Tag Archives: travel

St. Petersburg/Clearwater Florida are perfect destination in shoulder season

Shoulder season.

Two beautiful words that can make the world of difference when it comes to travel prices.

Every destination has different shoulder seasons, but late October through early December covers a lot of those. Of course, the week of Thanksgiving does not count as it’s a busy travel time.

Shoulder season – the time between peak and off-peak travel season—translates into cheaper airfare, less expensive hotels and tourist attractions that are not flooded with tourists.

It’s the best time to travel.

A perfect place to plan your next vacation is St. Petersburg/Clearwater in Florida. I was there for the second time last week and it’s a wonderful area.

First, let’s talk logistics. The region is served by two airports: St. Petersburg/Clearwater International and Tampa International.

Allegiant Air out of Springfield has direct, inexpensive flights to St. Petersburg/Clearwater. For example, from Nov. 1-8, a roundtrip ticket is $206; the same fare applies Dec. 6-10. Allegiant only flies certain days of the week so your dates are more limited, but if you’re retired, you have more flexibility.

The nice thing about Allegiant is you can pull up a 30-day calendar and see prices per day. For example, the least expensive day to fly is Nov. 18 which boasts a $61 one-way flight.

I also plugged in various dates in November and December on Travelocity, leaving from Tulsa and flying into Tampa. In early October, tickets were $412, but Nov. 10-17, the price dropped to $345. Dec. 1-8, the tickets started at $356.

If you travel in shoulder season, there’s a good chance the hotel might upgrade you for free. Compare the hotel rate with a booking engine like Expedia.com, and then call and say “I am about to book and wondered if I booked directly through the hotel if you could offer me an upgrade, free breakfast, or better room, etc.” Sometimes people say yes and sometimes they say no, but it never hurts to try.

Something to know: If you’re booking with a search engine like Hotels.com, but you are a member of a certain hotel chain, like Holiday Inn, you will likely not earn hotel points on your travel so consider that when you consider the discounted price (and call the hotel to double check).

Another option for lodging is to rent an apartment or condo from Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) or Vacations Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com). These are nice because you can cook for yourself and save money on food.

If fly into Tampa, it’s about 30-40 minutes away from St. Petersburg/Clearwater. A cab costs roughly $50. I used Super Shuttle for $23. You can book that online or there’s a kiosk outside when you land at the airport.

Before I travel, I sign up for that city’s Groupon deals because you may find dining or attraction deals in advance that you can use on your trip.

Another money saving tip is to go to the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website, as they often have downloadable coupons.

My theory is the more I save upfront, the more I can splurge later because vacation is the time for a little decadence.

Now that the logistics are taken care off, let’s talk about the fun stuff. There’s so much to see, do and taste in this area.

The cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater are two separate cities, about 20 miles apart, but they are marketed together and have a joint CVB. They cities have different vibes and I like them both. You can go back and forth or split your vacation between the two.

Stay in Clearwater if you’re a beach lover and want easy access to the water. It has lovely beaches.

Watching the sun set on Pier 60 is a must. The sunset is beautiful, but there is a daily sunset festival on the pier two hours before and two hours after the sun fades away. The festival attracts artisans who sell their ware, street performers, even fire blowers. It’s a festive atmosphere.

I highly recommend a dolphin spotting tour while you’re in Florida. I’ve used Little Toot Dolphin Adventures which guarantees you see a dolphin or you get to come back for free, but there are a variety of dolphin tours out there, so look online. Some stop at islands, offers snorkeling, etc., so see which one best meet your desires: http://www.visitclearwaterflorida.com/things-to-do/dolphin-watching

Photo courtesy: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Photo courtesy: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill is a good choice when dining because the food is good and it offers open air, beachfront dining. The grouper sandwich is famous; Florida is home to the grouper sandwich. The restaurant does not take reservations, so you may have to wait.

If you want to explore beaches in the region, take Suncoast Beach Trolley, which lets you explore different beach communities from Clearwater to St. Pete. Trolley start at 5:30 and leave every 30 minutes. http://www.psta.net/beachtrolley.php

A restaurant I highly recommend is Columbia Restaurant, which Florida’s oldest restaurant. Established in 1905, it still family owned and now in its fifth generation. There are several locations in Florida, but it originated in Tampa and there’s a Clearwater site, too. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is wonderful. There’s a reason they’ve been in business this long.

If you are a foodie and enjoy the arts, then St. Petersburg may be a better place to anchor for your trip.

St. Petersburg is located on a peninsula and is one of the sunniest cities in Florida. It holds a Guinness World Record for logging the most consecutive days of sunshine – a stretch lasting 768 days that began in 1967.

I mentioned grouper sandwiches are popular in this area. The best grouper sandwich can be found in St. Petersburg at Locale Market (it’s a grouper BLT). If you are a foodie, prepare to be in heaven.

Locale Market is a market and restaurant that has everything from fresh seafood, local beer, aged beef, cookbooks, delicate pastries and more. It’s the brain child of famous chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona and they showcase as much local fare from land to sea, as possible. You could spent an hour exploring the market and then stay to eat. If you’re doing your own cooking, definitely come here to shop because the selection is fantastic. You can ever get caviar from Florida.

Just next door, in the same complex, is Sea Salt, an excellent seafood restaurant that features more than 120 sea salts from around the world. I had the best scallops of my life in this restaurant. The scallops were served on leeks, with tasso ham, cream sauce and a sea foam. It was exceptional, but pricy. Happy hour is from 4-6 p.m. and prices are far more reasonable during this period, especially on wine which is expensive by the glass (at least compared to Missouri prices). Be sure to check their Facebook page for specials, because they have deals like $20 bottomless mimosas on the weekends. They source a lot of local seafood and it’s on ice when you arrive so you can see how fresh it is. If you’re going to splurge, this is the place to do it. It’s worth it.

scallops

While you’re in St. Petersburg, you must walk down Beach Drive where you’ll find wonderful cafes, restaurants and shops (Beach Drive is a short walk from Sea Salt).

Along Beach Drive is The Birchwood Hotel which has a gorgeous rooftop bar called The Canopy. From the roof, you have views of the bay. The bartenders serve up delightful cocktails and you can order dinner and dine from the roof of the hotel. It’s a wonderful experience.

The view from the Birchwood Canopy

The view from the Birchwood Canopy

St. Petersburg is home to seven museums and more than two dozen galleries. My favorite in this city The Dalí Museum, which houses the largest collection of the surrealist’s work outside of Spain. The museum gives you such an intimate look at the artist; I left with an entirely new perspective of his work. I now appreciate the breadth of his work. It’s an excellent museum.

Along Beach Drive is the Dale Chihuly Collection, a spectacular collection of glass sculptures from this American master of glass. Outside, there’s a 20 foot glass sculpture created just for this site. If you enjoy blown glass, this will impress you.

The Museum of Fine Arts houses classic, contemporary, and international collections and is definitely worth a visit, too. It’s within walking distance to the Chihuly collection.

There’s so much to do and see in this area, it’s hard to begin to cover it all, but these are a few of my recommendations. If you’re going to visit Florida, now is the time to book a trip.

I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Tampa, so I will save that for another post. Tampa is a fantastic destination, too.

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Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival and other Columbia, Mo, attractions

Well, it’s been about two weeks since I posted anything. I’ve been swamped! I am writing a cookbook featuring my best 50 rotisserie chicken recipes, and that was due the publisher 10 days ago. The very next day, I left to Florida for the Association of Food Journalists conference. It was an amazing conference.

I got back and had a lot of cleaning and writing to do. This is the first moment I’ve had to pause for literally 10 minutes. I will be back at it next week with more rotisserie chicken recipes and other recipes. As I near my 117, I am going to branch out with more recipes.

Also, I have so much to share about the incredible trip to Florida.

But for anyone in Missouri, I wanted to share this story I wrote last week for the Joplin Globe about Columbia. There’s an amazing concert there this weekend.  Columbia is a great town. I have several recommendations of things to do and see.

By Juliana Goodwin

For the Joplin Globe

My husband and I visited Columbia a few months ago and we’re counting down the days until we go back.

I had not been to the college-town in years and was just amazed at the downtown revitalization.  Downtown Columbia was bustling with new boutiques, shops, bakeries, upscale and causal restaurants, breweries, a dueling piano bar and more.   We had a blast exploring.

The downtown offers enough reason to visit, but what has us so excited this time is the Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival Sept. 25-27 in Stephens Lake Park in Columbia.

For three days, big name musicians like Dwight Yoakam, Lucinda Williams, Irma Thomas, Buddy Guy, Brandi Carlile and many more—will play to throngs of music lovers in Columbia. The line-up of 30 national, international and local musicians is spectacular.

This will be my first big music festival and I am so stoked.

Photo Courtesy: Roots N Blues 2014 - RNB

Photo Courtesy: Roots N Blues 2014 – RNB

If those musicians interest you and a road trip is calling your name, you better start looking for lodging or plan to camp because hotels are hard to come by. Festival tickets are $49.50 Friday; $65 Saturday; $49.50 Sunday; $125 for a Weekend Pass. Given the talent that will be on the stage, I think it’s a bargain.  I’ve paid more to see a single musician.

The fall festival was first organized in 2007 and features musicians in the genres of roots, blues, gospel, country, folk, bluegrass, rock, and soul.   American Blues Scene Magazine called it “One of the most prominent festivals in the country!” – at least that is what the website says.

If you hate crowds this is not the weekend to visit, but Columbia is still worth a trip and fall is my favorite time to travel. Here are a few recommendations:

On our last visit, we stayed downtown at the Broadway Columbia, a Doubletree by Hilton hotel, which is about a year and a half old. We loved the hotel, particularly its rooftop bar.

rooftop bar

The view is amazing, albeit it’s a view of Broadway and the city, so it’s not like you’re looking at nature but it’s still wonderful. We were fortunate to have a gorgeous sunset that night- so much so that we pushed our dinner reservations back to take more photos of the orange-encrusted clouds against a pink sky.

Rooftop sunset

The rooftop bar is clearly a local favorite and it’s easy to see why. There are fire features, tall barstools, a festive atmosphere, and a menu to order from.

DSC_0666 (2) rooftop fire

We had dinner reservations so didn’t order any food, but it smelled heavenly. I will definitely plan to try it next time.

If you like craft beer, you have a few choices in Columbia. First, is Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, 115 S. 5th St., which was producing craft beer since 1994 before craft beer was cool. The beer and food are both pretty good and this is a downtown staple.

But Columbia has two other breweries: Broadway Brewery & Restaurant, 816 E. Broadway, which is another good choice; and Logboat Brewing Company, 504 Fay St. I haven’t personally tried Logboat but it has excellent reviews online and the Belgium-style IPA is on my list for my next trip.

For a casual dinner but good food, try Addison’s, 709 Cherry St.  This restaurants puts a twist on traditional American fare, like nachos. Here’s a description of their nachos: Italian pasta chips topped with Asiago cheese sauce, tomatoes, scallions, kalamata olives, banana peppers, mozzarella cheese, and chicken, black beans, or chorizo sausage. My favorite appetizer is the Crab Rangoon Dip- you get all the creaminess of the filling, but use fried wontons to scoop it up. Again, just an innovative way to present something traditional.

For a fine dining experience, I highly recommend with Wine Cellar & Bistro, 505 Cherry St., downtown.  Chef Craig and Sarah Cyr (sommelier) own the restaurant and wine bar, which has an award winning wine list and affordable options. The couple have owned the restaurant for 11 years and it’s my favorite place to eat.

But if the dinner menu is out of your price range, then be sure to check out the lunch menu because it offers half-size dinner portions for half the price.

Also, Sunday through Thursday, there’s a three course menu available for $30.  I dined on the delectable goat cheese truffles that melted in my mouth the second I tasted them; and tender scallops for the main course.  For this appetizer, they rolled goat cheese into balls (hence the truffle), breaded and fried the balls and served on it a bed of caramelized onions with balsamic reduction.

For my main course, I had the blackened scallops with Missouri pecans, organic California wild rice, ginger-scented braised greens, lemon and grapefruit beurre blanc sauce. The restaurant sources as many local and regional foods as possible, which I love.

I was also amazed at the olive oil and balsamic vinegar served with the bread. They reduce the vinegar in house and they sell it to take home.

Whether you chose to dine at one of these places or go to the concert, Columbia should definitely be on your list of places to explore.

Want to go?

For more information on the festival: http://rootsnbluesnbbq.com/

Great Travel Apps

whatsppI am a traveler.

It’s part of my identity.

It’s my passion

Outside of my family, I can’t think of anything I love more.

I am most alive when I am traveling.

To date, I’ve visited 57 countries, 47 states and every continent on earth. I’ve been a travel writer for years, although I do that on a smaller scale today. But I am constantly planning and researching travel and discovering new travel apps.

There are so many resources and apps that can make the journey more enjoyable and save you money. Here are some stellar travel related apps to consider that fit a variety of personalities and itineraries and offer a few travel tips, too. If you have other travel apps you love, please post them in the comments. I’d love to check it out.

General

If you’re flying anywhere, it’s a good idea to download the app for the airline you are traveling on and set up text alerts for delays.

If you’re a planner, then Tripit will be your friend. This app creates a master itinerary for your travel plans and suggests attractions and activities for your trip. You can check local maps, weather updates, and more. There’s an upgraded, paid version that includes features like flight status alerts. Basic service is free and available for most smart phones. www.tripit.com

No one knows a city like a local and that’s what makes Localeur such a cool app. It’s a community of local reviews for everything from restaurants to dance venues to attractions. Find the best whiskey bars in Austin or a great coffee shop in Denver. Free. Available for iPhone users. http://www.localeur.com

If you enjoy dining out, then BiteHunter is a great app to have. This real time location app will tell you where you can find a restaurant coupon or fixed price dinner. Be sure to read the fine print though because it gets deals from sites like Living Social, which can take 24 hours to become active, so if you’re only in the city for a night, you may miss the deal. Your first purchase may be time consuming, but the app will remember your information after that making it easier. Free and available for iPhones.  www.bitehunter.com

International

If you’re traveling overseas and want to avoid costly text messaging charges, download WhatsApp Messenger for free international texting. WhatsApp is a mobile messaging service owned by Facebook. Here’s they key, the app can only text other phones that have downloaded the app, so if you want to text friends or family members, they have to download it, too. It’s easy to use.  It just released a calling feature, but data charges may apply for the WhatsApp Calling feature. It’s available for most smart phones for free the first year (99 cents subsequent years). www.whatsapp.com

If you’re traveling overseas, the XE Currency App makes currency conversion a snap.  The app converts money from all over the world so you can easily understand the local currency. And the good news is it’s  Free. For iPhone, Android and Blackberry users. http://www.xe.com/apps/

Cruising

Cruise Ship Mate is a popular app because it covers all the major cruise ships and allows you to see a layout of the ship, deck maps, check the weather at your port, read different viewers, and more. It’s free and available for iPhone and Android. www.cruiseshipmate.com

Have you ever gotten to the end of a cruise and nearly had a heart attack when you got the final bill on disembarking day? There’s an app for that. To budget, and track the size of your bill as you go (including how fast those cocktails add up each day), download Cruise Card Control. It’s available for $2.99 for iPhones. www.cruisecardcontrol.com

For the Foodies

How often have you tasted a great wine on a trip and sworn that you will remember it, only to forget it by the time you get home? You need the Vivino app, which has so many cool features. It uses a photo label recognition system that can quickly bring up bring up information for a given wine, complete with reviews, ratings, and tasting notes. So the next time you travel, snap a photo of that great wine label and find it when you get home. This app is useful to any wine drinker, not just while traveling. Free. Available for Android and iPhone. www.vivino.com

There’s a saying that you eat with your eyes first. Well, that what makes the Foodspotting app so great. This app is a visual guide to food. There aren’t specific restaurant recommendations, but instead specific dishes are recommended.  Want to know who has great deep dish pizza in Chicago or another dish specific to a city? You will find it here. There are a variety of search mechanisms from neighborhood to category. It’s available for most smart phones. http://www.foodspotting.com

For the Road Tripper

The Gas Buddy app helps you save a dollar or two on your road trip because it allows you to locate gas stations near you and compare their prices. It’s free and available for most smart phones. www.gasbuddy.com

If you hate traffic and are traveling this summer, then the Waze app is a must. It’s advertised as largest community-based traffic and navigation app and it helps you avoid traffic, accidents, construction, speed traps, etc. Download the app, type in your destination and drive with the app open on your phone. You can contribute to it, too. Free. Available for most smart phones. https://www.waze.com/

One more note, open apps and GPS can quickly sap your battery, so invest in a car charger if you don’t have one.

Missouri Botanical Garden is a must for natives and travelers

The Missouri Botanical Garden is considered one of the top botanical gardens in the country.

The first time I visited I understood why.

It was spring and there was a colorful blanket of tulips: ruby, orange, peach and pink, gold, yellow tulips with a red bases that swayed in the gentle breeze.

Large water lilies floated on fountains and ponds.  Blood orange poppies and purple and gold irises were in bloom.

But aside from stunning flowers and plants, there’s an amazing collection of sculptures, incredible architecture, educational events, and history all over the gardens.

After my first visit, I couldn’t believe that I’d lived in Missouri for 10 years at that point and had never visited this gem. Since that first trip, I’ve been back several times and am planning another jaunt this summer. If you’ve never been, you should plan a trip but expect to spend several hours there because there’s so much to take in.

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I’d also recommend a narrated tram tour of the park, which lasts about 30 minutes, costs $4, but is a good way to snake around the property, soak up the beauty and learn a little bit of the garden’s history.

Founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw, the Missouri Botanical Garden spans 79 acres and boasts 23 demonstration gardens and three conservatories.

The Climatron is the largest conservatory and it’s fascinating. The dome shaped building houses more than 2,800 plants, including 1,400 different tropical species.

I felt like I’d ducted into the tropics when I walked into the Climatron. The first thing that made me feel that way was the humidity, but then there were banana trees, cacao, spice plants, orchids, and exotic, rare plants such as the double coconut, which produces the largest seed in the plant kingdom.

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In 1976, the Climatron was named one of the 100 most significant architectural achievements in United States history.  It rises 70 feet in the center, buy has no columns and no interior support.

It provides a wonderful opportunity to see plants from the rainforests in Brazil to the jungles in Borneo, all without leaving Missouri. There’s so much to see, but I only lasted about an hour inside because of the humidity (it averages 85 percent humidity and 85 degrees in the day).

I also enjoyed the kaleidoscope of international gardens at the garden: Japanese (one of the most photogenic parts of the park); English (always whimsical); Chinese (whose architecture stood out more than the plants); Ottoman; Bavarian and German.

The serene, 14-acre Japanese garden was my favorite. The website says this is one of the largest Japanese gardens in North America. Photo opportunities abound here from cherry blossoms in the spring to stone features to arched bridges that are reflected on ponds below.

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There’s also lanterns of historic significance, including a snow-viewing lantern at the entrance that is preserved from the 1904 World’s Fair.

Another beautiful area at the Missouri Botanical Garden is the Victorian district which pays homage to the Henry Shaw, the garden’s founder.  You can also tour the Tower Grove House which was built in 1849 and was Shaw’s country residence.

I was also amazed at the number of beautiful sculptures — more than 50 –  that are peppered throughout the garden, including blown glass by artist Dale Chihuly. When you come into the visitor center, you’ll see the 928-piece “Missouri Botanical Garden Blue Chandelier” suspended in the atrium.  Pieces of his blown glass can be spotted at different areas of the park.

If you have a green thumb, then one of the many demonstration gardens are a must. The botanical garden hosts a variety of classes throughout the year, so if you are an avid gardener you can check the schedule and plan your visit accordingly.

And something I’ve never done but would love to do is the Whitaker Music Festival on Wednesday nights in the summer. Every Wednesday through July 29, there’s a free outdoor concert at the garden. You can bring your own picnic supper, baskets or coolers. Picnic fare, beer, wine, soda and sno-cones are also available to buy.  After 5 p.m. on those Wednesday nights, admission to the park is free. Music begins at 7:30 p.m.
It sounds like a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.

NOTE: All photos were courtesy of the Missouri Botanical Garden. This story was written for a publication for The Joplin Globe.

If you go:

Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis. Admission: $8 adults (ages 13 and older): Free for ages 12 and younger. Call (314) 577-5100. For more information: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/

Wear comfortable shoes and plan to spend several hours at the gardens.  They key is to try and go on a cool day and or head there first thing in the morning before it gets too hot.

Bring sunscreen and a camera.

The Missouri Botanical Garden features flower shows, live music and special events throughout the year. Visit the online event calendar to see what’s “growing on” at the Garden!

If you get hungry, the Sassafras Café has a surprisingly good lunch.

Special Event:

Also this summer is the “Lantern Festival: Magic Reimagined,” which is a beautiful evening Chinese lantern festival (I still recommend going in the day to see the garden).  Twenty two sets of lanterns will light up the Missouri Botanical Garden and will be constructed using traditional materials including silk, wire and porcelain.  Each set will be accompanied by interpretation detailing the design’s tradition, symbolism and meaning and some sets will incorporate recycled materials.

It is on display during select nights now through Aug. 23.  Open Thursday-Sunday evenings from May 23-July 31. Open 6 to 10 p.m. nightly from August 1-23.
Evening Admission for May 23 – July 31: $22 adults;  $10 children (ages 3-12).  Aug. 1-23: $26 adults; $10 children (ages 3-12). Discounts for Missouri Botanical Garden members.

Hello from Orange Beach, Alabama

Hello from Orange Beach, Alabama! This is the view from our balcony.

photo 1 (31)

After not posting because of illness and a hectic schedule, I am on vacation this week, but I wanted to drop in and say hi. It’s been a wonderful week. We drove to Louisiana, which is where my husband is from, and stopped for a night in Memphis. We did the total tourist thing, first stopping to see the march of the ducks at the Peabody and then we ate at Rendezvous, which is one of my favorite BBQ joints in Memphis. I was so hungry I didn’t snap any photos, but here’s a link to the iconic restaurant, which has INCREDIBLE potato salad and is known for its ribs. Expect to wait because it’s very popular.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Charlie-Vergos-Rendezvous/131059266937444

Then we took three days off and went to Orange Beach, Ala., which is part of the Gulf Shores. This is my first time to Alabama and my 47th state! Woo hoo! I now only have three states to visit and I can say I have visited every state in the U.S.

Alabama has exceeded my expectations. The weather has been perfect. Not nearly as hot or humid as I expected.

We stayed in a beach-front condo for $175 a night. Of course that doesn’t include cleaning fees or taxes, but it’s still a good deal.

Look at the view from our bedroom.

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We had a king bed and my mother and sister-in-law had twin beds in the other room. If you use the sofa, it sleeps six.

This was our sunset the first night. Oh my goodness! It was stunning.

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Here’s a link to the property. I recommend it:

http://www.luxurycoastalvacations.com/resorts/broadmoor-orange-beach-al

As for our days, they were pretty lazy. We swam, ate and hung out.

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That’s me and my beautiful little girl snapping a selfie before we went to the beach.

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Since my husband and I love to cook, we ate in most of the time and bought fresh seafood.

We did eat lunch at a restaurant named Big Fish and it was good, but not worth the money. We had this lovely lobster appetizer which was a tempura battered tail for $14. It was great, but small.

lobster

These signature ginger skewers were fantastic but the rest of the meal was average and the dessert was awful. It was prepackaged and tasted like a microwave meal. But the shrimp skewers were excellent.

Oh and a highlight was a dolphin sightseeing cruise. I definitely recommend the company we used – The Cold Mil Fleet_ because they have two boats and go side by side to create a wake, which the dolphins love and jump in. It was $20 per person and worth it! We saw at least four dolphins but they were so close and jumped and jumped. IT was a blast for the family. Here’s a link to the company:

http://dolphincruises.com/

Anyway, I have a couple of stories to file and then I need to get back to my vacation. I am having a margarita party tonight and will post those recipes next week. I hope you have a great day. If you have any questions about Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, let me know.

The Biltmore Estate is incredible

I wrote this story last month for The Joplin Globe, but somehow forgot to share it here. If you have never been, The Biltmore Estate is incredible. I’ve visited many times and will continue to go back. It’s the equivalent of visiting an amazing European castle, but you don’t have to leave the United States. This castle is SPECTACULAR at Christmas. And imagine, this was someone’s personal home?

Anyway, here is the story:

The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina, has something special to offer in every season.

In the spring, a sea of more than 100,000 vibrant tulips and daffodils sweep across the landscape during the Festival of Flowers.  The Biltmore is America’s largest privately owned home and the original gardens were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York and the grounds around the U.S Capitol. A visit to the gardens is a must for any flower lover.

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In summer, visitors can soak up the beauty of more than 250 varieties of roses in the rose garden; take one of several gardening classes offered; or enjoy float trips, hiking, horseback riding, carriage rides, kayaking and other outdoor activities around the Blue Ridge Mountains, which is the backdrop for this mansion. There are sporadic concerts on the lawn in the summer, too.

Fall is a feast for the eyes and taste buds. There are wine and food-centered festivals and events (particularly in September), and the gardens glow with orange and gold mums. Plus, there’s the golden blush and amber kiss of autumn on the trees.

Fly fishing, Segway tours and horseback riding are all popular attractions this time of year. Cooler temperature means it’s a perfect time to explore the 8,000 acres that make up this estate.

In winter, the Biltmore house, a 250-room French Renaissance chateau, is decked out in Christmas glory and is a must for any holiday enthusiast. There are 50 Christmas trees in the home, including a 35-foot tree in the banquet hall.

The 65 fireplaces in this castle are adorned with garlands, wreaths and give the mansion a warm glow.   Antique ornaments, twinkling lights, Christmas carolers and many more Christmas trees decorate the surrounding estate.  There are candlelight night tours of the mansion showcasing its holiday beauty.

In every season, you can enjoy estate wines, wine tasting classes, a selection of fabulous food from a variety of restaurants on the property, outdoor activities, and shopping,

But no matter what the season, a tour of the Biltmore House is the main attraction.

It is 175,000 square feet of magnificence—to put that in perspective, the White House is only 55,000.

The extravagant mansion features original paintings by Renoir and a library stocked with more than 10,000 books.

Construction on the “chateau” began in 1889 and was the vision of George Vanderbilt. He was the grandson of the famous shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, who was one of the richest families in that time period.

It took six years to complete the Biltmore and nearly 10 million pounds of limestone was used in the construction. The limestone was harvested in Indiana and shipped to North Carolina.

When George Vanderbilt opened the doors of his mansion, it showcased four acres of floor space, 43 bathrooms, an indoor pool, and a bowling alley (keep in mind, this was built in the late 1800s).

The banquet hall is stunning and boasts a 70-foot ceiling. When you tour this house, it feels like you’re in Europe. The opulence is jaw dropping. I’ve visited several times and I am continuously blown away, especially when I consider how long ago this mansion was constructed.

Vanderbilt was a bachelor when he built this, but he married Edith Stuyvesant Dresser shortly after in 1898. Many of their original artifacts are still in the home.

The couple welcomed for their only child, Cornelia, in 1900.

Vanderbilt died in 1914. He was 51.

Cornelia went on to marry a British diplomat John Francis Amherst Cecil, and they had two sons together.

In 1930, she opened the house to the public, hoping that this would lure tourists in during the Great Depression and help the surrounding city of Asheville.

Both sons grew up and helped preserve and manage the estate.

Their son William Cecil planted the first vineyards on the property in 1971. Today, the Biltmore is knowns for its wine and the website claims it’s the most visited winery in America.

There is so much to do, see, taste, and experience here; the Biltmore is a banquet for the senses and a wonderful getaway.

If you go:
A tour of the house will take an entire day, especially if you opt for an audio tour.  People with limited mobility may want to split it up over two days because the house alone stretches over four acres.

Depending on when you visit, you could safely plan three to four days at the Biltmore Estate, especially if you enjoy gardening or the outdoors. If all you want to do is tour the home and take a few classes or eat and shop, two days is sufficient.

There are many restaurants, seminars, classes, shops and outdoor activities on the estate. Some are free and some have a fee. Aside from spectacular gardens, there are gardening classes, wine tasting seminars, a plethora of outdoor activities.

The Biltmore has several inns and hotels, but they are pricier options than staying in Asheville and driving in to the estate.

Depending on the season, there are discounts online (there are often discounts in the fall). Visit www.biltmore.com for more information.

Photos courtesy of the Biltmore Company

Check out my Iceland adventure

My blog has been stagnant for a week because I’ve been in Iceland. I got back Monday, but yesterday was my birthday, so I just focused on me.

Iceland was awesome and so beautiful! This is just one example:

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Back in September, my sister called me and said there was  a great Groupon to Iceland for about $800 with airfare and hotel from NYC. The trip included daily breakfast.

I was sold. Seeing the Northern Lights has always been on my bucket list, so I bought the Groupon on the spot and on Feb, 25, my sister and I were Iceland bound.

It;s only a five hour flight from JFK and six hours coming back.

Iceland is home to 130 volcanoes and uses geothermal heat to power the island.

Iceland is home to 130 volcanoes and uses geothermal heat to survive

Iceland is home to 130 volcanoes and uses geothermal heat to survive

It has about 320,000 residents in the whole country, with the majority in Reykjavik.

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I came to see the Northern Lights, but I was also excited to see the Blue Lagoon. I have to say, I think the Blue Lagoon ended up being my highlight. It was spectacular. We spent two hours in the geothermal water. There’s a bar there and they limit everyone to three drinks, which was a good thing because no one was drunk and obnoxious.

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After soaking in the water for two hours, we ate lunch at LAVA, a restaurant that overlooks the lagoon. We had a three course meal and it was lovely.

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On our third day, we took a  Golden Circle tour, which took us to the tallest waterfall in Europe. DSC_0165 (2)

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And on our last night, I finally saw the Northern Lights. Dennis Sawchuk, a man I met on our tour, took these photos of the Northern Lights.  I wasn’t able to capture them. I will update this post later. Right now I have a toddler climbing all over me trying to get attention

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