Radio Linkups for 2-28-15

If you listened to today’s broadcast about Memphis, North Myrtle Beach and Spring Break accommodations on Alabama’s Gulf Coast, here are all the linkups you’ll need to find out more information specifically about each destination. And if you didn’t have time to catch the show, it’s on iHeart Radio at http://www.iheart.com/show/53-The-Travel-Voice-by-Becky/.

Courtesy of the Memphis Zoo.

Courtesy of the Memphis Zoo.

Memphis, Tennessee:
The Memphis Zoo – the perfect venue for families and one of my favorite zoos of all time. Find out more at http://www.memphiszoo.org.

Graceland – the home of Elvis Presley is a popular tourist stop in Memphis right on Elvis Presley Blvd. For a more authentic Elvis-related trip, check out accommodations at the Heartbreak Hotel right across the street from Graceland. Information on both of these venues can be found at http://www.graceland.com.

Don’t miss the world-famous Peabody Ducks marching daily at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. For more information on this luxury hotel, for reservations and to verify daily march times, visit http://www.peabodymemphis.com.

Barbecue restaurants in Memphis:
• Pig on Beale, 167 Beale Street, http://www.pigonbeale.com.
• Blues City Café, 138 Beale Street, http://www.bluescitycafe.com.
• B.B. King’s Blues Club, 143 Beale Street, http://www.bbkingclubs.com/memphis/.
• Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous, 52 South Second Street, http://www.hogsfly.com.

Memphis in May is a wonderful celebration of culture, customs and heritage. Find out more at http://www.memphisinmay.org.

For help planning travel and updates on the opening of the Blues Hall of Fame and Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid, visit http://www.memphistravel.com.

Barefoot Resort and Golf – North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Barefoot Resort and Golf offers top notch accommodations and your choice of four championship golf courses. More information can be found at http://www.barefootgolf.com.

For dining, shopping and entertainment, don’t miss Barefoot Landing and my favorite restaurants:
• House of Blues (www.houseofblues.com) is an award-winning entity offering the best in live music, regional and international culinary dishes, along with a fun collection of folk art. The food is a combination of American and International inspired cuisine with something for everyone on the menu. Experience happy hour and live music on The Deck Friday and Saturday nights (check web site for times).
• Greg Norman’s Australian Grille (www.gregnormansaustraliangrille.com) offers amazing Mediterranean food featuring wood-grilled classics and Australian dishes complimented by an expansive Wine Spectator Award Winning wine list. The ambiance is as spectacular as the meal itself and there is a pub on property (yet separate from the dining area) that features live nightly entertainment.

If you are looking for Spring Break accommodations on Alabama’s beautiful gulf coast, please check out my guest blog at http://www.gulfshores.com/blog/2015/02/27/count-lodging-options-gulf-shores-orange-beach/.

As always, thanks for listening today and I hope this helps you book a fabulous vacation!

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Lodging Options

Check out the blog post I wrote for one of my favorite places on Earth – Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama! Sure I’m a little biased being born and bred in Sweet Home Alabama, but if you’ve visited Coastal Alabama, you’ll agree the beaches are gorgeous with amazing sugar-white sand juxtaposing beautiful blue waters.

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Find out about different lodging options from moderate to luxury hotels, condos and houses right on the beach. And, when you’ve read your fill, please share this with others that might also enjoy. Safe travels!

Click here for The Beach is Calling Blog.

Throwback to Old Florida and Coastal Paradise

Most folks think of travel to Florida as hectic and crowded with long waits for dinner and high rise condos lining the beachfront highways. If you long for the old Florida style where beach houses and low rises scatter along the coast, highways are still two lanes, and red lights are far and few between, then this section of the panhandle is just for you! Welcome to “real” coastal vacationing: Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas and Black’s Island!

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Geographically speaking, Mexico Beach is situated in the southernmost part of the Florida Panhandle about 30 minutes or so to the east of Panama City. After passing through the five-mile town, you will then enter the quaint seaside community of Port St. Joe where Black’s Island guests are greeted for boat transport over to the island. Cape San Blas is only a few miles further down from Port St. Joe. It reminds me of the way that the Smoky Mountains are situated as you enter Sevierville, drive through the town and enter Pigeon Forge, and then continue driving on the same highway until you get into Gatlinburg…all are connected by the same thoroughfare and are similar, yet each offers a personality of its own!

Mexico Beach…
Mexico Beach is such a wonderful seaside sanctuary where the pace is slower and the hospitality is as warm as the climate. Seashells are plentiful, fishing off the pier or on the beach is common, and navigation on foot or bicycle is fairly easy.

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Finding a place to stay is easy with Forgotten Coast Property Management. Call and tell them the size of your party and length of stay, and they will match you with the perfect accommodations. My favorite (and yours too if you have a really large party) is Starr Dust 2 located directly on the beach only steps from the water. This incredible unit has every available modern amenity, a fully-appointed kitchen and sleeps 16! If you party is a little smaller, I recommend The Club at Mexico Beach which is right across the street from Starr Dust 2. It is part of a small complex so you have a pool in addition to modern amenities and a full-size kitchen. Unit 2L is a particularly beautiful unit, professionally decorated and convenient to the pool area.

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Area restaurants are good (Toucan’s, Fish House and Mango Marley’s are just a few), but my favorites were actually a small seafood diner called Killer Seafood – the name says it all and they have amazing fish tacos.

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Mexico Beach is a place to stroll along the coast; duck in and out of unique, one-of-a-kind shops; enjoy water activities; or do nothing at all! Hints for a good time include getting an ice cream at Tommy T’s (it’s Blue Bell) and walking the pier; taking a boating excursion (shelling, fishing or tour of the area) with FloriDaze Adventures and Captain Mitch; and having after dinner drinks with live karaoke at Lookout Lounge.

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Port St. Joe and Black’s Island…
Port St. Joe is only minutes from Mexico Beach and is where folks leave their vehicles and meet the boat that takes them to Black’s Island in St. Joe’s Bay (truly the best kept secret in all of Florida). Port St. Joe also has a great upscale dining venue, Sunset Coastal Grill, where the atmosphere and service is as good as the food.

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Black’s Island is family owned and operated by Jeff Bowman and his longtime companion Wanda Bright. These two hands-on personalities are spectacular in offering just the right level of personal service without intruding on your vacation experience. Their small island (only seven and a half acres) has the most gorgeous views, sunsets and natural beauty of any place you can get to without a passport. The island offers 26 bungalows all connected with a boardwalk leading to the club house/dining room. Each bungalow features a fully-appointed kitchen, dining area, living area and two bedrooms (some have an extra small room with bunk beds as well). Bring groceries and dine in or eat in the dining room (all inclusives are available at a slightly higher rate, but well worth it).

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This private island is your own piece of paradise with beach chairs, a beautiful pool and a hot tub. I will tell you that one of the best experiences in the world is sitting in a hot tub that overlooks azure blue waters with palm trees swaying gently in the breeze. The island dog, Riley, occasionally checks on guests to make sure they are having a good time in her private playground…talk about the life of Riley!

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Included with your room is the use of the beach chairs, hammocks and all water toys! That’s a deal! Most places charge $25/day or more to rent chairs, and kayaks, canoes, fishing poles, paddle boards, etc. are usually rented by the hour. These charges can really add up for a family. The island is closed from early December to early March, but is open in time for spring breakers and offers an incredible opportunity to create lifetime memories with special folks in an ambiance that is unparalleled.

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Cape San Blas…
The perfect off-the-beaten-path getaway for those who want peace and quiet in a secluded beachside location is Cape San Blas. Family-friendly, pet-friendly accommodations are available through Sunset Reflections. I highly recommend a new house on the beach called Tranquil Bliss…it is spacious, decorated nicely, has its own hot tub, amazing kitchen and living room, lots of deck space and a neighborhood pool. This is the ideal place to bring groceries, dine in and enjoy the beach atmosphere.

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Happy Ours Kayak & Bike Outpost is the place to rent kayaks and canoes, take a guided eco-tour on St. Joe’s Bay or rent bikes. The owners, Dan and Debbie, are super friendly and do their own tours and guides. Safety is always first with Happy Ours and they are amazing with kids!

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This is also a great destination for excursions on the water. Scalloping, fishing and customized water activities are all available through Captain Mark at Forgotten Coast Adventures. He knows all the best fishing holes and has great stories to entertain you!

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Summary…
Choosing this area of old Florida for vacation says something about you and your personality. It is a place where the sand beckons sun worshippers while the juxtaposing water calls to the fishermen and the outdoor enthusiasts. It is designed for the person who loves the quaintness of no stop lights and the eclectic character of multi-colored beach houses. It is for those who desire to please their palates with fabulous beach cuisine in quirky little restaurants. It is for those who enjoy an ice cream in one hand and a fishing pole in the other. But mostly, it is for those searching for the unique unforgettable piece of Florida gulf coast.

IF YOU GO…
Black’s Island Vacation Resort
850-258-4581
http://www.BlacksIslandVacationResort.com

FloriDaze Adventures
850-896-4930
http://www.floridazeadventures.com

Forgotten Coast Adventures
850-258-4067
http://www.forgottencoastadventures.com

Forgotten Coast Property Management
888-648-1012
http://www.forgottencoastrental.com

Happy Ours Kayak & Bike Outpost
850-229-1991
http://www.happyourskayak.com

Sunset Reflections
877-265-4252
http://www.SunsetReflections.com

You may have seen this article by Becky (and others) in River Region Magazine.

Aqua Resort – classy resort in Panama City Beach

Aqua Resort, developed by prestigious Montgomery, Alabama-based Aronov, integrates water (as the name would suggest) throughout the premises beginning with the colossal cascading waterfall at the property’s entrance. Moving inside, water gardens create various focal points across the grand lobby and reception area. A few steps outside reveals more water — pools and the ocean in hues of blue and green. Guests get the feeling that the water is calling!

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What to expect…
One-, two-, and three-bedroom condos at Aqua Resort provide more than adequate sleeping arrangements for couples or large families. Spacious units offer room to move about and enjoy indoor amenities on a luxury level…from state-of-the-art kitchens with granite countertops to bathrooms fit for a king. Whirlpool tubs allow weary sun worshippers to end the day in a relaxing, pampering way, while little extras like super comfy linens and a gulf front view are just the norm at Aqua.

For vacationers who cannot give up their daily workout, there is a fully-equipped fitness center, complete with gulf views. Other treats to enjoy include aromatherapy steam and treatment rooms and the tropical pool deck. Additionally, this well-appointed, 22-story high rise is situated on a beautiful section of white sandy beach with emerald waters just steps away. What more is there?

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Well, the location is perfect for starters. Aqua Resort is within walking distance (only one mile) of Pier Park, the 93-acre shopping/dining/entertaining mecca of Panama City Beach, and it is within close proximity to fabulous dining, water sports, and other attractions. Never a dull moment!

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Don’t miss…
In addition to the succulent culinary delights available at Pier Park (Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, Back Porch, and Reggae J’s Island Grill, to name a few), don’t miss Sharky’s Beachfront Restaurant and Tiki Bar for beachside dining (less than a mile from Aqua) at its best! Sharky’s is the ultimate in ambiance with live entertainment, a Tiki Bar (of course), and amazing food! Known for fresh seafood, this lively food establishment also makes a killer Jamaican Jerked Chicken, and great appetizers such as Shark Bites and a Smoked Tuna Dip to die for.

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Want to know a secret? Panama City Beach has a fabulous little café and bakery that will soon be on your favorites list. It’s a little off the beaten path, but worth seeking out. Andy’s Flour Power Bakery & Café is a quaint nook on Thomas Drive with a huge following! Eclectically decorated, Andy’s is a warm and inviting atmosphere serving breakfast and lunch only, and offering daily specials (omelets, waffles, pastries, muffins, and more) using fresh ingredients. It’s a great mid-morning beach treat!

Across the street from Andy’s, a haven of watersports awaits at Adventures at Sea. Water recreation is plentiful and ranges from wave runner tours to parasailing and everything in between (pontoon boats to Shell Island are popular). They are pros when it comes to dealing with first-time parasailers…soaring through the clouds and dipping your toes in the water is their specialty! Check the web site for coupons.

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Another attraction well worth noting is PCB’s only waterpark, Shipwreck Island. This park has something for everyone: lazy river, wave pool, tadpole hole (for kids), and thrilling rides for those wanting to walk a little on the wild side (Raging Rapids and Pirate’s Plunge)! Shipwreck Island offers plenty of lounge chairs and a clean, family environment. Tickets are available online for quicker entrance.

IF YOU GO…
Aqua Resort
15625 Front Beach Road
Panama City Beach
(855) 858-6954
http://www.aqua-gulf.com

Pier Park
600 Pier Park Drive
Panama City Beach
(850) 236-9974

Sharky’s Beachfront
Restaurant and Tiki Bar
15201 Front Beach Road
Panama City Beach
(850) 235-2420
http://www.sharkysbeach.com

Andy’s Flour Power Bakery
& Café
3123 Thomas Drive
Panama City Beach
(850) 230-0014

Adventures at Sea
5711 North Lagoon Drive
Panama City Beach
(850) 235-0009
http://www.watersportspc.com

Shipwreck Island
Waterpark
12201 Middle Beach Road
Panama City Beach
(850) 234-3333
http://www.shipwreckisland.com

Rosemary Beach – a little piece of paradise!

Florida’s northwest gulf coast is home to a unique community – Rosemary Beach, nestled in the quiet calmness between Panama City and Destin on upscale Highway 30A. A fairly new creation, established in 1995, Rosemary Beach encompasses the qualities of classic beach towns designed to promote family and community. This 107-acre development on prime, gulf-front real estate, is ideal for vacationing, retiring or simply the best in coastal living. Leave grid lock and fast food behind, and enjoy the true joys of life on Florida’s gulf coast.

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It’s a neighborhood…
Rosemary Beach is unique in several ways: it has its own zip code and Town Hall; it has work/live space with retail on the bottom and beautiful, spacious lofts above; it offers lots of green space to enjoy; and the amenities are endless including a fabulous spa, tennis courts and state-of-the-art fitness center. Let’s start with the lay of the land.

This property full of aesthetically-pleasing architecture, centers around a quaint town center with a Town Hall, Post Office, rental office, multiple retail shops and palette-pleasing restaurants. The design is such to encourage parking the car and getting around by foot or bicycle. There are paths that meander throughout the property leading to green spaces, pools and the beach, of course. It’s so relaxing just to wander around feeling the sea breezes on your face and the sun kissing your skin.

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The lofts are an awesome choice for accommodations being at the center of everything. But there are also amazing cottages, carriage houses and flats with up to six bedrooms. While each unit is built and decorated within the guidelines of the property codes to maintain a prestigious harmony, they do not have the appearance of cookie cutter houses…each unit is different with its own personality and characteristics. Many hues dot the canvas of Rosemary, splattering its topography with matchless style, color and architectural delights.

There are four pools scattered throughout Rosemary, each with a different design. The Coquina pool is on the beach-side and is unique in that it is all one depth and has no edges. The overflow water slinks into small drains which are flush with the ground surrounding the pool. The focal point is a gorgeous triangular stucco structure framed by palm trees. Next, meet the Sky pool, the year-round indoor pool that features a metal roof with motorized panels that are opened in warm weather. This pool is perfect for those who want to swim for exercise in one of the three swim lanes. The Cabana pool is park-side (as is the Sky pool) and offers family-friendly pool options (like the children’s pool) in a Mediterranean design. And, lastly, the Barbados pool with its dramatic entrance enhanced with a copper roof and vestibule fountain. There is a shaded area that is great for sleeping babies or adults who have had too much sun, but still want to be by the pool.

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A day in the life…
As far as food, let’s eat our way through a day in the life of culinary Rosemary. A good start to any day includes Amavida Coffee, where the name says it all. Amavida is the joining of two Spanish words which mean love (amar) and life (vida)…which is very fitting for this place. It is a family-owned business where their coffee (or tea) hits the spot, and paired with a delicious pastry or breakfast biscuit, you’ll be off and running, fueled for a day of fun in the sun!

Lunch is served at several on-property restaurants and judging by the daily crowd, Summer Kitchen is a favorite with a menu of salads, sandwiches and roll-ups. This eatery is transformed by night into a gourmet dining experience serving fresh gulf seafood. Another favorite lunch spot is Wild Olives with their tasty gourmet pizzas – yum!

Afternoons bring on cravings for something cool or something sweet. Satisfy both at Sno-Balls, home of New Orleans-style snow cones! Also, Sugar Shak is an oasis of sweet treats for young and old alike!

Evenings are deliciously inviting at Rosemary with a reservation at Restaurant Paradis, an award-winning lounge and restaurant where the difference is fresh ingredients. The menu is full of wonderful entrees including fresh gulf seafood and prime steaks…and fine wine. (Note: Check out the early bird dining for a discount.)

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Paradise at a glance…
Rosemary Beach is a carefully blended community, utilizing nature itself as a backdrop and as an appointed amenity. The unspoiled beaches are breathtaking with white sand and dunes all around. Indigenous plants line pathways and boardwalks throughout the property. The natural elegance of water begins with the gulf, carries into the pools and flows through fabulous waterfalls. And, off the beaten path, you won’t be scared away by crowds of people lying towel to towel across the beach.

Families can’t go wrong watching the sun set from the balcony or right on the water’s edge. Rosemary Beach is one of the best kept secrets on the gulf coast…a small piece of paradise.

IF YOU GO…
Rosemary Beach
Highway 30-A
Rosemary Beach, FL 32461
(866) 348-8952
http://www.rosemarybeach.com

You may have seen Becky’s article in River Region Magazine.

The Fairways of Alabama

Alabama’s warm climate sets the perfect stage for some beautiful fairways and golf lovers from all across the southeast come here to play scenic, challenging courses. Golf destinations in Alabama span from the northern end of the state to the Gulf Coast, and there’s some pretty spectacular stuff all in between!

The Kiva Dunes Golf Course
The Kiva Dunes Golf Course should be on every golfers “must play” list as it is ranked the number one course in the state. Located in popular Gulf Shores, the course is full of natural beauty and difficult holes. Designer Jerry Pate said, “I tried to make Kiva Dunes a golf course that not only gave you a lot of options, but one that tested all the shots.” He succeeded.

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Golfers love playing Kiva Dunes for many reasons, but two are distinct: the pristine beachfront atmosphere and its world-wide reputation for a unique and challenging course. Golf lessons are available and it is set among a fabulous West Indian-influenced resort property. Resort amenities are plentiful with pools, a spa, and tennis courts being at the top of the list.

AWARDS
Golf Digest
Voted #2 – Best New Public Courses in U.S. – Dec. 1995
Voted – Alabama’s BEST Place to Play – Jan. 1995
Ranked #24 – America’s Top 75 Upscale Courses – May 1996
Ranked #68 in America’s Top 75 Golf Resorts – Mar. 2002
Ranked #58 in America’s Top 100 Public Courses – May 2003

Golf Magazine
Appeared in Top 10 You Can Play – Feb. 1996

LINKS The Best of Golf
Featured as Modern Classics Course – Jan./Feb. 2000

Renaissance Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
This four-diamond award-winning hotel is more than a place to lay your head. It is known for its elegance and luxury amenities such as a European spa and Mediterranean-influenced restaurant Brocks. Hoover is proud to be the home of this sophisticated resort property. A stay here is sheer pampering.

Ross Bridge Golf Course, part of the Robert Trent Jones Trail, meanders through the landscape of the resort property and is one of the longest courses in the world, offering multiple tees for golfers. This 18-hole course, designed by Roger Rulewich, ASGCA/Bobby Vaughan, offers 8,191 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 72. Ten holes of the course play along the banks of two substantial lakes connected by a stunning waterfall that drops some 80 feet between the ninth and eighteenth greens. The combination of elevation changes and natural obstacles create this challenging course, not to mention, testing the skills of even the best golfer.

Ross Bridge Golf Course is home to a PGA Champions Tour tournament annually with a clubhouse recognized by Golf Digest as one of the Favorite 19th holes in 2008.

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals
The Shoals is unique in that it offers two championship 18-hole golf courses: The Fighting Joe and The Schoolmaster, situated between Wheeler and Wilson Dams on the Tennessee River. Fighting Joe captured one of Travel & Leisure Golf’s coveted awards for Top New Courses in 2004 giving golfers over 8,000 feet of competitive golfing pleasure. The 17th and 18th holes are both known as signature holes, but the 18th wins out for most spectacular view overlooking Wilson Lake.

The Schoolmaster offers very traditional golf with its rolling topography and wooded landscape. It, too, has a signature 18th hole situated on high bluffs overlooking the river.

Marriott Shoals Hotel & Spa is the closeby accommodation venue for both of these fine courses and offers Alabama’s only revolving restaurant. Like its sister property Ross Bridge, Marriott Shoals has a great deal of meeting space and gives guests an upscale property with amenities that are highly sought after: a European spa and salon, on-site restaurant, pools, and a high-scoring guest satisfaction rating.

The Lakewood Golf Club
Part of the service- and luxury-oriented Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, The Lakewood Golf Club with its two Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail courses, is situated beautifully along Mobile Bay’s eastern shore. The resort itself is home to a 20,000-square-foot European-style spa, palette-pleasing dining options, tennis courts, a pool complex, and a gorgeous marina dotted with sailboats, yachts, and other sea vessels.

The courses of Lakewood Golf Club are shaded by ancient oaks that lend a quiet feeling of belonging…and relaxation. Perry Maxwell designed both the Dogwood and Azalea courses with rolling fairways, tight greens, spring-fed lakes, and mature trees…southern qualities appreciated by golfers from all over. Maxwell used Mother Nature as his “assistant” in this Deep South design.

Amenities of Lakewood include:
* 419 Bermuda grass tees, fairways & roughs
* Classic Tifdwarf putting surfaces
* Full Golf Cart service
* Men’s & Women’s locker rooms featuring high wooden lockers
* Full-service, fully stocked golf shop featuring classic names including Titleist, Fairway & Green, FootJoy, Vineyard Vines and Page & Tuttle.
* Bag storage and club cleaning service

Golf is a game of patience and perseverance where practice makes perfect. Enjoy a round today at one of Alabama’s beautiful public courses or book a weekend getaway to one of these spectacular golf destinations. Enjoy!

SIDEBAR
Limestone Springs Golf Club
One of Alabama’s hidden gems is Limestone Springs Golf Club located about 25 minutes north of Birmingham in Oneonta. This public access championship course is set among 225 acres of the Appalachian Mountains amidst some of the state’s most picturesque views. Golfers agree that the views are magnificent but the course doesn’t depend on that alone for popularity…it offers an exceptional challenge just as designer Jerry Pate intended.

Some of the tees are set on elevations creating breathtaking views of twisting fairways and free-flowing streams…in other words, hazards! These 18 holes represent almost 7,000 yards of impressive golf course challenges as well as delightful views including local wildlife. Limestone Springs consistently receives a 4 ½ star rating by Golf Digest’s Places to Play and is ranked in the top five public courses in Alabama by GolfWeek.

Capstone Club
Tuscaloosa’s (really Brookwood’s) best kept secret is the Capstone Club, a public golf facility, referred to as “one of the most interesting and unique golf courses in Alabama” by Golfweek Magazine.

This award-winning course is really summed up in the words of its designer. “This will be a course that reveres and respects the traditions of the game, while producing a great experience for the golfer. It will be traditional in all its trappings – a clear reflection of the proud heritage of tradition,” stated Course Architect Gil Hanse.

Golf Magazine has ranked the Capstone Club #15 in the United States for courses you can play for under $50. That’s a bargain and allows for many folks to play in this uncertain economy.

The finishing hole at Capstone is rounded out with a blind, uphill tee shot and a green that is set in a natural amphitheater. When you’re finished, have lunch at Bear’s Den and enjoy a wonderful clubhouse with tons of amenities.

IF YOU GO…
Kiva Dunes Resort & Golf Course
815 Plantation Drive
Gulf Shores, Alabama 36542
1-888-833-5482
http://www.kivadunes.com

Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa
4000 Grand Avenue
Hoover, Alabama 35226
1-800-593-6419

http://www.rtjgolf.com/resorts/rossbridge/

Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at The Shoals
990 SunBelt Parkway
Muscle Shoals, Alabama 35661
256-446-4111

http://www.rtjgolf.com/theshoals/

Lakewood Golf Club
5910 Lakewood Drive
Fairhope, Alabama 36532
251-990-6312

http://www.lakewoodatthegrand.com/golf.asp

Limestone Springs Golf Club
3000 Colonial Drive
Oneonta, AL 35121
205-274-4653
http://www.limestonesprings.com

The Capstone Club of Alabama
16000 Capstone Boulevard
Brookwood, AL 35444
205-462-0590
http://www.capstoneclub.com

You may have seen this article by Becky in River Region Magazine.

Grayton Beach – a well-worn beach community!

Are you looking for a beachside cottage in an off-the-beaten path location to quietly enjoy Mother Nature’s beauty? Grayton Beach, with its funky charm and unofficial tagline of “nice dogs strange people,” may be just the place for you! And, in case you are wondering where the tagline came from? Once upon a time it was common for there to be more dogs in the town than people!

Sugar-white sands and emerald green waters in Beaches of South Walton

The Beaches of South Walton (Florida) are home to many seaside communities up and down upscale Highway 30A, but Grayton Beach is special in that it stakes claim to being the first community established in this area over 110 years ago. A stroll down one of its oyster-shell roads reminds guests that things change at a much slower pace around Grayton Beach…if at all!

Aged magnolia, oak, and pine trees are quaint reminders of yesteryear as they surround many of the older houses in this Santa Rosa Beach community, as well as lining the narrow streets. Folks are friendly here and eager to show off their eclectic little town flowing with charming art galleries, a general store, and collection of specialty retail and antique shops. Red Bar is a favorite hangout/restaurant for locals and visitors alike with a unique décor, live jazz music, good food and drinks!

Beach access in South Walton

Accommodations on Grayton Beach are pretty simple: cottages and beach homes. Both offer the same great views and promote sunset strolls. It’s impossible to go wrong with either choice! They have every size accommodation you can imagine from a small cottage for two to a beach house big enough for a family reunion (20+ people).

Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach is particularly popular for its State Park which spans the beautiful Gulf of Mexico and almost all of Western Lake. RV owners can park and stay here, as can campers…pitch a tent or rent a cabin…either is acceptable! The hiking trail is among the most scenic in the area with lots of sand dunes and the gorgeous lake to view. The lake offers many water recreation opportunities like kayaking, canoeing, and paddle boarding.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you will enjoy spending a day, a weekend, or a week on the winding trails of Grayton Beach State Park, seeing the wildlife, and soaking in all the area has to offer. The park is located south of US98 about half way between Panama City Beach & Destin.

IF YOU GO…
Grayton Beach
3812 Scenic 30A West
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
http://www.graytonbeach.com.

The Red Bar
70 Hotz Avenue
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
850-231-1008
http://www.theredbar.com

SIDEBAR:
Grayton Beach State Park
357 Main Park Road
Santa Rosa Beach, FL
850-267-8300
http://www.floridastateparks.org/graytonbeach
Hours: 8 a.m. to sunset
Admission: $5/vehicle
Pedestrians & Cyclists: $2
Camping fee: $19 + tax
Cabin fee: $110 + tax

You may have seen this article by Becky in River Region Magazine.

Radio Linkups for 1-31-15 – Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

If you are listening LIVE to the show on Saturday, January 31, 2015 on APH Radio 99.9 FM in the Shelby County, AL area and looking for the linkups to the show, well here you are! If you missed it, no worries, you can catch it on the APH Radio app (FREE download at your app store) and hear it in the archives…or find it on iHeart Radio! Search SHOWS for The Travel Voice by Becky and choose an episode.

Wilderness Wildlife Week™
One of the most popular events in Pigeon Forge each year is Wilderness Wildlife Week™. This weeklong event has been happening in Pigeon Forge for more than two decades. It’s open to the public and completely FREE!

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Wilderness Wildlife Week™ is made up of exhibits, performances, workshops, classes, walks and talks that are both informative and entertaining. These programs celebrate the features, creatures and cultures of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the surrounding region. Wilderness Wildlife Week™ offers activities for all ages and brings thousands of nature lovers to Pigeon Forge each year. The International Festivals & Events Association has recognized the event for its environmental and educational efforts.

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For music lovers there are different musical presentations each day which will highlight the Appalachian region. Attendees can listen to old-time mountain ballads, hymns, bluegrass, and traditional mountain instruments.

Children will also be able to enjoy Wilderness Wildlife Week™ through the KIDS’ TRACK! program which consists of a series of informative and activity-filled workshops where they will have the opportunity to learn more about nature in unique and fun ways. Hikers will find several opportunities for hiking presentations and outdoor events.

Programs typically start each day at 8:00 AM and run until around 7:30 PM when the day’s keynote program starts. Participants are encouraged to come and go as they please between the exhibits and programs. One could argue the only bad part of Wilderness Wildlife Week™ is that it’s impossible to see every program because there are so many wonderful selections to choose from!

For more information, please visit http://www.mypigeonforge.com/events/wilderness-wildlife-week/.

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The Old Mill Square
The Old Mill Square is the cornerstone to historical preservation in Pigeon Forge offering an authentic look at the Tennessee town of yesteryear. Eat in their two award-winning restaurants, tour the old mill and shop at one of the unique retail shops including the General Store. The Old Mill is a must-visit on your trip to the Smoky Mountains.

For a little history, visit http://www.old-mill.com/info/our-history.

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The Inn at Christmas Place
Right off the parkway in Pigeon Forge, you will find the beautiful Bavarian architecture of The Inn at Christmas Place. This 145-room four-star hotel celebrates Christmas 365 days a year with remarkable décor, unique experiences and plain ole southern hospitality. With a charm all its own, The Inn at Christmas Place invites guests to Sleep in Heavenly Peace…and believe me, you will on their amazing mattresses and bedding.

Hear Santa sing, enjoy cookies in the evening and feast on a breakfast fit for a king! There is no place like The Inn at Christmas Place in the Smoky Mountains! For more info, visit http://www.innatchristmasplace.com/.

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The Island in Pigeon Forge
Located just off the Pigeon Forge Parkway, The Island in Pigeon Forge is packed with things to do! Come see The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel – it is 200 feet tall and offers amazing views of The Great Smoky Mountains! Pull up a rocking chair and enjoy the beautiful Island Show Fountain or check out the unique retail shops, restaurants and eateries, rides and games, live music, attractions and much more! Open 10 a.m. daily year round.

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For more information, please visit http://islandinpigeonforge.com/.

Volkswagen Beetle – throwing it back to the good ole days!

2015 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible TDI
Class: Sub-Compact Cars
Fuel Economy: 30/40
Base Price: $30,195

Beetle Convertible Model  Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

Beetle Convertible Model
Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

Some of my greatest childhood memories were made in vehicles: traveling to ball games, carpool lines and trips to grandma’s house. And, among those memories are the car games I played with my family and friends…like the alphabet game, the license plate game and the best one of all…PUNCH BUG!!

Punch bug spared my parents many miles of “are we there yet” moments, but in some cases replaced them with “ouch he’s punching too hard!” No matter the reason, when I see a beetle bug car, my heart smiles. Volkswagen has a fantastic audience for this retro vehicle that resonates with many folks on different levels, creating Beetle excitement across the generations!

The 2015 Beetle, I must admit, is not your mama’s Bug. I tested the Convertible model and have nothing but good things to report. This diesel-powered sub-compact car handed me better fuel efficiency, more get up and go, more cabin space and more fun than I expected. That’s big if you know the big-car kind of girl that I am!

Exterior and under the hood…
The outward appearance of the Beetle continues to be very iconic for Volkswagen (the power of branding) and yet, it offers a slightly more sophisticated look in 2015. I prefer to think that the Beetle has grown up along with me…we’ve both aged…and like good wine, have only gotten better!

A 2.0-liter TDI Clean Diesel 4-cylinder engine is responsible for the increase in the horsepower of this Beetle (thank you turbocharge!), as well as thrifty gas mileage (a combined mpg of 34 is pretty impressive). I felt plenty of power to merge onto the busy highways that I traverse every day without hesitation. Big plus for this city girl!

What to expect: the 2015 Beetle is a four-passenger, two-door hatchback with a super cool convertible option. There are three trim lines that coincide with the engines: 1.8T, R-Line and the TDI. I spent my time tooling around in the TDI automatic which upgraded to chrome exterior accents, keyless entry (start/stop button), satellite radio and touchscreen audio interface.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

Inside the Bug…
The controls, while up-to-date and innovative are straightforward and easy to use. I have not had to pull out the owner’s manual even once to figure out a control button. I love the Fender sound system – it offers premium quality and I would definitely purchase that upgrade.

The dashboard has good craftsmanship and it’s nice that you can still match your interior trim to the exterior color of the car. Some things never change…and they shouldn’t!

The seats are comfortable…and there is more cabin room than I remember in the Bugs of yesteryear. The only thing that you have to remember is checking your blind spots, especially in the convertible. I also advise purchasing the add-on of the rearview camera to help visually as I think this is an awesome safety feature anyway.

And, speaking of safety, Volkswagen has taken that into account, as they should. Standard options in this department include: traction and stability control, airbags (front, side and side curtain), antilock brakes, roadside assistance, stolen vehicle location and remote door unlocking. One thing that I think is pretty cook is geo-fencing which gives parents the ability to set some boundaries for little Jimmy and Susie in their teenage driving years. Smart Volkswagen, very smart!

Beetle Classic Model Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

Beetle Classic Model
Photo courtesy of Volkswagen.

My overall impression of the 2015 Beetle is pleasing. I think it’s an eclectic mix of retro and modern that is appealing to multiple ages and genders. It’s perfect for commuters and sits well with me for a road trip down memory lane and beyond.

Radio Linkups for 1-24-15

Hey travel friends!

If you are listening today and wanting the links to the ski destinations I am talking about, well here you go!

Beech Mountain - Beech Mountain is easily reached from the Interstate system. Major approaches are I-81 and I-181 from the north; I-85, I-40 and I-26 from the south; and I-77 from the east. The main highways leading to the High Country of North Carolina from the Interstates are US 221, US 321, US 421 and US 19E. From either Boone or Linville, NC, follow NC 105 to NC 184. Take NC 184 to the top and you will be in Beech Mountain.

Be prepared when you visit Beech Mountain in the winter. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended or at least have a set of tire chains for your drive wheels. Hazardous driving conditions are a possibility in winter, and there may be times when four-wheel drive vehicles or tire chains will be required to reach Beech Mountain.

For more info, visit http://www.BeechMountain.com.

Courtesy of Sugar Mountain.

Courtesy of Sugar Mountain.

Sugar Mountain Resort – Check the Winter Value Packages and enjoy the convenience and affordability! Get away to the mountains and splendor in the savings on lodging, lift/slope tickets, rental equipment, even lessons for the whole family – all without the peak-season crowds. You’re guaranteed savings of 30-40%.

As if that wasn’t good enough, Sugar Mountain Resort is happy to announce that Winter Value Packages now include ALL-DAY tickets. That’s right! Buy your package for 2, 3 or 4 days and you’ll receive a multiday ticket good for ALL sessions on the days you choose to ski or snowboard! You can’t even buy those at the ticket window!

Drive to address: 1009 Sugar Mountain Drive Banner Elk, NC 28604. For more information, visit http://www.skisugar.com.

Carnival Foundation Donates $5 Million to Big Brothers Big Sisters

I love a little good news and this made me smile.

PRESS RELEASE PROVIDED BY CARNIVAL FOUNDATION.

Gift — the largest ever awarded to Miami chapter — will be used to provide expanded services at a new Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami headquarters and mentoring and educational facility

CARNIVAL FOUNDATION

Carnival Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Carnival Corporation & plc, is donating $5 million to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami to create the Carnival Center for Excellence. The donation — timed to celebrate National Mentoring Month — marks the largest gift ever received by the organization’s Miami chapter.

The Carnival Center for Excellence building at 550 Le Jeune Road in Miami will serve as the headquarters for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami and will provide facilities to support ongoing mentoring and educational activities for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ participants, often referred to as “Littles.”

“Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami makes a huge impact in the lives of so many kids in our community, and for years it’s been Carnival Corporation’s goal to take our longstanding relationship and make an even greater difference,” said Linda Coll, Carnival Foundation’s director. “The Carnival Center for Excellence will enable us to greatly expand the services both the Carnival Scholarship and Mentoring Program and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami can provide to students and families in South Florida.”

“We are a proud supporter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami, and it is an honor to help them secure a permanent home at the Carnival Center for Excellence,” said Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest travel and leisure company with its headquarters based in Miami. “Through this facility and the contributions of our volunteer mentors, we will continue to work together to make a real difference in the lives of deserving South Florida students for many years to come.”

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami closed on the purchase of the building Tuesday, Jan. 20, and is scheduled to relocate there in the first quarter of 2016. The building will provide office space for more than 50 agency staff members, as well as house a digital learning center, library, meeting and tutoring facilities, and more. Various additional services will be rolled out in phases, with the digital learning center and library slated to be operational by the time the building opens. Other services and facilities such as tutoring and family classes will be introduced during the first year.

“We are honored to be selected by the Carnival Foundation for this very generous investment in shaping the lives of Miami’s kids,” said Lydia Muniz, president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami. “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami’s purpose is to provide a personal hero to every child in need. The new Carnival Center for Excellence at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami will enable us to awaken new possibilities for more of Miami’s kids, and to ultimately make this city one where kids can build a brighter future.”

The building was selected because it is conveniently located on a major thoroughfare with access to public transportation and free ground-level parking. BB&T Bank is serving as the financing bank for the acquisition from Keystone Property Management.

Carnival Foundation’s signature initiative, the Carnival Scholarship and Mentoring Program, pairs a Carnival employee with a South Florida high school student matched by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami. Currently, 95 Carnival management team members mentor 95 Miami-Dade County high school students through the in-the-workplace program sponsored by Carnival in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami.

The program also awards four-year college scholarships to 15 participating students every year. For the past 12 years, Carnival Foundation has purchased STARS scholarships representing a collective value of more than $2.1 million. Since 2010, 75 scholarships have been awarded, and in 2014 several students from the first group of recipients graduated college.

Carnival Foundation is dedicated to creating positive change through empowering youth, enhancing education and strengthening families in the communities where Carnival Corporation employees live and work. Through monetary and in-kind donations, innovative philanthropic programs, employee fundraisers and hands-on volunteer initiatives, the foundation supports hundreds of organizations annually with primary funding focused in the areas of the arts, human needs, education and health.

Carnival Foundation partners include National YoungArts Foundation, New World Symphony, Florida International University, American Heart Association, Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, Best Buddies International and Feeding South Florida. Its website is http://www.carnivalfoundation.com.

This travel girl offers her picks for compact cars that grab attention

I love driving and discovering cars that make me happy. I travel a lot, so the vehicles of choice must be comfortable and, above all, safe. Past that, I have different reasons for various vehicles easing me on down the road. These are a few of my favorite compacts and I encourage you to get out and test drive them. They are not in order of my favorites, but rather by price (that takes the pressure off of me, right?).

2014 Nissan Versa
Fuel Economy: 26/31
Class: Sub Compact Car
Base Price: $16,890

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First up, the second-generation Nissan Versa Sedan, now in its third year, Nissan continues to evolve this vehicle into more than an entry-level car. The exterior is classy enough for this segment of vehicle and the interior is well-appointed, not too fancy, but has the straightforward controls that are important. With four adults in the vehicle, my family was comfortable with ample back seat legroom.

This model year Versa weighs less having been built on Nissan’s front-wheel drive “V” platform. Basically, this means that the vehicle was manufactured with less platform components (roughly 20% less) and that shaves off about 150 pounds! The engine is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder sporting lots of new innovation, 109 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque. More efficiency is garnered in the Xtronic CVT transmission by way of an auxiliary gearbox that uses planetary gearing.

Fuel economy is likely at the top of the list for those purchasing the Versa Sedan, now available in four models:
S (5-speed manual and 4-speed automatic)
S Plus CVT
SV CVT
SL CVT
Additionally, the Versa is available in a hatchback version.

2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE
Fuel Economy: 25/36
Class: Compact Car
Base Price: $19,995

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Next, I share with you the sixth-generation Jetta, Volkswagen’s best-selling car! Each year I see this vehicle get better and better, and it’s always at the top of my list for dependability as well as fuel efficiency.

Jetta

Let’s start with the change in engines. The 2.5-liter five-cylinder engine in the SE and SEL trim lines has been replaced by a new 1.8-liter turbocharged and direct-injection four-cylinder engine, carrying the EA888 Gen 3 designation. The new engine gives 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, and the transmission is automatic. The EPA estimated fuel economy predicts an improvement of 5 mpg on the highway over the previous engine.

I thoroughly enjoy the ride and the drive of the Jetta, and I like that they are just so reliable. The interior is to my satisfaction as well, with enough room for a family and technology that we can’t seem to live without. Add all of that to safety and great gas mileage for a winning combination!

2014 Toyota Prius c
Fuel Economy: 53/46
Class: Compact
Base Price: $21,765

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Toyota will forever be on the list for top compact cars with their reputation for outstanding fuel economy. This hybrid model is no different and remains virtually unchanged from the previous year model. The pricing is highly favorable, especially for commuters and those looking for entry-level vehicles.

The Prius c is available in four trim levels and has a fair amount of standard equipment including automatic climate control, a full color TFT Multi-Information Display and keyless, illuminated entry. Steering wheel gizmos and gadgets make dealing with audio and climate controls convenient for the driver.

My favorite features on this car: the audio system including AM/FM/CD and auxiliary jack, USB port and, of course, the extreme gas mileage. It does have a bit of wind noise, but overall this is a nice product for Toyota with a good value for the money.

2014 Fiat Abarth
Fuel Economy: 28/34
Class: Mini Compact Car
Base Price: $22,195

2014 Fiat 500 Abarth

I felt like some kind of super hero driving around in the Fiat Abarth, and people treated me that way, too! I will have to say it’s not the most practical car on the list, but it’s Italian and it’s so much fun! Who needs practical anyway?

The Fiat 500 Abarth brought fun back to the driving experience…race-inspired with aggressive styling adds some excitement to this segment of vehicles through world-class performance. The manual drive is aggressive and more fuel efficient.

Features according to Fiat:
• Track-tested, turbocharged and twin-intercooled 1.4-liter MultiAir engine provides the Fiat 500 Abarth and Abarth Cabrio with 160 horsepower, up to 170 lb.-ft. of torque and is mated to a race-proven five-speed manual transmission
• Fiat 500 Abarth Cabrio (500c) features a clever open-top design for a high-performance four-passenger cabrio experience
• Abarth-tuned performance hardware delivers world-class ride and track-ready durability with a lowered ride height, beefier suspension, larger brakes and wider tires
• Continuous improvements: revised passenger seat sits 1 inch (25 mm) lower for increased headroom and now offers seat memory and arm rest
• Both Abarth models include a segment-exclusive full-day Abarth Driving Experience

2015 Audi A3 Sedan 2.0T Quattro S Tronic
Fuel Economy: 24/33
Class: Sub Compact Car
Base Price: $32,900

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I am always anxiously awaiting the new Audi lineup each year because this manufacturer does a superb job of keeping up with technology and innovation, and also continually creating beautiful vehicles.

The all-new 2015 Audi A3 model line-up is no exception offering new innovative technologies and the detailed craftsmanship found in larger flagship Audi sedans. I love the premium standard features: leather seating surfaces, power panoramic sunroof, Bluetooth technology, SiriusXM Satellite Radio (and HD Radio) and so much more. The A3 line-up will also feature (as standard options) the iconic Singleframe grille, bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights.

I love the comfy feel of the car itself and the connectivity for data services (4G LTE, no less)…the MMI dashboard tech is awesome…the driver has so many different ways to interact with their vehicle! I really like this vehicle for appearance (a little bit sporty) and luxury qualities in a small car package.

2014 Porsche 911 Carrera
Fuel Economy: 19/27
Class: Mini Compact Car
Base Price: $84,300

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Porsche really owns the performance car market, and with the more practical-minded 911, they also take a stake in the mini compact car segment as well! Meet the new Porsche 911 Carrera and Carrera S.

Ok, so what’s the big deal…what makes this one different? Oh, I am so glad you asked! The commitment to the Porsche Intelligent Performance philosophy is exemplified in this vehicle through improved performance using less fuel, reduced emissions and reduced mass. Almost all of the seventh-generation 911’s components are new or they are redesigned.

If a high-end sports car is in your future, this is the one for you! You, like I, will appreciated the precise handling Porsche is known for and seemingly effortless acceleration. Make this vehicle your own through various packages as it is very much a customizable vehicle.

What comes on the base model 911 Carrera? Here’s the lengthy list: 19-inch alloy wheels with summer tires, automatic bi-xenon headlights, heated mirrors, power accessories, dual-zone automatic climate control, adjustable power seats, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, leather interior, 7-inch touchscreen display, navigation, Bluetooth, nine-speaker audio system (with CD) and interfacing for USB/iPod.

As far as power, the base 911 Carrera models offer a 3.4-liter six-cylinder engine with 350 horsepower and 287 lb-ft of torque. And, a seven-speed manual is the standard transmission. How could this NOT make my list for favorite compact vehicles?

Photos courtesy of respective manufacturers: Fiat, Toyota, Audi, Nissan, Volkswagen and Porsche.

Radio show linkups for 1-17-15

If you are listening to The Travel Voice by Becky radio show (locally Saturday at 11 a.m.) and you are looking for the links to the different destinations, I’ve tried hard to link everything here. Thanks for listening (and reading)!

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Disney Cruise Line
This Disney video is a little dated, so lots of the deals have changed, but the general info is awesome! Check it out!

http://thetravelvoicebybecky.com/2013/01/15/disney-cruise-ships-which-one-is-for-you/

If you are looking to sail on a Disney Cruise and you can go without a ton of notice, I have found a couple that have been reduced! Check out February 6, 2015 on Disney Wonder from Miami and March 1, 2015 same ship. The price is 50 – 60% less than high season rates. I don’t see Disney cruises on sale often, so if you can swing this, take advantage! Here is the website to book your trip or use your local travel agent! http://disneycruise.disney.go.com/

King & Prince Resort 008

The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort
If you have Georgia on your mind and are looking for a little piece of paradise, then head over to St. Simons Island, and particularly The King and Prince Beach and Golf Resort.

This seaside sanctuary offers sweet Georgia charm mixed with oceanfront accommodations (top notch I might add) and amenities galore. Choose from a room with an ocean view, a seaside cabana, or live smack in the middle of luxury with a beach villa or guesthouse.

Amenities at a glance:
a heated atrium pool and hot tub
four outdoor pools and two hot tubs
tennis courts
fitness center
oceanfront and poolside dining (seasonally).

If golf is your thing, bring your sticks and shoot a round at one of the St. Simons Island amazing courses. You can just relax and enjoy the serenity of the beach, get a massage, ride a bike or take a ghost tour! There are many activities available at the resort and the surrounding areas so you will lack for nothing to do!

The web site for this award-winning resort is overflowing with information on how to make your dream vacation a reality. Spend some time there and plan a trip. As for an incentive? Well, they do have some sweet deals going on! Just visit their web site and click on the SPECIALS tab to see what’s available – http://www.kingandprince.com.

Ariel Dunes Pool. Photo courtesy of Joe Mayer

Ariel Dunes Pool. Photo courtesy of Joe Mayer

Seascape Resort
Many coastal resorts are offering deals to pre-book your spring or summer stay. Check out one of my favorites…Seascape Resorts in Destin, Florida. As a journalist I have stayed as their guest and liked it enough to go back many times over as a paying guest. That speaks volumes.

The resort, situated partly on a golf course, consists of golf villas, tennis villas, and newer high rise condos such as Ariel Dunes I and II, and Majestic Sun. I love the high rises because the units are fairly new, well-kept, spacious and have all the modern conveniences.

Amenities are in abundance from tennis courts to awesome (and clean) pools, outdoor grills and tram service. Their packages most often include free beach service (two lounge chairs and an umbrella) which is a great value added amenity in itself!

Seascape is in close proximity to many local restaurants like Pompano Joe’s, one of my favorites, and Silver Sands Outlet Shops. The location is fabulous…a little further down the beach from the crowds and perfect for families, couples or girlfriend trips. Check out their specials at http://www.seascape-resort.com/Specials.aspx.

Emerald Beach Resort

Emerald Beach Resort

Emerald Beach Resort
Chances are if you’ve driven up and down Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach, you’ve likely seen the high rise, Emerald Beach Resort, conveniently located gulf side and only a block or two from the ever popular Pier Park. Emerald Beach Resort is right in the heart of PCB, in close proximity to restaurants and dining, activities, recreation and shopping. Read more at http://thetravelvoicebybecky.com/2013/07/12/emerald-beach-resort-florida-panhandles-fun-place-to-be/.

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Pensacola, Florida…More than a beach
As the weather warms up and daydreams fill with visions of sun and sand, summer vacation plans start to become more than passing thoughts. The Gulf Coast has many beautiful offerings, one of which is award-winning Pensacola, Florida, where there is so much more than a beach! Read more about Pensacola at http://thetravelvoicebybecky.com/2014/05/12/pensacola-more-than-a-beach/.

Celebrity Cruises Offers Celebrity City Stay Vacation Packages

Have you ever wanted to spend more time in your cruise departure port city? I know I have often thought how wonderful a couple of days would be in one of these fabulous cities either pre- or post-cruise. Obviously, Celebrity was thinking the same thing! The press release below explains the newest option available to cruisers of this elite cruise line.

Press Release courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

Guests can now begin their modern luxury vacation earlier with Celebrity Cruises’ new “Celebrity City Stay” vacation packages. Combining destination expertise with unbeatable value, the newly curated pre-cruise experiences will be available in 16 of the most intriguing and dynamic cities.

Celebrity City Stay packages bring vacationers even closer to the world’s must-see cities, including Athens, Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, Hong Kong, London, Singapore and Sydney. The one-of-a-kind packages are available in nearly every port city the cruise vacation company sails from.

Celebrity ship

Enhancing guests’ Celebrity vacations, City Stay vacation packages include:

· Three nights in four-star, luxury hotel accommodations, with complimentary breakfast
· Transfers to and from the airport, hotel and the booked Celebrity cruise
· Full day of an in-depth fully guided City Highlights Tour and lunch
· Half day with an in-depth fully guided tour and a farewell dinner
· Dedicated Celebrity Cruises Hospitality Desk at the luxury hotel, to provide personalized, premium service
· Classic Beverage Package for two, including wine and spirits, while sailing with Celebrity
· Families and friends in a stateroom as additional guests can receive a Classic non-alcoholic beverage package and a 40-minute internet package

“Our destination experts have specially curated each Celebrity City Stay so that vacationers can get even more up close and personal with the destination before departing on their cruise. Our guests can enjoy upscale and immersive three-night experiences in some of the world’s most beautiful and captivating cities,” said Bernardo Carrillo, Managing Director, Celebrity Vacations, Celebrity Cruises. “From authentic dining, in-depth tours hosted by local experts, free time to go off the beaten path, and four-star accommodations to come back to, there’s no better start to a modern luxury vacation than an early one.”

For full details about the new Celebrity City Stay vacation packages, visit celebritycruises.com/vacationpackages.

Valentine’s Day Travel

If you are thinking of a Valentine’s Day trip with your someone special, then this post is for you! From the sights and sounds of the Big Apple to Las Vegas and everywhere in between, I’ll highlight some special destinations that you might want to consider.

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1. New York, New York – Everyone wants to visit during the Christmas and New Year’s time frame, so prices are higher and supply is less. Why not go in February and celebrate Cupid’s holiday? You can still enjoy the ice rink at Rockefeller Center, horse-drawn carriage rides through Central Park, strolling thru Manhattan, Broadway shows and musicals, a walk through the unique High Line (elevated park) and reign it all in with a stay at the amazing Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District. Gansevoort offers fabulous views, luxury amenities and superb quality. The hotel’s Valentine’s Day package offers extras like roses, chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. Get a late check-out and spend some time lounging by the heated outdoor rooftop pool. Find out more at http://www.gansevoorthotelgroup.com/hotels/gansevoort-meatpacking-nyc.

2. Las Vegas, Nevada – Many folks propose or marry in Las Vegas, so it only seems fitting to think of Sin City as a romantic getaway. What would make a special Valentine’s Day in the city for high rollers? Well, for starters the Bellagio Fountains! The romantic setting on the lake in front of the resort, beautiful music, the soaring fountains…the ambiance is certainly fitting! And, a little touch of Venice (one of the world’s most romantic cities) can be experienced in Vegas at none other than the Venetian hotel. Canals and gondolas modeled after Venice wind their way through the resort…and you can also hire a singing gondolier! Check out MonteLago Village, about 17 miles from the strip, a shopping and dining area in the essence of an Italian village. Guests can upgrade their cruises on gondolas to include roses, a disposable camera and more. For more Vegas-style ideas, visit http://www.vegas.com/valentinesday/.

3. Savannah, Georgia – The cobblestone streets of Savannah coupled with the Spanish moss and charm of the south make me feel comfortable with recommending this destination as a Valentine getaway. Enjoy brunch aboard a riverboat cruise and delight in the special flavors of Leopold’s Ice Cream (Rose Petal Cream and Chocolate Cherry Cordial) only available in February. For accommodations, choose a romantic inn or Bed and Breakfast rather than a hotel. More info can be found at http://www.visitsavannah.com/.

4. Grapevine, Texas – The Christmas Capital of Texas also offers a wonderful Valentine’s Day treat! The Sweetheart Wine Trail, February 14 and 15: Romance the day away with someone special along the Sweetheart Wine Trail in Grapevine. Featuring three tastings and food samplings at each participating Grapevine winery tasting room, a souvenir wine glass and a bottle of premium Grapevine wine, this is a unique and festive way to celebrate Cupid’s arrow. I recommend two accommodations in Grapevine: Gaylord Texas and Great Wolf Lodge. For more details, visit http://www.GrapevineWineryTrail.com.

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5. Orange Beach, Alabama – If you want to consider the beach as a Valentine’s Day destination, Orange Beach is an awesome choice! Hampton Inn & Suites says “Savor the Sweet Stuff” – Nothing says I love you like chocolates, bubbly and flowers. Add a free gift from Fusion Spa Salon and you’ve got a winner! Check out Hampton at http://hamptonorangebeach.com/orange-beach-romance-package/. Also, check out Life’s a Bed of Roses at Holiday Inn Express – A bed covered in rose petals says it all. Let them take care of setting the scene, including champagne and $25 toward a romantic sunset meal at Cobalt Restaurant. Two days advance purchase required. Must be 21 for champagne. Click here to book http://holidayinnexpressorangebeach.com/orange-beach-romance-package/. And, there’s the Just the Two of You Valentine’s package at Hilton Garden Inn! When was the last time you did anything for yourselves? Take some time for the two of you with sparkling wine, free breakfast for two, late check-out and a free gift from Fusion Spa Salon. Book it now at http://hiltongardeninnorangebeach.com/orange-beach-romance-packages/.

Look around the blog for other Valentine’s Day ideas such as the Sail Across the Sun Music Festival with Train on Norwegian Pearl and the Winter Romance in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Whatever you choose, enjoy your celebration and make some memories.

Norwegian Escape partners with Margaritaville

Press Release from Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Escape to prominently feature Jimmy Buffett’s celebrated eatery, the first location at sea, along with 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar and waterfront music venue

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Cruisers should get their Fins Up and shakers of salt ready, as the first-ever floating Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant and 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar will soon set sail onboard the all-new Norwegian Escape. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Kevin Sheehan announced the news at a company-wide event, with the help of a very special guest – the legendary Jimmy Buffett who performed for the crowd. Norwegian’s exclusive partnership with Margaritaville Holdings LLC extends to Norwegian’s island destinations including the new Harvest Caye in Belize and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, as well as other ships in the fleet.

“Jimmy Buffett is an icon who embodies the island lifestyle and his Margaritaville lifestyle brand which includes restaurants and bars in its portfolio is a perfect fit for Norwegian Cruise Line and the incredible new Norwegian Escape, that will sail the Caribbean and offer our guests the first and only Margaritaville experience at sea,” said Sheehan. “We are more than thrilled to form this exclusive partnership with Jimmy and his talented team and we know our guests are going to love the new tropical experiences.”

Margaritaville’s iconic name brings to mind the desire in everyone to kick back and escape the everyday, if only for a few hours or days. Norwegian Escape’s Margaritaville restaurant and bar will embody that essence of escapism with a laid back atmosphere inspired by the lyrics and lifestyle of Jimmy Buffett. Nostalgic island moments will come to life with a menu that invites guests to take a bite out of paradise with signature items like the Cheeseburger in Paradise and Who’s to Blame Margarita. This venue will be one of Norwegian Escape’s many complimentary dining outlets. In addition to the restaurant, Norwegian Escape will feature the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar, a music venue and outdoor bar on The Waterfront. The 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar will feature live nightly performances so guests can enjoy the sounds of the tropics while sipping a signature margarita or “boat drink” and gazing out to the beautiful Caribbean Sea.

“This partnership is a perfect match between two brands that celebrate escapism, relaxing and having fun,” said John Cohlan, chief executive officer of Margaritaville. “Opening our first Margaritaville at Sea on Norwegian Escape will be a huge milestone for our company. We can’t wait to bring the Margaritaville experience to Norwegian guests and let the floating ‘fin’ begin!”

Along with the venues on Norwegian Escape, the partnership also includes Margaritaville branded food and beverage locations on Norwegian’s new island destination in Harvest Caye, Belize, set to open in fall 2015 and a 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar on Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas, planned to also debut in 2015. In the future, the partnership will extend to other ships in the fleet.

Norwegian Escape will begin weekly seven-day cruises from her year-round homeport of Miami to the Eastern Caribbean beginning on November 14, 2015. The ship will be the largest 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.

For more information on Norwegian Escape, visit http://www.escape.ncl.com. To book a cruise on Norwegian Escape, contact a travel professional, call Norwegian at 888-NCL-CRUISE (625-2784), or visit http://www.ncl.com.

Make plans for Pigeon Forge’s 15th Annual Saddle Up

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Everyone loves an excuse to wear cowboy hats and boots, and here’s a good one that will also factor in some great travel! The 15th annual Saddle Up in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee promises a celebration full of cowboy poetry, western music, two-steppin’ and chuck wagon cooking! Make plans to attend the final major event of Smoky Mountain Winterfest February 18-22, 2015!

What is Saddle Up?
This event is a carefully formulated blend of big concerts, small shows, one-act dinner shows and (my favorite) a chuck wagon cookoff! Do you love old-time cowboy songs…dream of taking a western dance class or swing fiddle class? This is your chance! While most of the music programs do require ticket purchases, some events are totally free.

Performers for 2015 are cowboy poet Baxter Black, cowboy band Wylie and the Wild West, T. Scot Wilburn and the Shut Up-N-Playboys, Utah singer Brenn Hill, songwriter Chuck Pyle, the husband and wife team of Jean and Gary Prescott, singer and western and Celtic fiddler Skip Gorman, western radio show host Andy Nelson and cowboy poet and chuck wagon cook Kent Rollins.

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Three multi-act concerts will be at the LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge (3 and 7 p.m. on Feb. 20 and 6 p.m. on Feb. 21). Tickets are $21.95, tax included. One hundred passes covering all three concerts will be sold for $60.36, tax included.

Three “Intimate Evening” dinner shows are scheduled. Kent Rollins and Jean and Gary Prescott will perform Feb. 18 at Mama’s Farmhouse. The other two are Feb. 19 at the LeConte Event Center, one with Brenn Hill and Andy Nelson, and the other with Wylie; the Wild West. Each is limited to 50 tickets ($54.88, tax inclusive).

“Stories and Strings” is a special daytime show on Feb. 20 that will feature eight of the performers as they talk about their special connections to their music. That show is at the Stages West store on the Parkway. Tickets are $21.95, tax included.

A new program for 2015 is Cowbucks Café on Feb. 19. This is a mid-morning meet-and-greet session with Saddle Up entertainers at the Pottery House Café and Grille in Old Mill Square. Fifty seats are available ($15, tax included). Guests will receive the 2015 Saddle Up commemorative poster and a limited edition Saddle Up coffee mug.

Free programs include a Skip Gorman symposium about old-time cowboy songs on Feb. 18; a western swing fiddle class with Paul Anastasio on Feb. 18; a western dance class featuring a reunion of dancers from cable television’s “Dance Club” on TNN; and “Tales and Tips from a Cowboy Cook” featuring Kent Rollins on Feb. 20.

One of Saddle Up’s major activities is the annual chuck wagon cookoff on Feb. 21 at Clabough’s Campground. Chuck wagon cooks prepare lunch for guests and evaluation by a panel of judges. Tickets for the noon lunch are $12.50. Beginning at 9 a.m., visitors can hear cowboy entertainers and participate in cowboy-themed activities free of charge.

The Saddle Up Cowboy Dance ($5), with music by T. Scot Wilburn and the Shut Up -N- Playboys, follows the Feb. 21 concert at the LeConte Event Center.

The weekend concludes with a chuck wagon breakfast ($5) Feb. 22 at the LeConte Event Center, followed by Cowboy Church at Stages West. Cowboy Church is free.

A detailed schedule of Saddle Up activities is at MyPigeonForge.com/saddleup. Tickets are available online. Remaining tickets will be sold at the event.

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The Island in Pigeon Forge
While you’re there, check out the new entity, The Island in Pigeon Forge, located just off the Pigeon Forge Parkway. The Island has so much to do and you can’t miss it…just look for The Great Smoky Mountain Wheel (modern day Ferris Wheel of sorts)! The Wheel, standing 200 feet tall, offers an awesome view of the Smokies that you will not want to skip. The Island also has a fabulous fountain that syncs music to a guitar-shaped fountain water show. It is spectacular!

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Top off your visit to The Island with great shopping at specialty stores (Tervis is a favorite for me) and fabulous eateries like Timberwood Grill where the genuine taste of the Smokies captivates your tastebuds. And, The Island has its own 4-star hotel, Margaritaville. For more information, please visit http://islandinpigeonforge.com/.

Get your FREE 2015 Tennessee Vacation Guide

Is Tennessee travel in your future? If so, you’ll want to get your hands on a recently released 2015 Official Tennessee Vacation Guide featuring actors Chip Esten, Will Chase and Chris Carmack, stars of ABC’s hit television series, Nashville, performing at the world famous Ryman Auditorium. The guide is compliments of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

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Where can you find a guide? The state offers some 14 Welcome Centers where the guides may be picked up for FREE, and also tourists may request one at tnvacation.com or 1-800-GO2-TENN. The e-guide version may be found at tnvacation.com/guide and the iPad app of the guide will be available shortly.

Esten, a transplanted Tennessean who portrays singer-songwriter Deacon Claybourne on the show, is featured in the guide, talking about his favorite restaurants and nightspots in and around Nashville.

“We’re thrilled to showcase three of the stars of the hit TV show Nashville playing at the Ryman Auditorium on the cover of our 2015 Official Tennessee Vacation Guide, which celebrates all that Tennessee offers as the global music destination of choice,” said Commissioner Susan Whitaker, Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

Tennessee music icons like Dolly Parton and country music superstars Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, as well as up-and-coming artists such as Amy LaVere, The Apache Relay and The Black Cadillacs are also featured in the guide.

The guide also includes commentary from second and third generation Tennessee musicians including Shooter Jennings (son of the late Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter), Holly Williams (daughter of Hank Williams, Jr. and granddaughter of Hank Williams) and Ashley and Shannon Campbell (children of Glen Campbell).

The 2015 guide additionally offers some features showcasing Tennessee music, food, spirits, outdoors, festivals and the diverse network of Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways include can’t-miss stops along each one. Add to that a list of annual events, regional overviews and best bets, maps, attraction listings and more, and potential visitors have everything they need to plan the perfect Tennessee vacation.

Carnival adds a new port of call – Amber Cove in Dominican Republic

Are you an avid cruiser and looking for new ports of call? If yes is your answer, then you’ll be excited to read this official statement from Carnival Cruise Line regarding the newest port of call Amber Cove in the beautiful Dominican Republic!

Eight Carnival Ships, Featuring Five New Itineraries from Four U.S. Homeports, Will Call at Amber Cove During the Port’s Inaugural Season

Amber Cove, an exciting new destination located in the heart of the Dominican Republic’s breathtaking North Coast, known as the Amber Coast, just outside the historical town of Puerto Plata – will welcome its first cruise ship when the Carnival Victory arrives on October 6, 2015, for a day-long call.

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The visit by Carnival Victory is the first of 37 calls by eight different Carnival ships that will take place between October 2015 and April 2016, accounting for more than 100,000 guests during this period.

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Amber Cove will be a featured port on select sailings of Carnival Breeze, Carnival Glory, Carnival Splendor and Carnival Victory from Miami, Carnival Conquest from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Carnival Sunshine and Carnival Valor from Port Canaveral, Fla., and Carnival Fantasy from Charleston, S.C.

“Amber Cove is destined to become a cornerstone in creating new itineraries from several U.S. home ports,” said Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of itinerary planning. “It will provide an unmatched combination of ‘fun in the sun’ activities and eco-tourism opportunities along with unique sightseeing, dining and cultural experiences to create a lifetime of wonderful vacation memories for our guests,” he added.

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Designed to serve as the gateway to one of the world’s most beautiful cruising regions, Amber Cove features dramatic architectural elements that echo the area’s storied Colonial past. The port is situated in a picturesque cove that serves as the backdrop for soaring mountains and lush tropical landscape. Its cobblestone plazas will be lined with a wide variety of retail offerings, including themed restaurants and bars and a marketplace with locally sourced crafts and souvenirs, recreational amenities, and a transportation center for access to land and sea adventures.

The facility will offer two berths that can accommodate up to two large post-Panamax cruise ships simultaneously.

Amber Cove will feature one of the most extensive shore excursion programs available in the Caribbean, offering a wide array of landside experiences including beautiful beaches, exciting water sports and special culinary, cultural and adventure options. Nearby Ocean World, which is one of the region’s largest marine adventure parks, will offer guests many great ways to experience and interact with a variety of marine animals.

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Dozens of shore excursions will be available, from cross-country adventures in 4×4 Terracross buggies that traverse the rugged countryside and horseback riding on the beach to snorkeling in crystal-clear waters and swimming in a pristine natural river pool. Guests can also travel via speedboat to beautiful Paradise Island, one of the Caribbean’s top spots for snorkeling and scuba diving, or visit rural coffee plantations and sample traditional Dominican cuisine, rum and seasonal fruit. Or for the ultimate luxury experience, guests can reserve their own private beachside bungalow with the services of a personal chef, bartender and staff.

Amber Cove will also provide easy and convenient access to the nearby historic town of Puerto Plata, named by Christopher Columbus when he discovered the island in 1492. Puerto Plata is home to the first fort built by European settlers in the New World. Visitors to the city can shop in the bustling downtown area featuring numerous artist studios and rum and cigar factories or stroll along the famed Malecon, a three-mile-long open air beach-side boardwalk dotted with bars, restaurants and shops.

For more information, please visit http://www.carnival.com.