Valentine’s Day at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA

Folks in the south have known about Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia and the paradise awaiting there for a long time, but how many think about spending Cupid’s holiday there?


Callaway Gardens is world-famous for its gorgeous gardens set among beautiful rolling terrain offering a romantic destination for this February! Spend the day with your Valentine and celebrate with a lovely dinner or choose a package for the weekend. Take a look at their offerings below.

Romance Dinners
For those wanting something special for Valentine’s weekend on Friday, Feb. 12, Saturday, Feb. 13, or Sunday, Feb. 14, a very special prix fixe Gardens’ Restaurant Valentine’s Dinner will be available in this intimate setting.  Build your own romantic four-course dinner from the following:

(choose one)
Andouille Broiled Gulf Oysters
Parsley Salt, Pickled Mustard Seed, Grilled Lemon
Warm Georgia Pecan Crusted Brie 
Spiced Apple Compote, Baby Greens and Pomegranate
Potato Gnocchi Gratin
Mesquite Smoked Duck, Vidalia Onion, Creamed Cabbage

Soups and Salad
(choose one)
Gardens Salad
Candied Pecans, Caramelized Shallot Vinaigrette, and Goat Cheese Crouton
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
Bourbon Crème Fraiche, Candied Pecans
Smoked Ham Consomme
Mustard Spaetzle, Wild Mushroom, Scallion, Toasted Farro

(choose one)
Pork Shank Osso Bucco
Logan Turnpike Grits, Pickled Collards, Spiced Apples, Smoked Ham Jus
Smoked Prime Rib
Onion Spoonbread, Baby Vegetables, Espresso Veal Jus
Salmon en Croute 
Wild Mushrooms, Garden Peas, Baby Carrots, Yukon Potato Puree 
Pan Roasted Diver Scallops
Lobster Tortellini, Wild Mushrooms, Peas, Sweet Corn, White Truffle Cream
Winter Squash Risotto 
Caramelized Winter Squash, Shaved Parmesan, and Baby Arugula 

(choose one)
Granny Smith Apple Crisp
Sea Salt Caramel Ice Cream
Dark Chocolate Mousse
Toasted Almond Ice Cream, Seasonal Berries
Lemon Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
Red Raspberry, Oatmeal Crunch


The Love Is In the Air Valentine’s overnight package is available starting at $229* in the Mountain Creek Inn. This delicious meal is $65 per person (tax and gratuity are additional).  To make a reservation, please call 1.855.901.2154.

For a less formal Valentine’s, guests can choose the delicious Friday Night Southern Buffet at the Plant Room Restaurant or a wonderful meal at the Vineyard Green Restaurant & Spirits or The Country Kitchen.

Make it a Romantic Getaway
Enjoy an overnight stay at the Mountain Creek® Inn on the Couples Getaway Bicycles & Breakfast package that includes gardens admission, bicycle rental, and a delicious breakfast buffet in The Plant Room Restaurant.

Guests can cozy up in front of a fireplace with a Wonders of Winter overnight package in a Southern Pine® Cottage or Mountain Creek® Villa.  Specially priced during February, this package includes a free bundle of wood, admission to the Gardens each day of stay and day of departure and 50 percent off recreation to include golf, tennis, boating, and TreeTop Adventure.

To make an overnight reservation or for additional information, call 1.800.463.6990 or visit

Callaway Gardens® is in Pine Mountain, Ga., 60 minutes southwest of Atlanta and 30 minutes north of Columbus.

*Rate is based on two people, per night, in a Non-View Room at the Mountain Creek Inn. Offer valid Feb. 12-14, 2016. Rates also available in the Southern Pine Cottages, Mountain Creek Villas and Vacation Homes. Tax, new State Hotel-Motel Fee (as of July 1, 2015) and gratuity not included. Based on availability. Other restrictions may apply.

Photos courtesy of Callaway Gardens.

World of Beer Giveaway!

Update: THE WINNER IS JORDAN STAGGS!! Congratulations!

Recently, my husband and I checked out the World of Beer – Five Points location in Birmingham and discovered a somewhat hidden gem with a fairly new concept of beers from around the world (including 50 on tap), live music, big screens for game viewing and, to our surprise, some fabulous culinary treats! Read more about our experience here.

The Travel Voice by Becky has partnered with World of Beer to bring you this fun GIVEAWAY! Here’s how to enter and all that jazz!


What you’ll win:

  • World of Beer Cooler
  • World of Beer pint beer glass
  • World of Beer $25 GIFT CARD (good at any WOB location)

How to enter:

  • Leave a comment below with your email address where we can reach you if you are the winner.
  • LIKE and SHARE this post on your Facebook or other social media.
  • That’s it! You are entered!

Contest is open to U.S. citizens of legal drinking age. Contest begins on January 30, 2016 and runs until February 5, 2016. Winner will be named at noon that day and notified via email. Winner has 24 hours to claim prize or the next person in line will be notified so make sure it is a valid email address that you check often. Prize will be mailed to winner. You may enter only ONE TIME PER DAY!

World of Beer taverns are franchised so check here for the one closest to you!  GOOD LUCK!!

The Beach Club offers Perfect Spring Break Destination in Alabama’s Gulf Shores

Alabamians, along with other Spring Breakers in the Southeast United States, have a superb choice for family travel this spring at The Beach Club resort on Fort Morgan in the Gulf Shores area. For me, getting a first-hand look at a possible destination choice is paramount in making the decision…and that is the basis behind our video web series. Take a peek and see where you might spend Spring Break 2016! (NOTE: Stay with the video thru to the spa…it’s awesome!)

Video courtesy of Video Visions, Inc.

Celebrity Cruises Launches New Global Campaign – Modern Luxury Lives Here

Everyone loves a great storyline and Celebrity Cruises has built a wonderful campaign drawing on that emotion. These videos really grab me and here’s a first-hand look for you guys too! You’re welcome! (Press release below is courtesy of Celebrity Cruises.)
Celebrity Cruises Unveils Powerful New Global Campaign with
“Modern Luxury Lives Here”
Distinctive approach to telling brand story reflects Celebrity’s unique modern luxury style
From the cruise line that brought the world the stunningly designed Solstice Class ships, which introduced a boutique-hotel feel that has evolved into a fully integrated modern luxury experience, comes a new, global brand campaign that acts as a beacon to discerning travelers who love exceptional cuisine, fine wine, luxurious accommodations, and rich destination experiences. Debuting today, Celebrity Cruises’ bold new “Modern Luxury Lives Here” campaign leverages the iconic “X” in the Celebrity logo, and showcases what makes Celebrity truly unique. The fully integrated campaign will be visible across all channels, most noticeably on TV, digital and social media.
The cruise line’s new 30- and 60-second TV spots, named “Marco Polo,” offer a modern interpretation of the well-known game of call and response from childhood days gone by. The spot transcends the simplicity of the game when Celebrity Cruises staff members beckon like-minded travelers to answer the call of modern luxury. The spot targets those who would appreciate the experience that Celebrity delivers, just as Marco Polo was an explorer of the world who loved to discover and travel the globe. This creative will be complemented by three additional 30-second TV spots, which will debut later this month, and show what makes Celebrity so special. Two of these additional spots will also have a special 15-second version. The campaign marks the first public manifestation of Celebrity’s collaboration with its new global creative agency, Venables Bell & Partners (VB&P).
“We are excited about the way ‘Modern Luxury Lives Here’ shows just how unique Celebrity is, and I love how our crew members and staff appear in our ‘Marco Polo’ spot,” Lutoff-Perlo said. “The entire campaign brings to life, through storytelling and beautiful cinematography, some of our most important values, such as curiosity, discernment and experiences over possessions. No one delivers modern luxury more comprehensively than Celebrity, and this campaign clearly communicates that message.”
“This is a recruitment drive,” said Paul Venables, Chairman of VB&P. “We are calling out to not just those who cruise but to all modern luxury travelers. The fact is, Celebrity offers a superior modern luxury experience, and we have to break the usual category conventions to serve that up to discerning vacationers.”
Socially, consumers will be invited to share their vacation stories on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest using #celebritycruises. Best-in-class social media experiences will feature engaging and innovative content by way of both paid and organic media as well as static mosaics and carousels on Instagram, promoted tweets on Twitter, and dynamic product ads on Facebook.
The campaign builds on a series of creatively presented hallmarks of a Celebrity vacation including award-winning dining, extraordinary accommodations and service, rich destination experiences, plus more, while traveling to all seven continents in modern luxury style.
Check out the videos…they are awesome!

Carnival Cruise Line Partners with Superstar Carrie Underwood

Today, January 28, 2016, Carnival Cruise Line announced an initiative to support military families via partnerships with Operation Homefront and seven-time Grammy award-winning superstar Carrie Underwood. The initiative – Honor. Family. Fun. is, by design, a yearlong project aimed at raising funds for Operation Homefront. Read more in the Carnival Cruise Line official press release below.


Underwood to treat military families to private concert pierside aboard Carnival’s Newest and
Most Family-Friendly Ship, Carnival Vista, at Port of New York in November 2016
Campaign will raise funds for Operation Homefront and highlight personal stories of military families


From left, Brig. Gen. John Pray, president and CEO of Operation Homefront; country music artist Carrie Underwood; and Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line; pose prior to a news conference Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla., to announce a new initiative to support U.S. military families. The effort between the three entities is to raise funds through a series of projects during Underwood’s concert tour and aboard Carnival’s ships as well as the company’s website. Photo courtesy of Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Line/HO.

Today, Carnival Cruise Line announced a new initiative designed to support U.S. military families alongside seven-time GRAMMY-award winning superstar Carrie Underwood and representatives of Operation Homefront, the national nonprofit that builds strong, stable, and secure military families. The year-long Honor. Family. Fun. program will help raise funds for Operation Homefront and culminate in a special private pierside concert for service men and women and their families starring Underwood aboard Carnival’s newest and most family-friendly ship, the Carnival Vista, when the vessel makes its U.S. debut in New York City at the Port of New York on November 4, 2016.

“Military families represent a cornerstone of our country and we are honored by the opportunity to partner with Carrie and Operation Homefront to bring much needed awareness and aid to our troops and their loved ones,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “The partnership will bring to life many of the heartwarming stories our troops have to share while in turn bringing them some fun along the way.”

In 10 cities along the course of Carrie Underwood’s The Storyteller Tour, which kicks off in Jacksonville, Fla on January 30, select military families, chosen in partnership with Operation Homefront, will be treated to a personal meet-and-greet with Underwood before her concerts. A video series highlighting the meet and greets and the families’ individual stories will be featured on

“I’m honored to be able to join Carnival Cruise Line and Operation Homefront to lift up these soldiers and their families,” said Underwood. “I am really looking forward to meeting them on my tour and for the opportunity to personally thank them for all they do for our freedom.”

Driving the effort to raise funds for the cause, fans of Underwood, and of the program, will have the opportunity to donate by clicking on the “Donate Now” button on Commemorative dog tags will also be available for purchase at merchandise stands at all Storyteller Tour stops as well as on board the fleet of Carnival ships with all proceeds going to Operation Homefront.

“Carnival Cruise Line really knows what it means to support our men and women in uniform and their families,” said retired Brigadier General John I. Pray, Jr., president and CEO of Operation Homefront.  “We are absolutely thrilled to be partnering with the Carnival team and superstar Carrie Underwood to focus on the challenges our military families face as they work tirelessly to protect the freedoms we enjoy daily.”

The final stop in the cross-country Honor. Family. Fun. campaign will be New York City, where Carnival, Operation Homefront, and Underwood will treat hundreds of military families to a special concert aboard the new Carnival Vista at the Port of New York on November 4, 2016.

Carnival’s most family-friendly ship, Carnival Vista, will set sail in Europe in May 2016 and make her stateside debut as host of the special private pierside concert for military families. Designed to connect guests to the ocean with sweeping views and plenty to do both outdoors and in, Carnival Vista will take cruising to new heights and introduce an exciting array of groundbreaking new features including: SkyRide, a breakthrough suspended open-air cycling experience; the world’s first IMAX® Theatre on a ship; an expansive water park featuring the colorful Kaleid-O-Slide, the line’s first raft-riding water tube slide; Seafood Shack, a delectable New England-inspired eatery; RedFrog Pub, including the first micro-brewery on a U.S.-based cruise ship, and other exciting dining, bar and entertainment options.

In the coming weeks, Carnival will launch a new shipboard military appreciation program. Each ship will host a special event on board to recognize active and retired military personnel and their families and will kick off with a welcome video featuring Carrie Underwood.

Finally, it was also revealed that Carrie Underwood will join the Carnival LIVE! roster of artists in early 2017 with further details to be announced at a later date.

For more info…
Carnival Cruise Line

Operation Homefront


World of Beer – Five Points – Birmingham, AL

Recently, my husband and I checked out World of Beer (WOB) – Five Points to see why all of the locals here in Birmingham, Alabama rave about it. We knew it was a franchise and had heard the tag lines about 50 beers on tap, live music and so forth, but we never expected such a culinary treat!


A little history…
World of Beer got its start in 2007 in Tampa, Florida as a joint venture between two best friends. The pair had a distinct vision to create a gathering place where friends could catch up over a craft beer enjoying a ball game or live music. Today, that is exactly what you’ll find at WOB! A leader in the trendy Craft Taverns phenomenon, you’ll find not only beers cultivated from around the world, but some awesome, unexpected tavern fare as well!

The scoop…
If you aren’t sure which beer you’d like, there is always the flight option where you can choose a few and find a favorite. You’ll see old friends like the Abita Beer line (Purple Haze, AndyGator and Amber to name a few) along with flavored brews like Kopparberg Strawberry & Lime, Lindemans Peach, Lindemans Pomme (Green Apple) and New Planet Raspberry Ale. If you’re really brave, try out something a little more daring like Lucifer – a Belgium Golden Ale or Original Sin Cider (a New York brew)!


Our experience…
We were greeted at our table by Raymond Reyes the manager who is VERY knowledgeable not only about the drinks, but also regarding the menu selections. He was able to recommend some great Tavern Shares that we, well, shared! Below are the culinary delights we indulged in and they were all absolutely fabulous! We were shocked at the upscale choices and quality of the food!

  • We started with the German Pretzel! This is a guest favorite…a giant Bavarian pretzel baked soft on the inside, crispy on the outside and perfectly salted. Served with a stone ground mustard and we additionally ordered the house-made Beer Cheese for dipping pleasure as well. That was a good move because it was scrumptious!
  • Next we had Sriracha Lime Shrimp Tacos that might have been my favorite. Beer-battered shrimp tossed in house-made Sriracha lime aioli served in tortillas with roasted corn and tomato salsa, shredded lettuce and fresh cilantro. Oh the yumminess!
  • Next up, Margherita Flatbread with freshly diced tomatoes and mozzarella over a basil and pine nut pesto, drizzled with a sweet balsamic glaze and topped with fresh arugula. My taste buds were in heaven!
  • Chimay Sliders were another tasty treat with Chimay Classique cheese (of course), sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions and homemade Chimay aioli.
  • And just when we thought we couldn’t possibly entertain eating another bite, we saw these warm and golden brown beer-battered apple rings, dusted with powdered sugar and served with a salted caramel dipping sauce. What a way to top off this feast!

Do these sound like bar foods to you? Me neither! But of course, this is not a bar…it’s an upscale tavern…a culinary treasure for sure!

Larry’s take…
World of Beer was so much more than I anticipated! I was surprised at the choices and superb quality of the food offered on the menu. You just don’t expect food like that from a beer scene. And craft beer is definitely a running trend that allows folks to cultivate their brew loves and perhaps find something unique that their taste buds love. I loved it and will definitely be back again!


If you go…
World of Beer – Five Points
1005 20th Street South
Birmingham, AL 35205
(205) 703-7203

Happy Hour
Monday – Friday 3 – 7 p.m.
Sunday – Thursday 10 p.m. – close

Carnival Awarded ‘Best Cruise Line’

USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards dubbed Carnival Cruise Line worthy of top honors in two categories: Best Cruise Line and Best Cruise Ship for Dining (Carnival Breeze).

The awards were based on nominations from a team of cruise industry experts and the winners were determined by an online vote by USA Today readers.

Carnival Freedom

Carnival earned “Best Cruise Line” honors for its affordable, high quality vacation experience that offers a variety of onboard features and facilities, from the exclusive Seuss at Sea program in partnership with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to luxurious spas and hilarious comedy shows at the Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez.

Carnival Freedom

Carnival Breeze was named “Best Cruise Ship For Dining” for its wide range of tantalizing culinary options, including Bonsai Sushi, the elegant Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, the Cucina del Capitano family-style Italian restaurant, and hand-crafted burgers and fries at Guy’s Burger Joint developed in tandem with Food Network star Guy Fieri. I can speak first-hand to the culinary treasures found in each of these Carnival restaurants, and while Guy’s Burger Joint ranks really high with my family, the steakhouse and Italian restaurant are amazing!

“Receiving this recognition is a wonderful validation of all the hard work our shipboard and shoreside teams put into providing our guests with fun, memorable vacations, which, of course, includes offering an array of delicious dining choices that are considered a highlight of a Carnival cruise,” said Christine Duffy, Carnival’s president. “We would also like to thank our valued travel agent partners for their support in sharing the myriad benefits and exceptional value of cruise vacations with their clients,” she added.

Carnival Freedom

Press release edited. Photos courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

Audi A3 e-tron® – an Electrifying Vehicle

2016 Audi A3 Sportback e-tron®
Class: Luxury vehicle
Fuel Economy: Combined mpg-e 83-86 (combustion & electric); Combined mpg 35-39 (combustion only);  EV-range 16-17 miles
Base Price: $37,900


Forward-thinking, trend-setting, innovative – all of these words adequately describe Audi’s first attempt at the electric world. And, although this plug-in hybrid yields a flagship design for the luxury vehicle market, signature markings (like the grille rings) make this Sportback model recognizably Audi!


What should you expect? Well, breaking it down into more simple terminology, the A3 Sportback e-tron® is a five-door vehicle with 13.6 cu ft of cargo trunk space increased by folding backseats. The hybrid model offers a 1.4-liter engine plus an electric motor and 8.8 kWh lithium-ion hybrid battery pack for a combined system rating of 204 horsepower packaged with front-wheel drive and six-speed automatic transmission.


Traditional Audi interior is not overlooked in the e-tron model. You will be pleasantly surprised that gizmos and gadgets are familiar to the eyes and to the touch, and that luxurious feeling of comfort and timeless class are also present. Headroom and legroom are adequately accounted for…basically the standard beauty of an Audi is unmistakable even in this new format.


So here’s the deal: if you are driving on a daily commute, you’ll want to charge the battery every evening when you get home to maximize efficiency. That may sound challenging, but the charging process is actually pretty easy. The High Voltage Battery Charging Socket is located behind the Audi rings on the front of the grille for easy access. Twist the knob located in the second ring to open the panel. To charge, the charging cable must be plugged into the charging dock. When the charging cable is plugged into the vehicle, the plug is locked and cannot be removed. You will see a yellow status LED. The charging cycle starts with the selector lever in position P and the operating unit is connected to the AC voltage source. The status LED will flash green during the charging procedure. It takes approximately eight hours to charge from a 120 volt outlet and only two and a half hours from 240 volts.

Drive modes…
There are four options for driving modes and your driving habits including distance will dictate which mode you need to use and when.

  1. EV Mode – the A3 Sportback e-tron® is powered by the electric motor only.
  2. Hybrid Mode – the car intelligently selects the most efficient power source: either EV, Hybrid or gasoline.
  3. Hold Battery Mode – provides hybrid driving, while preserving any EV range for later use.
  4. Charge Battery Mode – uses the gasoline engine to recharge the battery at highway speeds.

Is this vehicle what your family needs? I think that can easily be determined by how much short-distance driving you have and how much charging time you have available. If those are variables that fit with your lifestyle, this is an excellent choice and your trips to the gas station will be fewer. In conclusion, I think that the A3 e-tron® offers a great opportunity for choice: efficiency in short-term driving and dependable gas-powered extended driving. Two choices. One car.


**NOTE** Audi A3 Sportback e-tron® is a finalist for 2016 Luxury Green Car of the Year and 2016 Connected Green Car of the Year.

Photos courtesy of Audi.

Skippy Peanut Butter Deal at Target

Do you find yourself needing a little snack or pick-me-up during the day? Sometimes I do, and peanut butter seems to always be a quick fix. When I don’t have it handy (at the office, etc.), I often grab something I shouldn’t, so I’m trying to keep it, along with some other quick fixes, on hand. Here’s help with that!


Right now, Target has Skippy Peanut Butter individual cups for $2.29 and they are on CARTWHEEL for 20% off through January 16, 2016! Don’t know about CARTWHEEL? Go here and make sure you download the FREE app today! Also, to make it even better, there’s a coupon for $.55 off Skippy here to download and print.

If you are new to coupons, CARTWHEEL and all that jazz, here’s how to checkout:

Scan Skippy Peanut Butter – $2.29, then present coupon for $.55 off bringing it down to $1.74. CARTWHEEL is the last thing you give to cashier and after she scans the barcode on it, that will take off $.46 making your FINAL COST $1.28! If you have a Target Red Card like I do (no, it’s not a credit card, it’s a debit card linked directly to your checking account so that’s where the money comes from…but it acts like a customer reward card giving you 5% off of your purchases made with this card), you’ll get another 5% off! If you do not have a Red Card, learn more here.

You can print one of these coupons per computer, so if you have access to more than one computer, you can do this deal a couple of times and stock up on peanut butter!

**Prices based on the Target in Homewood, AL where I shop most often. Some deals may be regional and coupon availability is not guaranteed.

Saving Money for Travel

People ask me for advice on saving money on travel all the time. It often surprises them to hear some of the quirky ways I encourage folks to enable themselves to travel. I have listed a few of my answers below and then I am going to begin a concentrated effort to help further with one of the suggestions. Keep reading…

  1. Have a yard sale! Yes, get rid of all that old stuff you’re never going to use again and set that money aside for making memories by traveling somewhere new and fun!
  2. Cut the coffee! I know, I can hear you cursing me from here. I love my barista-brewed coffee, but look what you could save in just a few months by brewing at home and/or drinking the office coffee. If that seems too drastic for you, try maybe cutting out half of it. If your habit is daily, you’ll still notice a good little savings.    24af946314a188d5ad071c812995caae
  3. The above referenced chart is a GREAT way to save for a trip or vacation. It is very reasonable, practical and can be used to save for almost anything specific or save in general. Set up a specific savings account or a cookie jar will do! Week 1 of 2016 deposit $1, week 2 deposit $2 (now you have $3)…but looking at the chart, look what you’ll have by week 52 (the end of the year)! Isn’t that awesome? Yes, I realize we are already about to head into week 3, but you can catch up quickly this early on. And, if you’re willing to also throw your coffee money in there…well, watch out! You’ll be saving like crazy!
  4. One of my favorite ways to save for travel is by cutting expenses in another budget category…and easiest for me is groceries! You may be wondering how in the world that can be easy, but with a little planning, eating at home a little more and making use of coupons, you can do it, too!

I do not take it lightly when throwing out suggestions to folks. I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is and walk shoulder to shoulder with you adding a category to the blog specifically entitled: Making cents of coupons. I’ll let you know suggestions, good coupons I spot and great deals to be had! Let’s do this together and make 2016 the year of travel! If you’re up to the challenge, comment with a big ole YIPPEE below!

Have you planned Valentine’s Day travel yet?

Despite the fact that I have been writing for 20+ years, I still get a kick out of doing guest blogs for special places like Gulf Shores, Alabama…one of my favorite destinations.


Valentine’s Day is on a weekend in 2016 (YAY!) so the timing couldn’t be better to sneak away with your better half! Local folks and fellow southerners alike will hopefully enjoy this information on The Beach is Calling blog. Check it out and let me know if you have other tips to add by leaving a comment below.

Read here.

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  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


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 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

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!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–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 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 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

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 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

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.