Our 2018 Brilliance of the Seas Cruise – Day 3: Day at Sea

As much as I love days in port, I love days at sea. They are our chance to relax and enjoy the ship. We hang out in our room more than our days in port, sometimes we even get a nap in! We also walk around the ship a lot, check out the fun activities the cruise director and staff have prepared, and browse the shops. Our first day at sea was delightfully relaxing.


As usual the day started nice and early!

At least the day started with some room service at 6.30.

We filled out the room service card the night before so that we had some coffees, pastries, and fruit for us and the kids. (The continental breakfast is free, other breakfast items will have a service charge for delivery)

Hunter was already out for his first nap of the day but the time that Autumn and I were ready for breakfast, so Price hung back with Hunter to watch some news while he napped.


Autumn and I headed up for breakfast around 8am since our room service was basically a snack for Autumn and we still needed to eat.

Even though Autumn had already had room service and breakfast at the Windjammer, she was hungry again for a snack to enjoy before we dropped her off at Adventure Ocean to play with the other Aquanauts (3-5yrs). We hung around Latte-tudes coffee shop while she enjoyed another 2 croissants, and I enjoyed a specialty coffee. (Extra fee)

As soon as the Adventure Ocean program was open at 9am, Autumn was sprinting through the doors. She was ready for a morning of fun.

Peace Mom. BYE!!!!!!

I then met Price, who had been walking around with Hunter after he had taken him to the Windjammer for breakfast. They enjoyed their breakfast and now I was going to get in lots and lots of steps walking around Hunter for his mid morning nap. We looped the walking track over and over again.

Step Goal… Crushed!

Price and I just enjoyed getting to relax and walk around the ship, we walked all over from the running track to the duty free shops.

We picked up Autumn from Adventure Ocean for lunch time, just before it closed at noon. She had a great morning session as they crafted and made super hero capes. There even was superhero face painting. It was a real honor so have lunch with Wonder Woman!

For lunch, I went with the Indian Food since there are no local places to us, so I am always craving it. Also, I had to support the head chef who plans all the Indian dishes, that we met in line getting back on the ship in Key West.

After lunch, we went back to the room to get Autumn changed for some splash pad fun.

The Brilliance only has a kids splash pad, so Hunter was not able to go in. Kids need to be fully potty trained to use the pools and splash pads on this ship. (Some ships have splash pads that infants can use.)

Our afternoon was pretty relaxed with hanging out in the room after Autumn had fun playing at the splash pad. It was just what we needed after all the walking we had done in Key West the day prior. Plus, Autumn getting a change to relax is needed so that we all have a great time, even if that means we watch the same Sheriff Callie over, and over, and over again throughout the cruise.

We all got ready Formal Night!!

It’s a great chance to snap some family pictures together all dressed up.

Ah, the guys!!!

While these are just quick phone pictures, I really treasure these pictures together. Life is busy so we often just snap pictures of the kids, so it’s nice to take a moment to get dressed up and take pictures with the kids and as a family.

(I don’t and won’t buy a photo package, I just don’t like the posed prom style pictures that they do in front of a backdrop.)

Even if the kids aren’t looking AT the camera, or even in the same direction, they are still great pictures as we are


After pictures we headed back to the room to change Hunter because we wanted his outfit to survive more than him wearing it 30 minutes. We also changed so he wouldn’t ruin our outfits with messy dinner hands as well.

Then it was time for the kids to have dinner in the Windjammer.

Autumn was starting to be a pro at the soft serve machine.

She was really in her glory with all the ice cream we were letting her have since we only do “special treats’ on Fridays when at home.

Love this fool.

We dropped the kids off at the Nursery and Adventure Ocean when they opened so that we could go back to our room, get ready again, and have dinner in the Mistral Dining Room.

Dinner, with one of the bottles of wine, we brought was fantastic!


After dinner, we got the kids and headed back to the room to crash after another busy, fun, sun- filled day!


Adventures in Honeybell Orange Picking

I grew up going apple picking, so when I moved to Florida 2 years ago, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t get to experience the joys of getting to pick fresh fruit while living here.

But, Florida has providing me with plenty of great opportunities to get out and pick fresh fruits and vegetables, just not apples. While I miss getting to pick apples, I have enjoyed picking tomatoes, blueberries, and strawberries. Now I can add picking oranges to the list.

We recently went to Dooley Groves, about a 20 minute drive from our house.

Dooley Groves is a family owned grove that was started in the 1960’s.  They offer a wide variety of citrus that is available from November to April.

Beside their shop and their you-pick groves, you can order their citrus for home delivery.

I had heard such good things about Dooley Grove from friends that we knew that we needed to check it out. Plus, getting bunches of oranges is so yummy and fun.


We went to pick Honeybell Oranges, which are a hybrid of Duncan Grapefruit and Dancy Tangerines. They are bright in color and densely packed with  really sweet juicy meat. Honeybells are in season for a short period of time, which makes them in high demand.

While Hunter was just along for the ride for our picking adventure, he did enjoy the Honeybells when we got home. Man, he loves oranges!!!

Watching this bee buzz around all different flowers was so cool. His legs were packed full of pollen. Off to the hive buddy!

Autumn had a blast at the grove.

She was eager in selecting which Honeybells to pick and to help load them up in our bag. Can’t beat getting to run around in rainboots on a sunny day while picking fruit. Gotta love when 4 year olds dress themselves.

This behemoth is a Ponderosa Lemon. So cool.

Once our bag was full, we headed back to the shop to pay for our Honeybells


Besides selling  freshly picked citrus, they sell delicious juice, jams & jellies, and fun Florida centric gifts.

I’m looking forward to going back to pick some Ortaniques. yum!

Dooley Groves

1651 Stephens Rd

Ruskin, FL 33570

Buckeye Brownie Cheesecake

Did you know that March is Peanut Month? 

I swear there is a day/week/month for everything. EVERYTHING.

But I see absolutely no problem with that as you can have a lot of fun celebrating things this month like No Pants Day (May 4th), Meatball Day (March 9th), and International Fragrance Day (March 21st) . Today is Awkward Moments Day.

The only awkward moment you would have related to this awesome Buckeye Cheesecake is that you are going to be caught in the middle of the night, sneaking a bite. So awkward!

I am a sucker for peanut butter desserts so I knew that I needed to make this Buckeye Cheesecake when I saw it in my new copy of Secret Layer Cakes cookbook.

Dini Kodippili is the innovative force behind her blog, The Flavor Bender, and this awesome new cookbook. She is creative with flavor combinations and ways that recipes come together.

In her her second cookbook, Secret Layer Cakes, she created so many incredible recipes that feature mouth watering flavor combinations. The extra fun part is that her cakes have a hidden element to them. This cheesecake doesn’t reveal that it’s a cheesecake until you slice into it. Other cakes, like her Brownie Bottom Irish Cream Cheesecake, French Toast Maple Cheesecake, and Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie Pudding, are all on my to-do list!


I was a little intimidated with this Buckeye Cheesecake at first, since I was thinking that it was really complicated and time consuming.

In reality, the process is really simple!!

There are a lot of steps, but they are just broken down so it makes the entire process really clear. But it basically is just this: make brownie layer, make cheesecake layer, let it chill in the fridge over night, cover with ganache, then top with peanut butter glaze, dump some extra delicious peanut butter cups on top. Done!!


I’ve made a bunch of cheesecakes in the past so I have to say that, beside it being really delicious, this one is really easy to make.

And I only had one minor crack. Which always feels like a victory, even if you are then covering it up with chocolate ganahce.

So even if you crack your cheesecake, no worries! All that matters is that it is delicious!!

Let’s be real, I am not great at decorating cakes, so the fact that this only required me to cover with ganache and then a peanut butter glaze was another reason for me to love this cake.

And if you feel like making this extra fancy, I’m sure you can come up with some extra special decoration on top or to do something fun with the peanut butter cups, other than mounding them in the center. Whatever floats your boat.

This cheesecake is sinful and delightful all at the same time.

And that is exactly why I called up neighbors and gave them big portions for them to enjoy. Their gain means that I don’t have to gain… in my waist!! ha!!

Buckeye Brownie Cheesecake

Makes one 8-inch cake, 16 slices


Brownie Bottom

  • 4 ounces (115g) bittersweet chocolate
  • 4 ounces (115g) unsalted butter
  • 5 ounces ( 142g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 3.3 ounces (94g) all-purpose flour
  • 5 ounces (142g) mini peanut butter cups, cut in half

Peanut Butter Cheesecake

  • 16 ounces (455g) cream cheese, softened
  • 3.5 ounces (100g) sugar
  • 6.3 ounces (180 g) creamy peanut butter
  • 2 teaspoons (6g) cornstarch
  • 3/4 Cup ( 177 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs

Chocolate Ganache

  • 6 ounces (340g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped or chips
  • 1/2 Cup (236 ml) heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pinch of salt

Peanut Butter Glaze

  • 6.3 ounces (180g) creamy peanut butter
  • 2 ounces (57g) unsalted butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 ounces (85g) confectioners’ sugar

To Decorate

  • Mini Peanut Butter Cups, cut in half (optional)


To make the Brownie Bottom

  1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Butter an 8-inch wide, 3″ tall spring-form pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, dust the sides with flour.
  2. In a large heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate, butter, and salt in a microwave
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix until fully incorporated.
  4. Fold the flour and halved peanut butter cups into the batter, until just combined.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes.  (At this time begin to prepare the cheesecake layer, see below)
  6. Remove the brownie bottom from the oven, turn the oven down to 300 degrees. Let the brownie layer cook for at least 15 minutes.

To make the Peanut Butter Cheesecake Layer

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat the cheesecake and sugar until creamy and smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom well to make sure you don’t leave any lumps behind.
  2. Add the peanut butter, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla extract. Mix on medium sped until well combined. Scraping down the sides and bottom again will help you avoid lumps.
  3. Fold or manually whisk in the eggs, one at the time. It is very important not to over mix at this point. The eggs should be just incorporated.
  4. Cut 2 pieces of foil that are at least 12″ long, lay out in a cross shape. Place the pan in the center of the cross and fold up the foil, creating a tight fit around the pan.
  5. Place the pan in a 9 x 13 pan.
  6. Pour the cheesecake batter over the cooled brownie layer. Pour hot water (hot tap water works), around the cheesecake so that it is halfway up the sides of the spring form pan.
  7. Bake for 60-70 minutes, until the cheesecake is set but still slightly jiggly in the middle when you gently shake it.
  8. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar, let the cheesecake cool for 15-30 minutes, while still in the oven.
  9. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and water bath, let cool to room temperature completely. This can take up to 4 hours, depending on ambient room temperature.
  10. Carefully remove the cheesecake from the pan by running your knife along the sides. Open the spring and carefully pulling the open form up, away from the cheesecake.
  11. Place the cheesecake on a plate and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 8 hours, or over night.

To Make the Chocolate Ganache

  1. In a large heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate and heavy cream, and salt together in 30-second intervals, stirring between the intervals, until it is completely melted.
  2. Let cool to a spreadable consistency.

To Make the Peanut Butter Glaze

  1. In a large heatproof bowl, melt the peanut butter, butter, and salt together in 30-second intervals, stirring between the intervals.
  2. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl, mix well.
  3. Let cool to a spreadable consistency.

To Decorate

  1. Using an offset spatula, lift the cheesecake off the bottom pan. Pick the cheesecake up and carefully remove the parchment paper on the bottom. Place back on the bottom, or directly on a serving plate.
  2. Pour half of the ganache on the center of the cheesecake, using the offset spatula, move the ganache to the edge of the cheesecake and let it side down the sides.  Using the offset spatula, spread the  ganache around the sides. Add the rest of the ganache and completely cover the cake.
  3. Place in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  4. Spread the peanut butter glaze on the top and then decorate the top with the peanut butter cups.

Recipe is adapted from Secret Layer Cakes: Hidden Fillings and Flavors that Elevate Your Desserts

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Our 2018 Brilliance of the Seas Cruise- Day 2: Key West

Price and I had been to Key West in 2013 for a day as part of our “Babymoon” in the Florida Keys when I was pregnant with Autumn, so we were really looking forward to going back to Key West. We had so much fun the first time that I was really excited that this was a port of call for us on this cruise.

The day began as it typically does with the kids getting up and politely requesting demanding breakfast. ha! Timing didn’t work well with getting ready at the same with with both kids, so we did our typical divide and conquer strategy and Price took Autumn to breakfast first, then I followed with Hunter.

Once we were all together and organized we really began our day.

The Adventure Ocean Kids Program was open starting at 9am, so we heading right up then so Autumn could have fun in Aquanauts (3-5yrs) before we went to port.

While Autumn was at Aquanauts, Hunter napped and we got ready.


As that time in Key West was limited, at least compared to some other days in a port (11.30am -5.30pm), the line to get off the ship and on to the free transportation to Mallory Square, was fairly long, but it was well organized and moved along fairly quickly.

Our first stop in the port was Cuban Coffee Queen’s waterfront location, that Price and I had been to before, and had been dreaming of ever since we had been there years prior.

The coffee is strong and the sandwiches are fantastic. We couldn’t pass up getting them while we were in Key West again. It brought back so many good memories too.

While we waited for our food, Autumn and I wandered around the shops around there.

We decided to take our sandwiches to go so that we could walk and eat, allowing us to get back to sight seeing as soon as possible.

We wove our way over to Duval Street , checking out the amazing architecture as we went. I love getting to see the details of a house, fence, gate, garden that wouldn’t be noticed if we took at trolley through the town. Granted, we are missing out on the history of some of these places that we would hear about during a guided tour. But we think it’s an okay trade off to get some miles under our feet. Helps work off the sandwiches!


Can’t resist a good pineapple spotting.

Our main destination for the day was the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory.

Price and I had been there previously and we knew that Autumn would enjoy it. Plus, we would enjoy getting to go again as well.


Walking through the hot, humid conservatory makes you feel like you have been transported to a tropical jungle. It really felt like that on that day since Key West was rather cold that day too.

The butterflies fly all around you as you walk through the conservatory. They sometimes even land on you!

Autumn was doing her best impression of flamingos Rhett and Scarlett.

Price and I loved the Butterfly Conservatory again. It’s so fun getting to see all the different butterflies flying around, sitting on plants, and eating from fruit and flowers.

I think that Autumn appreciated the butterfly conservatory but her main interest was the gift shop. She picked out a big kit of butterfly and insect books, coloring books, stickers, and tattoos. It, unfortunately, also came with a big fake spider that has scared me on the cruise and at home more times than I’d like to admit.

You can’t visit Key West and not get a picture at Southern Most Point, so we headed over there after we left the Butterfly Conservatory.

It was fun to think about how the first time we were there, Price and I were starting our family, and now we are visiting again and our family is complete.

Florida. Ah, you have my heart now.


Then we headed back up Duval, working our way back up to Mallory Square.

The are times when the crowds can make the sidewalks crowded  and the pace slows way down (I do walk quickly- so this is torture!)  or just plain difficult to pass but it’s still really enjoyable to check out the shops and the beautiful architecture along they way

Stopping at Rum Bar was another must do for us.

We went last time,but I was unable to drink as I was pregnant at the time. But nothing was holding me back this time!!!!

We sat outside on the beautiful wrap around porch, I ordered a big, glorious mojito, drank half and then Autumn knocked it over. #kids

Since I basically forgot to pack Hunter pajamas for the cruise, we ran into the Gap on Duval Street. And then we made another quick stop into Walgreen’s before we headed to Key West Key Lime Pie Co. on Green Street. Getting a slice of Key Lime Pie on a stick was a must do for us.

The Chocolate Dipped Key Lime Pie on a Stick was perfect!

Only then, were we able to happily head back to the trolley to take us to the ship.

The lines to get back on the ship were a bit crazy, but we happened to hop over into a line that was near empty. We think that most people thought it was a staff line since it was so empty, but our risk of getting redirected to back where we were paid off.

Bye Key West!!!!!


The kids were hungry when we got back to the ship, but the Windjammer was not yet open (opened at 6pm), so I headed over to Park Cafe to grab a soup and some fruit to carry them over until it opened.

By 7pm, the kids were fed, cleaned up, and ready to go to Adventure Ocean.

Price and I then got ready for our own dinner in Minstrel Dining Room at 7.45. It was great to have some time to ourselves without having the kids interrupt our meal. It felt just like a Date Night!!

Our sweet room steward made a sting ray beach towel for us. Autumn got a real kick out of it.

We all got ready for bed and crashed. It was a long, fun, extra delicious day. Thank goodness we walked all those miles!




Hanging Out with Manatees – Manatee Viewing Center

Manatee. Sea Cow. Floating Couch Cushion. Gary.

No matter what you call them, manatees are pretty cool.

We are pretty lucky that we live less than a 5 minute drive to the Manatee Viewing Center, run by Tampa Electric,  in Apollo Beach, Florida. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Tampa, so it’s a great place to visit if you are visiting the Tampa Bay area.

We stop by often as it’s so close and admission is FREE. Can’t beat a fun, educational, attraction that is so close to home.

The Manatee Viewing Center is open from November 1st to April 15 for viewing of Florida Manatees and Stingrays. We go so often to check out the manatees and to visit the touch tank. Autumn loves getting to touch the rays. Or at least dip her hand in and yank it out just before touching them, squealing with delight.

While we don’t love having a view of the 3 stacks of the Big Bend Power Station from two of the second floor rooms in our house, we do enjoy this perk of it. (At least it’s a very clean Power Station, and the largest solar array in Tampa Bay is located down the road. The Big Bend Solar Power Station has over 200,000 solar panels, powering 3,200 homes.)

The Big Bend Power Station is a coal-fire power plant that attracts large numbers of manatees in the cooler months, as they are looking for warm water. The power plant discharges clean, warm water that has cooled Unit 4 in the power plant, that the manatees use to stay warm. Once the waters in Tampa Bay hit 68F, they head up the discharge channel to relax in the waters that are in the 80’s.

It is a federal offense to feed the manatees so they just come for the warmth, before heading out into the Bay for vegetation again.

You can view these manatees by walking along the platforms that take you out, over the waters of the canal. The discharge canal is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary that helps protect the gentle, slow animals that seek refuge from the cold winter waters.

You can also view them from the Tidal Walk. The 900-foot long walkway is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail takes you out, along the canal. You can view the manatees coming and going up the canal from this vantage point.

There is so much to learn about the Florida Manatees that live off the coasts. The Education Center on the 2nd floor of the Viewing Center is for for kids of all ages. You learn about the local manatees and how the power plant runs and attracts them. Exhibits feature manatee bones, games, and interactive displays.

Adjacent to the Education Center is the Gift Shop.

You can’t pet the manatees, but you can touch stingrays in the tank that is located on the ground floor of the Viewing Center.

The Stingrays reside at the Viewing Center during baseball’s off season, when they move to the touch tank at Tropicana ballpark to hang out with the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team.

The stingrays are pretty social as they come up along the sides and flip their wings (is that what you wall them?!) and splashing water. You can gently touch them, but be sure to follow the directions to properly do it to keep them safe and happy.

After we stop by the touch tank, we always swing by the butterfly garden. There, we get to look at the beautiful flowers and the butterflies that are in various stages of development in an open air cage.


I am pretty strict about not buying stuff at a gift shop, but I couldn’t resist getting a wax figurine that is made right in front of you for just $3 during one of our recent visits. We now have the dolphin, but will have to get the manatee in the future.

Before you leave, take some time to walk the trails that originate from the Viewing Center.

You will enjoy getting to hear and feel the One of the trails leads you to a wildlife observation tower that gives you great views from 50′ up.

We really enjoy getting to say ‘hi’ to Florida Manatees, I bet you will too.


Manatee Viewing Center

Apollo Beach, FL

Nov 1- April 15. 10am-5pm

Admission: FREE