Here Comes the (Norwegian) Sun and I say…

20150929_095458My cruising history has been rich, however I had never cruised with Norwegian.  Toured several of their ships – but never stayed on board.  So it was time to experience the brand first hand.  To that end, I took a quick coastal cruise from Vancouver (stopped in Victoria) down to San Diego. Click here for the photo album.  It was a definite success!

I had heard mixed reviews and of course, there are pros and cons (just like every other line) but the level of friendly service and the energy on board was really good.  The Cons – Embarkation in Vancouver was a total mess as their system didn’t recognize 50% of the passengers – their online check-in never made it to the system.  So that wasn’t a great start to the trip.  However, once on board, we were greeted by an upbeat and friendly Cruise Director staff and a very welcoming Reception Desk staff.

Our cabin steward Sergio was great – always attentive, quicker than any stateroom attendant I’ve ever had and always had a genuine smile.  Vinay, one of the head waiters in the Four Seasons dining room paid extra attention to our needs and corrected any issues we had promptly. Which leads to the second con -Freestyle Dining.  Now, we never waited more than 5 minutes for a table, but the service in the dining room was hit or miss.  I suggest that if you find a waiter you like, book ahead for the next evening with that same waiter.

Activities-a-plenty was the theme for this coastal cruise.  We brought along books and our Rummikub game, but alas, I only got 5 pages read and we only played our game for an hour.  There was too much fun going on! From dance lessons to trivia, name that tune to cooking demos and the classic Norwegian White Party dance extravaganza – we stayed up late and had a ball.20151001_111744

For my Celiac friends, NCL has many provisions in place – I ordered off of the regular menu and made adjustments like “no sauce” and used their gluten free bread with my poached eggs breakfasts. The dining rooms offer a standard menu and the daily menu.  The standard is a good gluten-free fall back.  I had the steak twice and it was surprisingly better than the standard steak I’ve had on other cruise lines – really tender and the veggies were very fresh.   Lunch was more of a challenge though as the salad dressings in the buffets are not gluten free and you have to check on the meats – so pre-order your lunch and have it waiting for you on Deck 11 in the buffets.  If you want gluten free pancakes or waffles in the morning, you can also pre-order them the night before in the dining room as well.

The level of service that we got from the bar staff, shops and the Reception Desk was consistently good.  The Windjammer piano man Beau Tahana was top notch!  Always had the crowd singing along.  The Cruise Director Richard was great and Henry, Alvin and B were some of the top members of their team.  They taught great dance lessons, had us competing for prizes with trivia and were really engaging. NCL has a feel that is more casual, but I feel that it’s a good competitor for RCCL. Now to try out the Breakaway and the Escape!

Domestic Luxury just steps away…

So recently I’ve had a quite a few affirmations that where I live is just one heck of a great place to visit.  I’ve had clients calling to book hotels in Laguna Beach for lush luxury getaways. Friends have been coming to visit and rent local homes.  The art festival season is well underway and I attended our Pageant of the Masters show last evening.  So this is my invitation to you my clients and friends – Come visit Laguna!  Let me book a great summer/fall getaway for you and your family.  September is still a wonderful month out here with glorious beach weather as the rest of the country starts to cool down.  Enjoy a few pictures of my town below and come on out!

heisler heisler_park_550 rock pile

Animal Kingdom Lodge – A Kids-Eye View

We always hope that the little ones we bring along to Disney are going to love it.  So I thought it would be great to get a review of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge from who else? A kid!  I interviewed my niece Fia who has been to the AKL several times to get her perspective.  Enjoy!

Roman Holidays

Heading to Rome?  First, I’m jealous.  Second, you’re going to love it.  I wanted to share a few of our recommendations.

Mangia!: Italy is all about food.  So make sure to stop at Il Piccolo located at  Via del Lavatore 91, Rome, Italy.  Luca runs a wonderful respite just east of the Trevi Fountain where wood fire pizzas and home cooked pastas will satisfy your craving for “real” Italian.  Make sure to tell him Steve & Heidi sent you!

italy fountainRome is an Outdoor Museum: So take a walking tour:There’s no better way to absorb a city than strolling through the history.  In Rome, there are several options for free tours.  Rome Free Walking Tours is one of the most popular companies.  It’s free, but of course, tips are appreciated if you get a great tour.

vespaLife In The Fast Lane: Want to relive Audrey and Cary’s actual Roman Holiday, then try a Vespa tour. Bici Baci tours comes highly recommended and is on the top of my to-do list the next time I visit bella Roma.

Oh and yes, there will be a next time!

Ciao! and Buon Viaggio!

Celiac Disease & Your Disney Vacation

cooke's of dublinFor the growing number of Celiacs (as you know, I’ve just joined you!) travel can be a concern.  What to eat, how to explain and the concerns can go on and on.  However, during the past 9 months, I’ve discovered that vacationing on Disney Cruise Ships and the US Disney Resorts are a Celiac Disease patient’s best buddy.

For this blog post, I won’t go into deep detail – so reach out to me for more info – but I’m going to cite some basics to get the most relaxation out of your trip.  At the Disneyland resort in California, it’s as easy as alerting your server at any sit-down restaurant you go to.  The Chef will then come out to discuss your menu options and personally take down your order.  It’s that easy.  When ordering from the quick service counters, just alert the cashier, who will then bring a chef to the counter for you to do the same – discuss options and take your order.  Most of the restaurants have dedicated fryers so that you can get your dose of gluten-free french fries.  Many times gluten-free buns are also available.

When visiting the Walt Disney Resort in Florida, it’s best to make notes in your dining reservations, as well as alert the host when you arrive at the restaurant. Then the server can get the chef involved.  Counter service restaurants are handled as they are at the Disneyland resort – just alert the cashier.  And for the fried goodness treats you just can’t find too many places, go to Cookes of Dublin, the take-away spot next to Raglan Road.  The gluten-free fried goodness is GREAT!  Fish and Chips, Onion Rings, Chicken Tenders and a gluten-free zucchini muffin or cupcake – didn’t get that far down the menu.

While sailing the seven seas with one of my favorite cruise lines all around – the Disney Cruise Line – it’s a breeze to eat gluten-free and friendly. When making your cruise reservation, just let your travel agent (and let’s hope that’s me:-)) that you are Celiac or Gluten intolerant.  Then when you arrive in your dining room, alert your waiter.  The head waiter will no doubt come over to your table to discuss your options.  Our wonderful head waiter came over every night to the table and let me order ahead for the next night if I wanted to so that they could adapt the menu as needed. They even had gluten-free rolls. (they were ok, as far as gluten-free bread goes – but they filled a bread need on a nigh or two).  And I was very happy to find out that the Mickey Bars have gluten-free ingredients (whenever things come from a factory, you may have the cross-contamination risk) and I ate them several times with no signs of gluten issues.  But use your own judgement on that. And one more bit of “fine print”: the Disney kitchens are not allergen kitchens that are  separate, in a bubble, etc….but they do their best to respect food allergy needs.

Buffets are not out of the question on Disney properties on land and at sea.  When arriving, ask to speak to the chef.  They will come out and walk you through the buffet line and let you know what you can and cannot eat.  Again – they are VERY helpful and ready to assist with a smile.

The bottom line that makes Disney a great place for Celiacs, is that they care.  They don’t make you feel like you’re high-maintenance and being a problem.  They are accommodating, educated about food allergies and do their best to make your meal as carefully as possible.  It’s nice to be able to enjoy a meal not worrying the whole time about how sick you might feel afterwards and that’s worth a pretty penny.

Celiac Disease & Europe; Yes, You Can Still Have a Great Time Without Bread!

no-bread12When diagnosed with Celiac last April, my first thought was “Pas de croissant a Paris? Dites ce n’est pas si”…well, ok, it was in English and I’ve edited it, “No croissants in Paris? No!!!” Much to my surprise, it was not as challenging as I originally thought.

Paris was a challenge in some ways (more on that in a bit), as of course, the focus is on the patissierre and boulengerie crowd.  Steve enjoyed these treats for us both. In France, letting them know you have Celiac can result in strange looks or looks that say, I really don’t care.  However, Italy on the other hand was amazingly accommodating and conscientious with Celiacs.  In fact, they have laws and restaurants take them seriously.  Calling ahead to let the restaurant know is always nice for them, however, I ate at several restaurants, notified them upon arrival and had delicious meals with no consequences afterwards.

Before I dive into the details,  let’s get my tips for traveling gluten-free out-of-the-way.  Always pack lots of gluten-free bars from home.  I brought little trail mix/nut packets as well.  During the day, it’s very easy to find lots of fruits at markets and stands as well.  Download the iTranslate app – it will come in handy when needing to communicate on the run (for everything, not just gluten talk).  Print up/download the Gluten Free Travel Cards at (donate if you can – great site!).  Google “gluten-free Europe” and you’ll find a ton of very helpful blogs and websites. Read up and you won’t fee so overwhelmed.
il piccolo bucoHands down the best restaurant we ate at in Italy was Il Piccolo Buco in the Trevi Fountain area.  Steve’s meal was delicious and my risotto was unforgettable.  The caprese salad was full of flavor and the service is the best!  Say hi to Luca and Momma from us when you go.

Barcelona’s La Boqueria on the Ramblas was a haven.  In the morning I found a wonderful counter with an egg, potato and cheese bake that was filling and perfect to keep me going.  During the day we found fruits and juices (and if you go in the last hour or so, a lot of things are reduced!).  

In Paris, things were a bit more challenging – especially for breakfast.  But Steve did locate a boiled egg for me on the run.  On another day I had a nice omelette.  And for dinner, Steak Frites! We ate at 2 different locations of 20140906_214118Le Relais de L’entrecote since all they do is Steak and French Fries.  The sauce was deemed gluten safe by the waitress and I enjoyed my meal each evening.

If you’re going to Disneyland Paris, you will not get the same Disney Celiac treatment that you get in the US Parks or on the ships.  They only have pre-packaged, one-size fits all non-allergenic meal that I did not even try.  I would have eaten a tree branch before I ate that.  So I suggest a hearty omelette and potatoes breakfast. Find a salad for lunch and we found Restaurant Hakuna Matata for chicken and rice (no sauce).

The key to enjoying any vacation with Celiac (and other allergens) is to be prepared, have snacks with you for those crisis moments and research. Bon Voyage my Celiac friends!

Bella Amalfi – Our day of indulgence

Oh bella Italia, how we could cheat on our other vacation hot spots with you….I’m not going to spoil the amazing views we absorbed with tons of useless words.  These images breathe more poetry than I could ever hope to create.  (Full Album) However, I will tell you all, that if you are EVER in the south of Italy (Naples, Rome, Sorrento, etc) and you don’t book Giovanni and his team at Lovely Amalfi Coast Tours, then I will never speak to you again.  This is a no-brainer; your day will be effortless – he picks you up, whisks you away, takes you to the best of the best.  This is not a bargain expedition, but it’s a quality, indulgent day of memory making.  So if you don’t book Lovely Amalfi, then just don’t tell me you were in Amalfi – exclude me from your Instagram posts and your FB chatter, because our friendship will be over.  Dramatic? Yes.  True? Most Definitely.:-)


Our view of Positano at lunch

Our view of Positano at lunch

Beach view - Positano

Beach view – Positano

Positano walkway to the beach

Positano walkway to the beach





On the way to Sorrento

On the way to Sorrento

Lemons! The size of your head:-) Limoncello!

Lemons! The size of your head:-) Limoncello!