Some interesting things we’ve been reading lately:

1.  The 45 Places to go in 2012

2.  Autism friendly hotels

3.  A credit card with no foreign transaction fees (and it earns you lots of miles)?  Yes, please!

4.  It’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas decorations for next year: Holiday decorations made out of globes

 

I’m about to have a new travel experience this week.  I’m sure this is old hat for many of you, but I’m about to go on my first cruise–the Weezer Cruise, to be exact!

I’ve always been skeptical about cruises.  Sure, they’re fine for some people, but I want to see a place on a vacation!  I want to check out somewhere new–go explore!   The idea of being on a boat for days on end makes me feel a little claustrophobic and seasick all at once…

But there’s a first time for everything, right?  You put some of my favorite bands on a boat (not to mention being in a tropical place in the middle of the winter), and I’m rethinking all those cruise issues I previously had.

My friend Allison and I agonized over whether we should go for months…  First thoughts were along the lines of “A Weezer cruise?  How weird and cheesy!”  Then it moved into “Hmm…well, I guess it would be fun, but it’s really impractical/inconvenient/*insert other excuses*”  Finally it turned into “Well, what other chance will we have to see Weezer and Ozma?  We have loved them since the mid-90’s, and it might even be fun to go on a cruise, too!”

So here’s where you come in.  Stephanie already blogged some great advice on choosing a cruise, but does anyone have good cruising advice?  Allison and I got lunch today to strategize a bit and she had mapped out a potential itinerary for us, but aside from seeing some great bands, what should we pack/do/eat/see/expect?

I’d love to hear some tips from the expert cruisers out there!  I’ll also be sure to let you know how it turns out when I’m back!

Allison checking out the set lists and game planning schedule options.


We’ve had the pleasure of doing some travel planning for our friend Melinda before, but were especially excited to hear from her in early December requesting a mystery trip to celebrate her second wedding anniversary, which just happens to fall over New Years.

They were open to a variety of trips, but mostly wanted a long weekend trip that wouldn’t take too much travel time from their home in San Francisco.  Given that, Yosemite seemed like the perfect mystery trip!

Click here to see Melinda’s review!

(Warning–she has lots of amazing photos like this one…)

Alright, now that we’ve covered the When, Where, and Who of cruising (see Parts 1 and 2 of this series), we can go over the Which (picking a ship).

Which?

With so many ships to choose from, how do you begin to sort through them all? Thanks to dedicated past cruisers, there are a plethora of customer reviews and photos out there regarding what each and every ship on each and every cruise line has to offer. So, there’s absolutely no reason to go into the selection blind.

Here are some factors you may want to take into consideration when determining what kind of ship is ideal for you:

  • Size: This is actually a huge factor because there is a direct correlation between a ships size and the kind of amenities it can offer you.
    • Bigger ships (2,000-4,000+ passengers) will offer you tons of variety in terms of dining and entertainment. Since the current cruising trend is toward larger ships, the facilities tend to be newer, using state of the art equipment in the casinos and theaters. However, as a result, the crowds on the ships are bigger and it may be harder to find a deck chair or secluded area to relax. The ports that you can visit are more standard and limited, as smaller, more exotic locations don’t have a pier or terminal big enough to handle gigantic vessels. Also, you may get a vague feeling of being part of a heard, as it’s harder for the crew to make the experience Uber-personalized with so many passengers on board.
    • Medium ships (1,000-2,000 passengers) are able to offer the amenities that cruises are known for while making you feel like you are being personally catered to. There are always several dining or entertainment options, but not so many that you can try somewhere new each night. Facilities such as the spa or gym are present, but they will be smaller and have fewer options than the big guys. Since there is less to do than on a large ship, the atmosphere is less party-like. However, very few cruise lines are debuting new ships of this size, so the facilities on board are likely more outdated and staterooms will probably be smaller.
    • Smaller ships (fewer than 1,000 passengers) offer highly personalized service with shorter lines, a relaxed pace, and delectable dining options. In fact, many smaller ships even have Michelin-level restaurants on board. Luxury is typically emphasized, so the ships will have up-to-date amenities and top-notch enrichment programs. As a bonus, items like alcohol and gratuities, which usually cost extra on larger ships, are often included in your cruise price. No hidden costs. However, as a result, these tend to be the priciest of cruises. Also, due to the atmosphere on the ship, there probably aren’t any children’s programs. In fact, some ships will discourage bringing children aboard. Since there’s limited room on board for facilities, features like pools, gyms, and spas will be tiny, if they’re there at all.
  • Makeover: When was the ship built or refurbished? Generally, we all like things that are new. Worn out carpets, ratty bedspreads, and lackluster dining rooms don’t win raving customer reviews. Recently refurbished ships will offer technology such as wifi or iPads that you can use in your stateroom to order room service or check your spending account. You know a recently built ship will have the latest in theater and sound equipment, plus the newest in gaming for the casino.
  • Amenities: Remember that even though a cruise line may be known for its onboard surf park, water roller coaster, bowling alley, or ice skating rink, it doesn’t mean that each and every ship from that line has those amenities available. Likewise, you may have heard rave reviews about a certain alternative restaurant, only to discover that it’s not on the ship you selected. Do your homework. If you have your heart set on a certain experience, it will help to rule out a number of ships.
  • Attitude: Yes, we’re already gone over the general attitude and feeling of each cruise line; however, each ship has its own personality. Certainly, the Norwegian Epic (4,100 passengers) has a completely different feel than the Norwegian Sun (1,936 passengers). Go online and look up what people had to say about the ship and about fellow passengers on board. Try to find reports from people who are taking a similar itinerary at a similar time of year as you want. Those will help give the most accurate picture, in terms of population, crowds, and atmosphere. Just remember to read the reviews with a grain of salt… some cruisers are delighted by everything because they’re just happy to be on vacation. On the flip side, there’s just no pleasing some people.

Well there you go, faithful readers. Take these factors into consideration and you’ll be well on your way to the cruise of your dreams. Happy sailing!

Alright, now that we’ve covered the basic When and Where of cruising (see Part 1 of this series), we will now explore how to figure out the Who (picking a cruise line) of cruising.

Who? 

Selecting the cruise line you want to patron is kind of like selecting a college. You can pick one based on its reputation for parties, sophistication, affordability, or its focus on a specialty that’s right up your alley. Sound daunting? Don’t you worry, there are no standardized tests required before boarding your cruise.

Take a moment and look at the cruise line’s marketing brochure. Do the photos feature young folks dancing through the night? Silver-haired passengers in formal wear? Children splashing about? This is a good clue as to the kind of vibe the company is going for.

That being said, here’s a quick rundown of the major cruise lines and what they are best known for.

  • Carnival: Your cruise director really earns his or her wages on this line. There are lots of entertainment options throughout the day, night, and wee hours of the morning. This, plus the affordability of the line, results in a younger clientele who are ready for a fun time. There are also more families since cheaper prices enable many people to bring their kids along for the vacation.
  • Celebrity: This line focuses on posh sophistication. Entertainment options are more likely to include guest lecturers and cooking classes than late-night discos or belly-flop contests. Generally, the ships offer top-notch cuisine and superb service. The line spends a good deal on keeping the ships looking and feeling modern, which results in a higher quality experience and higher price tag.
  • Disney: Naturally, this line is Uber-family friendly. Disney has succeeded in bringing magic to the seas. They have excellent, high-quality programs for children of all ages, including teenagers. The “Disney-ness” is both obvious and elegant; costumed characters roam the ships but the designers have made sure that the overall theme is classy ocean liner instead of overwhelming amusement park. Since the line expects families to vacation together, the staterooms are larger than average. However, all the magic comes with a steep price tag.
  • Norwegian: NCL is an excellent generalist. They offer a little bit of everything at a reasonable price. They offer premium dining experiences for an additional cost, decent children’s programs, and a flexible dress code. On formal nights you’ll see anything from plain front shorts and Hawaiian shirts to tuxes and cocktail gowns. NCL offers top-notch entertainment, performing well-known musicals and hosting genuinely clever comedians from Second City. The variety of bars and night clubs ensures that there’s always a party going on somewhere.
  • Oceania: Prepare yourself to be immersed in a luxury experience. Since you’re paying top-dollar, well-trained staff provides gracious service, the décor is full of beautifully polished woods and thick carpets, and there are specialty restaurants that don’t require an additional fee. The menus are prepared by a James Beard Foundation trustee known for being personal chef for three French heads of state. (Oh lá lá!) The passengers on these lines tend to be over 50 and, though it does not discourage children from coming aboard, there are very few families since there are no children’s programs.
  • Princess: Princess is great at providing you with options. You’ll never feel as through you’re being diverted into the same eating and entertainment pattern as everyone else. The line offers flexible dining plans, an array of alternative eateries and chef’s table experience (for a fee), plus numerous enrichment classes ranging from cooking to digital photography to pottery. This is another reasonably priced line that offers something for everyone, so passenger demographic is wide and varying, depending on the itinerary and time of year.
  • Royal Caribbean: This is another good all-around line. The food isn’t superb but will please just about everyone with its buffets, flexible dining, and alternative (for a fee) restaurants. Ships can offer a variety of active options, such as rock climbing walls, mini golf courses, ice skating rinks, zip-lines, and/or surfing. For entertainment, there are flashy productions in the theater, great live music through the ships’ many venues, and amusing audience participation game shows. Like with NCL and Princess, the affordability of the line means a slightly younger demographic and fuller ships.
  • Windstar: Want a relaxing, country club experience? Then Windstar is for you. The dress code is always “casual elegance,” even during dining hours. These smaller ships don’t have a gamut of entertainment options with gaudy productions or embarrassing game shows. Instead there may be talks about the next port of call or lavish buffets that never come to a close. Each vessel offers a water sports platform with complimentary snorkeling, windsailing, paddle boating, and water skiing. The passengers of Windstar tend to be active adults who are willing to pay a higher price for a quality, peaceful experience.

Tune in next week when I discuss the “Which” of cruising (selecting a ship) in the final part of this series.

 

Our guest blogger Melinda is back with part two of her blog about our trip to San Francisco.  Enjoy!

With a goal to eat our way through San Francisco, we had to rally after our dim sum food hangover and decided an afternoon of shopping was just the cure we needed.  After a quick walk from Yank Sing down Market Street with diversions at Anthropologie and The Gap, we boarded the 45 Muni Bus and rode like locals to the boutiques on Union Street in Cow Hollow.  The jewelry at Mingle won us over at reasonable prices and both Stephanie and I walked out with lovely necklaces.

We worked up a proper hunger and headed down to the Mission for a flavorful experience at Limon Restaurant.  The ceviche, yucca fries and seco de castillas (beef short ribs) won our hearts and stomachs.  We split 5 plates amongst the 3 of us and racked up a bill about $75.  We left fully satisfied and I filed it away as a solid choice to give guests a taste of Latin flavor in the Mission.

Monday was Disneyland day from beginning to end.  We never stepped foot in the theme park, but we got our fill between a visit to the Google campus and an exploration of the Walt Disney Family Museum.  Our trip to Google involved a guided tour by my main man featuring the crazy good free cafeterias, fresh squeezed juice bar, slides, meeting bikes and playing amongst the operating system statues.  You can’t walk around without an escort, but if you know someone or know someone who knows someone, take advantage of seeing the magic that is Google.

Testing out the slide at Google.

Testing out the meeting bike at Google.

Stephanie poses at Google.

 

As if we didn’t eat enough at Google, we stopped by In & Out Burger on the way back to the city for good measure.  Maybe it was because we were full or maybe because only Stephanie was an In & Out virgin, but we decided it wasn’t worth all the hype.

The Walt Disney Family Museum on the other hand exceeded my expectations.  I’m not a Disney fanatic myself, but I figured I’d tag along.  We utilized our AAA membership to get $5 off the $20 admissions ticket.  The museum boasted several interactive exhibits, tons of original drawings, several movie clips and a model version of Disney’s dream community.  The Disney family owns and operates the museum, putting in a lot of their own time and money.  It’s very well curated and worth the steep price even without the discount.

The bench where Walt Disney came up with the concept for Disney World.

From Peter Pan to Smuggler’s Cove, we moved on to decidedly adult libations.  The notoriously packed and award winning rum bar delivered the one two punch for happy hour.  Our secret was going on a Monday for happy hour to score seats.  The building is barely marked and we walked past it before back tracking and looking more carefully for the address.  It was well worth the hunt though and I personally recommend the drink named after a red head (the rum made me forget the specifics).

At Smuggles Cove

Indian Ice Cream. Yum.

We laid low that night, taking advantage of one of the hundreds of delivery options (ah, the joys of city living!) before the girls headed home.  They may not have left their hearts here, but I think little pieces of their stomachs remain and I conjure their help as I continue to nosh my way from bay to breakers.

 

Here’s the second part of our blog on Iceland.  See here for Part 1.

In addition to spending time in Reykjavik, we also rented a car and checked out the areas surrounding Reykjavik.  Driving there was manageable other than their fondness for traffic circles, even on highways.

Right outside of Reykjavik

Our first stop was Thingvellir, the site of the Icelandic Althing, which was the first parliamentary government.  Those who geek out of history (ahem, the three of us) will enjoy reading all about Iceland’s transfer from Norway, to Denmark, to eventually becoming a fully independent nation during WWII while Denmark was under German occupation.

For those more interested in geology, the area of Thingvellir also puts you between the North American and European tectonic plates.  There’s lots of geologic activity there with great waterfalls and fun landscapes.

Just hanging out between tectonic plates.

There wasn’t much to actually see at Althing, but it’s a great excuse to get out of the city and check out some of the amazing landscape.

Another highlight of our trip was riding Icelandic Horses (not ponies, as I was corrected by our riding instructors).  They were so cute and little!  We did a three hour ride through the lava fields.  Even at a solid trot it was manageable, and the horses were very friendly.  In our pre-riding instruction, it was even recommended that you sing to your horse to make friends.  How “My Little Pony” is that?

MRoss, Laurel, and I with my wonderful pony!

Quite similar, don’t you think?

Our last big highlight was the Blue Lagoon.  We were torn before getting there.  We’d read that it was too touristy and not worth it.  Nope.  It’s amazing.  It really is very blue, with a soft sandy floor.  It’s the biggest and best jacuzzi you could imagine, plus a swim up bar that serves blue drinks!  A great place to spend a few hours relaxing and people watching.

Blue Lagoon
Swim-up snacks and drinks.
Hello from the Blue Lagoon!
 
If you want to go:

If you’re considering a trip to Iceland, go for it!  It was only a 5 hour flight from the East coast.  You can do an easy weekend trip and only miss one day of work.  Unless you want to get into some sort of adventure sports or drive the whole country, a weekend is enough time.
 
Of course, the easiest option would be to email stephanie@magical-mystery-tours.com and ask her to help you set up a trip (she helped with my trip and it was great), but here’s some additional details.
 
We stayed at: Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Nordica – perfectly adequate; very European; amazingly friendly front desk staff; was booked as part of our package with Icelandair; if you book something on your own, you’ll probably want to get something in the center of town.
 
Horseback riding: Ishestar – nice and helpful riding instructors, cute horses, reasonable prices.
 
Flights: we took a package through Iceland air; if you’re interested, start watching for deals (or let us know!); the best opportunities seem to be out of Boston and Dulles (DC) and you usually have to book within about 72 hours or sooner of a sale being published to get the best deals. (Note they made you check all bags over 6 kilos)
 
Other tours: we tried to book a Northern Lights viewing tour through Iceland Travel.  It was too cloudy on our first night and they forgot to pick us up the second night.  Perhaps we were just unlucky, but I’d try another company.
MRoss and I say “Go to Iceland!”

One of my travel dreams is coming true! My husband and I are going on a Southern Caribbean cruise. That’s right; we are trading increasingly cold New England for sugar sand beaches and snorkeling.

For me, part of the joy I will get out of the vacation will be seeing all my research come to fruition. As this is a first cruise for both of us, I did an immense amount of research to try to figure out the ideal cruise for us. There’s just so much to consider! Prices, destinations, cruise lines, times of years, etc. Thinking about a cruise for yourself? I’ve done my best to outline factors that will help you determine which cruise is right for you.

Bear in mind that these factors are not in any particular order. It’s up to you to determine which is most important and then go from there.

Where?

Once you decide you’re going on a cruise, the inevitable question that others will ask is: Where are you going? As the cruise industry is rapidly expanding, you can go almost anywhere on a ship. You can go to standard places like the Caribbean or Mediterranean, more unconventional destinations like Asia or Africa, take a river cruise through Europe, or even go nowhere (just spend a few days floating out at sea).

Where you go is all about personal preference. Want an experience steeped in fine art and cuisine? Try a cruise that stops in Italy and Greece. Have a desire to get in touch with your inner beach bum? Make sure to find a cruise that stops at as many beaches as possible.  As you search, just keep in mind that parenthesis matter. What do I mean? Well, at first glance, you may think your cruise makes port in Rome. Your head immediately fills with visions of the Coliseum, Pantheon, and Trevi Fountain. However, you’ll soon see that Rome is in parenthesis and you’re actually stopping at Civitavecchia, a town roughly 50 miles away from Rome. Sure, it’s only an hour away, but it means you’ll probably need to take a shore excursion to get into the city or do some advanced planning to get there on your own. Do your research. Make sure you’re stopping where you think you’re stopping.

You may also want to think about how many different stops you want to make. Some cruises will stop at a different port each night while others will dock in one spot and stay for several nights.

When?

Wherever you end up going, you need to consider that each region has a high season and a low season. Prices are at a low for the Western Caribbean in September, but that’s partly because you’re going to be there smack dab in the middle of hurricane season.  There are pluses and minuses to each region’s high or low season. In general just know that high season is more crowded and expensive while low season tends to have iffier weather but great bargains. Here’s a quick summary:

Alaska

  • High Season: June-August. Temperatures are warm and you’re more likely to see wildlife, but the demand is higher so crowds are bigger.
  • Low Season: May & September. The possibility of snow (read: higher chance of a cancelled excursion) means fewer people and lower prices.

Bermuda

  • High Season: June-August. A wide selection of ships and departure ports, plus families get to take advantage of summer vacation. As a result, the ships are more crowded.
  • Low Season: April/May & September/October. The weather is mild and wonderful… unless there’s a hurricane.

Caribbean

  • High Season: June-August, the winter holidays, February-April. Convenient times since school is out of session and you have the chance to escape winter. The result is crowded ships and lots of families and children. However, there’s a high price to pay when trading snow for sunshine.
  • Low Season: April/May & September-January (excluding holidays). Great weather and smaller crowds, but it’s also hurricane season. Most ships will simply go to a different port to avoid bad weather, so if you have your heart set on a given port, you may be disappointed. Also, bad weather may make it challenging to get to your point of departure.

Mediterranean

  • High Season: May-August. European and American families alike use summer vacation as an enriching experience for themselves. However, the temperatures are high and the crowds are big. Beware: Some parts of Europe are in high season all year round.
  • Low Season: March/April, September-November. Milder weather, fewer kids, great bargains. However, not all cruise lines have a low season.

(to be continued in Part 2 and Part 3

When people first heard that I planned a trip to Iceland, responses fell into two categories.  There was a lot of “Iceland?  Why?”  (Answer: they just started doing direct flights out of Dulles, are having a great sale, and why wouldn’t we want to check out an isolated, island country in the middle of the Atlantic!)  Though anyone who knew anything about Iceland tended to respond with, something like “It’s great there, but really small, you know?”

This brings us to the biggest takeaway from my weekend trip to Reykjavik.  Sure, the volcanoes are fascinating, Icelandic horses are adorable and friendly, sure it’s exciting to be in the world’s Northern-most capital city, but Iceland, Reykjavik particularly, is tiny!  The whole population of the country is only 300,000 people.  There about three times that many people in Wyoming.  Though despite being a tiny country without all that many people, we found lots of good things to see and do.

Downtown Reykjavik is definitely worth a visit.  It’s brightly colored buildings and pretty harbor views were great even despite the chilly and rainy weather.

View along the Reykjavik harbor.

Hallgrimskirka, perhaps Reykjavik’s most notable building, is lovely.  A statute of Leif Erikson stands outside, and for just a few kroner you can go to the top and see pretty views of all of Reykjavik.

Hallgrimskirkja & Leif Erikson.

View from Hallgrimskirkja

Austurvöllur Square and Lauvagaver Street were the main streets where we spent most of our time.  Lots of stores with expensive, but cute clothes that leave one wondering when, exactly, in Iceland would one wear such tiny little dresses and summery clothes.  They also had lots of great coffee shops and fun souvenir shops.

Warning: you can buy just about any puffin or volcanic tchotchkes that one can imagine, but they’re not cheap.  I left with just a few postcards, candy bars, and a Viking trinket.  Yes friends, I promise I did strongly consider buying you puffin t-shirts, and thought an Icelandic wool sweater would be a perfect Christmas present for my brother, but the equivalent of $35 for a t-shirt and $200-$300 for a sweater just wasn’t going to happen.

I don't really get it, but who doesn't like puffins?

Most native Icelanders were friendly and more than happy to put up with our nonstop questioning about “So, have you always lived in Iceland?  Do you like it here?  Which Icelandic candy bars should we try immediately?”

Icelandic candy bars! Cadbury-esque, perhaps?

Food in Reykjavik was also an experience.  As with most travel and food experiences, a little research went a long way.  Most of our food was rather mediocre, though Magical Mystery Tours’ very own Stephanie Whitesel was kind enough to give us some restaurant recommendations.

Fiskfélagið (translation: Fish Company) was our best Icelandic food experience by far.  We ordered whale, not expecting all that much from it, but add a little sweet potato puree and barbeque sauce and it’s pretty tasty!

 

Whale-yum!

Puffin was also on a number of menus.  We were initially torn about eating such cute little birds, but figured we should try it.  And yes, if you go to Iceland, you should try it too, but don’t get your hopes up too high.  Even a blueberry sauce couldn’t disguise the taste which was basically like swallowing a mouthful of ocean water while eating the most foul-y birth you’ve ever tasted.  (Note: the helpful concierge at our hotel told us that real Icelanders do regularly eat whale, but mostly save the puffin for tourists.)

Puffin. Ick.

Reykjavik’s also known for it’s crazy nightlife, which is rumored not to start until about 1:00am.  Maybe we were off season, but honestly, we didn’t see it!  European celebrities are rumored to weekend in Iceland just for the nightlife, but we saw nothing of the sort.  We checked out some fun, low-key bars (including one rumored to be partially owned by Damon Albarn from Blur), but that was about it.

MRoss and I rocking out at Karribarinn (or something like that...)

Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear about what we did when we checked out the Iceland beyond Reykjavik!

First of all, we’d like to thank our friend Melinda for having us as visitors in her new home in San Francisco!  Secondly, we’d like to thank her for writing the guest blog below and also invite you to check our her blog, Palindrome at Home.

I warned them not to call it Frisco Bay.  That was my big piece of San Francisco advice when Denise and Stephanie recently came out west for a visit.  I didn’t even charge them for that gem.

View from the Presidio

After a full trip, we can offer you a few more pieces of advice too.  I’m a newly minted resident of the city and was anxious to show off the travel goods.  I only had a short list of attractions crossed off on my to do list, so it was the perfect opportunity to try new sites.

Anthony Bourdain suggested our first stop at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market.  I hadn’t thought to suggest it since it almost strikes me as an errand – but remembering back to my first visit, it’s truly impressive and a must see for foodies.  East Coasters, eat your avocado loving hearts out.

After farm fresh samples and a late lunch, we summoned our dessert stomachs on the way to the Bombay Ice Creamery.  We also had to summon our courage as we walked past barred windows.  I was buoyed with confidence since I had been to the neighborhood before to adopt our kitten, but if I didn’t know the area, I would have been tempted to turn around.  Perseverance turned out to be the key as we looked high and low before finding it behind the abandoned Sherwin Williams.  The first case of hard pack ice cream was full of normal and, I’ve got to be honest, disappointing flavors.  Again, we pressed forward and it turns out the second case was where the angels were singing and playing harps.  After a few samples we went with the shop keeper’s suggestion: a double scoop of chiku and mango-rose.  The chiku was spicy yet tropical while the mango-rose was an intriguing blend of sweet and floral.  We took in the Bollywood version of The Sound of Music while finishing our treats.  Talk about a hole in the wall – it delivered big time!

Stephanie & Melinda enjoying Bombay Ice Cream.

When the girls said they couldn’t leave northern California without a redwood sighting, I hit up some coworkers and the National Park Service website to find the best spots.  Muir Woods was the clear winner at only 30 minutes outside of the city, massive redwoods and a free parking day!  We saved $5 but had to walk about an extra mile each way due to the overflow of other hikers seeking the same deal.  It all evened out with guilt free dessert later that night though.  Win, win.

Redwoods

We consulted with friends who are self acclaimed West Coast Foodie aficionados.  After a weekend of awesome noshing, we have to endorse them as well!  Our first dinner was a knock out of the ball park at Burma Superstar.  Denise downed their famous tea leaf salad with two thumbs up and the vegetable lovers among us swooned over the fried brussels sprouts.  If your momma boiled brussels, you’ve got to give this veg one more try at Burma Superstar.  It’s a come to Jesus moment.  Wash everything down with a delicious Lychee Iced tea.  Tell them MM tours sent you.  It’ll get you a confused look at least.

For Sunday brunch, we exploited our resident dim sum expert, Stephanie, while dining at Yank Sing.  Not only did she know what was hidden in the buns and dumplings, she could stand toe to toe with the cart pushers asking them for more of the good stuff and passing on the fillers.  Having a reliable guide made experiencing a new food not only enjoyable, but hearing Stephanie’s stories of her grandmother preparing certain dishes made the experience more round and full in the context of culture.  It was a touch on the expensive side (just over $30 per person ), but the taste was authentic, the service timely and the floors clean.  If you prefer cheaper dim sum and dirty floors, you’ll have to look across town.

Dim sum!

Peking Duck

Stephanie, Dim Sum expert

Stay tuned for Part II of our taste bud focused tour of San Francisco where we explore the Disneyland of workplaces, the mind behind Disneyland and then find our own Treasure Island!