Travel

Tower of Terror at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios

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#NationalTwilightZoneDay

In honor of National Twilight Zone Day, here’s my family on the Twilight Zone-inspired ride, Tower of Terror, at Walt Disney’s World’s Hollywood Studios.

This was the first ride my girls wanted to get on in the park, and LORD. HAVE. MERCY! See me in the back with closed eyes and tightly-gripping hands. That’s my “Jesus let this be over” position.

Funny back story. Over 16 years ago we got married in Orlando and went to Disney World. This was one of the first rides we did as newlyweds, no kids yet. And I remember having to walk it off when it was done.

Three kids later and yep, I had to walk it off…

If you like scary, “feels like the elevator is falling” rides, this is for you. You can tell from the rest of my family that it did what it was supposed to do. Scare some and excite others, :-).

 

This post is the first of my series, #DisneyWednesday. I experienced lots of fabulousness at Disney this past week and can’t wait to share it with you, :-). These posts will help you plan a great family vacation whether it’s your first trip or 100th!

Disclaimer: This visit was part of the 2016 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration.  As an attendee I received complimentary items, special discounts and other exciting benefits. As a blogger grateful for your readership, I will only share opinions and feedback that are honest and true to my experience.

Shopping the Souks of Marrakech, Morocco

spiceshoppinginmoroccosouks

A hypnotic, mesmerizing and intoxicating labyrinth of metalwork, woodwork, rugs, leather, spices and more. That’s how I describe the souks in Marrakech, Morocco.

And this exotic marketplace of shops and stalls was one of my favorite places in Marrakech.

We spent a sunny afternoon perusing the colorful stalls, each with its own unique finds, and many with craftsmen in the back creating goods.

My favorite vendor was Mohamed, and I purchased three of his bags. If you go to the souks, LOOK HIM UP! You won’t be disappointed.

Shopping for leather bags in souks of Marrakech Morocco

Mohamed’s  business card

When I walked in Mohamed was in the back working on a bag, but he greeted me and let me peruse at my own speed. In a place where many of the merchants can be aggressive, this was a welcome approach.

leather bags from Marrakech Morocco

I fell in love with this yellow suede bag, so much so I bought it in gray, too. And the navy blue with fringes? Yes, please!

I walked back to my riad completely pleased with my finds (and wishing I had budgeted for more bags).

Here are tips for getting the most from your Marrakech shopping excursion:

  • Embrace the overstimulation of color, crafts and beauty. It is A LOT, and it is beautiful. The best thing is to relax, browse and then decide what you truly want/need.
  • Don’t get sucked in to the trap of buying the first thing you see, because you may see something a few stalls down that you like better.
  • If time permits, walk through and then decide what you will buy. I walked through and then purchased as I made my way back through the souks.
  • Don’t be intimidated by shop owners. Some are pretty aggressive and may try to guilt you to buy from them. Don’t give in to the pressure.
  • Haggling is a part of the culture, which can work to your advantage. Decide what you’re willing to pay, and don’t be afraid to compare pricing.

 

Enjoy!

Barbados 2016 Girls Trip

barbados itinerary long weekend girlfriend getawayBarbados Getaway! Where we stayed, what we did and where we ate

Landing in Barbados in the wee hours of the morning is exciting. The humidity of the Caribbean air hugs you, and the energy from other passengers is contagious. We know that in a few hours we’ll be privy to a beautiful sunrise over some amazingly blue water. And if we’re really on it, we can view it from our balcony or from the beach… WITH our tropical juice, :-).

Getting through immigration and customs was a fairly easy process at the airport, and it was very easy to get a cab to the Hilton Barbados. Upon arrival I knew we had chosen a good place to call home for a few days.

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One pool at Hilton Barbados Resort

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Infinity pool at Hilton Barbados Resort

The grounds were peaceful, with a slight hum of the ocean in the background. Talk about a welcome soundtrack!

The staff was great, too. Very friendly and accommodating.

Our first morning we ate breakfast at the hotel (they have a buffet) and decided on two excursions for our vacation – a driver to show us the island and horseback riding. The hotel concierge was extremely helpful in setting these up.

When I tell you that Barbados is GORGEOUS, these photos don’t do it justice…

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barbadosmountainoceanview2

 

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These animals know how to choose a home…

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Horseback riding near the beach

Now, y’all know I’m about my food, and Barbados did not disappoint. Our driver suggested Brown Sugar so we ate there the first night. This is the crabmeat-stuffed fish fillet with seasonal vegetables.

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O.M.G. It was divine! The green vegetable is christophene.  If you ever see it on a menu, order it! Really, take my word.

The next night we went to Oistins where I took the servers suggestion and ordered the blue marlin. When the plate came I couldn’t believe how much food was on the plate. See how the fish is hanging off the plate?!

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I have never had a server bring a second plate because my plate was overflowing. Nope, never.

There are other things you can do in Barbados, too. Snorkeling, kayaking, sightseeing, etc. But above all, make sure you schedule plenty of time to do nothing but enjoy the beautiful blue waters, caribbean breezes and good company. I took a two-hour nap on the beach, and waking up to this view was enough to make me want to do this again.

barbados long weekend itinerary

If you’re looking for a place to go with friends, for a romantic getaway or even a solo trip, I strongly recommend Barbados, :-).

Happy Travels and enjoy the Caribbean breeze!

 

p.s. Here are a couple of short videos of Hilton Barbados from my trip to get you ready…

View from Infinity Pool

Sounds of the ocean and view from the UNESCO site!

 

California Pizza Kitchen’s New Menu

californiapizzakitchenfoodreviewYesterday I tried California Pizza Kitchen’s new menu (and some old favorites) with my #BlogCharlotte crew. I was really looking forward to trying the updated dishes, and thankfully I was not disappointed.

Even better, I was pleasantly surprised. For starters, I expected it to be mostly pizza, but there’s so much to choose from… who knew?!

We started with drinks, and I went with the strawberry mango cooler. It was the perfect non-alcoholic drink, and a good choice if you want to save your calories for food. MyFitnessPal has it listed at 90 calories.

After drinks we were served appetizers and salad. Everything was tasty, but this harvest kale salad spoke to me.

harvest kale salad california pizza kitchen review

Just look at all of the tastiness in it.

Next up was pizza. I tried the barbecue chicken pizza and mushroom pizza.

californiapizzakitchenbarbecuechickenmushroomreviewBoth were great, though I found myself reaching for seconds and thirds of the chicken option, :-). However, when I’m looking for vegetarian options I’d definitely order the mushroom.

After pizza we moved on to the ribeye and halibut dishes.

ribeye and halibut from california pizza kitchen reviewBoth are good options, but the ribeye was my favorite. See that creamy blue cheese butter? How can that not be good?

After the main dish I was full, and expected to pass on dessert.

Until they brought the salted caramel pudding and butter cake to the table.

salted caramel pudding review from california pizza kitchen

Salted Caramel Pudding

Then amazingly, I had room for a little more.

As a proud chocoholic, I totally expected the caramel pudding to win my heart, because there are chocolate cookie crumbs in the bottom. However, the butter cake not only won first place, I asked for one to take home.

butter cake from California Pizza Kitchen review

Yes, it’s THAT. GOOD!

Overall, I really enjoyed everything and I’ll be going back. There’s an asaparagus + spinach spaghettini I want to try, and the butter cake must happen again. It’s only right, :-).

 

A couple of other notes:

  • If you’re looking for gluten free options, they have a great system in place to make sure the food is not cross-contaminated. My friend ordered the gluten-free barbecue chicken pizza and she said it was “really good and the crust was not like cardboard.” She added pineapple to hers, just in case you’re wondering. Gluten-free options are hand-delivered by the manager and they’re marked with these cute toothpicks.

gluten free pizza california pizza kitchen

 

  • The kids’ meal options include pizzas, salads and pastas, along with desserts. So, you should be able to find something for them, no matter what they like, :-).

Enjoy your visit!

 

Disclaimer: Our meal was complimentary, but that has no bearing on my opinions expressed here. I value your readership, and would not jeopardize that for a free meal. It goes against the Towanda code, :-).

Our Opera Date Night – Romeo & Juliet

Opera carolina first timer tips and reviewTonight I spent date night being mesmerized by the beauty of opera. We saw Romeo & Juliet, and everything, from the set, to the lighting, to the costumes and music was gorgeous!

As a first timer, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all it’s not in English, so you’re dependent on subtitles and visual clues. And while I have an appreciation for classical music, it’s not in my everyday playlist.

That being said, I really enjoyed it! I will definitely go again, and this time I’ll even be open to an unfamiliar story. It was just that pretty and an awesome choice for date night, :-).

If you’re interested in seeing an opera in the Charlotte area, check out Opera Carolina. A few things to note:

  • Most men wear suits and women dresses/skirts/slacks (in that order). The dresses and skirts range from business attire to cocktail dresses. There were a few evening gowns, but not many. There were also a few people in Saturday night casual wear (jeans, sweaters, etc.) and it was fine. You could wear any of the above.
  • Eat before you get there, because you can get snacks during intermission, but it’s not going to make up for not eating dinner.
  • Opera lengths vary, but plan to be there 2-3 hours. Romeo & Juliet was about three hours.
  • Go with an open mind and enjoy everything! It’s a beautiful experience.

Enjoy, Towanda

 

Tickets to the show were complimentary, but that has no bearing on my opinions and experiences in this post. I value each of you and will not post something I don’t believe. It’s against the Towanda code, :-).

Moroccan Travel: Goats Can Climb Trees

moroccogoatsintree_argannearEssaouiraWhen we traveled to Morocco in June, I had no idea it was the perfect month to see goats climbing trees. But yes, those are goats… chillin’… in a tree.

This is an argan tree (yep, like the oil) and goats like the fruit and leaves of the tree. So, in true animal fashion, they climb the tree to get it! I must say, I love their ability to go after what they want.

If you look closely you’ll see a farmer near the tree. Argan fruit ripens in June and July and goats eat the fruit, but they can’t digest the nut in the middle, and the nut is used to make oil. So, once the nut has passed through their digestive system, the shell is easier to crack and farmers collect the nuts to produce argan oil.

Don’t worry, this is one way to get the nut, but there are other ways, too. Women cooperatives in the region also harvest the nut and produce the oils. I visited one of these coops and will post more on my experience there soon.

As for my goat surprise, two things have happened. One, I now think about the goats any time I use a beauty or haircare product with argan oil and two, I love that I saw this in person, :-).

A Love-Love Relationship with Viva Chicken

viva chicken review charlotte nc restaurantA few years ago I was at work warming leftovers for lunch, when two colleagues walked in raving about their great lunch. They went on and on about a quinoa-stuffed avocado and some of the best chicken they had ever had.

I’m not an avocado lover, so I sort of listened to the rest of what they said, but not nearly as much as I should have. A few days later another colleague mentioned the same place, swearing by the chicken. This time I made a mental note to Google the spot, Viva Chicken.

One look at their menu and I quickly added them to my list of places to try.

It’s Peruvian inspired so everything is seasoned well, especially the chicken. There’s a nice mix of entrees, sandwiches and sides to fit almost any dietary preference. This explains why I have yet to go during lunch and there not be a line.

On my first visit so many people in front of me ordered the avocado I did, too.

Viva chicken quinoa stuffed avocado with pulled chickenThen I understood the hoopla. It was SO. GOOD! If you order it, add pulled chicken. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. And this is coming from someone that has a love-hate relationship with guacamole.

It’s now years later and Viva Chicken is still one of my absolute favorite places for lunch in Charlotte. In addition to the avocado, their chicken, plantains, cilantro-infused rice and French fries are all fantastic.

I also swear by their herbal lemonade!

Viva chicken herbal lemonade reviewA couple of things to note if you’re going to Viva Chicken during lunch.

  • There is always a line, but I love that I can order and pay online, then skip the long line for my food when I arrive. This is perfect for the days I don’t have time to wait in line, but I don’t want leftovers either. I use this option a lot!
  • There is very limited parking on the street, but you can usually find parking in the lot across the street. Another perk to the lot is you don’t have to worry about getting in the parking spot lines just right to avoid issues with the streetcar.

Enjoy your visit! Towanda

AC Santo Mauro in Madrid, Spain (a review with pics!)

AC Santo Mauro hotel in Madrid Review
Lobby of AC Santo Mauro

AC Santo Mauro is a part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection and it is FABULOUS!

It’s a boutique hotel, which I LOVE, especially when traveling for vacation. With boutiques it really is about the experience and the city you’re visiting. I felt like I was in Spain from the time I walked through the gates, plus there was the perk of earning Marriott reward points, :-).

AC Santo Mauro was built in 1894 as the residence for the Duke of Santo Mauro, and it still feels like it is fit for royalty.

santomaurophotoandreviewoflobbyFrom the time you walk through the gates you are surrounded by elaborate and beautiful details. And while the common areas feel like a palace, our room was modern and sleek with all of the comforts you expect.

When we entered our room we were greeted by a hallway that opened up to the living/sleeping area.

reviewandphotosofguest room Santo Mauro MadridThere was a walk-in closet that had plenty of room for me and Hubby’s things.

santomauromadridreviewguestroomclosetphotoThe bathroom was well-maintained and stocked with Morton Brown toiletries.

santomauroguestroombathroomreviewwithphotos

AC Santo Mauro review and photos of bathroomWe had a basic guest room, so the bed, lounge area and table were in the same space. However, this didn’t make it feel cramped. We were very comfortable.

santo mauro madridreviewThe grounds are beautiful and have a lot of areas that are perfect for strolling, grabbing a drink or hanging out with friends. During our night stroll we saw groups sitting outside enjoying the patio/garden area and others coming back from an evening on the town.

The staff was very nice and accommodating. We were checked in quickly, they gave us suggestions for things to do and when we called down for extra supplies they were delivered fast. Hubby ordered room service late one night and it was also delivered quickly.

The other great thing about AC Santo Mauro is that it’s walking distance from Puerta del Sol, and the walk is through a vibrant area. It took us about 20 minutes to walk and that’s because we were people-watching and admiring the neighborhood. It’s Madrid, how can you not do this, :-).

Madrid Spain Puerta del Sol areaYou can also jump on transit a couple of blocks away if walking is not your thing.

I’d definitely stay here again and I can’t wait to try another hotel in the Autograph Collection.

Enjoy your visit!