Southern Caribbean Cruise onboard Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas

In March I made my fifth cruise, a trip onboard the old but gold Adventure of the Seas, taking us from San Juan, Puerto Rico and around the South-Eastern Caribbean, including; St. Maarten (airport beach); St. Kitts (cocktails in a 1920s train); Antigua (crazy pretty beach); St. Lucia (pitons and beautiful scenery), and Barbados (soca, rum punch and also crazy beautiful beach[es]. I’ve sorted it under each day, including food and drinks onboard.

Day 1: Boarding in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Boarding

We were e-mailed a day in advance where we were advised that we should board at 2 pm. But since we had to leave our AirBnB rental apartment at 11 am, we took an Uber straight to the port. At the port we left our bags, went through security, took the dedicated gold line (since we have cruised once before with Royal Caribbean), and swoosh, we were onboard.

The ship

The Adventure of the Seas, which was our ride around the Caribbean for the next seven days, is a beautiful if slightly old ship. It was built in 1998, but you really couldn’t tell since she recently was renovated, at least not in the public areas. The cabins felt a little worn, but not too bad either.

Cabin aka stateroom

We stayed in an interior stateroom, as the cabins are called. Since there is no window, it gets really dark when you close the lights for the night. If you feel claustrophobic, maybe leave the bathroom lights on. In the cabin is also an interactive flatscreen tv with a couple of tv channels, access to eg your onboard account and the ship’s own different channels. The ship’s Wi-fi signal reached our cabin (maybe all) on level six too, so we could use internet while in bed. Speaking of the bed, we had s comfy double and slept like babies (could perhaps have something to do with our all-inclusive drinking packages as well).

Deluxe drinking package

We opted for the deluxe drinking package which covers all drinks by the glass, alcoholic and non-alcoholic up to $12. This covered most drinks onboard, and not only the cheapest stuff. There were plenty of wines by the glass to choose from in the main dining room; all beers and cocktails despite the really fancy ones, and sparkling wine in some, but not all restaurants and bars. Also be aware that some drinks are priced differently around the ship. Eg. A certain glass of wine can be priced above $12 in the main dining room, and below in a bar, and vice-verca. Generally though, we drank what we felt like without feeling limited, while still staying below the $12 cap. Top tip though: Bolero Bar has a glass of delicious Vilarnau cava for $12 (and awesome mojitos and caiprinhas).

We definitely felt we got value for money, using our package benefits for sparkling water for dinner, specialty coffee and fresh squeezed juice for breakfast and soft drinks – in addition to alcoholic drinks. Although I am not so sure it was great for my liver. 😅

Dinner in main dining room

We had opted for “My Time Dining” when booking our cruise, meaning we could choose our own time to eat instead of the traditional scheduled ‘seatings’. We talked to the maître d, which told us that either 6.15 or 7.30 pm were the best times, as it would be calmer and more available tables. We consequently booked 7.30 for all our nights onboard right away, which resulted in us having the same table (and waiting staff) for the entire cruise, which was good.

Our first dinner consisted of this perhaps not spectacularly photogenique aged prime rib of beef. It was delicious though, served with crunchy vegetables, pan gravy and baked potatoes. In my mind the food onboard Royal Caribbean is surprisingly good, better than I remember it from cruising with them in 2010. And I’d like to think that my taste has improved since.

I got a little mocked on Instagram for this Caesar salad that my followers apparently did not fully approve of. It was too much lettuce, as can be seen. But despite the rustic serving it was quite delicious.

Day 2: Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

The first port of call during our cruise was the Dutch and French island of St. Maarten. The ship is docked at the quay, and hence there was no need to tender. Actually we walked ashore on all stops which was convenient.

Maho Beach and Princess Juliana Airport

We had opted to visit St. Maarten’s possibly most famous site; Maho beach, situated at the end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). We picked the convenient option and joined the ship’s own tour providing transport there. The beach is quite small, chairs and umbrella were $20 (we actually heard staff discuss among themselves that cruise passengers should pay an extra $5 over the listed price in the bar), and while we were there the waves quite high, but those facts weren’t that important given how cool it was to be right in the path of the incoming jets. For each dot appearing on the horizon, growing as it approached, anticipation among the beach crowd grew: “is it a big one?”. While we visited, both Delta and Jetblue touched down and it is really a special feeling standing just a couple of meters below a landing jet.

Read and obey the signs though as someone that left the beach standing on the road even closer to the runway recently died after falling due to the wind.

Dinner in the main dining room

A really, surprisingly, delicious seafood pasta featuring perfectly cooked linguini with bay scallops (so sweet and tasty), mussels and shrimps in a Chardonnay reduction. Great seafood, nice silky tomato sauce and pasta cooked al dente. I wasn’t expecting such a nice pasta onboard a cruise ship. I’d be happy to pay for this in any restaurant.

Beef carpaccio with parmesan, rucola, garlic chips and mayo was very good as well.

Day 3: Basseterre, Saint Kitts

Our third day on the ship we arrived St. Kitts in the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis (pronounced ‘knee-vis’ we learned, I always thought ‘nevvis’).

St. Kitts Scenic Railway

After reading about it, I couldn’t resist to take the old school, 1910s-constructed railway, built for the transportation of sugarcane. In these times though it is used to transport another bunch of sugar-loaded commodities – us.

During the approximately two hour ride we were taken around the island, soaking up some beautiful views of the landscape, villages, mountains and sea, while being served complimentary drinks such as piña coladas, strawberry daiquiris (what I had) as well as water and soft drinks. There was also a choir onboard that went from carriage to carriage, singing local tunes. A very nice and comfortable trip, if pricey, in an old school train.

Harbour lunch in Basseterre

Before heading back to the ship, we took a short stroll around the cobble streets of Basseterre, St. Kitts and Nevis’ small capital. In the harbour, there was a small foodcourt, which included a small place selling local dishes called Island Thyme. We were hungry as well as had raided the Adventure of the Seas’ lunch buffet for two days straight, and, were keen to try some local food. It should be added though that they ‘forgot’ to return our $2 change on a twenty bill, which I always find annoying. If I’d like to tip I decide so for myself (and this is not a table service place).

Hot, crunchy and spicy ‘calypso wings’.

Delicious, juicy roasted chicken with peas and rice (with peas meaning beans) and plantain (green banana fritters). All washed down with an ice-cold Carib beer.

Dinner in the main dining room

Italian night onboard, and I went for the not so mature, but oh so good, option of spaghetti bolognese with San Marzano tomatoes and pecorino cheese. Really beefy and again surprisingly tasty for being on a ship. The starter burrata were one of the most creamy and delicious burratas I’ve ever had.

Adventure of the Seas’ bolognese wasn’t on the menu all nights, but nearly.

Reaaally good burrata cheese with bacon, rucola, tomatoes and pesto dressing.

Day 4: Saint John’s, Antigua and Barbuda

Our fourth stop was in St. Johns, the capital city located on the island of Antigua, in the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda. Finally it was time to hit the beach properly (even though Maho Beach was a beach I was mainly there to take cool shots of planes).

Ffryes Beach, Antigua

We had booked Beach Extravaganza or something like that, which included transport, a sun lounger (but not an umbrella – that would’ve been a bit too much extravaganza, hey?), a surprisingly delicious lunch and two drinks (or more if you’d take your cousins’ drink vouchers as well as our nearly passing out-drunk fellow cruiser did). Anyway, after a quick trip through St Johns, we arrived the stunning Ffryes Beach (yes, with two “f”). Having visited Vanuatu in the South Pacific just a few months ago, I was almost dissapointed that Ffryes was even more beautiful. In my mind the South Pacific is unbeatable, but I now realise I might be wrong.

The mentioned lunch, a buffet featuring macaroni salad, falling-of-the-bone-tender beef ribs, grilled chicken, regular salad, rice and beans, garlic bread and various sauces and dressings was served on the beach restaurant and bar; Dennis’. The food was really good and well–cooked. Nothing particularly gourmet, just very tasty. Local Wadadli Beer and Rum Punches were included ‘free drinks’.

Day 5: Castries, Saint Lucia

Our fifth day on the ship we arrived the, in my mind at least, mystical island of Saint Lucia. Green, lush and beautiful, with an active volcano, and the two 250 000 year-old lava domes The Pitons I felt a little bit I had landed in Jurassic Park, or something.

The Pitons and volcano tour

Once again, we took the convenient route and opted for one of Royal Caribbean’s tours. Our tour took us, via a photo and banana ketchup tasting stop in Marigot Bay, to Soufrière, on the Saint Lucian West Coast. After driving through Soufrière we visited the Soufrière volcano, which is still active. From a distance we could ourselves see the action, with the bubbling sulphur springs. We were also treated to a massive rainfall. During the trip we stopped for pictures of the Pitons at a few spots, and we finally visited a restaurant for a complimentary drink, which was a splash of juice in a plastic cup.

Here you could also buy a snack in the shape of grilled jerk chicken and some fried stuff. Tasty enough, but nothing special. There was a tremendous view over, once again, The Pitons, and the city of Soufrière below.

Day 6: Bridgetown, Barbados

Our sixth, and final, tropical island of the cruise to visit, was possibly also the place I looked forward to the most: Barbados. We walked off the ship as in every port and reached our tour outside the terminal.

The Island Style Beach Hopping Tour

Worth noting, is that this tour is like 8 in the morning. Also worth noting is that you will be force-fed (that is an exageration) beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, while listening to thumping Soca-music by a (my guess) aspiring stand up comedian that made you scream” wooo” when the driver honked the Jitney (did I forget to mention you’ll be in a open-sides jeep bus?) . Doesn’t sound too bad? Then this tour is for you. I started off by hating the tour (I was mildly hungover, and it was in the GOD DAMN MORNING), but ended up loving it. The guide was just too much fun, and the sort of friendly competition with the other tour bus and their guide on the same route was hilarious. The beaches, too, were incredible.

Our first stop: Worthing Beach. White sand, turquoise water, palm trees, calm waves, and suddenly a bunch of wild sea turtles swam next to us. Paradise. Free facilities, eg. a restroom available.

Next stop: Accra Beach. Another beautiful beach. Since the time was passed 11 am I joined the drunken haze of my fellow bus mates with an ice-cold Barbadian Banks beer. Note, you had to pay for loungers on all beaches, we only had chairs on Accra Beach, which was $10 for two chairs and an umbrella. Trivia is that the umbrella guy was incredibly cranky and that the chair guy tried to sell us weed. No facilities here (that were obvious anyway).

Last stop of the tour: Pebbles Beach. Another pretty beach with slightly larger waves (poor mom-in-law made a face plant getting attacked from behind). We also saw turtles here out in the waves.

Possibly the best with this beach though was the small shack at the end of the beach called Cuzz’s Fish Shack. Cuzz serves up fish cutters which are pretty much fried fish sandwiches. The cutters are filled with fried crispy flying fish, lettuce and optional cheese (we opted out). You then dress the cutter yourself, we followed the lead of the locals and added Bajan pepper sauce and mayonnaise. At $4,5 it provided a relatively filling, but really delicious snack. Especially with the amazing view over the beach.

Dinner in the main dining room (LOBSTER!)

I wasn’t sure if they’d kept the formal night lobster from our 2010 trip, but fortunately this was the night.

The lobster dinner consisted of a broiled lobster tail (I managed to negotiate two) with lemon saffron rice, seasonal vegetables and a healthy splash of drawn butter. While I did not love the sides, the lobster meat combined with the drawn butter was really delicious, and it worked really well with a glass of buttery and oaky Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

Day 7: At sea (and dinner at Chops Grille)

Our final day and night onboard honestly started with a visit to the gym, then a fancy a la carte breakfast in the main dining room featuring eggs benedict. This is still included in the price by the way, only gripe is that you might have to wait in line a while for a table.

After breakfast we opted to go for a round of mini golf which also is available, free of charge, outside on the deck. Despite a bunch of feral kids constantly running over the tracks, it was quite fun (probably because I WON).

It should be added that there’s also a surf wave-simulator, a climbing wall, an ice skating rink, water slides and numerous other options for a more active vacation, we were just too lazy to use any of those. Even though we sort of planned to visit the climbing wall at one point during the cruise.

I’ve mentioned it before, but the cocktails onboard are quite good. Definitely on par with a decent bar ashore (not counting the pool bar which’s cocktails were so-so). So before going for our last dinner, we visited the Casino Bar which makes the second best cocktails after Bolero.

Chops Grille steakhouse specialty restaurant on the Adventure of the Seas

I’ve always liked those kind of luxurious, yet not posh, American steakhouses that Chops Grille seems to be. I’ve been on five cruises so far, and I’ve never forked out the extra cash for a specialty restaurant (save for Johnny Rockets, which we, then 20-somethings, actually paid like five bucks for, during our first cruise). Anyway, it was time to see if it was actually worth to pay extra, despite the food we could have for free definitely was nice. We paid around $40 each, and for that we could choose almost what we wanted from the a la carte menu except for lobster and a seafood tower that was extra-extra.

After a first bread serving starring an onion foccacia (really good) with whipped butter, we had charred carpaccio with truffle oil, mayonnaise, rucola and parmesan. It was tasty, but nothing spectacular.

The main however: mm-mm-mm! Perfectly cooked medium-rare filet mignon (beef fillet) with truffle fries, asparagus, mac & cheese and sauce bordelaise (red wine and beef marrow). So good, and washed down with excellent Australian Cabernet Sauvignon, served in fancy Riedel Glasses.

I read somewhere to save space for the red velvet cake, because it was really something. It was quite good, but not extraordinary in any way. I also ordered a cold brew coffee cocktail that wasn’t any good at all in my mind.

Service-wise, all staff on the ship is quite friendly and service minded, meaning you’ll be pretty used to good service. Chops Grille was still a step up though, and staff were, fast, friendly and quite knowledgeable. All in all I was very happy and will definitely book Chops Grille on my next cruise.

And that was that. After Chops Grille, we decided to make a last visit to all of our favourite bars onboard, giving our deluxe beverage package a last spin, before a last sleep before arriving back in San Juan, Puerto Rico the following morning. We departed the ship around 10.30 am, being among the last passengers off the ship.

Royal Caribbean’s Chops Grille wine list

Since I’m a total geek and likes to think about my experience months in advance, think about, food and wine combinations and so on. I tried heard to find a wine list for Chops Grille onboard the Adventure of the Seas cruise ships. Since I couldn’t I snapped a few pics of the menus on my cruise in March 2018, and hope someone finds use for it. 🙂

If that’s why you’re here – happy cruising, and feel free to share this link with other potentially interested cruisers. I added both food, dessert and wine menus for Chops Grille on the Adventure of the Seas below:

Four days of eating in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Just got back from a trip to the Caribbean, including four days of eating in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Mi Casita

Not the greatest pic, but our first meal was a criolla omelette with Puerto Rican bread at Mi Casita. Basic, but tasty and affordable. Located in Isla Verde.

Website

El Alambique beach bar and restaurant

Excellent dinner right on the beach at El Alambique Beach bar and restaurant. First we tried the Puerto Rican ‘national dish’ mofongo, which are fried and then mashed plantains. In this version it was smothered with garlic butter, coriander, chilli sauce and topped with a couple of delicious prawns.

We also had ceviche with plantain chips as well as a couple of unsweetened (no idea why) but still quite good cocktails.

Prices as you can see above were about $10-20 excluding taxes and tips, as in mainland U.S.

Located in Isla Verde, right by the beach and also close to the airport.

Website

Taste from PR

This place sounds so much like the worst tourist trap, but it wasn’t. Various online sources also states it’s closed, which it’s not (March 2018). Location is relatively good in Isla Verde as in accessible, but it’s located next to the road, so if you sit outside you’ll pretty much be in the middle of traffic. Food was really nice though and we tried 1. Carne frita (fried pork) with tostones (plantain fritters) and 2. Grilled chicken with rice and beans. Washed down with cold local Medalla beer. Rustic, inexpensive and delicious.

Located in Isla Verde.

Website

Playa Papaya

A nice place for a good breakfast is Playa Papaya. Also close to the beach in Isla Verde it serves standard American and Puerto Rican breakfast dishes. The place is quite relaxed and prices were decent. Above is one chicken and one Canadian bacon on buns with corn chips, guacamole and chilli mayo. Priced around $10 excluding taxes and tips.

Located in Isla Verde.

Website

Punto de Vista rooftop restaurant

Our favourite restaurant in San Juan during our visit. Had a fantastic “tender, juicy and messy” pulled pork with guava bbq sauce and red cabbage slaw in Puerto Rican slightly sweet Mallorca bread. Deep-fried plantain fritters – tostones – on the side. And a nice mojito too. Views over San Juan came as an added bonus. Prices $10-20 excluding taxes and tips.

Located in Old San Juan.

Website

Cafe Puerto Rico

We had a quick lunch at Cafe Puerto Rico and really enjoyed their chorizo and beef-stuffed fried “empanadas” as well as chicken soup and fried chicken with beans and rice. Prices $6-20. Lunch beer was $4.

Located in Old San Juan.

Website

Barrachina

The alleged birthplace of Puerto Rico’s national drink, the famous Piña Colada! Alleged because the Caribe Hilton, also in San Juan claims the same. The piña colada is made from a pre-made mix, which at first seems sort of dissapointing, but nevertheless it was the best piña colada I’ve had. Service was very nice too and the little courtyard bar is exactly what you’d like for your tropical cocktail. $7.5 for a standard piña colada (and you can also have them to go).

Located in Old San Juan.

Website

What to do during seven days in The Gambia

During our eight days in “the smiling coast”, we actually managed to do quite a lot, despite spending a considerable amount of time on the beach, poolside and lazying around with a cool Julbrew in our hand.

Beaches

Maybe not a proper activity per se – or actually, I guess it can be counted. The Gambia is one of the sunniest destinations around, and you should visit a beach while there. If not for tanning to just check out a West African Atlantic Ocean beach. There is, except for beautiful surroundings, almost always something going on. Fruit ladies, juice men, the odd ‘bumster’ and perhaps an occassional bull kicking a nosey dog (yes, that happened).

Senegambia Beach Hotel (Kololi Beach)

During our visit we stayed at the Senegambia Beach Hotel (which I will review further in an upcoming post). Due to sea errosion, the “beach front” of this hotel is now situated above the actual beach, and you reach the water by stairs. If you go down the stairs and walk along the beach (later in the day when water’s lower) to the right, you’ll reach more flat-surfaced beach in about a few hundred meters.

Poco Loco Beachbar Gambia

As mentioned above, if you walk to the right along the beach from The Senegambia Beach Hotel, The Kairaba or Holiday Beach Club you’ll eventually reach the Poco Loco Beach Club next to the Djembe Hotel. This beach is really nice and at the beach club they have loungers, semi-cabanas and regular seating. It seemed like you could use their facilities if you bought a drink or had a meal (which supposedly from what we heard was good). A Julbrew was 65 Dalasi (~€1).

Sanyang (Paradise Beach)

About 30 minutes drive (the last part is quite bumby) from the Senegambia Strip is Sanyang Beach, also known as Paradise Beach, and called one of Gambia’s best/prettiest. The beach is wiiide and indeed pretty. There’s also a restaurant and bar (Rainbow) with decent food and drinks, a couple of sellers and, for reasons unknown, some livestock (a quite massive bull roaming around freely) when we visited.

Tours (where to visit)

Banjul

We took three different tours during our visit. The first one to Gambia’s tiny capital city Banjul. All our tours was booked through our Swedish tour company Ving, but all but the Banjul tour was with English guides and buses from Gambia Tours which seemed to be a quite large local operator. Anyway, the Banjul visit was quite interesting and we got to visit the small national museum, the Arch 22 monument/building which featured some nice views (and photo ops!) from the top floors. Although be aware that you’ll need to walk up as the elevator was pretty much missing. We also visited the Albert Market which was a quite cool experience. Bargain hard. Finally we had a nice buffet lunch at the Nefertiti Beach restaurant.

Fathala wildlife reserve (in Senegal)

Our second tour was a trip to neighbouring country Senegal and the Fathala Wildlife Reserve. The reserve is sort of a semi-real experience. The giraffes for instance are imported from South Africa to try to restore the former abundant wildlife back to the region. The animals roam freely, and according to our guides there’s no guarantee of seeing any or all animals during a visit. Nevertheless we found all of them within our first hour. It is a cool experience, but it did feel a little bit like a large zoo. Worth a visit though, especially for me that has never (yet) been on a safari.

Apart from animals however, the trip to Fathala is quite long and definitely an experience in itself. It involves using the Banjul to Barra ferry, which was a breeze during our morning crossing, and somewhat claustrophobic (crowds), hot and painful (think diesel fumes and 35 degrees) on our afternoon return. It also involves a border crossing into Senegal (and same procedure on the return to Gambia) where you’ll need to exit your vehicle, leave your fingerprints, get a passport stamp and deal with loads of vendors, children asking for money and pens, beggars and general hustle and bustle. I honestly thought it would be worse and quite liked the experience, but come prepared I guess.

For me it was definitely worth it as it was an experience I’ve never had before and that I’d also got to visit Senegal. Bear in mind though that it’s basically 9 hours in total for a 2 hour game drive and at best a 1 hour lunch. That is, 3 hours one way trip from your hotel to Fathala.

Bush and beach tour

This was another one of the highlights during our visit to the Gambia. A day of visiting the Gambian countryside – or bush. An African experience like I’ve never had before. The tour started with us boarding an old rebuilt military truck (I think). We started our day with a relatively short drive to Sukuta community, south of Banjul and the beaches. In Sukuta we made a brief stop to a fish, fruit and vegetable market and got a feeling for sort of Gambian small town life. Next stop was a rural community school where we visited the classrooms, listened to the founder and met some local children. Usually the school is business as usual during the tour visit, but it was a public holiday the day we visited so it was closed. After this we drove through small villages and bushland, with children running along the trucks waving and screaming ‘hello’. This trip is undertaken on really basic roads though, so don’t go if you have any back or hip problems (they will warn you). Bumpy so say the least. After this, which was my favourite part of the trip we entered a paved road again and visited a Gambian heritage museum. From there we went to Sanyang Beach (read about it above under beaches) and finally to Tanji a fishing town south of Banjul where they smoke fish which is then exported all over West Africa. We both got to visit the beach where all the fishermen conducted their business as well as the adjacent smokery. Very cool, quite smelly.

Shopping, dining and drinking

On the Senegambia Strip, which starts at the crossing with Bertil Harding Highway (a Swede credited with launching tourism in the area in the 1960s) and finishes at the Senegambia and Kairaba hotels roundabout there are several bars, shops, money changers and of course restaurants. We visited two restaurants on the strip, Paradiso which you can read about here, and also at the Spanish restaurant The Winery.

The Winery was a pleasant surprise, and given the authenticity quite worthwile when it comes to price. We had hand-carved as-good-as-in-Spain pata negra ham, manchego cheese, crispy yet soft croquettas, two kinds of patatas bravas, huevos rellenos (Spanished devilled eggs with tuna) and gambas ajillo (prawns in garlic oil). Everything was soo good. We washed it down with a bottle of red wine. Service was a little uninspired at first, but the staff cheered up as the evening progressed, or did I just get more positive after downing a half bottle of red? 😅 Anyway, muy recommended if you want to take a break from the (delicious) Gambian food.

The Winery’s website (Facebook)

Flying with Thomas Cook Airlines Nordics’ Airbus A321 to Gambia

Just a short review of our trip with Thomas Cook Nordic from Stockholm to Banjul, Gambia via Las Palmas in their Airbus A321 (booked trough Swedish tour compamy Ving).

When previously flying to Cape Verde with Thomas Cook Airlines, they put us in their large twin aisle A330 aircraft. Hence, I was a little surprised when we booked a trip to Gambia, which is about the same distance, but for this trip the much smaller single aisle A321 is used. Unlike the larger aircrafts, there’s only economy class onboard, but you can “upgrade yourself” with extras such as seat pairs, fancier meals and proper champagne to make the trip a bit more bearable.

Seat pairs

To get some extra privacy we pre-booked one of four seat pairs (rows 10 and 24) for about 500 sek for two, one way. The problem with these seats though is that you are right in front of the emergency exits, meaning no window, and that you, when seated on the right hand side also sits next to the crew seat. That is not a great concern, but it means that the crew will slam down next to you the few seconds before take off our landing.

Crowded for such a long flight

The plane, since not really intended for such a long flight as Stockholm-Banjul (about 9 hours), feels quite crammed. There are four lavatories – one in the front and three in the back. And since it’s a “charter” flight, people tend to drink quite a lot, and hence there’s usually a line, especially in the front.

Thomas Cook Airlines Onboard Menu

I usually like to read onboard menus before traveling, must like because I’m a total geek. But if you’re like me: here you are.

Food onboard

We opted to upgrade to a ‘Royal Meal Meat’ which is 295 sek per person. It is quite steep, but then a drink of choice (except champagne) is included, so in the end it is 130 sek (€14) more than a regular meal and a beverage – in my mind it was worth it. The Royal Meal came on a tray with ‘real’ porcelain bowls and plates, and all dishes were served at the same time. First up was a Swedish Skagenröra, meaning a shrimp, dill and mayo salad, and some sliced salmon. Both were surprisingly good, especially the shrimp salad. Warm bread was also served. Second was a “grilled”, it actually had decent charr marks, beef fillet served with green peppercorn sauce and potato gratin. As usual, the meat was quite cremated, but flavours were good. After that was a few slices of nice quality cheese, crackers and a few pieces of fruit (grapes and dried apricota). Finally a square of a really nice mint-chocolate cake that would’ve been yummy even outside of a plane. This was washed down with Nicolas Feuilatte champagne (90 sek) and Wooly Sheep Pinot Noir from New Zealand (60 sek). Credit to Thomas Cook for providing decent wine onboard!

On the shorter leg to and from Banjul, a small complimentary meal was served. Bread, pastrami and coleslaw on the way to Banjul. Pasta salad, salmon and bread on the way from.

Las Palmas Stop

Since the plane is so small, it has to land on Gran Canaria for refueling, adding about two hours to the trip. On the way there, we just sat around in the plane while refueling. On the return flight however, we had to de-board, go through passport control and security check before reboarding. As I understood it though, this was an exception due to planned service of the plane we arrived in. We kept our seats as it was the same plane model but obviously had to remove all our stuff from the plane.

Did we survive?

All in all, the flight to The Gambia was pretty much a breeze since it’s during daytime. We brought and Ipad, ate our upgraded meals and drank champagne. The return was worse though as the plane is tiny and you fly home at night, meaning you’d probably want to sleep. It was nearly impossible to find a surviveable sleeping position (and I’m not a tall person). Since we had the crew seat next to us, there was no window to lean on either for extra support. But, it is still about 8 hours of flying in total, so of course we survived, and it was absolutely worth it to visit amazing Gambia.

What to eat and must try food in The Gambia

Just got back to minus 10 degress Celsius after a week in the tiny but amazingly nice West African nation of The Gambia.

The first time I tried to visit Gambia was last year, but due to the then long-time ruler’s refusal to step down after losing the elections and the neighbouring countries threath to invade – we did not go. Last autumn we had booked another trip, but that time we couldn’t go either. But hey, three times a charm! This time we managed to make it, and what a trip we’ve had. So without further ado, here are my Gambia what to and drink eat during a week in “the smiling coast”.

What to eat in the Gambia

Situated in Western Africa, landlocked by the larger nation of Senegal The Gambia obviously is influenced by the surrounding region. Dishes like yassa, benachin and domoda are all available over the entire region in various shapes and names. Before leaving, I had read that Gambia’s somewhat famous for its food, but the sources I found were slightly biased, so I took that with a grain of salt. But I shouldn’t have, they were right – Gambian food is great. Below is what I tried, although I was not even close to try everything I wanted during my limited time in the country.

Domoda

A peanuty groundnut stew usually served with your choice of protein. I tried it with beef and chicken. Both were great and you can also have it with fish and prawn, for instance. The flavour is a little bit like Thai peanut sauce – satay, but it’s saucier and richer/meatier in flavour. This was my favourite of the different stews and sauces I tried during my visit. In addition to groundnuts (peanuts) there is also tomatoes, onion and usually from what I understood also lemon or lime. The meat is slow-cooked in the sauce and both chicken and beef versions were “falling off the bond tender”. Served with rice and veggies.

I tried domoda at:

Paradiso on the Senegambia Strip (my fav).

Senegambia Beach Hotel (on their buffet).

Yassa

Originally a Senegalese dish called yassa au poulet but now popular all over West Africa. Yassa is an onion and lemon sauce or stew that is cooked together, like the domoda above, with chicken, beef, prawns or fish. We had versions that were a little bit spicy and also ones with a hint of ginger, making the yassa taste borderline Asian wok. No matter the different flavouring delicious. Fresh, rustic and yummy. Served on rice.

Where I tried yassa:

My favourite: at Senegambia Beach Hotel’s beach restaurant (a la carte). They also have a really nice yassa wrap on their menu. Only open for lunch though.

Nefertiti beach restaurant in Banjul (buffet).

Rainbow restaurant Paradise Beach (Sanyang).

Benachin (aka Jollof Rice)

Benachin is a rice dish and it names means literally one-pot. Famous all-over West Africa under the name Jollof Rice this is a hugelt popular dish with tomatoes, onions, rice and oil that are cooked together, once again usually combined with your protein of choice. A really delicious, slightly oily rice dish which I had both with and without meat. My favourite version was with slow-cooked tender chunks of beef incorporated though.

Where I had Benachin rice

My favourite: Senegambia Beach Hotel, on their evening buffet (approx 650 Dalasi).

Did not try but heard from several sources that Kadie-Kadie was realy good and where the locals go for benachin. Only open for lunch though from what I heard and less busy from 14:00/2 pm.

Afra (aka dibi)

Afra is a quite simple, but delicious Gambian and West African dish also known as “dibi”. It is basically grilled or fried meat or chicken as well as onions that is post-grilling combined with a savoury, salty “sauce” of maggi stock cubes. You can eat it in a soft tapalapa bread (similar to baguette) or with rice.

Where I tried afra

In above picture the afra is enjoyed with beef domoda, coleslaw and Gambian meat pies at the Senegambia Beach Hotel’s dinner buffet.

Julbrew

Gambia has their own beer, made by Banjul Breweries – hence: Julbrew. Although nothing spectacular, Julbrew, is a nice, relatively light (4,7 percents of alcohol) beer that works well with the local food as well as enjoyed ice cold in the sun. Prices vary from what I saw from about 35 dalasi (€0.8) to about 80 dalasi (€1,7) in restaurants. In supermarkets/mini markets slightly cheaper.

Palm wine (aka Sum-Sum or Kill Me Quick)

Palm wine is tapped, as the name implies, from palm trees. After a bit of time resting the sap, alcohol is created and within two hours palm wine reaches about 4 percents of alcohol. If it ferments longer, up to a day, it gets even stronger. After more than a day of fermentation though, the palm wine eventually turns into vinegar. We tried both the freshly tapped stuff which was non-alcoholic and the fermented and distilled version of local ‘fire water” aka sum-sum or locally named Kill Me Quick that was about 50 percents. Strong stuff!

As mentioned above; what a great food destination Gambia is! If you like slow-cooked food, stews and rich, savoury sauces, at really affordable prices, this is a great place to visit.

Wine tasting at Domaine Chandon in Yarra Valley

During our stay in Melbourne, we spent Christmas Eve, which is the big day in Sweden, with a trip to the nearby Yarra Valley for a bit of wine tasting. Instead of snow, heavy food and Disney’s Christmas there was lush scenery, actual heat and of course wine drinking.

Based on a recommendation we went to Domaine Chandon, which is owned by LVHM, that is Louis Vuitton Moët Hennesy, eg. the French luxury conglomerate making fancy bags and of course the Moët Chandon champagne.

Splash tasting at Domaine Chandon

We opted to do a little tasting before having lunch, and paid I think $20 AUD each for a ‘splash tasting’ of five different wines – four bubbly and one red. Everyone quite delicious and we ended up buying a bottle of their blanc de blancs (eg. made with just chardonnay grapes) for our upcoming New Years Eve celebration.

After the tasting lunch was literally on the menu. We tried half of the dishes on their menu, and it was all delicious. Cheese and charcuterie boards, a trio of crostinis as well as a plate of crunchy fat chips with a good quality mayo. Paired with a glass of their aged cellar bubbly and a view over the vineyard this was another highlight of our visit, and sort of a must do if you’re visiting Melbourne.

My best ever fish and chips at Bridge Fish & Chips, Mordialloc

After five days of South East Asiaing in Singapore, it was time for the next destination. After a sort of painful red-eye flight, that was prolonged by a tropical thunderstorm, we found ourselves at the Mornington Peninsula, just outside of Melbourne, Australia.

As I have relatives there, Christmas in Australia was sort of the main goal for our trip, despite only spending five days there.

Anyway, after managing skybuses, commuter trains and finally some walking we ended up at my relatives’ house. Fortunately they had anticipated our state of mind, and fried food was on the agenda.

Close to where we stayed, there is Mordialloc. To me, it sounds like some vicious creature straight out of Harry Potter, but fortunately it’s a quite nice little suburb by the ocean that also happens to have a nice fish and chips shop. We opted for take away and brought a load of deep fried seafood goodies, chips and white Aussie and New Zealand wine and crashed down on a bench next to the ocean. It might’ve been reaching firm ground after the painful flight and all that, but this was the best fish and chips I have ever had. The calamari was ridiculous. Not even a bit chewy – soft meat, crunchy coating. The fish was flaky and with equally crunchy batter. The prawns, oh the prawns. Juicy, sweet and with a beautiful crispy coating as well. Great chips, tartare sauce (I love that stuff so much), a squeeze of lemon, and cold white wine. A red sunset for dessert. Couldn’t be much better.

Website (their page on Tripadvisor)

A night at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore

Being my third visit to Singapore, I’ve not been able to miss the enormous, pretty-yet-slightly-ugly, structure of three buildings topped off with an ironing board, sort of.

The space ship-y structure is of course the Marina Bay Sands, a huge complex including a hotel; casino; giant shopping mall; the world’s most Instagrammed swiming pool; and, naturally, canals with gondolas.

In spite of my slightly pretensious intro, I’ve always loved Marina Bay Sands. I have a thing for futuristic, slightly over the top architecture, and MBS together with a couple of buildings in Dubai might be one of the best examples of that style.

So, anyway, third time in Singapore, and we decided to fork out and stay our last night at Marina Bay Sands.

Price for one night in a club room

After doing lots of research we decided to go for a club room, which in addition to the room also gives you a range of perks. For one night we paid around 650 sgd in total with taxes. A huge price for one night, but it was sort of worth it.

Checking in

As we arrived the Tower 1 with an Uber, we ditched the lines in the gigantic main lobby and instead entered the Sands lounge for our check in procedure. It was calm, there was free coffee, tea and water, and they made you sit down in a comfy leather chair while taking your details. We purposely arrived early (11 am) to see if we would get access to the pool or even early access to our room. Fortunately both. First they said we would get a temporary visitor card so to access the guests only infinity pool, but the moment after the room was also ready, and off we went to the 49th floor.

The room

I had hoped for a room facing the city (despite booking the cheaper option facing the ocean and Gardens By the Bay), but no luck. We could however see the city from the hallways, lounge and pool so no worries in the end.

The room had decent sized balcony, and surprisingly for such a fancy hotel there was a cockroach on it (not in the room though). Otherwise the room was meticulously clean and fresh. It was big and airy, with all the things needed such as a flatscreen TV, large bed, mini bar, free wifi and a fancy looking bathroom with both shower and a tub. Since the hotel is sort of a destination in itself, we did not spend a great amount of time in the actual room in the end.

The swimming pool

Marina Bay Sands is probably most famous for its 57th floor swimming pool. Only accessible for hotel guests (although you can sneak a peek of it from Cé la Vie Bar and the admission Sands SkyPark) it offers really spectacular views over Singapore’s skyline and a hint of vertigo as the infinity pool seems to end right at the edge of the building (which it sort of does, although there’s a bit of edge a bit further down which is only visible if you swim up to the edge). Definitely the coolest (pun intended as it was sort of cold) pool I’ve experienced. It was quite busy during our visit, but the pool is looong so there’s still plenty of space to sunbathe and swim. There’s a fair bit of selfie game going on, but less to that I anticipated. And again, the views themselves pretty much motivate the stay in my mind.

The afternoon tea

In the Club 55 lounge (as name implies located on level 55), which is included in club rooms, afternoon tea is served from around 2 pm and lasts for two hours, until 4 pm. The afternoon tea consisted of a buffet with both savoury and sweet items, but with a focus on pastries and cakes. Great macarons! You are offered coffee (including speciality coffee such as cappuccinos) or tea when you arrive, which is brought to the table. The coffee was so-so, but the buffet items were really nice.

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Evening canapées (with free champagne!)

After a brief chance to reload, evening canapées with complimentary cocktails or drinks are served from 5-7 pm in the same Club 55 lounge. We arrived pretty much 5 pm sharp and there was already a line. Five minutes later the line was quite long. We managed to get a window table which was really nice for taking pictures as the sun started to set during our visit. Like the afternoon tea, a buffet is served and is self service. This time it was more focus on savoury stuff, and they had a quite good selection of small and tasty bites such as quiches, cheese, salmon, grissinis, olives and dips. If you’re a bit greedy like us, you could quite easily have a quite filling meal.

Drinks are served to the table and they emphasised that there’s one (alcoholic) drink at a time. Greedy as we were I think we managed to drink 4 or 5 glasses each of Piper-Heidsieck champagne that was included along with a bunch of other drinks and cocktails. A great argument for the extra $150 SGD we paid extra for a room with lounge access, since “real” champagne is quite pricey in Singapore and we probably drank like a bottle each with possibly the best view in the city.

Breakfast

As a club guest you’re again entitled to breakfast in the Club 55 Lounge. Although you can also choose to have it in the lobby, OR by the pool, at Spago by Wolfgang Puck. “Why eat inside when you live in a land of that’s pretty much covered in ice and snow half year”, we thought and took of for Spago around 8 am. There was quite a few that had the same idea though, and we had to wait in line for 10 minutes or so before we were seated. The breakfast was really good fortunately and definitely worth the wait. You can order speciality coffee (included in price) but they won’t tell you, as we realised too late after a few cups of bland “hotel coffee”. You can also order your eggs according to preference, which included eggs benedicte style, meaning poached on an English muffin with hollandaise sauce. Apart from this a quite large buffet is available with high quality food – both Western and Asian. Tasty freshly squeezed juices too. A very nice breakfast for sure.

The verdict 5/5

Despite us paying pretty much the exact same price for one night at the Marina Bay Sands as we paid for our four prior nights at the Hotel Bencoolen at Hong Kong Street we actually found it quite worthwile. I probably wouldn’t stay there for an entire stay even if I could properly afford it since there’s so much stuff going on that you wouldn’t really have a chance to properly experience Singpore. But for 24 hours of feeling like a millionaire, I’d say it’s worth its price if you find a deal similar to ours (650 sgd incl taxes).

My foodie happy place: Lau Pa Sat food market

Lau Pa Sat, also known as Telok Ayer Market, is a hawker centre that has fed Singaporeans since the 1800s. Situated smack bang in Singapore’s financial district, the classic building, filled with local eateries, is one of my favourite foodie places in the world. Just sitting there, sipping on a beer, smelling the grilled satay skewers from the “satay street” next to the market while waiting for what ever you’ve ordered (there is actually sort of table service with different vendors selling and bringing food to the table). Above is satay, grilled chicken, lamb and beef skewers with peanut sauce. There are different stalls doing different kinds of satay, but all I’ve tried has been really good.

Blackpepper crab and mantou. A really nice steamed crab, woked in a spicy blackpepper sauce. The mantou buns are sort of like deep fried bread rolls that you use to soak up the sauce. So good.

Hokkien Mee. A seafoody noodle dish topped with crispy pork rinds.

Carrot cake or chai tow kway. Not containing any carrot but radish and sliced rice cake in a omelette-meets-pancake kind of creation.

Murtabak. A pancake-like dish filled with spicy, fragrant sliced chicken. Dip in the accompanying curry sauce. Mmmm.