A night at the Opry

Grand Ole Opry a must on Nashville visit

Guest post and photos by Angela Gary

LAUREN ALAINA

Lauren Alaina, an American Idol runner-up, is shown performing at Grand Ole Opry with her new song, “Georgia Peaches” and her rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Women Enough To Take My Man.”

Country music newcomer Lauren Alaina, an American Idol runner-up, delighted a recent crowd at the Grand Ole Opry with her new song, “Georgia Peaches” and her rendition of Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Women Enough To Take My Man.” A special moment came when her Mom surprised her on stage with balloons for her birthday. Lauren told the crowd it’s always special to perform at the Opry because it’s where she auditioned to be on American Idol.

Brother Osborne, who is 83-years-old, had the crowd stomping, cheering, clapping and singing along to a rocking version of “Rocky Top.”

The Whites, who have been members of the Opry for 31 years, brought some bluegrass to the night and 85-year-old daddy Buck (who performs with daughters Cheryl, Sharon and Rosie), told the audience, “Y’all are blessed to be here. This is the birth-place of it all.”

Suzy Boggus sang “The Running Kind,” one of the songs from her new CD of Merle Haggard hits. Joe Diffie delighted the crowd with is country classic, “Something About a Pick-up Truck.” Then, the show closed with a wonderful rendition of “Cincinnati, Ohio,” by Connie Smith, a 50-year Opry member, and Nashville-based band, Old Crow Medicine Show.

TRACE ATKINS

Trace Atkins is shown performing at the Grand Ole Opry. He is a member of the Opry and performs on the Nashville stage several times each year.

These are just a few of the special moments from a recent night at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. Country, bluegrass, gospel and Texas swing were all a part of the two-hour show.

I’ve been going to the Opry since I was a child and each show always has special moments that you will love and will long remember. I still remember seeing Porter Waggoner and Little Jimmy Dickens, who were long-time members of the Grand Ole Opry and performed until their deaths.

Several months each year, including the show I recently attended, the Grand Ole Opry show is presented at it’s original home, the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman is where Johnny Cash fell in love with June Carter, Dolly Parton sang so many times with Porter Waggoner and Hank Williams Sr. made his Opry debut. There is so much history in the Ryman and it’s always a special experience to attend a show there.

The Grand Ole Opry began as a simple radio show in 1925 and is now radio’s longest-running program and can be heard around the world thanks to today’s technology. Opry shows are broadcast live on the Opry’s mobile app, 650 AM WSM and on opry.com and wsmonline.com. You can also catch the show on SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Each Opry performance includes a mix of musical styles, as well as multiple generations of artists from country legends to newcomers. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that is a must on any trip to Nashville.

For tickets or more information, check out the website at www.opry.com.

Angela Gary is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism. She has over 30 years in the newspaper business and is editor of a North Georgia publication. She has won numerous writing and photography awards from the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association.

 

Build-A-Bear Workshops take to the high seas with Carnival Cruise Line

BuildABear (logo)

Carnival Cruise Line and Build-A-Bear Workshop have teamed up to bring the unique retail-entertainment experience to the high seas! The move makes perfect sense for Carnival as they carry some 700,000 kids per year as vacation passengers across the fleet.

The first ship to roll out Build-A-Bear Workshop At Sea will be Carnival Dream with fleetwide installation by summer 2017.

BuildABear3

Serving as the family cruise leader, Carnival’s exclusive partnership with Build-A-Bear Workshop At Sea provides children of all ages a fun opportunity to make their own cuddly bear that can be as unique as the child with a variety of outfits and accessories, from tutus and high-top sneakers to, appropriately enough, vacation wear like bathing suits and sunglasses.

BuildABear (Sugar Cub)BuildABear (St. Jude Bear)

If you have ever visited a Build-A-Bear Workshop with your child, then you already know that each bear comes complete with its own “birth certificate” with the bear’s name and date he/she was created, as well as a logoed drawstring bag.  Also, the bears have their own “voice” via a recordable sound chip with kids recording their own special message.

Not a fan of bears? That’s fine! Other choices include monkeys, leopards, turtles and other furry friends, as well as a St. Jude Bear with proceeds benefiting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of Carnival’s primary charitable partners.

Build-A-Bear Workshop is a popular part of American culture and we’re delighted to provide our guests with an opportunity to make their own custom-designed bear and create a lifetime of memories,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. “We are equally grateful to partner with Build-A-Bear Workshop to help raise money for the special kids at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” she added.

Build-A-Bear Workshop stores have always been a destination for families, and our partnership with Carnival Cruise Line will offer passengers the chance to take part in the fun of making new furry friends while onboard,” said Sharon John, president and CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop. “The arrival of the new Build-A-Bear Workshop experience on Carnival Cruise Line ships is an exciting example of how we’re bringing our nearly 20-year-old brand into more places than ever before.”

BuildABear6

Participants can make their custom-designed bears at pop-up Build-A-Bear Workshop At Sea workstations located within the Camp Ocean facilities or join the ships’ cruise directors with festive Build-A-Bear At Sea parties held each cruise and featuring music, bear-themed snacks and photo opportunities.  The pop-up workstations are set up at designated times throughout the cruise and include everything to make a cute, huggable bear with racks filled with various outfits and accessories as well as an iconic stuffer that allows participants to add soft stuffing to make their bear as plush and cuddly as they want.

BuildABear5

Build-A-Bear Workshop At Sea complements the wide variety of family-friendly activities available aboard Carnival Cruise Line ships which also include complimentary children’s programs for kids 2-17, spectacular water parks with corkscrew water slides and splash zones, miniature golf courses, video arcades, poolside DiveIn Movies on giant LED screens, outdoor play spaces, volleyball and basketball courts and more.

Prices for the bears start at $20 with outfits and accessories starting at $5.

Excerpts of this blog post courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines as well as all photos.

Escape to Pine Mountain for relaxing, rejuvenating Georgia getaway

Guest post by Angela Gary

 

SPA TIME

Shown is one of the treatment rooms offered at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. Photo by Callaway

Nestled among beautifully landscaped grounds in Pine Mountain, Georgia, is a wonderful lodge where you can get spa treatments, relax at the pool, enjoy fine dining and stroll through the nearby Callaway Gardens. The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens is a paradise spot where visitors don’t even have to leave the grounds to have a relaxing and rejuvenating get-away.

The lodge is the perfect girlfriend get-away destination for North Georgia residents, as well as also being a great place for families and couples. It’s only a few hours drive away and it offers a great weekend or week-long get-away.

After checking in on a recent Friday night, we headed to the Piedmont Grille, located adjacent to the lobby.  The Piedmont Grille offers fine dining with the Friday night seafood buffet being the perfect choice to kick off your visit.

The highlight of the seafood buffet is the amazingly succulent and tender crab legs. We couldn’t stop eating them, although we also managed to try the shrimp and grits, grilled fish, raw oysters and a few more delicacies.  The shrimp and grits were the best I’ve ever had with scallops adding a nice touch.

While the seafood buffet was a feast, we managed to save room for dessert with the offerings including bread pudding, strawberry shortcake and pecan pie. It was a feast fit for a king (or a queen, in this case).

For a more casual evening, the Ironwood Lounge is also offered near the lobby area. On Saturday night, we enjoyed the local band performing in the lounge. It’s a great place to hang out with friends after your day exploring the area.

The grounds are perfectly landscaped with several waterfalls adding to the peaceful, serene atmosphere. The outdoor fire pit was also popular with groups and couples. You can even order the fixings for s’mores and enjoy them at the fire pit.

 

BLISSFUL SPA TIME

Amanda Myer of Commerce, Ga., is shown relaxing after a massage treatment at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens. Photo by Angela Gary

The Spa at the lodge an oasis of relaxation, offering wonderfully soothing services that will leave you rejuvenated and relaxed. The staff was so friendly and accommodating. Tamika greeted us at the desk and led us inside where the attendant, Suzy, catered to our every need.

The hot stone massage is a great choice to get rid of all your stress and tension. My massage therapist, Katherine, was wonderful, while my friend said that Samantha was also amazing. We both left the spa with a peaceful smile and feeling very tranquil.

The treatment began with a hot towel being placed on my back and then a soothing foot massage. It was very relaxing and a great way to unwind. With the soothing oils and eucalyptus face mask, I was in bliss. After your treatment, check out the sauna or head to the relaxation room where comfy lounge chairs, a fireplace and snacks make it a wonderful spot to end your spa day.

 

LANDSCAPED GROUNDS

The grounds at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens are perfectly landscaped with several waterfalls adding to the peaceful, serene atmosphere. Photo by Angela Gary

As for the accommodations, each of the rooms has a private balcony overlooking the grounds. It’s a great place for a cup of coffee in the morning or to unwind at the end of the day and enjoy the sunset.  The rooms are spacious and the bedding is so comfortable.

One thing that makes the property stand out is the warm hospitality given by the staff. Every employee you encounter offers a friendly smile and greeting. The front desk staff, gift shop employees, room attendants and restaurant staff all offered top-notch service.

While you may not want to leave the lodge, you should plan to spend some time checking out the nearby Callaway Gardens, where something is always blooming. Touring the gardens, bicycling, boating and fishing, hiking, golfing and a treetop adventure are among the options.

To start planning your trip, go to www.callawaylodgeandspa.com or call the reservation desk at 1-706-489-3300.

Angela Gary is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism. She has over 30 years in the newspaper business and is editor of a North Georgia publication. She has won numerous writing and photography awards from the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association.

Four reasons not to take a Caribbean cruise

I’ve been a travel journalist for some 20 years and I always get asked typical travel questions like: what is your favorite destination and what is your favorite cruise line? While these are tough questions because I love so many places and cruise lines, another question posed a different kind of thought process for me.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line.

A friend asked me why she should consider taking a Caribbean cruise.  I laughed for a second, and then decided to answer with four reasons NOT to take a Caribbean cruise!

  • Are you a homebody? Can’t stand to be away from your own bed? It totally disgusts you to be gently rocked to sleep by the lullaby of the oceans? YOU definitely should NOT cruise because sliding into a  down-filled comforter after a full day of sun, fun and culinary bliss would rub you the wrong way. Reason number one not to take a cruise.
  • You would rather have stale cereal and canned soup every night than cook, eat out or engage your brain to try something unfamiliar. Nope…not for you…please don’t cruise. You’ll be so disappointed with all the food choices and tempting of your palate. You’ll never make up your mind and when you do, you’ll find fault like they are handing out rewards. Definitely, not being an adventurous eater is a reason not to cruise.
  • Turquoise waters, snorkeling adventures, beautiful beaches and adventure are thoughts that never pass through your mind. Big reason not to take a Caribbean cruise! You’re allergic to fun, unapologetically appalled at activities for which you must sign a waiver and really never were fond of the color turquoise. Do us all a favor and just stay home. You won’t enjoy your cruise. Your body likely doesn’t even remember what happy feels like so just stay in your super comfy zone.
  • You are certain you cannot be entertained and contained on a ship for the length of your itinerary. You’re probably right. **sigh** The warmth of the sunshine on your skin, the poolside music and entertainment, the Broadway-type evening shows, casinos, delightful waitstaff at dinner, turndown friends (towel animals), karaoke, water parks, hot tubs and movies under the stars will be too much for your heart to bear. It’s best for you to remain on the home front, double locking your doors and watching for the postman. You’ll be safe there…and in no danger of bumping into a stranger or being tempted to enjoy an evening at the piano bar.
Carnival Vista

Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

And there you have it! Four BIG reasons not to take a Caribbean cruise! What’s your excuse?

Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen offers dazzling vacation

 

Map - Playa del Carmen

Grand Hyatt is right in the heart of Playa del Carmen, nestled in a quiet, exclusive beachside atmosphere. The resort enjoys a fabulous location between the amazing turquoise waters of Mamitas Beach and La Quinta Avenida. Vacationers have shown a preference to this area for some time and in TripAdvisor’s 2016 Readers’ Choice Poll, Playa ranked the 19th best vacation destination in the world! This is definitely a bucket list trip to add to your list.

From humble beginnings as a small fishing town on the Mexican Caribbean, Playa del Carmen has recently experienced extraordinary growth offering a rich cultural experience with a myriad of activities and amenities for travelers. Cancun International Airport is only 45 minutes away, so getting there is easy and choosing a place to stay is just as simple.

Currently, there is an attractive anniversary offer to visit the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen. Valid for travel through August 31, 2016, guests can receive 20% off standard room rates or bed and breakfast rates on bookings made before July 30th; 15% off food and beverage offerings resort-wide; 15% off massages and spa treatments at the Cenote Spa; complimentary access for children to Camp Hyatt Tortuguita; and 15% off car rentals made on-site*.

Couple this with “Summer Madness,” through August 20th**, upon check-in guests will receive a special coupon inviting them to experience one of the resort’s amenities. Guests will not know what they have received until they open the coupon, but possibilities range from 10 to 100 percent off at the Cenote Spa; one day of complimentary access to Camp Hyatt Tortuguita; one all-inclusive day at the #Hashtag teen lounge; personal fitness sessions, and more!

Playa del Carmen

Eats & Drinks
Playa del Carmen is treasured as a culinary community and Grand Hyatt contributes to that this summer by adding new menu offerings at The Grill at 1 26 and La Cocina.

The Grill at 1 26 offers diners prime steak and seafood with an awesome view of the Mexican Caribbean, mixing fine dining with a beautiful, upscale beach setting. Under the leadership of Executive Chef John Corey Collins, the restaurant features fresh ingredients and classic dishes that incorporate Chef Corey’s creativity and modern style. Add to that top-shelf bar offerings, including an impressive mezcal selection and an exclusive wine cellar with a rotating “Winery of the Month” series that features different wineries from all around Mexico, and you have got the perfect dinner spot – ideal for a romantic date night or private group outing.

Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen

Over at La Cocina, Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort’s other signature restaurant, the new menu was designed to be a guide of sorts offering guests a culinary tour of Mexico through national and regional dishes that, along with the chef’s personal touches, will take diners and guests of the resort on an edible tour of Mexico with refined takes on homestyle dishes and regional favorites from Sinaloa, Oaxaca, Puebla, the Yucatan Peninsula, Central Mexico, and more.

When it comes to libations, the resort is introducing a curated list of specialty cocktails designed by mixologist Mateo Arellano. From a variety of refined gin cocktails to modern mezcal and tequila twists to unique takes on island favorites like the Piña Colada, the cocktail program at Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort  is a personification of Playa del Carmen itself: tropical, sophisticated, and luxurious, with just the right amount of party. Ask for Mateo at the Paseo Bar where he can whip up one of his specialties or make your own at the weekly cocktail contests that take place throughout August. Additional beverage promotions this summer will include a weekly wine bar with live music, Thursday wine markets, two-for-one gin cocktail Tuesdays, and more.

During your stay at Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort, don’t miss the Cannibal Royal  beach club which offers an unparalleled experience highlighted by its unique design and overall vibe. With tables and day beds placed perfectly on the beach, the club’s location cannot be beat with a tranquil setting and views of yachts and boats dotting the seascape. Furthermore, their food menu features specialties that will leave your mouth watering.

Bicycle Tours - Playa del Carmen

Want to be more active? Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort  organizes bike tours on Tuesday and Sunday mornings. The tour, guided by the resort’s recreation team members, is a great excuse to get up early and explore a different side of Playa del Carmen – that quiet side that most people don’t see with empty streets, tranquil waters, and people running or enjoying a lazy breakfast. The bike tour starts right at the Grand Hyatt Playa del Carmen Resort entrance, heads down La Quinta Avenida until La Constituyentes where there’s a stop for a quick scenic photo opp before returning back to the resort on First Avenue. Tours last for one hour and are available seven days a week, starting at 8:00am daily.

*The First Anniversary Offer is based on double occupancy, with a minimum 2-night stay. Bookings must be made by July 30, 2016. The offer is based on rates per room, per night. Offer based on availability and some blackout dates apply. 2-night deposit required at booking; pre-payment is non-refundable. Other restrictions may apply. Camp Hyatt Tortuguita offer available for up to two hours for two children per room.

*The Summer Madness promotion is valid for one coupon per room. Coupons are not cumulative and cannot be transferred or interchanged.

 

 

Worried about Zika Virus? There’s help from BullFrog!

BullFrog Mosquito Coast

As a skin cancer survivor, I use sunscreen regularly. And, as a travel journalist, I frequently find myself in places where I need bug spray. What a find to have a combination spray of sunscreen and insect repellent with BullFrog’s newest product – Mosquito Coast!

BullFrog was invented in 1985 for surfers, but quickly gained a following with outdoor adventurers as an essential product. Today, they take it a step further with the first mass-market fusion of 30 SPF sunscreen with insect repellent – Mosquito Coast!

With the current-day worries about the Zika virus (mosquito-borne), insect repellent sales have soared. This combo spray is the best way to ward off big worries – sun and bugs. I’m sure you are wondering, as was I, what to expect from Mosquito Coast. Here’s a quick run-down:

  • It is a safe alternative to DEET and citronella.
  • BullFrog Mosquito Coast uses EPA-approved and Centers for Disease Control-recommended IR3535.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies IR3535 as a biopesticide since there are no harmful residues detected after use.
  • This product safely repels insects up to 8 hours.
  • There is no need to wash off when returning from outdoors.
  • It contains aloe leaf extract and Vitamin E so it’s a pleasant scent.
  • It is PABA- and Paraben-free, and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Of course you’ll want to take extra precautions to stay away from dangerous virus-borne mosquito bites. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Use insect repellents as directed if you are going outside, especially in tropical or wooded areas or near water sources.
  • Get rid of standing water; empty pet dishes/plastic pools/flowerpots where mosquitoes breed.
  • Dress appropriately in long sleeves and long pants.
  • Stay and sleep in screened in rooms or air-conditioned rooms.

Look for BullFrog Mosquito Coast in big box retailers (I saw it in Target and Walmart) as well as Walgreens and sporting goods stores. It is affordable (spray retails for around $9.99 and pump spray for around $10.99) and it is made in the USA!

Resources:
World Health Organization
http://www.who.int/features/qa/zika/en/

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
http://www.cdc.gov/zika/whats-new.html

BullFrog provided a test spray for this review. Opinions are my own.

Find out the stories behind the songs at legendary Bluebird Café

Guest post including photos by Angela Gary

It’s about the songs. It’s about the stories behind the songs. It’s about the friendships of the people who brought the stories to life through song.

Stopping for a photo at The Bluebird Cafe

Guests to Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tenn., can often be spotted stopping in front of the famous songwriting club for a photo. Sherry Lewis of Maysville, Ga., is shown outside the club, where people wait hours to get inside.

The legendary Bluebird Café, which has become even more famous since being featured on ABC’s television series, “Nashville,” is not your typical concert venue or music club. It’s a listening room where songwriters sit in a circle, surrounded by tables and chairs with guests who are there to really listen to the words of the songs and the stories behind them from the people who write them. The “shhhh” policy is enforced and people are quiet, actually listening to the music from the songwriters.

It’s a very intimate setting with less than 100 seats open for each show. The seats are in old church pews and a scattering of tables and chairs surrounding the featured songwriters, who sit in a circle and take turns singing their songs.

On a recent Thursday night, the featured songwriters for the 9 p.m. show included Alan Rhody, Wood Newton, Aaron Barker and Rafe Van Hoy, who have written songs for George Strait, the Oak Ridge Boys, Lonestar and Tanya Tucker, among others.

It’s a special experience to hear the songwriters sing the songs they wrote and tell you what led them to write the songs.

Artists at Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, Tenn., sing "in the round."

Artists at Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tenn., sing “in the round.” Guests surrounded the performs in the intimate listening space.

One of the stories Rafe Van Hoy shared was the first hit song he wrote, “Golden Wedding Ring,” which George Jones and Tammy Wynette made famous. He said it was a story of “extreme luck” as it became a number one hit only four months after he wrote it.  Before singing it, Van Hoy said: “Thank you, George and Tammy…Thank you ‘Golden Ring…”

Wood Newton wrote several songs for the Oak Ridge Boys, including their most well-known hit, “Bobbie Sue.” Before singing it, Newton shared, “They still close their show with this every night.”  Wood also introduced Karen Waldrup and invited her to join the circle to sing a song he wrote with her.

Aaron Barker wrote “Baby Blue,” a hit for George Strait, and he told how it introduced him to the world of song-writing. “This one changed my life,” he said. “It got me to Nashville. It introduced me to a wonderful community of songwriters. I got it all for a song—basically, this one.” He shared a funny story of how he took the check he received in the mail for the song and showed it to his step-dad, who said, “I get those too. You never win.”  Barker laughed, “You can’t make this stuff up,” as he began strumming on his guitar and then sang the song.

Barker also wrote “Love Without End, Amen,” which was also a number one hit for George Strait. Before singing it, Barker said, “I wrote this song for my boy. I was 17 when he was born. I thought, ‘This is cool. We’ll grow up together.’ This is a song about when that all came to an end and I realized I needed to be a dad. My question was, ‘how can you be that mad at someone and still love them?’ This song is my answer to that.”

Alan Rhody shared “Somebody to Care,” a song he wrote for Tanya Tucker that was never a single. Thirty years later, he recorded it for his own CD.

At the end of the show, Barker told the crowd, “Come back. The Bluebird is always here and it’s always good.” After the show, the crowd visited with the guests, taking photos and talking more about their songs.

An evening at the Bluebird Café is a celebration of songs. Make sure to make it a part of your visit to Nashville, Tenn. While it used to be Nashville’s best-kept secret, it is now the hottest ticket in town. You have to plan ahead by going on the website as soon as the tickets go on sale (usually one week before the show). While it used to take a few days to sell out the 90 seats, they often go in just minutes now. If you aren’t lucky enough to get reservations, show up the night of the show and wait in line to possibly get a seat in one of the unreserved seats.

The Bluebird Café is located at 4104 Hillsboro Pike, Nashville. For tickets or more information, check out the website at www.bluebirdcafe.com.

Angela Gary is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism. She has over 30 years in the newspaper business and is editor of a North Georgia publication. She has won numerous writing and photography awards from the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association.

First-Ever Lantern Parade in Sandy Springs, Georgia

Taking It To The River for an Illuminated Night of Fun

Lantern parade

I am so excited to be covering the inaugural Lantern Parade in Sandy Springs, Georgia on Saturday, June 18, 2016! Lantern Parades are trending across the country and what fun it promises to participants and spectators alike! If you are looking for a fun family weekend trip, this is it!

Join Sandy Springs Hospitality & Tourism for an “enlightened” celebration of the Chattahoochee as part of the inaugural Sandy Springs Lantern Parade at Morgan Falls Overlook Park. Participants will “Take It To the River” as they parade downhill on Morgan Falls Road to the park with colorful lanterns lighting the way.

Want to create your own lantern? Chantelle Rytter, producer of the Sandy Springs Lantern Parade, and creator of the successful Beltline, Grant Park and Decatur Lantern Parades, will hold lantern workshops at North Springs United Methodist Church. The cost of the workshop will cover all materials, instructions and tools for attendees to walk away with illuminated turtles and lilies, bamboo fish lanterns, lantern hats, illuminated parasols, and paper decorated globe lanterns. For more details and to sign up for the workshops, visit the following links:

The parade will start at North Springs United Methodist Church at 7770 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs, GA 30350. Get there early to grab a tasty treat from King of Pops. At 9 p.m., Big Mama Turtle (Sandy, affectionately) will lead the parade 1.17 miles down the hill to Morgan Falls Overlook Park.

At approximately 9:30 p.m., High Country Outfitter paddlers will escort Alice, the 25-foot albino alligator lantern, and the illuminated turtles and lilies to the river for a floating parade. Attendees can watch the river light display while enjoying performers and live music. Everyone is invited to march in the parade or watch on the side lines – just bring a lantern to walk or a flashlight to watch. Don’t leave anyone in the dark!

Shuttle sponsors, Atlanta Movie Tours and Sandy Springs Recreation & Parks, will be on hand to give attendees a ride back to North Springs United Methodist Church, but you are welcome to team up with a friend and park a car at Morgan Falls Overlook Park prior to the parade. There is also a safe sidewalk for a return walk. Due to the rolling road closure, please be at the church by 8:30 p.m. to participate in the parade.

Comfort Inn Buckhead North 
Come enjoy the Comfort Inn during the Sandy Springs Lantern Parade on June 18, 2016. We are located 5.4 miles from Morgan Falls Overlook. Enjoy a magical summer evening stroll down the river with the City of Sandy Springs and a restful night at the Comfort Inn. The package rate is $89.00 for each night. You can make your reservation with Comfort Inn Buckhead North now and take the family for a unique, fun-filled experience!

Participating sponsors for the Lantern Parade are:
City of Sandy Springs Recreation and Parks 
Atlanta Movie Tours 
North Springs United Methodist Church
High Country Outfitters
Steel Canyon Golf Club

If you go…
Comfort Inn Buckhead North
5793 Roswell Road NE
Atlanta, GA 30328
(844) 247-8669

Sandy Springs Hospitality & Tourism will be hosting me for this event. All opinions along with experiences are 100% my own. Photo credit of Sandy Springs.

Accell Home or Away Power Station

Travel Surge Protector with Dual USB Charging

Accell Home or Away Power Station

As a travel writer, staying connected is always on my worry list. Sometimes hotel rooms and cruise cabins are challenging to find enough electrical outlets to keep all my gizmos and gadgets charged up and ready for action. Recently, I reviewed the Accell Home or Away Power Station – 3 Outlet Travel Surge Protector and it’s such an excellent addition to my travel gear that I wanted to share it with my readers!

Accell Home or Away Power Station

The Home or Away device is the ideal solution for use at home or when traveling! It provides 612 Joules of surge protection to all connected devices – good to know! The Power Station features 3 surge protected grounded AC outlets and a folding power plug, providing a compact and portable design for maximum storage and travel convenience.

Accell Home or Away Power Station

It is easy to turn any grounded AC outlet  into a USB charging station for your mobile devices. The two USB ports (2.1A, shared power) enable the charging of two items at once, perfect for charging mobile devices such as phones, tablets and MP3 players. The Power Station features an LED indicator reporting that the connected equipment is protected. The MSRP for the Home or Away Power Station – 3 Outlet Travel Surge Protector is only $19.99 – so affordable!

Find out more by visiting http://www.accellcables.com.

Product for review was supplied at no charge by Accell. Opinions are 100% mine.

Summer Specials on Alabama’s Gulf Coast

When the weather gets warm, Alabamians swarm to the Gulf Coast for sand, sun and water recreation. The Gulf Shores and Orange Beach area is a haven for spacious condo units situated on gorgeous sugar-white sandy beaches juxtaposing emerald waters.

Here are a couple of Fourth of July specials with Spectrum Resorts…and keep in mind these condos are plenty large enough to share between families and split the cost!

Beach Club - exterior

The Beach Club
Fireworks, bon fires and good music are only just the beginning of the activities and events planned for your enjoyment this Fourth of July at The Beach Club.

Venture out to the beach and have an experience like no other with Jet Ski rentals, Fly Boarding, Banana Boat Rentals and Parasailing adventures.

Dance the night away at a glow foam party. Battle it out with friends, family and other guests with a laser battle. Build a boat to win the race at the Boat Regatta. Then, of course relax and unwind while listening to live music throughout your stay.

Leave your wallets in the room with keyless entry and onsite charging privileges through your Spectrum bracelet. Enjoy your 10% discount and sit poolside while your favorite drink is delivered right to your chair. Relax in the sauna and steam rooms (located in the men’s and women’s locker rooms) before heading upstairs to Coast Restaurant for dinner.

Accommodation rates start at $1,372 for three nights in a one bedroom gulf-front condominium at The Beach Club. Call 844-806-5994 to book your Fourth of July rate or use promo code JULY4TH to book online.20150416_160743-1

Turquoise Place
Celebrate the birth of our country by enjoying the freedom of the waves, laughter in the sand and the pursuit of happiness by the pool with a drink in hand.

Red drinks, white beach and turquoise waters. Enjoy all your favorite activities of summer like an All American Cookout and a Sparkler Soiree in the Sand. Then end the night with a fireworks extravaganza to remember at Turquoise Place! Where will you be for the festivities? In the pool with the best view, in your private balcony Jacuzzi, floating in the lazy river, or lounging in the sand? Wherever you are, there is always a great view at Turquoise Place.

Accommodation rates start at $3,063 for three nights in a luxury three bedroom gulf-front condominium at Turquoise Place. Call 888-965-6079 to book your Fourth of July rate or use promo code JULY4TH to book online.

If you go…
The Beach Club
925 Beach Club Trail
Gulf Shores, AL 36542

Turquoise Place
26350 Perdido Beach Boulevard
Orange Beach, AL 36561

Musical journey through Memphis: Graceland, Sun Studios, Stax Museum among stops

Guest post including photos by Angela Gary

GRACELAND - THE HOME OF ELVIS PRESLEY

Visitors to Memphis, Tenn., can walk in the footsteps of the legendary Elvis Presley by visiting his beloved home, Graceland, and the studio where he got his start in the business, Sun Studios.

GOING TO GRACELAND

A visit to Memphis isn’t complete without a stop at Graceland, the home of the legendary Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley died 38 years ago, but his home remains a destination for thousands of people every year. Graceland is a national historic landmark and the 14-acre site includes the mansion, the graves of Elvis and his parents, a museum, automobile collection and Elvis’ airplanes.  Since 1982, 19 million visitors have toured the home. It was even a stop for Prince William and Prince Harry on a recent visit to Memphis.

STEP BACK IN TIME

Graceland has remained unchanged since Elvis Presley’s death and a walk through the home is like stepping back in time when shag carpet and pastel décor were in style.

The audio tape that is offered for your self-guided tour through the home is wonderful. As you walk through the home, you hear information about the rooms, mementoes and displays that you pass by. Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie, offers narration of her time in the home, which is especially touching. The home has remained unchanged since Elvis’ death and a walk through the home is like stepping back in time when shag carpet and pastel décor were in style.

The tour ends at the gravesites for Elvis and his parents, as well as other family members. It’s a very peaceful, tranquil spot and visitors are quiet as they walk by the graves.

Be sure to allow plenty of time to explore Graceland and the entire complex. For more information, go to www.graceland.com.

SUN STUDIOS

Visitors to Memphis can tour Sun Studios, where in 1954, Elvis recorded “That’s All Right Mama.” Sam Phillips established Sun Studios and launched the careers of Elvis, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and many others.

SUN STUDIOS
Elvis fans have heard of Sun Studios, where in 1954, Elvis recorded “That’s All Right Mama” and it’s another stop on a visit to Memphis. Sam Phillips established Sun Studios and launched the careers of Elvis, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and many others.

It’s a very unique experience to be able to stand in the spot where Elvis made his music magic. A microphone used by Elvis is still in the museum and visitors can stand behind it for a photo.

For more information, go to www.sunstudio.com.

STOP AT STAX MUSEUM

Another stop in Memphis for music lovers should be the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where photographs and mementoes from the famous Stax Sound are located. Stax Records was called Soulsville USA for the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Otis Redding and others were recorded here.

STAX MUSEUM
Another stop for music lovers should be the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, where photographs and mementoes from the famous Stax Sound are located. Stax Records was called Soulsville USA for the sounds of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Otis Redding and others who recorded here.

For more information, go to www.staxmuseum.com.

Music fans will also love exploring Beale Street while visiting Memphis. Just wander along the famous street and you will find a number of places to stop and listen to blues, rock, country, soul and all kinds of music. As the sun goes down, the neon lights of the businesses begin to glow and the crowd grows. It’s soon bustling and filled with energy and excitement.

To start planning your trip, go to www.tnvacation.com or www.memphistravel.com.

Angela Gary is a graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism. She has over 30 years in the newspaper business and is editor of a North Georgia publication. She has won numerous writing and photography awards from the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association.

GAAMA’s 2016 Family Car Challenge at Lake Lanier Islands

Lake Lanier Islands

The 2016 Family Car Challenge sponsored by the Greater Atlanta Automotive Media Association (GAAMA) was recently held at Lake Lanier Islands in Buford, Georgia – a sprawling lakefront property with marinas, water recreation, a swimming pool, golf and lots of Mother Nature. This was a prime spot for driving new vehicles and taking photos with all the gorgeous scenery.

After a restful night in the Legacy Lodge, the ride and drive, and judging began. This year there were six categories and also an award for Overall Best Family Car. There were so many vehicles worthy of winning, and I know it sounds cliché to say they all were winners, but only one walked away with a trophy in each category.

2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco

Best Value Family Car
2016 Chevrolet Malibu
2017 Chrysler Pacifica (WINNER)
2016 Honda Civic Touring sedan
2017 Hyundai Elantra Eco
2016 Mazda CX-5
2016 Nissan Altima SL
2016 Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium
2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

2016 Nissan Altima

Best Green Family Car
2017 Chevrolet Volt (WINNER)
2016 Toyota Prius

2016 Lexus RX

Best Technology Family Car
2016 Lexus RX
2016 Maxda3 GT
2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 (WINNER)
2016 Nissan Maxima SR
2016 Volkswagen Passat 1.8 SEL Premium

2016 Ford Explorer

Best 3-Row Family Car
2017 Chrysler Pacific
2016 Ford Explorer (WINNER)
2016 Nissan Pathfinder SL

Best Luxury Family Car
2016 Lexus LX (WINNER)
2016 Lincoln MKX

Best Family Pickup Truck
2016 Ford F-150
2017 Honda Ridgeline RTL-E
2016 Nissan Titan XD
2016 Ram 1500 (WINNER)

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2017 Chrysler Pacifica
In addition to winning Best Value Family Car of 2016, the Chrysler Pacifica also took the top award for Overall Best Family Car for this year as well! A total redesign, this might be Chrysler’s best move ever. The Pacifica will replace the Town & Country as the brand’s mini van of choice offering Stow ‘N Go seating on all rows (on hybrid models second row is not included). With over 200 seating configurations, you can easily maneuver seats to accommodate more passengers or more cargo…or maybe a mix of both.

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The Stow ‘N Go Vac is a winner with families making it simple to vacuum all those Cheerios, toss them and throw the filter in your dishwasher. The rear passengers will enjoy the entertainment system – yes, gone are the days of strictly a DVD player! This innovative system is mounted on the seat backs of the driver and front seat passenger. Play games, watch movies, use your apps or connect your tech-savvy phones and tablets to the system.

The front interior has well-lit, large numbers and simplified dashboard configurations as well as an abundance of storage compartments. There are numerous cupholders throughout which is super important when traveling with lots of folks! The large windshield makes for easier navigation and lessens the feeling of enclosure. Cutting-edge technology is everywhere, pairing with your smart phones and making apps easily accessible.

I also want to mention the massive overhaul of the exterior with a sleek, sporty design incorporating the door panels into the window design for a more aggressive, modern look that offers better aerodynamics that taller, boxier vehicles. Let’s talk wheels for a second. This was one of the first things to catch my eye because it wasn’t typical for a family vehicle. The Pacifica Limited offers available 20-inch aluminum polished wheels! And, the headlamps got in on the redesign with a more sculpted look. Talk about value-added amenities!

2016 R A M 1500

2016 Ram 1500
The other vehicle to mention is the 2016 Ram 1500 because the Best Family Pickup Truck category is a new one and this truck is loaded with options and reasons to use it as your family vehicle! Most folks want a work truck to be just that…and let’s face it, groceries rolling all over the truck bed isn’t exactly the most fun on shopping day. Ram offers a section gate of sorts that is moveable and can be configured in several different ways to be useful to folks needing it to be a family vehicle. Use it to partition just the right amount of room for groceries or flip it over and use as a bed extender.

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The Ram is iconic on the front end with the branded grille and lots of chrome, but inside it’s luxurious! Soft and supple leather elements grace the interior as well as embossed scrolls and other markings of upscale craftsmanship. Enjoy thoughtful amenities such as a 115-volt outlet on the dashboard which is perfect for my computer with its ever-dying battery. The Ram is fully integrated with modern technology. You won’t miss a thing going from a family car to a family truck…and you can bring home those thrift store finds with a nice big truck bed, too!

If you go…
Lanier Islands
7000 Lanier Islands Parkway
Buford, GA 30518
(770) 945-8787
http://www.lanierislands.com/

Now Sailing – Carnival Vista!

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The much anticipated Carnival Vista, currently on its maiden voyage in Europe, is showing off its cool features like the first-at-sea IMAX Theatre, SkyRide (an open-air cycling experience suspended high above the ship’s top deck), a 455-foot-long water tube slide called Kaleid-0-Slide and much more!

Carnival VistaGuests are getting more bang for the buck than usual with all the added entertainment, attractions and other amenities onboard. Get some exercise and have fun at the same time with the suspended 270-foot-long ropes course, a high speed Twister slide, an aqua spray park with a 300-gallon tipping bucket and a huge array of other outdoor and indoor entertainment options.

Additionally, Carnival is introducing several new activities including the South Beach-inspired Serenity Nights, a Rock-N-Glow 80s Deck Party and an Island Deck Party as well as a murder mystery experience.

Entertainment includes popular comedians at the Punchliner Comedy Club, family-favorite Hasbro, The Game Show, which is a live action game show incorporating popular Hasbro games, and Thrill Theater, among others.

Carnival VistaFirst IMAX Theatre at Sea, Thrill Theater Part of Carnival Multiplex
Carnival Vista houses the first IMAX Theatre at sea including a three-deck-high screen that offers an immersive cinema experience featuring the latest Hollywood blockbusters, family favorites and IMAX documentary content.

The 187-seat IMAX Theatre is part of the Carnival Multiplex, which also includes the Thrill Theater, a multi-dimensional experience where seats move back and forth and side to side and viewers are sprayed with water and bubbles to make them feel like they’re part of the feature. Only available on Carnival Vista is Thrillogy, a scary-yet-fun multi-sensory horror movie experience within the Thrill Theater that is designed for guests 17 and older.

The cost for first-run movies in the IMAX Theatre is $12.95 for adults and $9.95 for children 12 and under and guests aged 55 and over.  The cost for IMAX documentaries and Thrill Theater is $5.50 per person.

AmericaRocksNew Playlist Productions Shows
Carnival Vista will debut three new high-tech Playlist Productions shows that combine captivating live performances with spectacular LED staging and special effects to create evenings of unforgettable entertainment.  The three shows include:

  • Amor Cubano: A Caribbean Dance Romance, an exhilarating get-on-your-feet show that blends classic Latin songs with today’s hits and features an authentic reproduction of Carnival Vista’s Havana Bar. A seven-piece Cuban-inspired band performs songs by Gloria Estefan, Celia Cruz and others amid a tropics-inspired backdrop of Cuba and Miami, the latter of which will be the ship’s eventual year-round homeport.
  • America Rocks!, a high-energy show featuring rock anthems by American artists like Bruce Springsteen, Aerosmith, Styx and Kiss. The glow stick-waving audience cheers on a rockin’ house band with sizzling guitars, pulsating drums and a horn section, evoking the feeling of classic rock concerts from bygone days.
  • Flick: The Power of Motion Pictures, a celebration of filmmaking with some of the greatest anthems of all time showcasing songs from popular movies like Footloose, Dirty Dancing and others.  The main character of the show, Flick, takes viewers on a magical journey through different genres of film with stunning theatrical illusions and show-stopping cinematic effects.

All three shows feature high-energy after parties in Carnival Vista’s atrium, Havana Bar and other spaces where guests can dance and interact with the stars following the show.

Additional Live Entertainment Options
A roster of popular comedians perform at the 385-seat Punchliner Comedy Club which offers family-friendly and adults-only shows and guests are the stars of Hasbro, The Game Show, which features larger-than-life adaptations of iconic Hasbro games.

New Serenity Nights, Deck Parties and More
At night, the ship’s outdoor adults-only retreat is transformed into a South Beach-style club under the stars complete with spectacular lighting effects and a crowd-pleasing mix of popular music spun by one of Carnival’s professionally-trained DJ’s.

Already known for hosting the best deck parties at sea, the cruise line takes it to another level on Carnival Vista with the Rock-N-Glow 80s Deck Party where participants don day-glo and other attire from the 80s and dance the night away. A new Island Deck Party celebrates the fun and spirit of RedFrog and BlueIguana – the colorful namesake characters of Carnival Vista’s poolside watering holes.  In early summer, the Clue murder mystery experience will debut, as well. 

Carnival Vista

Exciting European and Caribbean Departures
Carnival Vista debuted in Europe May 1, 2016, and will operate a summer schedule of Mediterranean cruises through October.  Following a trans-Atlantic crossing, Carnival Vista will offer a pair of 11-day voyages from New York in November 2016 before repositioning to Miami for year-round Caribbean sailings later that month.

To book your vacation on Carnival Vista, contact any travel agent, call 1-800-CARNIVAL, or visit carnival.com.

Press release courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line and photos courtesy of Andy Newman. Edited for clarity and space.

Milwaukee’s Summerfest Entertains Myriad of Genres

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No matter your musical preference, Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin provides entertainment for all genres in an outdoor music festival spanning 11 days and 11 stages!

“There seems to be an overabundance of festivals in America, but there aren’t many festivals like us that hit all genres. There are country festivals, indie, EDM and even oldies. But there’s not one like us that, on any given day, combines all genres at the same time,” said Bob Babisch VP of Entertainment, Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI (Music Connection).

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This year’s Summerfest on Milwaukee’s lakefront already includes the diverse line-up of Selena Gomez, Blake Shelton, Luke Bryan, Weezer, Panic! At The Disco, and Sting & Peter Gabriel with more music to be announced in coming weeks. Certified the world’s largest music festival by the Guinness World Records, the festival combines the best live music acts with our favorite parts of summer – food, family, and festivities. Over 11 days and 11 stages there will be more than 800 acts, 1,000 performances and 900,000 attendees. Summerfest runs from June 29th- July 3rd and July 5th- July 10th.

Need a reason to consider this event? Here are a few:

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Luke Bryan
Since the debut of his first album in 2007, Luke has placed 15 singles at No. 1 and sold nearly eight million albums with 30 million digital tracks from his five studio albums. He has twice been namedEntertainer of the Year by both the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association. His fifth studio album, Kill The Lights, debuted at No. 1 on both the Billboard Top 200 (his third to do so) and Top Country Albums charts and closed 2015 with the best-selling country album of the year and the 10th biggest selling album on the all-genre Billboard Top 200 Year-End list. In Luke’s stellar 2015 year, he had three albums on the Top 15 Year-End Country Albums list- Kill the Lights (#1), Spring Break…Checkin’ Out (#10) and Crash My Party (#15), was the most streamed artist of 2015 and placed six songs in the Year-End Top Country Streaming Tracks list. Luke also performed for 1.5 million fans in concert, played for 400,000 fans at Spring Break in Florida, co-hosted the ACM Awards for a third-consecutive year, had his own exhibit at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (“Luke Bryan: Dirt Road Diary”), became the reigning ACM and CMA Entertainer of the Year, performed live during halftime at the Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving and wrapped up the year with a Times Square performance on ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”

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Selena Gomez
Selena Gomez made her mark in entertainment by conquering film, music and television at an early age. On the big screen, she began making the transition from young actress to adulthood with such films as the much talked about Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers.” The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival to critical acclaim while Gomez’s performance was singled out as a “breakout.” She was most recently seen in the Academy Award nominated film “The Big Short” opposite Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling. “Fundamentals of Caring” alongside Paul Rudd premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Gomez was named by Vulture.com as one of “The 20 Best Performances of Sundance 2016.“ She will next be seen in Seth Rogen’s “Neighbors 2” and later this year in the James Franco directed “In Dubious Battle.”

As a recording artist Selena has sold over 45 million tracks worldwide. Gomez’s recently released her critically acclaimed album “Revival.” The first two singles off the album “Good For You” and “Same Old Love” went to number one on the US Top 40 chart. In May, she will hit the stage and embark on her highly anticipated global “Revival Tour.”

Gomez has added executive producer to her impressive list of credits. Academy Award winner Tom McCarthy will join Gomez as executive producers of the Netflix original series “13 Reasons Why.”

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Tim McGraw
Tim McGraw has sold more than 40 million records worldwide and dominated the charts with 36 #1 singles.  He’s won three Grammy Awards, 16 Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 Country Music Association Awards, 10 American Music Awards, three People’s Choice Awards and numerous other honors. His iconic career achievements include being named the BDS Most Played Artist of the Decade for all music genres and having the Most Played Song of the Decade for all music genres with “Something Like That.”  He is the most played Country artist since his debut in 1992, with two singles spending over 10 weeks at #1 (“Live Like You Were Dying” and “Over and Over”). His current single “Top Of The World,” off his DAMN COUNTRY MUSIC album is his 58th top 10 single. His critically acclaimed acting skills were highlighted in the award winning Friday Night Lights and The Blind Side. Tim most recently starred in Disney’s Tomorrowland.

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If this awesome event sounds like the perfect summer vacation for you, go to SUMMERFEST for more information on planning your trip and a full lineup including stages!

Photos courtesy of Summerfest and Shorefire Media.

Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” Featuring Tori Kelly now Available

The wait is over! The 25th anniversary release of Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” featuring the vocals of celebrated singer-songwriter Tori Kelly is available worldwide. With early support from PEOPLE, Marie Claire and Just Jared among others, the wait for the release of the song has been chronicled by fans’ online excitement. To purchase the new collaboration, click here.

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Upon its original release, “Baby Baby” took No. 1 on both the Top 40 and Billboard Hot 100 charts, while simultaneously hitting top 10 in ten countries. The album bearing the song (Heart In Motion) garnered four GRAMMY® nominations and was RIAA® certified 5X platinum. Grant initially unveiled the news to fans via social media after sharing a personal series of throwback photos.

Amy Grant’s career spans more than 30 years and stretches from her roots in gospel into becoming an iconic pop star, songwriter, television personality and philanthropist. With three multi-platinum albums, six platinum albums and four gold albums, her total career album sales have exceeded 30 million. Grant’s chart success has been consistent throughout her career with six No. 1 hits, 10 Top 40 pop singles, 17 Top 40 Adult Contemporary tracks and multiple Contemporary Christian chart-toppers. In addition to her six GRAMMY® Awards, Grant has earned 26 Dove Awards (including four Artist of the Year Awards) and has been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Conventional wisdom has it that Grant put Contemporary Christian Music on the map becoming the first Contemporary Christian artist to have a platinum record, the first to hit No. 1 on the Pop charts and the first to perform at the GRAMMY® Awards. With that, her legacy as one of the most influential artists of the past couple of decades is assured.

Follow Amy Grant…
Website // www.amygrant.com
Hashtag // #BabyBabyTurns25

Press release courtesy of the media collective.

Carnival Cruise Line takes Delivery of Vista

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The long awaited arrival of the Carnival Vista is over as the popular cruise line took delivery of the 133,500-ton ship today. A traditional maritime handover ceremony took place at the Fincantieri shipyard in Italy where Carnival Cruise Line added the newest, largest and most innovative ship, Vista, to its fleet.

May 1 will kickoff the summer schedule for this 3,954-passenger ship with European itineraries through the month of October 2016. Following a 13-day trans-Atlantic crossing, Carnival Vista will operate a pair of 11-day cruises from New York in November 2016 then launch year-round Caribbean service from Miami later that month.

Among the unique features Carnival Vista will boast are:

  • SkyRide – a groundbreaking suspended cycling experience.
  • The first IMAX Theatre at Sea.
  • RedFrog Pub & Brewery offering three different kinds of beer brewed on board.
  • Family Harbor – special family accommodations and concierge along with the tropics-inspired Havana staterooms and suites offering a dedicated pool area.
  • Outdoor spaces include a massive WaterWorks aqua park, highlighted by the 455-foot-long Kaleid-o-slide (the longest slide in the fleet).

Carnival Vista is a spectacular addition to our fleet and we can’t wait for our guests to experience all of the ship’s exciting new features,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line.  “Carnival Vista will provide our guests an opportunity to create a lifetime of wonderful vacation memories while offering our valued travel agent partners another exciting vacation option to market to their clients,” she added.

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To book your cruise on Carnival Vista, contact your local travel agent or visit http://www.carnival.com. You can also follow Carnival at:

Apple Goodness at North Georgia’s Mercier Orchards

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Georgia is home to one of the South’s sweetest family farms – Mercier Orchards – in business since 1943 and truly a destination of its very own!

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The farm to table movement sweeping the culinary scene across the country couldn’t be more well noted than right here in Blue Ridge where Tim Mercier and his family offer their fruit products in a myriad of edible configurations.

Pick apples right off the tree, buy fresh cider and fried pies, taste the hard cider, experience an authentic Southern breakfast and see the orchards from the back of a tractor!

The bakery and the candy counter are great places to stock the car with road trip snacks, so be sure and swing by. Offerings include: several flavors of fudge, candies, pies, and candy or caramel apples.

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In addition, the expansive gift shop offers a wide variety of do-dads including mixes for cobblers, muffins and other treats as well as growlers, wine bottle lamps, coasters and much more!

Mercier Orchards also offers a U-Pick season as follows:

  • April – Blossom Tours
  • May – Strawberries
  • June – Peaches and Cherries
  • July – Blueberries and Blackberries
  • August – Apples
  • September – Apples
  • October – Apples

Fall is busiest for the prized participant of the North Georgia Farm Trail, mostly due to the presence of apple season, but for visitors the gorgeous fall foliage is also a draw in the area. For help in planning your trip, check out http://www.blueridgemountains.com.

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No matter what time of year you decide to make the trip, it will be worth it…and it won’t likely be your last!

If you go…


Mercier Orchards
8660 Blue Ridge Drive
Blue Ridge, GA 30513
(706)632-3411
http://www.mercier-orchards.com

Tiger, Georgia Famous for Goats on the Roof

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Sometimes roadside attractions are simply the best…case in point Goats on the Roof in Tiger, Georgia. A northeast Georgia mountain town, Tiger will grab your attention when passing through thanks to this non-traditional, unique venue that offers not only adventure for children, but laughs and tasty treats for everyone!

Goats on the Roof is a fun place to stop with lots to do. The bright colors and the goats, of course, will beckon your attention, but take some time to wander around a bit…explore!

Here are some suggestions for interesting things to get you started:

  • Feed the goats.
  • Mine for gems.
  • Become an official Goat Ranger.
  • Shop in the gift shop for Amish foods, Amish furniture, T-shirts and more!
  • Enjoy some nitro homemade ice cream (the creamiest treat around) and grab some fudge for the road.

This is a great place for kids to stretch their legs and see a little of Georgia’s fun side!

If you go…
Goats on the Roof
3026 Highway 441 South
Tiger GA 30576
(706)782-2784
http://www.goats-on-the-roof.com

Happy Stays at The Willcox Hotel in Aiken

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The southern city of Aiken, South Carolina draws many visitors, especially during the Masters Tournament held in close by Augusta, Georgia. Accommodations are always in demand and if you ask the locals, they’ll tell you one of the best is The Willcox Hotel in the heart of the city’s historic district.

A 19th century inn, The Willcox was originally built as a seasonal retreat for well-to-do northerners to escape harsh winters. Dances and high society functions were held there and those who lived a privileged lifestyle stayed in various rooms and suites. The Willcox, with its reputation of impeccable service, ideal location and fabulous cuisine, catered to many a famous guest. Among those were Winston Churchill, Harold Vanderbilt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Elizabeth Arden.

Sitting room in hotel suite at The Willcox Hotel, Aiken, SC.

Today, The Willcox Hotel continues to maintain its attitude of gracious service along with the grandeur of a richly appointed lobby and rooms that are decorated with fine antiques, upscale linens, modern technology (flat screens and high-speed wifi), pampering bath products and so much more. Turndown service is still a nightly ritual at The Willcox with a sweet treat and forecast for the next day left neatly on the bed.

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Other hotel services The Willcox offers:

  • An award-winning restaurant (including a Sunday brunch) serving lunch and dinner in the dining room, lobby, front porch, pool side or in your room.
  • A lobby bar with plush seating areas, fireplace and live music.
  • Meeting space accommodating up to 300 people…and yes, weddings are popular here!
  • A salon and spa facility offering massages, facials, hair services and more.
  • A refreshing salt water pool.
  • Fitness facilities (on-site cardio and off-site complimentary use of local Gold’s Gym).
  • Complimentary bicycles to explore Aiken on your own.
  • Complimentary shoe shine is available daily. Simply place shoes in the special shoe bag in the closet and leave outside your door before midnight. They will be returned by 7 a.m. the next day!
  • Games and puzzles are available on the second floor credenza as well as playing cards in the desk drawer of each room. Also, Guest Services has a DVD list for you to check out and view in your room.

My favorites at The Willcox are easy and simple: the huge soaker tub in the bathroom with lavish bath salts and the tall shutter windows that allow the natural light in. There are many reasons to stay at The Willcox, including the close proximity to the walkable downtown area. You’ll likely find your own favorites! For more information, please visit http://www.thewillcox.com.

SIDE NOTE:

People come to Aiken for several reasons BESIDES the Masters Tournament! Depending on the time of year that you visit, you might attend a Polo game or catch the Aiken Training Track active. But, regardless of the season, you should visit the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame, Hopelands Gardens and Rye Patch to get a wonderful feel for the area. You’ll find fun culinary experiences downtown along with boutique and antique shopping. Truly something for everyone.

Under the Crown and Colonial Trades Fair

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Under the Crown and Colonial Trades Fair is a weekend filled with new ways to learn and experience the history of Augusta and North Augusta. This year’s event takes place April 16-17, 2016 in the Living History Park (299 W. Spring Grove Ave., North Augusta, SC).

Historical reenactors give a glimpse of the period of the American Revolution involving daily life during British occupation in Augusta – complete with the arrest and court martial of “traitors!” Eighteenth century music and entertainment, colonial dancing in the Barn, and an Anglican Church service at 10:30 on Sunday morning in the Meeting House round out other activities throughout the weekend.

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In addition, The Artisan Fair is going on in conjunction with the Under the Crown event! Local and regional artists will display their artwork and have items available for sale, so come check out this FREE event!

This informational video is a lively way to see what’s going on at the Living History Park, so take a couple of minutes to watch! For more information, please visit http://www.colonialtimes.us.