Why do I vacation on the beaches of my home state?


As a travel journalist of many years, I have had the opportunity to travel to tropical paradises all over the country and abroad. I have watched huge waves crash against rugged rocks and subtle tides wash over colored sand on beaches around the world. And, while I celebrate the differences in the beaches of the world, I am always humbled and proud when I vacation on the sugar-white sandy beaches of my home state – Alabama.


Family together time in Gulf Shores/Orange Beach.

Alabama’s Gulf Coast is known, not only within the state, but in the southeastern region of the United States, as a beautiful stretch of sugar-white sandy beaches juxtaposing gorgeous emerald waters. It’s hard to imagine that type of amazing topography right here in sweet home Alabama if you haven’t personally witnessed it. This single factor reminds me over and over of why I like to vacation on the beaches of my home state!

Other reasons that I choose to vacation on Alabama beaches range from personal to practical, and I’ve listed a few here to see how they compare to yours:

  1. The drive factor. Living in central Alabama, I can literally be on the beach in four hours. I love that! I think most Alabamians are much like myself and enjoy the fact that they can make a spontaneous decision to jump in the car and head south for a last-minute long weekend at the beach.
  2. The pride factor. It is part of our claim to fame as native Alabamians to witness this awesome scene where sky meets water and sand, and know that this is part of our great state. I love it when a stranger vacationing in the Gulf Shores or Orange Beach area says, “Wow…I had no idea THIS was in Alabama!” IMG_1228
  3. The food factor. I love fresh seafood and straight off the boat is about as fresh as it gets! Alabama’s Gulf Coast offers something for every taste bud from classic American cuisine to Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian and seafood. For a more complete look at dining on the coast, check out http://www.gulfshores.com/dining-nightlife/restaurants/.  IMG_1234
  4. The pampering factor. Boy, a trip to the spa is such a special treat for this tired writer and Alabama’s beach areas have two good ones that I truly love! Fusion Spa at The Wharf in Orange Beach is a full-service Aveda hair salon and day spa offering a full complement of services (waxing, nails, massage and hair). I also love The Spa at the Beach Club (Gulf Shores on Fort Morgan) with a full-service resort-type spa featuring massage therapy, skin care, body treatments, steam rooms and a full-service salon to boot! For more information on these and other Alabama Coastal spas, visit http://www.gulfshores.com/things-to-do/spas-fitness/.


Keeping vacation dollars within my home state is important to Alabama’s economy. Collectively with other vacationers, we can keep folks employed in the tourism industry and continue to show off our stunning beaches to tourists while attracting snowbirds. It’s a win-win when the view is this good!


Ram Trucks Tow Parade Floats at 89th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®


More than 25 Ram trucks will kick off the holiday season in style as they tow all the floats in the 89th Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade®, Thursday, Nov. 26, in New York City. Through a newly-formed partnership, Ram is the Official Truck of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®.

  • Ram is Official Truck of the Thanksgiving Day holiday tradition
  • Parade marks start of brand’s #RamGivesThanks promotion honoring local volunteers and small businesses

More than 25 Ram trucks will kick off the holiday season in style as they tow all the floats in the 89th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®, Thursday, Nov. 26, in New York City. Through a newly formed partnership, Ram is the Official Truck of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade®.

Approximately 3.5 million spectators in NYC and more than 50 million television viewers nationwide see the Macy’s Parade each year, marking the official start of the holiday season. The Parade is broadcast live on NBC, beginning at 9 a.m. in all time zones.

In total, Ram will provide the Macy’s Parade with approximately 70 trucks and commercial vans, many of which are used for behind-the-scenes functions leading up to the parade start. Ram will not only help transport the larger-than-life floats down the Parade route, but will also assist in moving other Parade materials needed to produce the annual spectacle, from tool containers to costumes and much more in the lead up to the start of the procession on Thanksgiving day.

“Ram takes great pride in aligning our brand with iconic American events like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” said Bob Hegbloom, Head of Ram Brand, FCA – North America. “Being the official truck of the Parade provides an excellent opportunity to showcase the style, innovation and towing capability of our 2016 Ram 1500 and 2500 trucks.”


“We are thrilled to begin our partnership with Ram as their iconic trucks help our larger-than-life floats make their way down the streets of Manhattan in our annual holiday spectacle,” said Amy Kule, executive producer of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “We know that these trucks are fully capable and will take on the challenge of transporting these floating stages with ease on Thanksgiving Day.”In addition to the Parade partnership, Ram Commercial will spend the holiday season recognizing the hard-working men and women of America with the hashtag #RamGivesThanks and a giveaway promotion where one grand prize winner will get a $15,000 voucher toward a two-year lease on a new 2015 or 2016 Ram ProMaster City and up to $5,000 toward upfits for the van. Interested participants can visit the promotional website www.ramtrucks.com/ramgivesthanks from November 25 to January 4 to nominate a local volunteer in their communities. Additional first and second prizes will also be awarded. For complete giveaway rules, visit the promotion website beginning November 25.

“Thanksgiving reminds us to give thanks to the countless people who help create incredible moments in all of our communities,” Hegbloom added. “Through the #RamGivesThanks program, a deserving individual will receive money toward a lease of a new ProMaster City to help them continue their community volunteer efforts or to grow their small businesses.”

On the day of the Parade, Ram will promote the giveaway on all of its social media channels, as well as show behind-the-scenes video of the hard work it takes to bring the Macy’s Parade to life. In addition, fans can check out live tweets from the parade at www.twitter.com/ramtrucks.

About Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
One of America’s most celebrated and anticipated holiday traditions each year, the 89th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature more than 40 different types of balloons; 27 floats; 1,100 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; 12 marching bands; a host of celebrity performers; and, of course, Santa Claus. Macy’s Parade floats are often two to three stories tall and range from 22 ft. to 50 ft. in length. The working weight load of the floats can be from 4 to 8 tons. In addition to 21 returning floats, the 2015 Parade will feature six new floats, including Big City Cheer! by Spirit of America Productions, The Colonel’s Road Trip to NYC by Kentucky Fried Chicken, The Cranberry Cooperative by Ocean Spray®, Discover Adventure! by Build-A-Bear, Heartwarming Holiday Countdown by Hallmark Channel and celebrating the 50th anniversary of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” Snoopy’s Doghouse by Peanuts Worldwide.


Pictured from left to right in front of a Ram 2500 are Todd Brown, Ram 1500 brand manager, and John Piper, VP of Macy’s Studio.

About Ram Truck Brand
Since its launch as a stand-alone division in 2009, the Ram Truck Brand has steadily emerged as an industry leader with one goal: to build the best pickup trucks and commercial vehicles in the industry.Creating a distinct identity for Ram Trucks has allowed the brand to concentrate on core customers and features they find valuable. Whether focusing on a family that uses a Ram 1500 day in and day out, a hard-working Ram 3500 Heavy Duty owner or a business that depends on its Ram ProMaster commercial van every day for deliveries, Ram has the truck market covered.In order to be the best, it takes a commitment to innovation, capability, efficiency and durability. Ram Truck invests substantially in its products, infusing them with great looks, refined interiors, durable engines and exclusive features that further enhance their capabilities.

Moving into the 2016 model year, Ram continues to beat the competition in the most sought-after titles, fuel economy, payload and towing capacity:

  • Best-in-class fuel economy with exclusive EcoDiesel – 29 mpg with Ram 1500
  • Best-in-class towing capability – 31,210 pounds with Ram 3500
  • Best-in-class payload – 7,390 pounds with Ram 3500
  • Best-in-class torque – 900 lb.-ft. with Ram 3500 Cummins Turbo Diesel

Truck customers, from half-ton to commercial, have a demanding range of needs and require their vehicles to provide high levels of capability. Ram trucks are designed to deliver a total package.

Press release and photos provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Holidays on Alabama’s Gulf Coast are Worry-Free

Alabamians know the beauty of the state’s gorgeous coastal beaches, but what some miss out on are the hassle-free holidays that can be spent there!


Traditions are fabulous, but sometimes a new tradition may be just the ticket for relaxation and family together time during this sometimes stressful season of the year. A trip to Gulf Shores or Orange Beach during the holiday season offers rewarding moments and I’ve listed a few here for your consideration.

  1. If you insist on your own holiday family meal with your own treasured recipes, then a condo with a full kitchen can still allow for that. Added value – eating that beautiful meal on a balcony overlooking the ocean.
    The gorgeous lobby of Cayman Grill.
  2. If you need a break from cooking, then check out several area restaurants who will prepare a Thanksgiving feast for your family. Cobalts, Voyagers at Perdido Beach Resort, Hazel’s and Cayman Grill are just to name a few serving full Thanksgiving meals. For a complete list, visit http://www.gulfshores.com/!userfiles/11-13.Thanksgiving%20dining%20flyer%202015.pdf. Added value – no one has to do dishes!


    Relaxing pool at San Carlos – a Young’s Suncoast Rental Property.

  3. DEALS this time of year make it a budget-friendly time to get away! For instance: Young’s Suncoast Realty and Vacation Rentals is offering a Thanksgiving Package (11/23/15 – 11/30/15) with 25% off rates on three – six night stays PLUS FREE attraction tickets (for things like Dolphin Cruises or paddleboarding)! Get full details at http://www.gulfshores.com/details/thanksgiving-package–25-off-3-6-night-stays-plus-attraction-tickets/686/defaultPackages.aspx. Added value – an easy-on-the-wallet-yet-spontaneous trip!


    Family together time on Alabama’s sugar-white beaches.

  4. Getting the whole family together can be tricky, but sometimes when there’s a beach trip involved, it is more enticing. Everyone loves to get away and have a few days to rest and unwind especially leading up to the hectic holidays. Alabamians from any point in the state have no more than a six hour drive to the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area. To see directions from where you are, visit http://www.gulfshores.com/travel-tools/maps-directions/. Added value – family together time. 2015-09-26 15.27.18
  5. The weather is still awesome in Alabama’s coastal community even in November. You can expect weather in the 60s which is warm considering the rest of the state can be anywhere from high 30s to 50s this time of year. For complete weather information, check out http://www.gulfshores.com/travel-tools/weather/. Added value – longer shorts-wearing season!

Five fabulous and family-friendly 2015 Toyota Highlander attributes

2015 Toyota Highlander Limited Platinum AWD
Class: Standard SUV
Fuel Economy: 18/24
Base Price: $43,790


Toyota is no stranger to the successful creation of family vehicles and the 2015 Highlander is certainly no exception. Made for everyday family functions as well as comfort for traveling and vacationing, the Highlander appeals across the board to many different people with varying interests and vehicle needs.

The engine in the Highlander is sized perfectly to match the weight and build of the vehicle supplying 270 horsepower via a 3.5-liter V6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 5000-pound towing capacity. Taking the Highlander on a quick road trip from Birmingham to Atlanta allowed me to check out the power with interstate driving and it was absolutely up to the challenge! Also noted was the smooth road handling and increased mileage on the highway (I averaged 20.9 mpg up from 14.6 mpg experienced in the stop-and-go city traffic).

Aside from the exterior smooth lines that, branded with the iconic Toyota badges, make it recognizable to all as an established brand of dependable family traveling machines, Toyota has some other fun things to brag about in the Highlander. Let’s take a look at five of them now.

1. Interior comfort is excellent! Large, soft bucket seats with premium leather in the front and middle seating areas offer roominess all throughout the front two-thirds of the vehicle. And seat warmers (even in the second row) are a well-used amenity when the weather is chilly. Lastly, parents will appreciate the overwhelming presence of cup holders to accommodate all the many sippy cups, water bottles and juice boxes that tend to accompany families in their cars.


2. The soft nighttime glows across the dashboard in hues of blue were not only eye-pleasing, but also subtle enough to make the cockpit a bit more upscale in appearance. I loved this take on the front cabin lighting.

3. My children are older (and larger) so the third row is more helpful folded down for suitcases and storage than seating, but for families with younger kids, that third row is easily accessible when needed for seating. And, it is so easy to fold the back seats down to make room for groceries, sports equipment, strollers and other everyday essentials.


4. Safety is a given with tons of air bags, great crash test ratings and lots of extras. Among those extras are things like anti-lock brakes; rear backup camera; and blind spot monitoring. No parent wants to sacrifice safety for any other feature on a car and Toyota does a really good job of making sure that their cars, trucks and SUVs have this topic top of mind.


5. The controls were straightforward and easy to operate, but look so fancy! For folks who like gizmos and gadgets, the “look” of that is there, but with ease of operation for those of us who enjoy technology on a user-friendly level. I’m always amazed at how quickly the children pick up on how to operate all of the vehicle controls (radio, temperature, entertainment, etc.).

I’m often asked by friends and family, what vehicle is reliable and safe for families…and Toyota is always at the top of that list. Hopefully, this gives a bit more of an insiders look at the Highlander. Aside from that, how can you not love a family-friendly SUV like this one, especially when the color is Ooh La La Rouge Mica? As always, don’t take my word for it. Get out and drive one for yourself. Mom will love the power rear liftgate, cup holders and upscale interior. Dad will love the powerful engine and ability to tow the toys to the lake. And the kids will love the comfort and space they have when moving to and fro. It’s a win-win for Toyota!

Photos courtesy of Toyota USA.

Norwegian’s Freestyle Choice is Back Through End of 2015

Norwegian Cruise Line presents popular Freestyle Choice promotion and special offers on holiday and South America Sailings available through December 31

If you’ve been looking to cruise like a Norwegian in the next month or so, this may be the moment you’ve been waiting for! With added incentives and the popular Freestyle choice back through the end of the year, it just might be good timing for your next vacation! The press release below is from Norwegian and outlines the current offerings.

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Norwegian Cruise Line’s popular Freestyle Choice promotion is back for November and December, providing guests with more choices to create their ideal cruise vacation offering, up to $1,500 in added value offers to enhance their cruising experience when they book a new cruise vacation now through December 31.

Guests who book a new three through 16-day cruise† in any category stateroom on any sailing more than 30 days prior to departure will have the freedom to select one of four great offers to enhance their cruising experience, including a free Ultimate Beverage Package*, a free Specialty Dining Package*, free $50 per port shore excursion credits in up to four ports, or a free 250 minute WiFi package**. Guests who book a suite or The Haven by Norwegian™ will receive all four offers, making their cruise an all-inclusive experience.

In addition to Norwegian’s Freestyle Choice, guests who book a new cruise vacation in November on one of Norwegian Sun’s magnificent South America sailings will receive $100 in onboard credit on select sail dates. Also in addition to Norwegian’s Freestyle Choice, those looking to enjoy some cruising cheer this holiday season can receive up to $200*** in onboard credit when they book one of Norwegian’s select Christmas sailings. To top it all off, those who book a new cruise vacation during the month of November will enjoy reduced deposits for all sailings through the end of June 2016.

Norwegian’s Freestyle ships allow guests to visit the destinations of their dreams with the freedom and flexibility to dine when they want, indulge how they want, laugh how they want or relax how they want. To book a cruise during Norwegian’s Freestyle Choice, contact a travel professional, call Norwegian at 866-NCL-CRUISE (625-2784), or visit www.ncl.com/FreeChoice.

Offer valid for US residents only and terms based on itinerary and stateroom category booked. All Pride of America sailings are not eligible for offer. All Norwegian Sky cruises beginning January 1, 2016 are not eligible for offer. All sailings booked less than 30 days prior to sail date are not eligible for offer.

*Guests are responsible for an 18% gratuity for Specialty Dining Package, Ultimate Beverage Package, or the Soda Package, with pricing based on number of cruise nights. Suites or Haven guests will not be responsible for the 18% gratuities related to the Ultimate Dining Package, Ultimate Beverage Package, or the Soda Package.

** One login per stateroom. On Norwegian Breakaway, stateroom receives an internet package of 100/250 minutes or 300/1000 MB of data respectively.

***Amount of onboard credit based on stateroom category.

Give the gal a truck…or, even better, give her a GMC Sierra!

2015 GMC Sierra 1500 2WD Double Cab
Class: Standard pickup trucks
Fuel Economy: 16/23
Base Price: $30,695

2015 GMC Sierra Elevation Edition

2015 GMC Sierra Elevation Edition

Stereotypically, trucks are designed with guys in mind – work trucks with heavy-duty job-site-appropriate amenities and capacities come to mind quickly. However, the truck segment is rapidly gaining female drivers with the influence of luxury interior choices, room for the family inside the cab, nice trim level options and technology-friendly gadgets. Whatever the reason, gals are giving second looks to full-size pickup segment like the GMC Sierra!

The interior on the 2015 GMC Sierra SLT has more functional storage than ever before. The center console alone offers 35.2L of reconfigurable storage.

The interior on the 2015 GMC Sierra SLT has more functional storage than ever before. The center console alone offers 35.2L of reconfigurable storage.

The 2015 GMC Sierra saw few exterior changes from the previous year model, but I did notice an overhaul on the interior as well as the offering of engine variety. Still a work horse? You betcha! Can you successfully turn this truck into a family vehicle for mom (or dad)? You betcha!

Three, count ‘em…three engine options are available on the 2015 Sierra including the one in the test model that I drove, a 5.3-liter V8 with 355-hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. I thought the output was more than sufficient for the size pickup offering the perfect amount of power for the highway driving that I regularly do. I didn’t feel like it was too much nor did I feel like it was lacking. Forgive the Goldilocks-like conclusion, but it was just right! I live in a neighborhood filled with hills and valleys and the engine adaption proved perfect for my everyday travels.

The other two engine options are a 4.3-liter V6 with 285-hp and 305 lb-ft of torque and an extremely powerful 6.2-liter V8 with 420-hp and 460 lb-ft of torque.

The interior on the 2015 GMC Sierra SLT has an upright instrument panel with clear, easy to use controls.

The interior on the 2015 GMC Sierra SLT has an upright instrument panel with clear, easy to use controls.

There are several choices for trim levels on the 2015 Sierra, and they include some things that you may or may not be willing to do without, so choose carefully. My test model was onyx black and the package that was on it featured some things that I actually found to be rather attractive to the overall exterior appeal of the truck: body color on things like mirror caps, bumpers, door handles and grill; deep-tinted glass; and blacked out wheels. If I had driven a lesser trim line, I might not have realized the differences that these individual features contributed, but since I did, I want them! They add so much to the appearance in my opinion.

My non-negotiable list may be different than yours, but I love certain amenities on my rides including: a power sunroof, navigation (I’m geographically challenged folks) and I discovered how much I love a 4-wheel drive during last year’s ice and snow storm. I also like safety features, so the lane departure warning is great.

2015 GMC Sierra SLT has an available integrated Corner Step that along with a hand grips in the box side rail allows easy access to the bed.

2015 GMC Sierra SLT has an available integrated Corner Step that along with a hand grips in the box side rail allows easy access to the bed.

As far as snooping around the interior, it was super inviting! Comfortable seating for a family of four, a center-mounted LCD screen, tech-friendly USB ports, navigation (on my must-have list), superb audio quality and (yes this is clearly the mom side of me coming out) lots of cup holders along with a large center space for storage. I didn’t feel like I gave up any “family” features moving from a sedan to a pickup truck. Plus that awesome truck bed with a sprayed on bed liner and a locking tailgate, and corner steps (extra boost to help you up on the back) completed the package!

Safe, efficient and just plain fun to drive…give this gal a GMC Sierra truck!

Please visit www.gmc.com and take a look or better yet, go for a test drive at your local dealership.

Photos courtesy of GMC.

Mercedes-Benz makes a mark with the E400 Cabriolet

2015 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet
Class: Subcompact cars
Fuel Economy: 20/29
Base Price: $61,350

A luxurious automaker can easily court the buyer with a gorgeous body and sassy convertible style, but sealing the deal comes with quality, performance and amenities. How does the Mercedes E400 stack up in this arena?

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA.

Mercedes-Benz continues to dominate the luxury car market thanks in part to the updated 2015 E400 Cabriolet with its upscale amenities, seating for four folks and high-performance engine. While some folks (finger pointing at myself) were happy with the previous 302-hp V6 engine, Mercedes opted to replace it with a 329-hp 3.0-liter V6 turbocharged model offering a little more umph with a tap of the gas pedal. The powerful engine calms my interstate merging fears and tackles any worries about aggressive driving situations. This convertible will turn the heads of the competition and allow you to arrive in style!

One question that I am often asked is this: Is the cost of the car in line with what it offers? Referencing this particular vehicle (the 2015 Mercedes-Benz E400 Cabriolet), my answer is a resounding YES! Quality is never spared with an interior sporting top-notch craftsmanship as this one. The amenity list is long and includes such functional items as push-button start and navigation which are counted as essentials to most luxury car drivers. On a personal note, I love the use of an analog clock on the dashboard…a little vintage touch that resonates with a classy car.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz USA.

This particular vehicle has the fuel-saving function that starts and stops in a manner similar to that of a hybrid. I have driven a few cars with this feature and sometimes the obnoxious noise that seems to accompany is less than desirable. However, Mercedes seems to have figured it out and it’s a very quiet transition with the E400.

Are you in the market for a luxury convertible? Take this one for a spin. The lavish interior is a plus, the sexy exterior is a must and the engine is an added bonus.

Bid on trips and travel paraphernalia

Easy bidding for worldwide travel


Do you love to travel? Does finding a good deal on travel make you excited? Hey, me too! You’ll want to make sure and check out this fabulous opportunity to bid on these travel-related auction items! I have my eye on a couple of trips!

When professional travel writers organize a travel auction, you can count on some interesting items, and that’s the case with the online Society of American Travel Writers auction that is in progress through Nov. 8. It is open to bidding from anyone at Events.ReadySetAuction.com/satw/2015.

Items include a Maine windjammer vacation, a VIA Rail trip across Canada, golf in Scotland, lift tickets at Deer Valley in Utah, rafting on the Chattooga River, a rodeo in Amarillo, Caribbean hotel stays, attractions and dinner in Charleston, a barbecue tour in Birmingham and Dollywood tickets as part of a Pigeon Forge vacation. It’s a long list.

Good luck and happy bidding!

Infiniti QX80 keeps sexy in the SUV market

2015 Infiniti QX80 Limited
Class: Standard SUV
Fuel Economy: 14/20
Base Price: $63,250

Everyone is partial to a certain type of vehicle and for me it’s an SUV. Maybe it’s because I have four children, and even though they are now in their 20s, it’s nice to be able to travel together whether it’s out to eat or on a road trip. The 2015 Infiniti QX80 (new badge for the QX56) Limited caters to my “love” offering the most premium SUV available.


Wondering what’s new on the 2015 model? Rich color schemes and a full complement of luxury and safety innovations for starters, and much more, as you can see from the list below:

  • New QX80 Limited with unique exterior highlights, ultra-luxury interior and state-of-the-art entertainment and safety technology
  • New Infiniti-signature front fascia and grille, LED headlights and fog lights
  • New bright finish side rearview mirror covers (Deluxe Technology package only)
  • Revised 20-inch and 22-inch aluminum-alloy wheel designs
  • New fully integrated rear bumper protector, flush surface front and rear sonar sensors
  • Three new exterior colors: Hermosa Blue, Graphite Shadow and Majestic White (Moonlight White and Platinum Graphite no longer available)
  • Revised interior grade level content, with greater visual differentiation between trim offerings – with Mocha Burl trim replacing the previous Tuscan Burl and new Stratford Burl trim added to Deluxe Technology Package
  • New available technologies include Predictive Forward Collision Warning (PFCW) and standard High Beam Assist
  • Two new option packages: Driver Assistance Package and Deluxe Technology Package
  • Offered in two models: QX80 and QX80 AWD

Vehicles of yesteryear
Vehicles go through cycles just like everything else. Back in the 90s, station wagons started fading and SUVs took over with a bang. Later on, gas prices soared and it became hard for many to maintain the trips to the gas station required by an SUV. For folks like me, in the heyday of childrearing, I needed an SUV…and more than that…I wanted an SUV!


Today, crossovers have made a big splash, but there are still sophisticated products available that enrich the large SUV market and keep it sexy…like the QX80. Eight passenger capacity and heavy duty design make this Infiniti melt my heart. Throw in an amenity package that sets a new standard for tech savvy drivers, extra power for my highway life, a luxurious interior and a curvy exterior and I’m sold!


A few of my favorite things
The engine in this more-than-two-ton SUV requires something powerful like a 400-hp 5.6-liter V-8 with a seven-speed automatic transmission. Yea, that ought do it!

The exterior redesign is gorgeous with a new grille and lighting enhancements. The QX80 demands to be noticed in a crowd or alone.

The interior craftsmanship is second to none. The seats are amazingly comfortable and all amenities are well thought out with rich colors and premium materials.

Innovative technologies are fantastic with the 13-speaker Bose system being at the top of that list and closely followed by rear camera (for safety), blind-spot warning and Bluetooth capabilities.


Infiniti is already known for producing safe, reliable, family vehicles, but this one is over the top! They have really returned sexy to the SUV segment and have taken back a market share that was seemingly lost.

Puerto Vallarta Hosts 21st International Gourmet Festival

México’s Top Culinary Beach Destination Will Host Thousands During 7 Day Event

Puerto Vallarta's River Cafe setting the mood for the 21st Gourmet Festival.

Puerto Vallarta’s River Cafe setting the mood for the 21st Gourmet Festival.

Puerto Vallarta, México’s leading culinary beach destination, is ready to once again host the International Gourmet Festival, now on its 21st edition and taking place from November 16-22.

Over 30 world-renown chefs, including Chef Andreas Fischer (Germany), Daniel Eardley (USA), Nic Vanderbeeken (Belgium) and Yerika Muñoz (México), will offer a-la-carte gourmet dining, chef’s tables, gourmet safaris and wine tastings on a daily basis.

“The International Gourmet Festival is an event that has continued to grow each year and every year more and more international chefs want to participate” said founding chef Thierry Blouet. “This year’s guest chefs have between 14 and 17 Gault Millau points and have worked at restaurants with at least three Michelin stars.”

During the 7-day festival, Puerto Vallarta will host international chefs in some of the destination’s most popular restaurants and hotels. The opening event will take place at the white-bathed gourmet restaurant La Leche and its closing will take place at the trendy Sapphire Beach Club overlooking the Bay of Banderas.

Other participating restaurants include Café Des Artistes, Emiliano, Kaiser Maximilian, La Palapa, Michel’s, The River Café, Trio, Vista Grill. In addition, participating hotel restaurants Include Velas Vallarta’s Andrea, Hilton Puerto Vallarta Resort’s Le Delice, Mikado’s at CasaMagna Marriott Puerto Vallarta Resort & Spa, La Corona at Villa Premiere Hotel & Spa and Hiroshi, located in the first 5 AAA Diamond property in the Pacific Cost – Hotel Mousai.

The festival has attracted over 400,000 gourmet fans and over 500 international chefs to Puerto Vallarta since 1995. This year‘s list program also includes restaurants from Puerto Vallarta’s surrounding areas, including Riviera Nayarit and Tepic.

Puerto Vallarta is home to over 300 restaurants, including six of the top 10 restaurants in México. According to TripAdvisor readers, Café Des Artistes, Vista Grill, Ocean Grill, Bistro Teresa, Le Kliff and Trío are all included in the Best Fine Dining Restaurants in México.

“Puerto Vallarta’s tropical and mountainous climates produce fresh and rich ingredients that attract many chefs and inspire them to create dishes the feature ingredients that that come from our waters, including Tuna, or from our mountains such as tropical fruits and artisan cheeses.”

For more information…
International Gourmet Festival

Puerto Vallarta

Press release courtesy of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Six things to love about the Dodge Charger

2015 Dodge Charger R/T
Fuel Economy: 16/25
Class: Large Cars
Base Price: $33,595

2015 Dodge Charger R/T

If you have fallen in love with the 2015 Charger, it might be thanks to the four-door Dodge icon’s full-body makeover. Additional changes include a remarkable lineup of expanded powertrains and a new state-of-the-art eight-speed automatic transmission. This car is fast, fun and comes with a load of memories for those of us who have been longtime Charger fans!

No matter if you love the Charger like this auto diva does for the rugged good looks and hot rod style performance or if you love just tooling around in something easily recognizable by the masses, you’ll probably agree with my six things to love about the Dodge Charger!

2015 Dodge Charger R/T

1. The powerful engine spits me out in traffic like nobody’s business! Never is there a worry about stalling or not having the horsepower to contend with high-speed interstate traffic. The engine is a sound 5.7-liter V8 HEMI with 370-horsepower, combining the engine’s four-cylinder mode Fuel Saver Technology with three additional gears from the TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission for maximum performance, efficiency and 0-60 mile per hour performance in the high 5-second range.

2015 Dodge Charger R/T

2. The new exterior façade is attractive while still holding that familiar appeal for past and present admirers. Everything about the exterior look is new from the fenders and doors to the three-piece spoiler and signature LED racetrack tail lamps.
3. The interior is roomier than expected making it a strong possibility for a family car! Who wouldn’t love that?

2015 Dodge Charger R/T

4. The instrument panel center stack offers next-generation radio and a 5.0 touchscreen or 8.4-inch touchscreen display with available 3-D navigation. Easy-to-operate yet the feel of a cockpit – perfect!
5. It’s a safe vehicle boasting multiple airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, hill assist and tire pressure monitoring. In fact, the Charger offers more than 80 safety and security measures – YOWZA!

2015 Dodge Charger R/T

6. The audio system is amazing and the innovative technology in this car goes beyond what is expected with regard to apps and connectivity. All of these advances really contribute to the overall appeal of the Charger.

2015 Dodge Charger R/T

This is a not only a fully functional, iconic car for single folks striving to impress, but also a safe car with the amenities that a family looks for. Either way, it just might be the ticket to ramping up your lifestyle! Check out the Dodge Charger online at http://www.dodge.com/charger or better yet, drive one today at your local dealership.

Photos courtesy of Dodge.

Fall Trips as seen on Fox 6

Have you considered taking a fall vacation, but not sure where to go? Here are some fabulous options to consider:

2015-09-26 15.27.18

The Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Area:
Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast offers great lodging values in the fall while giving vacationers all the amenities they expect. The beaches and water are more enjoyable with slightly cooler temperatures, restaurants offer a shorter wait time and everything is still running wide open (i.e. water sports, charter boats, parasailing, etc.). For more information and ideas, please visit http://www.gulfshores.com.

Great deals on lodging this fall include specials from Young’s Suncoast (http://www.youngssuncoast.com). Click on the HOT DEALS button or call them and they’ll hook you up with an amazing deal at a fantastic unit like this one at San Carlos! It’s right on the beach and the amenities are perfect for a family.

Perdido Beach Resort is the ticket for luxury hotel accommodations right on the beach in Orange Beach, Alabama. Check out http://www.perdidobeachresort.com and click on the BEST AVAILABLE rate to enjoy an amazing stay right on the Gulf of Mexico. FREE parking, FREE wifi, on-site restaurants and service as good as the amenities.

Also, check out GROUPON just type in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach and find deals on rooms, condos, restaurants and activities!

Helen GA 0611 052 low res

Oktoberfest in Helen, GA:
The heart of Bavaria in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia is where celebrations of German heritage have taken off for those looking for an affordable, fun Oktoberfest. Replicating a small German town, this walkable community offers lots of lodging accommodations and unique shopping along with the 45th annual Oktoberfest – Helen’s biggest celebration! Enjoy German music, food, beer gardens, and dancing things like the waltz, polka and the Chicken Dance! It is only a short 3 ½ hour drive from central Alabama and is well worth the value-packed vacation! For more information or to plan your trip, visit http://www.helenga.org.

Norwegian Sky photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Norwegian Sky photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Fall Cruises:
Fall is the perfect time to check out a cruise for a fraction of the normal rate. Why? Kids are back in school, demand is down and they need to fill up the rooms. Keep in mind, however, prices are subject to change at any time without notice just like airfare. If you are interested, book as soon as possible! Call your travel agent or go to http://www.ncl.com.

If you haven’t cruised before, a shorter itinerary is the way to check it out and see if you like it. Here is one to look at: The Norwegian Sky – Four nights from Miami to the Bahamas 80% off the regular rate – inside cabins from $199pp and oceanviews from $299. This price does not include taxes and port fees. It is a little bit of an older ship being built in 1999 but it had a major refurb in 2013, so it’s totally modern and renovated. A couple of dates to choose from are November 2nd or 9th.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World.

Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World.

Theme Park Values:
Walt Disney World and other Orlando destination theme parks are a fit for fall travel if you can get the kids out of school! Why? Well, ticket prices don’t fluctuate much, so what you are looking for in terms of saving money is value-priced accommodations and the fall is the time to do that. Check out your favorite Disney resorts to see if specials are running or check with your travel agent who can be a huge FREE resource for planning a trip like this. For more information on WDW, check out https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/.


Rosemary Beach (Highway 30-A Florida):
The award-winning seaside community of Rosemary Beach is a highly sought after vacation destination. An upscale property, many folks wait all year for a discount at Rosemary Beach…and here’s your chance! Now through October 31, book online (www.rosemarybeach.com) using code 2020 for 20% off! *some exclusions may apply, see website for clarification.

Also, keep an eye on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/thetravelvoicebybecky) where I post lots of deals and specials from time to time!

Carnival returns to the Port of Mobile in Fall 2016

Alabamians, along with fellow southerners, have long awaited the announcement of a new ship homeporting in the Port of Mobile and today that becomes reality. Carnival Cruise Line once again teams up with the port to bring cruise vacations back to Sweet Home Alabama. The press release below was officially released by Carnival today and outlines the plan of return to Mobile.


2,056-Passenger Vessel to Undergo Multi-Million-Dollar Dry Dock
Prior to Launching Four- and Five-Day Departures From Mobile In November 2016

Carnival Fantasy courtesy of CCL.

Carnival Fantasy courtesy of CCL.

Carnival Cruise Line and the City of Mobile recently announced that the Carnival Fantasy will operate a year-long schedule of four- and five-day cruises to Mexico from the Mobile Cruise Terminal beginning in fall 2016.

Prior to its deployment to Mobile, the 2,056-passenger Carnival Fantasy will undergo a multi-million-dollar refurbishment that will add several elements of the cruise line’s popular Fun Ship 2.0 product enhancement program, including Guy’s Burger Joint, developed in tandem with Food Network star Guy Fieri, two poolside watering holes, the RedFrog Rum Bar and BlueIguana Tequila Bar, and the BlueIguana Cantina Mexican-themed eatery.

On its new schedule from Mobile, Carnival Fantasy will offer four-day cruises to Cozumel and five-day cruises to Cozumel and Costa Maya or Progreso from November 2016 to November 2017.

“Carnival Fantasy’s four- and five-day cruises from Mobile provide consumers with an affordable way to visit stunning Mexican ports from a convenient homeport while offering our valued travel agent partners an exciting new short vacation option to market to their clients,” said Christine Duffy, Carnival’s president. “We’ve been working very closely with the port and city officials to make these cruises a reality and wish to thank Mayor Stimpson and his team for not only all their hard work but also for creating a welcoming and positive environment that makes these cruises an attractive option for today’s consumers,” she said.

Official signing of the contract between Carnival Cruise Line and the Port of Mobile.

Official signing of the contract between Carnival Cruise Line and the Port of Mobile.

“We are pleased and excited to welcome Carnival Cruise Line back to Mobile,” said Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “This agreement has been a priority since the day we took office. It represents a win for our City, a win for Carnival and most of all a win for the thousands of consumers who can once again enjoy a great cruise out of one of America’s greatest cities. We are building something special in Mobile, and this renewed partnership is evidence of that momentum.”

Year-Long Schedule of Four- and Five-Day Cruises from Mobile
Carnival Fantasy’s Mobile-based program kicks off Nov. 9, 2016 and will run through Nov. 27, 2017.
On this route, Carnival Fantasy departs the Mobile Cruise Terminal Thursdays on four-day “long weekend” cruises to Cozumel and on Mondays and Saturdays on five-day voyages to Costa Maya or Progreso. Each of these destinations are popular for their beautiful white sand beaches, interesting historical sites and attractions, and excellent snorkeling, scuba diving and water sports. During the day-long call in Progreso, guests have the opportunity to visit Chichen Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and while in Cozumel guests can visit ancient Mayan ruins or enjoy the destination’s wide range of shopping and dining experiences. At Costa Maya guests can explore the centuries-old Chacchoben ruins or visit the Lost Mayan Kingdom, a multi-million-dollar water-themed attraction currently under construction that will feature spectacular slides, an elaborate lazy river, a suspended ropes course that spans the property and more.

Wide Variety of On-Board Choices
Carnival Fantasy will undergo a multi-million-dollar refurbishment in early 2016 that will add a number of terrific onboard options. These include Guy’s Burger Joint, a complimentary poolside dining venue serving handcrafted burgers and fries created by the poplar chef and restaurateur, all enjoyed amidst lively interiors that celebrate Fieri’s California roots and love of car culture.


Located adjacent to Guy’s Burger Joint is the BlueIguana Cantina offering authentic handmade burritos and tacos along with an elaborate toppings and salsa bar. Also located poolside is the Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Rum Bar offering the region’s top rums and beers as well as the BlueIguana Tequila Bar with margaritas, Mexican beers and other frosty libations.

The WaterWorks aqua park on Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Breeze is a main feature of the featuring  a 312-foot-long Twister waterslide, right, and the DrainPipe slide attraction (left). Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

The WaterWorks aqua park on Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Breeze is a main feature of the featuring a 312-foot-long Twister waterslide, right, and the DrainPipe slide attraction (left). Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival Fantasy also features a 12,000-square-foot spa, a WaterWorks aqua park featuring a 300-foot-long slide and a kiddie splash area, and a Serenity adults-only retreat, as well as fun, supervised programs for kids ages 2-17, full casino gambling and a wide array of dining options, including a 24-hour pizzeria.

Additional Information and Reservations
Reservations are currently being accepted for Carnival Fantasy’s departures from Mobile. For additional information on these voyages, contact any travel agent, call 1-800-CARNIVAL or visit carnival.com. Carnival can also be found on:
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/carnivalcruise
Facebook Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/carnival
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/carnival
Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/carnival

Norwegian Escape cruises along the Ems River

I cannot wait to meet the Norwegian Escape who begins regular sailings to the Caribbean in mid-November of this year! She is packed with adventure from one end to the other and bears the hull artwork of Guy Harvey. She’s bound to be a hit! Read the latest regarding her progress from Norwegian Cruise Line’s press release below.

Norwegian Escape is moving about and looking good!

Norwegian Escape is moving about and looking good!

Norwegian Escape, soon to be the largest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, departed MEYER WERFT in Papenburg, Germany on Friday, September 18, 2015 for her approximately 24-hour long conveyance along the Ems River.

Norwegian Escape’s river conveyance marks another key milestone in the ship’s highly anticipated delivery. Measuring 1069 feet long and 136 feet wide, the ship is the first in the line’s Breakaway Plus class. Three additional ships in the class are on order at Meyer Werft.

“After seeing firsthand this week how spectacular Norwegian Escape already looks, I am thrilled that she is officially on her journey to welcome guests next month,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief operating officer of Norwegian Cruise Line. “As the first Breakaway Plus class ship, she will offer the very best in freedom and flexibility for our guests and we cannot wait to officially welcome her to the fleet.”

Sailing backwards, Norwegian Escape left MEYER WERFT at approximately 2:00 pm (local time in Germany), and made a narrow passage through the ship yard’s locks, with only 1.2 meters clearance separating the ship from the “bumpers” that were specially installed along the starboard side of the locks. This very careful maneuver took approximately 2 hours at a maximum speed of only 0.2 knots. The precise navigation included a team of two located on the bridge, with one navigation officer in charge of overseeing the bow maneuvers and the other overseeing the movement of the stern, led by experience River Ems pilots.

After passing through the locks, Norwegian Escape continued along the river, stern first. Due to the strong propulsion in the aft section of the vessel, traveling stern first helps with maneuverability, which is a key component when navigating the vessel through such narrow passages.

Before reaching her final destination in Eemshaven, Netherlands at approximately 12:30 pm (local time in Germany) on Saturday, September 19, Norwegian Escape will pass through additional narrow passages including the Weener Bridge in Weener; Jann-Berghaus Bridge in Leer; and Ems-Barrier in Gandersum. Once the ship reaches Eemshaven, she will take on additional provisions and materials to welcome guests in late October, before heading toward the North Sea for sea trials later this month.

Norwegian Escape, soon to be the largest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, will sail weekly seven-day cruises from her year-round homeport of Miami to the Eastern Caribbean beginning on November 14, 2015. The 164,600 gross ton ship will be the largest ever to home port year-round in Miami, carrying 4,200 guests to tropical Caribbean destinations including St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Nassau, Bahamas.

Want to learn more about Norwegian Escape’s luxurious accommodations, as well as its distinctive dining, entertainment, shopping and leisure options? Check out the super cool video by clicking here.

Photo credit: Patrick Buß

Keeping vacation dollars in Sweet Home Alabama

There are two things about me that are constant: I am a born and bred Alabama gal, and I love the beach! I have traveled to beaches near and far, and while I have enjoyed some amazing destinations, Alabama coastal beaches continue to impress me. And, it’s always cool to keep vacation dollars within the state!

Five reasons to visit Alabama beaches in the fall:
1. The sand is the most gorgeous sugary-white color and the texture is so awesome to sift between your toes. Have you ever walked on sand that hurt your feet? Not on Alabama’s Gulf Coast!
2. The water offers amazing azure blue hues juxtaposing the awesome sandy beach creating a scene that’s postcard perfect!
3. The temperatures are great in the fall season and much less humidity affords vacationers a wonderful opportunity to spend more time outdoors without feeling scorched.
4. The lines at the restaurants are MUCH LESS this time of year! Fall (and spring, the other shoulder season) is the absolute best time to try those tempting seafood hideaways without waiting hours for a table!
5. Most everything is still running with full service throughout fall including charter boat rentals and water sports. You’ll find that lots of these activities are offered at reduced prices this time of year as well.

While in the Gulf Shores / Orange Beach area, take a sail on Wild Hearts! Check them out at www.sailwildhearts.com.

While in the Gulf Shores / Orange Beach area, take a sail on Wild Hearts! Check them out at http://www.sailwildhearts.com.

I encourage my fellow Alabamians to consider keeping their vacation dollars in our state and if fall is a viable travel option, then check out the coastal fun and frolic! It’s absolutely my favorite time to visit Gulf Shores and Orange Beach destinations. It’s the best of both worlds – all the beauty is still there along with the fabulous culinary treats, but prices are more affordable and temperatures are more bearable.

Best-in-Class 2016 Nissan LEAF offers 107 Mile Range

Who doesn’t love amazing gas mileage in a fun-to-drive package from the makers of Nissan? This press release (courtesy of Nissan) explains the newest LEAF model coming for 2016.

LEAF photo courtesy of Nissan.

LEAF photo courtesy of Nissan.

NissanConnectSM with Mobile Apps now standard on all models; NissanConnect EV upgraded for LEAF SV and SL; new premium colors available

Nissan recently introduced the 2016 all-electric LEAF with an available 30 kWh battery that provides an EPA-estimated best-in-class* range of 107** miles – a 27-percent increase over the previous 24 kWH battery. The new battery is standard for LEAF SV and LEAF SL models. The 2016 model also offers an enhanced IT system that is more user-friendly and gives drivers greater vehicle connectivity

“Since Nissan LEAF launched in December 2010, we’ve become the global leaders in electric vehicle (EV) sales with an all-electric car specifically designed for the mass market,” said Andrew Speaker, director, Nissan Electric Vehicle (EV) Sales & Marketing. “We know that to maintain that leadership, we must continue developing battery technology that strikes that ideal balance between capacity, packaging, durability and affordability.

The 2016 Nissan LEAF has a starting price of $26,700*** after the federal tax credit of $7,500 for the SV model and $29,290*** for LEAF SL after the federal tax credit. LEAF S models continue to be equipped with a 24 kWh battery with an EPA-estimated range of 84* miles. Starting price for 2015 Nissan LEAF S grade remains $21,510** after the federal tax incentive.

All LEAF models feature an 80kW AC synchronous motor that generates 107 horsepower and 187 lb-ft of torque, providing a highly responsive, fun-to-drive experience that consumers often expect from traditional, gasoline-powered vehicles. Unlike internal combustion engine-equipped vehicles, LEAF has no tailpipe, which means there is no emission of CO2 or other greenhouse gases.

“The new battery is just one of several enhancements for the 2016 LEAF,” said Speaker. “We’re also bringing audio and connectivity upgrades by adding NissanConnect with Mobile Apps with 5.0-inch color display as standard features for LEAF S models, and for SV and SL grades we are offering NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps–featuring a 7.0-inch color display with multi-touch control and Nissan Voice Recognition as standard features.”

The NissanConnect with Mobile Apps system for 2016 LEAF S includes Bluetooth® Hands-free Phone System, Streaming audio via Bluetooth®, Hands-free Text Messaging Assistant and USB connection port for iPod® interface and other compatible devices.

NissanConnect with Navigation and Mobile Apps for SV and SL grades include a 7.0-inch color display with multi-touch control, Nissan Voice Recognition for navigation and audio, HD radio, and SiriusXM Travel Link™ for weather, fuel prices, movie listings, stock info and sports (SiriusXM subscription required, sold separately).

The menu screen graphics and customization process have been improved and charging screen information is now automatically updated every time the ignition is turned on and with every 12 miles of driving.

The NissanConnect EV system (no-charge subscription required), also standard on SV and SL grades, allows remote connection to the vehicle, providing monitoring of battery state-of-charge, start charging event control and turning on the heating and air conditioning system prior to entering the vehicle.

Nissan LEAF continues to offer the space and range to meet every day needs, while also providing an exceptional value proposition due to zero spending on gas, lower maintenance costs and a starting price after tax incentives competitive with a comparable gas-powered car. The 2016 model offers three new premium-look exterior colors: Forged Bronze, Coulis Red and Deep Blue Pearl.

Nissan LEAF and its battery are assembled in the United States at Nissan’s Smyrna, Tenn., assembly plant.

More information on Nissan in North America and the complete line of Nissan and Infiniti vehicles can be found online at www.NissanUSA.com and www.InfinitiUSA.com.

Carnival Liberty Update

Many of you may be following the events of this week on Carnival Liberty sailing from San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is never “convenient” for someone to have their vacation interrupted, but I am proud of Carnival for putting the best interest of the traveler first and offering solutions that not only provide for everyone’s safety, but also create options and compensation for those in this situation.

Here is the latest press release from Carnival Cruise Line:

Carnival Liberty photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

Carnival Liberty photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

The Carnival Liberty will be departing from St. Thomas this evening (September 10, 2015). The ship will proceed to its homeport of San Juan, Puerto Rico and is expected to arrive there tomorrow morning. The remaining guests on board will sail back to San Juan on the ship and have the option of staying on board through Sunday morning. Approximately 1,500 guests are presently still on the ship with the remainder having disembarked in St. Thomas to return home primarily via charter flights arranged by the cruise line.

All necessary authorities including the U.S. Coast Guard have provided permission for the vessel to sail. On Sunday, September 13, Carnival Liberty is scheduled to resume regular cruise service from San Juan.

Background information:
On Monday, September 7, while the ship was docked in St. Thomas, an engine fire occurred. There were no injuries to guests or crew as a result of the fire which was extinguished by the ship’s automated suppression system. All hotel services including air conditioning, elevators, toilets, galleys, etc. have remained functional throughout the week and the ship’s normal array of activities, entertainment, dining options and programming have been offered. All guests have been accommodated on board and have been free to enjoy the beaches, shopping, watersports and variety of activities available in St. Thomas while authorities conducted their review. Guests are receiving a full refund of their cruise as well as a 50 percent discount on a future cruise. This is in addition to a $150 per person credit that has already been applied to guests’ shipboard accounts.

We apologize to our guests for this unexpected disruption to their vacation and the inconvenience they have experienced.

Carnival Liberty departed San Juan on Sunday, September 6, for a seven-day Caribbean cruise with 3,346 guests and 1,150 crew on board.

Sandusky’s Cedar Point and Lake Erie Fun

Recently, my family and I visited Sandusky, Ohio and while I have already shared our wonderful experience at Kalahari Waterpark Resort, I have many more family fun experiences to share.

Castaway Bay
Sandusky, while it’s a small town, offers big time family fun in terms of indoor waterparks! Kalahari is home to America’s largest indoor water park, but the area also boasts Castaway Bay where we spent a couple of nights.

Indoor waterpark at Castaway Bay.

Indoor waterpark at Castaway Bay.

Castaway Bay is a Caribbean-inspired themed waterfront hotel where your indoor waterpark admission is included with your room. The waterpark is a tropical setting with a wave pool, water coaster, slides, kiddie play areas and other children’s activities including visits from Snoopy and his PEANUTS friends.

If the waterpark isn’t enough, check out the state-of-the-art arcade and retail shops. If you are including Cedar Point as part of your trip, then a stay at Castaway Bay (a Cedar Point property) offers the best ticket values as well as early park entry.

The view from my balcony at Castaway Bay.

The view from my balcony at Castaway Bay.

Castaway Bay has some 237 rooms and ours was perfect! Roomy for a hotel setting, we had a clean space with a little balcony looking over the water. Free Wi-Fi rounded out our needs…and there was ample parking closeby.

Quaker Steak & Lube retaurant

Quaker Steak & Lube retaurant

Another feature we loved about staying with Castaway Bay was its close proximity to Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant…so close that we thought they were one! Steps from the resort, we enjoyed two meals at this northern franchise that was new to us. If you guessed that the theme for this award-winning wings eatery was race cars, Quaker State and lube, then you were right! The wings were meaty and offered with a variety of sauces…and the Mac and Cheese Hamburger was scrumptious as well. We had so much fun with the ambiance of this restaurant and will definitely be looking for them more often in our travels.


Cedar Point Amusement Park
If you’ve ever watched the coaster specials on the Travel Channel, then you’ve likely seen Cedar Point – the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. Cedar Point features 17 coasters including Millennium Force, voted the number one steel coaster on the planet!

Cedar Point Amusement Park - Sandusky, OH.

Cedar Point Amusement Park – Sandusky, OH.

There is also a new for 2015 coaster, Rougarou, a floorless coaster that takes riders on an epic journey with feet dangling just inches above both the track and the waters below…thrilling to say the least! My family’s favorite coaster was the Dragster blasting off at massive rates of speed and headed straight up and straight back down right out of the shoot!

Snoopy-themed kids area at Cedar Point.

Snoopy-themed kids area at Cedar Point.

Aside from coasters, Cedar Point offers over one hundred rides and attractions with expansive kids’ areas (like Camp Snoopy). Snoopy and the gang also perform and make appearances to meet their young fans. Musical shows and entertainment round out the experiences at Cedar Point. **TIP** Starbucks at CP offers the same menu prices as normal Starbucks, so this is a great place to grab coffee, a refresher and perhaps a snack and save a little money!

Island Hopping around Lake Erie
Luckily, I had the forethought to seek help from the folks at Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.ShoresandIslands.com) to plan my stay so I wouldn’t miss out on anything super fun! The website has lodging options, help planning your itinerary and so much more, so definitely take the time to explore it. They insisted that my traveling party should visit the islands surrounding Lake Erie, and I am so glad! We had one free day to do just that, so we split it between Kelleys Island and Put-In-Bay…I wish we had spent a full day on each one, but sometimes you take what you can get!


We took the Jet Express to Kelleys Island from Sandusky (obviously, you cannot drive). Jet Express offers high-speed passenger ferry between Kelleys Island, Put-In-Bay and the mainland (Sandusky or Port Clinton). Jet Express is comfortable with covered areas and open-air decks. They are on-time and highly efficient.

Gorgeous little lighthouse replica on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie!

Gorgeous little lighthouse replica on Kelleys Island on Lake Erie!

Our first stop was Kelleys Island, Ohio’s largest island with 600 acres of state park lands, 17 miles of coastline, nature, trails, quarries and wetlands. The most common ways to explore Kelleys Island are by foot, bike, kayak or golf cart. We decided on a golf cart for the four of us and chose Portside Marina to rent from, where Jeni not only made the process very simple, but also highlighted a route on an easily-navigable map showing us just where to stop for photos and such.

View from Kelleys Island on Lake Erie.

View from Kelleys Island on Lake Erie.

Our golf cart tour took us to the state park area, Glacier Grooves National Natural Landmark and beautiful spots in between. There are many historic homes and buildings on Kelleys Island earning them a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. We saw lots of these on our self-guided tour. Lunch was at The Village Pump (an island favorite right on West Lakeshore across from the marina) where we had awesome choices like penne pasta, Lake Erie perch, lobster chowder and more.

Back on the Jet Express, we headed over to Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island, a Victorian-era village where visitors flock annually for family-fun activities, outdoor recreation and more! Again, golf carts are an excellent mode of transportation, but we opted instead for the narrated, hop-on hop-off tour train (Put-In-Bay Island Tour Train officially). We hopped off at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center for a guided cave tour and a stroll through the Butterfly House. Both are great family activities.

The Butterfly House at Perry's Cave Family Fun Center is amazing!

The Butterfly House at Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center is amazing!

After the butterfly fun, we walked across the street to Heineman’s Winery where bottled wines are labeled like this: Sweet Red Concord. Order a bottle with a cheese plate and go sit outside in the gardens…it’s perfect!

Unique shops are plentiful at Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island.

Unique shops are plentiful at Put-In-Bay on South Bass Island.

Put-In-Bay is just the place to walk around and see the one-of-a-kind shops and establishments such as: the carousel, Round House Bar, The Park Hotel (boutique-style lodging), miniature golf, gem mining and so much more! **TIP** You can plan much of what you want to do simply by visiting the website of the tour train.

No matter what your taste is, the summer resort village of Put-In-Bay will likely have something for you from art galleries to music, dining and pubs.

Golf carts are the way to get around on Kelleys Island.

Golf carts are the way to get around on Kelleys Island.

Now what?
If you are yearning for a different sort of vacation filled with memory-making opportunities and unique adventures, take a look at Sandusky, Ohio! Your family will thank you!

Castaway Bay
2001 Cleveland Road. (US 6)
Sandusky, OH 44870
(419) 627-2106

Cedar Point Amusement Park
1 Cedar Point Drive (off US 6)
Sandusky, OH 44870
(419) 627-2350

Jet Express
101 W. Shoreline Drive
Sandusky, OH 44870
(419) 732-2800

Portside Marina
116 W. Lakeshore Drive
Kelleys Island, OH 43438
(419) 746-2668

Put-In-Bay Island Tour Train
2071 Langram Road
Put-In-Bay, OH 43456
(419) 285-2016

Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center
154 Delaware Avenue
Put-In-Bay, OH 43456
(419) 285-4855

Heineman’s Winery
978 Catawba Street
Put-in-Bay, OH 43456
(419) 285-2811

Sandusky’s Kalahari Waterpark Resort

This week we are spending some time in northern Ohio where fun and frolic seem to run wild in Sandusky! Arriving today at Kalahari Waterpark Resort, we found that the tagline of America’s largest indoor waterpark is right on the money!


Kalahari Waterpark Resort is a full service vacation destination sharing the magic of Africa throughout the property including the interior rooms, lobby areas, restaurants and waterpark itself! From your first monkey sighting to the elephants used within the architecture, you will be transported to this foreign land with every turn of the corner.


Built in 2005, Kalahari caters to families offering some 890 rooms. From the amazing indoor and outdoor water parks to the Safari Outdoor Adventure Park, there is plenty for everyone in your party to do! If rides and slides are adventure enough for you, then you’re set! If you need more, then take a glance at these amenities:

  • Spa Kalahari & Salon
  • Variety of dining options on-site
  • Fitness equipment
  • Game room
  • Indoor pool and Outdoor pool
  • Wireless Internet


A stroll through the spacious lobby (and that’s a bit of an understatement) shows the effort put forth in carrying the African theme into every crack and crevice on this property. Check out this family property today and plan weather-proof fun for your next vacation!


Kalahari Waterpark Resort
7000 Kalahari Drive (off US 250)
Sandusky, OH 44870
(419) 433-7200

Buick – How very Regal of you!

2015 Buick Regal AWD GS
Class: Midsize Sedan
Fuel Economy: 19/27
Base Price: $39,810

Buick 3

I am old enough to remember General Motor’s introduction of the very first Buick Regal way back in the early 1970s (for the record, I was a very small child at the time). There was such a fuss and it was such a big sedan…personal luxury was brought about in this vehicle. It was loved by all.

In 2011, Buick re-introduced the Regal to North American markets and nostalgia swept in reminding one of all the reasons folks first fell for this icon: a statement of personal luxury space, cutting-edge elements of the time and performance oriented features…the perfect family sedan.

Meet the 2015 Buick Regal. At a glance, the rear and front fascia remind consumers that this is clearly a Regal, exuding her exterior good looks in a more streamline fashion. Past that, a look under the hood shows off her 2.0-liter, turbocharged engine…yep, she’s spunky!

And, then there’s the interior. High-quality craftsmanship surrounds all who enjoy the drive/ride with leather-trimmed seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The cabin layout and design is comfortable and thoughtful with controls at the driver’s fingertips and in line with the center console for aesthetically pleasing visuals. The Bose premium 9-speaker audio system is a huge bonus as well as the remote and keyless start system. So many technical advances are available on this Buick from OnStar with 4G LTE and built-in WiFi hotspot to Buick’s exclusive Interactive Drive Control system (allowing the selection of different drive modes).

Regal 2

• The Buick Regal offers HiPer Strut front suspension enhancing ride and handling by reducing torque steer; more linear and communicative steering through improved camber control; and improved impact isolation on bumps and rough surfaces.
• Advanced Haldex all-wheel-drive system is available, providing the most traction in all driving conditions.
• E-Z Key passive entry system and keyless push-button start are standard on the Regal as are heated front seats.
• Signature QuietTuning features enables one of the segment’s most quiet and refined driving experiences.
• Experience Buick Protection includes two years/24,000 miles of scheduled maintenance, including oil changes, oil filter changes and tire rotations.
• The Buick Regal has eight standard air bags and a standard rear vision camera system.
• StabiliTrak stability control system with full-function traction control is another safety feature of this vehicle as well.

• Engine – 2.0L I-4 turbocharged VVT with direct injection
• Transmission – Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic or F40-6 six-speed manual
• Driveline – Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive
• Horsepower – 259 @ 5300 rpm
• Torque – 295 lb-ft @2500 rpm

My favorite features on the Regal aside from the stylish, comfy interior, and refined good looks includes the rear vision back up camera, the dashboard control design, the superior audio system, the interior back seat leg room and the pep when jumping out into the traffic. Check out the new Buick Regal today at http://www.Buick.com or test drive one for the full effect.

Photos courtesy of Buick.