Oh The Places We Go...
On Wordless Wednesday a few weeks ago I announced that the Tween (Teen in 8 days! Yikes!) and I were heading off to a weekend in Chicago courtesy of Kimpton Hotels to check out all the things there is to do with kiddos in the beautiful city of Chicago. On my Life List #26 is to Have dinner in Chicago with someone who is actually WORTH being in Chicago with... I am excited to mark that one as DONE!
Our trip actually began Thursday when we hit the road at 5:30am to drive to Atlanta to my mother's house. The flights were much better - timing and direct flights, plus I was going to have to layover in Atlanta anyway, better to just go there and enjoy it. We arrived shortly after lunch time and spent the entire afternoon floating around in the pool. Talk about the perfect start to the weekend.
Friday we had to wake up at 4:30 in order to get on the road to the airport before the Atlanta Traffic set it. It got us there a few hours before our flight, but that was ok - we found a Moe's and were delighted to find out they serve Homewreckers ... even at 6am.
The flight was perfect and even though the Tween had some anxiety about take off, she did fine once we got in the air. She has flown before but as a toddler, so she really doesn't remember.
We arrived in Chicago and got our bags - and then the fun really began. Now, I have heard stories about taxi drivers in New York... but I can not imagine them being any worse than in Chicago. Our driver was very nice, and actually a very talented driver - I told him he should try out for Nascar...or to be a stunt driver. He asked if it was ok to take "back roads" which I laughed about, thinking that "back roads" where I am from are seldom even paved...
We arrived at the Hotel Allegro and were absolutely famished, so we quickly checked in and headed to our room to put our stuff down and find some food! The room was AWESOME. The Hotel Allegro was originally built in 1926 and is located right inside "The Loop" so an easy walk to anything (wait till you see Day 2 and my 19,000+ steps) or you can literally step right outside to grab the train. The colors were silver and blue and had kind of a 70s feel to the decor and the Tween loved the enormous picture of a violin hanging on the wall.
After we checked in we headed to lunch just the two of us at the Encore Liquid Lounge which you can get to from the lobby of the hotel. The food was unbelievably good - they had amazing Ranch dressing... that made this Southern girl a very happy camper - and we had plenty to save for a snack later.
After a bit of relaxing in the room we got cleaned up and headed down for Kids Hour which starts at 4pm right in the hotel lobby. They have fun games, puzzles, a Wii, an old timey Popcorn stand... it was terrific. I got to meet the other Moms - Casey from MooshInIndy, Erin from MommyOnTheSpot, Alison from SassyMomsInTheCity, and Colleen from MommyDaze. We chatted while the kids played, all a bit tired from the travel, so we retired early to our rooms where we found a delightful surprise - Cookies and Milk!
The rest of the evening was spent watching movies... well... that is until about 9pm when we got hungry again. So what are two girls who are already in their PJs in a city they do not know supposed to do to eat....?!! ROOM SERVICE!!
When Trisha and I decided to do our 3rd Brandcation event right here in Pensacola, I knew I wanted to show the attendees everything the Gulf Coast has to offer. Obviously we knew the Beach is a big attraction, but there are soooo many other things to do here!! Since Trisha and I went tubing about a dozen times last summer, I thought it would be a perfect way to spend the day with 31 of my closest Bloggy Buddies. When I learned that Adventures Unlimited now has ziplining - I knew I had found the absolute perfect way to spend the main day of Brandcation.
Discover the FUN of outdoor adventure! Adventures Unlimited offers Canoeing, Kayaking, Tubing, and Camping along Coldwater Creek past secluded, sugar white sandbars, through Blackwater River State Forest of Northwest Florida . Zip on the canopy tour, on Zip Adventures (www.floridaziplineadventures.com) at Adventures Unlimited's Coldwater Creek Headquarters near Milton, Florida. Rent a cabin or cottage, spend a weekend in the Adventures Unlimited campground. Adventures Unlimited is a short drive from Mobile, Pensacola, Montgomery, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City. Did you know that northwest Florida is your nation's premiere canoe destination? Canoe Florida today!
We began our day bright and early with Ziplining with the two best guides in the place - Jacques and Kevin. (yes, each group says that, but ours really were the best... #justsayin) We had an absolute blast, and since I had been ziplining before at the last Brandcation, I knew what to expect. I was so beyond proud when the rest of my crew - Joy, Maryanne, Sheri, Theresa, Coleen, Jenn, and Denise - sailed through the air like pros.
After all 32 of us "flew" through the air on our Ziplines, we all gathered for lunch on the deck and then headed off to float down Coldwater Creek for four miles of screaming laughter, "graceful" maneuvering on the tubes, and paddling like maniacs to keep from getting hung up on stumps in the middle of the river. I was put in charge of the water cooler, so I not only was trying to maneuver myself, but trying to keep from clothes-lining everyone I passed with the rope to the cooler... it was quite a feat.
Tubing is one of my all time favorite ways to stay cool on a Summer afternoon (umm, can I just say "yay for fresh water and no sand!?!") and having 31 friends with me made it THAT much better.
By the time we all made it back to the main cabin we were exhausted from laughing and paddling all day long. It was the perfect way to spend the main day of Brandcation. Thank you again a million times over to Jack Sandborn and his awesome crew at Adventures Unlimited. I know that me, Toni, Joy, Denise, and Trisha will be seeing you all again very very soon!
The FISH... not the haircut.
Although there were a lot of those too.
The Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival is more then your average seafood festival – much, much, more! The annual festival in Niceville, Florida always promises a great time for the entire family with big-name entertainment, the highest quality fine art and home hand-crafts, rides, numerous exhibits, and a staggering array of food concessions.
What began as a one day event to honor the mullet and what it has meant to the community and their forefathers as turned into a three day celebration, pulling in huge names like Trace Adkins, Steel Magnolia, and Jake Owen.
During the festival you can enjoy carnival rides, play games, shop from local vendors, watch clown acts, as well as see local performers from all over Northwest Florida... and of course get your fill of mullet - any way you like it.
Mullet is known in many places as a "trash fish" as it takes on the taste of whatever its surroundings. In most areas, dirty, muddy or polluted waters render mullet inedible. Thankfully here in Northwest Florida our waters are clean, making our mullet quite tasty! Mullet has to be caught in a net, as they feed strictly on vegetation, and can grow to be two feet in length... making for a beautiful fried filet.
At The Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival you can try this delicacy in many ways - including fried, broiled, smoked, mullet on a stick, or my father's favorite, a Mullet Dog:
The last time we attended the Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival was in 1992 when a little-known artist by the name of Billy Ray Cyrus had signed up to be one of the entertainers... and then hit it big with Achy Breaky Heart. Because he was under contract with the Mullet Festival, this enormous star performed in the little town of Niceville (did I mention free!?) to a crowd of thousands. It was spectacular.
The highlight of the day though was the Fried Oreos. I have never even heard of Fried Oreos... which is probably a good thing since I am not sure how much will power I would have after tasting these amazing little goodies. They take plain Oreos, dip them in funnel cake batter, deep fry for 3-4 minutes, and then drizzle with chocolate syrup and sprinkle with powdered sugar. YES they are amazing.
All in all it was a terrific day, and a perfect way to spend a Saturday with my two favorite guys. I only wished the girls had been with us to enjoy the fun. We will certainly make sure to arrange for them to be with us next year.
I have not been to The Gulf Breeze Zoo in years! My grandfather and I used to go often, and I have many great memories from there, but I went a few years ago and had a bad experience... we saw very few animals, the ones that were there did not look happy... it was very sad.
So I stayed away a while, until yesterday when my Dad and Wanda had the idea to take the girls for the day. I asked if I could tag along, and I am so glad that I did.
I had the kind of day that I remember with my Grandpa - and we all remarked on how beautiful everything looks. It was an absolutely amazing day.
We headed towards The Zoo in the early afternoon, but I called ahead to ask what the best time of day was to see the animals.
The girl explained that normally as the sun starts to go down - around 4 or 5 - that they come out again and its also the time they feed the animals. PERFECT! So we killed some time and then headed back to The Zoo.
On the way out there I stopped by Target for a new Zoom Lens for my camera. It was on sale so I was a happy camper.
Though I do wish I had spent some time getting to learn it a bit first. Of the 200+ pictures I took, about 50% are AMAZING - like magazine quality - and a few... well, they are magazine quality of the CAGES but not the animals in them.
My favorite picture so far:
And then there are the images like this one:
Even with my not-so-stellar performance behind the camera, I still did manage to get some fantastic shots of our day to make our memories last forever. (These are all UN-touched! I just added the name and border!) Here are some of the best ones:
My favorite part of the day was the "Free-Flight Aviary" where they had probably 200 parakeets (I looked it up and they call them Australian Budgies...) flying free, and you can go in and feed them seeds that are stuck to popsicle sticks.
The girls freaked at first afraid the little beauties were going to hurt them, but after a few minutes, we were all having a blast, COVERED in little bitty birds.
While walking around we spotted a peacock lying kinda half on its side... kind of at a strange angle. We told one of the young ladies working the grounds, and she not only immediately went and checked on the bird, but took a moment to tell us a bit about them and some of their habits.
You could tell this girl loved her job. We were super impressed with her. (I wish I had gotten her name!)
We also rode the Train which was a blast. We sat in the very back so that I could take great pictures... it was the first time ever that I was TOO TALL for something! There was NO foot room in the caboose! It was a great opportunity for a picture though!
My Zoo Tips:
- Go in the late afternoon - like after 3pm. The Zoo is open extended hours in the summertime, so you still have plenty of time to enjoy the entire Zoo, but the critters are more active. Plus very few people were there - probably because of the heat, but it truly wasnt THAT bad.
- Buy several Bird Feeder sticks! They are only $1 and they go pretty quick. Those
parakeetsAustralian Budgies are well skilled in getting the seeds off quickly.
- They have a covered picnic area just outside of The Zoo where you can pack a lunch and eat before or after your visit. You are not allowed to take food in for obvious danger to the animals, but there is a place you can spread out and enjoy a picnic.
- Wear comfy shoes! I wore flipflops and my feet were KILLING me. There is SO much great stuff to see now, that you do not want to miss any of it. Wear comfy shoes even if your feet get hot, tennis shoes are the way to go.
- They have drinks for sale scattered around the grounds, and even though they are $2 each, it is MORE than worth it on our 100* days.
- Take plenty of quarters. They still have the old bubblegum machine style food dispensers that I remember from 20 years ago that only take quarters, and you KNOW you are going to want more food half way through. Because really, what is more fun than feeding and getting totally slobbered on by 15 different animals... right?!
- Everywhere we walked on the premises was wheel chair and stroller accessible. If you have a little one - even if they normally do not ride in the stroller anymore- I would still recommend taking it. If for nothing else, to carry your purse!
- And finally, you do not need a zoom lens for all of these great pictures - the animals were so close I often had to stand back to be able to zoom in on the shot. At The Zoo you get to have a real live experience of these animals "up close and personal."
We are all still beaming at how beautiful everything was at The Zoo, especially after the threats for it to close down in the last few years. Though I was sad to see that they have turned the old Cafe into the "Reptile Pavilion," it is still a great place to go and spend the day with your family.
We will go back often, and I am considering buying Season Passes. If you have ever been to The Zoo, I highly recommend you go and see it again. It was a truly fantastic day, and though it made me miss my Daddy-T tremendously, it was great for my Dad to "carry on the tradition" with my girls.
Last month the girls and I headed North to Atlanta to visit my Mom for Mother's Day. My uncle rode along for a quick whirlwind trip -up on Friday, home on Sunday- with Saturday being spent at the Georgia Aquarium. Let me tell you, it was worth every moment.
We arrived pretty early Saturday morning, knowing we were going to spend a full day enjoying all of the sights of the Georgia Aquarium (and in hopes of beating the crowds... note: it worked!) There are several different ticket options in all different price ranges. Since the girls (and I) are a bit fanatical about the Dolphins, we knew we wanted to see Dolphin Tales, the theatrical show with dolphins, actors, and a killer light show.
You can not even get into this place before it takes your breath away. I could have just stood in the doorway for hours.
I promise the pictures get better... it was dark in here... but ummm... this alone makes me want to march right back up to BestBuy for that Canon DSLR... just sayin....
The Georgia Aquarium is divided into different exhibits- Coldwater Quest, Ocean Voyager, Tropical Diver, River Scout, and Georgia Explorer. The first thing to grab The Toddler's attention was a huge Shark and Sting Ray tank where you can reach in and "pet" them as they swim by. Thankfully, SOMEONE had to take pictures, so I was able to just sit back and watch this part of the journey.
Inside there was another "touch" tank full of huge shrimp and horseshoe crabs...
I can honestly say I have not been that close to a shrimp that size that did not end up on a fork ... well, ever. I did find it quite humorous that they had these on the side of this tank:
The rest of the exhibits became a blur of laughter, "ooohhhs" and "aaahhhs" ... and me in complete and total amazement watching my two daughters get along and behave the best I have probably ever seen them. They were both so enthralled by everything they were seeing, they didn't even think to argue.
We even had some fun silly moments too.
Mid afternoon we stopped to have a bite to eat in their restaurant the Cafe Aquaria. I was expecting it to be like "Carnival Food" or something, but it was absolutely delicious. Honestly. Between the six of us who went, I think we sampled just about everything - from the Bacon Cheeseburger to the Gourmet Cupcakes - it was all amazing.
Another cool exhibit was the Penguin Exhibit located in the Coldwater Quest. The exhibit has a "crawl tube" that if you are short (or like to crawl in crowded places) you can peek your head up into the exhibit to get a closer look at these comical little guys. The girls went alone (I told you, I was amazed at how well they got along) and I love this image because you can see my girls in the tube (Tween taking pics... my Blogger in the making), as well as my Uncle's reflection as he stood watching them.
My absolute favorite part
It was an absolutely PERFECT day as we wrapped up with the Dolphin Tales show from AT&T. They would not allow cameras in there, but it was a great show full of lights, special effects, actors and actresses - and of course, some breathtakingly talented dolphins. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.
If you are ever in the Atlanta area and are looking for a way to spend the day inside where it is nice and cool, has great food, and more entertainment than your children could ever fully take in in one day - I highly recommend you go to the Georgia Aquarium. It will be a day you will never forget.
Last week for Spring Break I had the pleasure of taking off for a day of fun at Florida's Gulfarium in Fort Walton Florida which is about an hour and a half east of where I live in Pensacola. I have not been to the Gulfarium in YEARS, so I was excited to get to take the girls out for the day, and was excited to get to meet my uncle there as well.
The weather was perfect - just overcast enough that you did not have to wear your sunglasses - which is good because almost the entire Gulfarium is outside. The main tank was under construction which at first was a bummer, but there were so many OTHER exhibits and shows, we really did not even miss seeing the main tank.
We began with a dolphin show - which I think I could probably watch all day every day and never get tired of. The dolphins of course were perfect and the trainers were funny as well. The Toddler was SO excited - she absolutely could not take her eyes of "Zack" - this 600+ pound beauty.
We then headed over to see the Penguins have lunch. It was amazing to me how tame these little guys were. This one - Holly I believe was her name - stood posing for us all to take as many pictures as we wanted. The Tween of course wanted to take her home.
The Gulfarium has many other live exhibits, including a bird exhibit, alligators, turtles, stingrays, sea urchins, harbor seals, and sea otters, but my absolute favorite part is the "Living Sea" exhibit - a 42,000 gallon mixed reef aquarium sporting just about every exotic fish you can imagine. I think I could just spend hours staring into this thing. I mean, who wouldnt want to watch this: (ignore my children screaming "Mom, Mom, Mom - look at this!!!")
They even have a cute little place to for a photo opp: (although I was wishing for a step stool!)
The Gulfarium also has a place to sit and eat right in the middle of the exhibits, which is nice to not "miss" anything while getting a quick bite. We wrapped up the day watching the Sea Lion show which was hysterical. I became my Tween for a moment, wishing I could take one of THEM home!
All in all it was a wonderful day,and one the girls and I will remember for a long time. I am sure we will make going to the Gulfarium and spending the day with my Uncle a more common day trip! 🙂