. We love to watch the late arrivals running to the ship. The last minute mad dashers always make us laugh.
Watching people return to the ship.
Enjoying Coffee While Docking
There’s something wonderful about watching the ship dock in a new port while drinking coffee from a stateroom balcony.
Enjoy your coffee looking at the sea!
More coffee time while heading into port.
Watching the sun rise with an entire day of vacation ahead is exhilarating.
Read a Book
Retreat to your balcony and read a book. This is a lovely pastime before heading to dinner at Windjammer or Chops Grille!
Read a book
Yes, occasionally you’ll see other ships in the distance.
A ship in the distance
From the comfort of your private balcony, take beautiful photos of your Ports of Call.
Enjoy a beautiful view while in port
Waving to Other Cruisers
Go ahead and wave! It’s fun to wave hello (and goodbye) to passengers on other ships. It’s as if you haven’t seen civilization in oh, a day or so.
Waving to passengers on a Celebrity ship.
We really make use of our balcony and find the added expense worth it for us. Morning, afternoon, and evening — the ambiance is truly special. It’s the first place I venture to in the morning and the last in the evening. Watching the moonlight dance across the ocean just before going to bed is quite magical. And then there’s the ocean air that revives the soul. Priceless.
These are just some of the reasons that we love to splurge on a balcony. We’ve sailed on Independence, Freedom, and Jewel. In January 2017, we spent our 25th anniversary aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas in a Grand Suite. We loved it so much, we returned with family in June 2017!
Have you sailed on Royal Caribbean? What’s your cruise line and stateroom of choice?
Top Five Reasons to Cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas
We recently sailed aboard the Oasis of the Seas with Royal Caribbean International. If you’ve sailed on smaller ships with any cruise line, you’ll be amazed with the plethora of entertainment and dining options aboard the Oasis and Quantum class ships.
After last year’s Spring Break sailing with our family on the Freedom of the Seas in a balcony stateroom, we quickly booked the Oasis for our 25th anniversary celebration in January 2017. We had contemplated various destinations, including European, for our getaway but opted for a relaxing cruise in a Grand Suite.
We counted down the months until our Oasis sailing anticipating a restful vacation. And yes, we rested, relaxed, and left our cares ashore in Cape Canaveral. Surprisingly, we also got caught up in many of the activities offered on board this unique ship.
Lounge Chairs at Beach Pool on Oasis
Here’s five reasons to book your next cruise on the Oasis:
On this voyage, we ate in the main dining room, Coastal Kitchen (for suite and Pinnacle guests), Johnny Rockets, Chops Grille, Park Cafe, Windjammer, and more. The variety of dining options provided an extra element to our vacation that made it seem like we were vacationing in a city such as Las Vegas rather than on a Caribbean-bound ship.
The good news – I had lost some pounds before our trip. The bad news – I gained half of it back via cheese omelets, French toast, croissants, cookies, ice cream, and delicious dinners. Oh, there were specialty drinks too; my favorites were the Lava Flow and Strawberry Daiquiri.
Another aspect of the trip that was a pleasant surprise — the endless activities offered for adults. From sunup to sundown, we used our orange highlighter to mark the offerings on our Cruise Compass that we found interesting. Of course, we didn’t get to half of them; we still had in mind that this trip was for rejuvenating, preferably while reading a great book.
Breakfast and a good book to start the day!
The activities that we went to were all enjoyable. Some of these included Geography Trivia, Captain’s Corner, and the Majority Rules Game Show (our team of 4 won!).
Also, we spent time in the Suite Lounge where complimentary beverages were available.
As suite guests, we did not have to reserve entertainment times except for the adult comedy show due to the small venue, Comedy Live. Coming soon: we’ll share the benefits of being a suite guest!
The shows that are able to be reserved are offered throughout the week and easily reserved via Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner. We loved Oasis of Dreams, the diving show in the Aqua Theater located in the Boardwalk neighborhood. The combination of the outdoor venue, unique setting, and talented performers made for an entertaining performance.
Oasis Aqua Theater
Another favorite was the Frozen in Time ice skating spectacular in Studio B located in the Entertainment Place neighborhood. Growing up, I spent countless hours in a skating rink and can truly appreciate the difficulty of skating aboard a moving ship on a small ice surface.
I love to shop. Browse, buy, browse, browse, buy. It’s all good. 😉
Kate Spade store
While the weekly purse sale was a madhouse of women trying to snag a deal on designer bags (with one young man filming the chaos for his own amusement… LOL), it was fun to scoop up a deal on a Michael Kors purse.
Michael had fun picking out a Citizen watch.
Shopping the Sales
Of course, we also got souvenirs (shirts, for example) and gifts for those we left at home. New cologne for the teen! Browsing through Tiffany, Kate Spade, and other stores was a pastime that added extra fun (and a little bit of exercise, right?!) to our cruise.
Solarium, Central Park, and Entertainment Place
After previously sailing on Freedom class ships and Jewel of the Seas, we were already fond of the solarium available to passengers ages 16 and older (previously 18+) due to the quiet space with cozy seating.
On Oasis, the Solarium is a double-deck hideaway with a variety of seating arrangements and cozy nooks for reading, socializing, and staring at the sea. One evening we went to a dance party, Twenty by Absolut, on the upper deck (Deck 16, Solarium Bar) of the Solarium. SeaPass cards were scanned for admittance. (If you know what the age limit is for this party, please let us know in the comments below!)
Relax in the Solarium
Central Park is an outdoor space with meandering pathways, tropical plants, romantic lighting, soothing cricket sounds, and lovely music.
Finally, Entertainment Place is home to fun venues such as Casino Royale, Jazz on 4, Comedy Live, Blaze, and Studio B.
What’s your favorite cruise ship? Let us know in the comments below!