Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Idina Menzel - Holiday Wishes



Ever wished you could hear Elsa from Frozen sing some of your holiday favorites? Tony-award singer/actress, Idina Menzel did her very best to make that happen this year with the release of Holiday Wishes, a compilation of music produced by Grammy Award-winner Walter Afanasieff (Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey) featuring such classic favorites as “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas".



According to an interview with the artist, Idina does not have fond memories of Christmas, but she is hoping that this album will encompass all of the feelings that people deal with at this time of year, whether you are happy, sad, or something in between.

While I was super excited to get the chance to review this album, I'll admit that Idina's voice seemed to be a little bit too much for the classic tunes I grew up with. In making the first few tracks her own, she lost the little bit of magic I was expecting to hear. This is not to say the album did not have a few gems that stood out to me. I especially enjoyed listening to "December Prayer" and "River".

This album may not have been what I was expecting, but I'd love to know if you are excited about getting to hear "Elsa" sing some of your Christmas favorites? Does my review make you apprehensive? Or are you as excited as ever to purchase the album?

itunesamazon

Feel free to check out Idina Menzel on her official site or keep up with her on facebook!

* I participated in the Idina Menzel Holiday Wishes album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided an album to review but all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanks…


Yesterday as I was on my way to work, the passenger side ball joint on my car broke … along with the axle, and my car started leaking transmission fluid. (To people who don't speak car talk, like me, the tire fell of my car while I was on the road.) Apparently, very easily I could have lost control of the vehicle, flipped and gotten very hurt. Luckily I wasn't on the highway and there were no vehicles in my direct path. I initially pulled over thinking I had a flat tire (no biggie, right?) only to find myself horrified about what really happened…

My dad, a mechanic, and my husband, not a mechanic, got to work on the vehicle right away last night knowing that they could fix it for much cheaper than a dealership (i.e. labor is free). To make up for the time I was taking away from my husband being able to cook in the kitchen, I decided to take on as much of his Thanksgiving cooking responsibilities as I could. I made a pumpkin pie that wouldn't set … then the blender broke while trying to combine soup. It was a frustrating day to say the least. Today has been more successful, thank goodness!

However, after all that I experienced yesterday, I have a newfound respect for all of the wonderful people in my life and all that they do for me.

I  love you dear friends and family.

It shouldn't take a broken blender or car for me to realize that, but sometimes it takes moments like that for you to sit back and realize how good you really have it. I am so very blessed.

Who all are you thankful for? Have you taken the time today to tell them or show them how much you care and appreciate all they do for you?

* Day 17 of November Blogathon.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Places Worth Traveling To

image from Justin in SD

Or so the number of visitors suggest…

Having only recently gotten swept up into the world of traveling, I was excited to see Travel & Leisure's list of the World's Most-Visited Tourist Attractions originally posted by Michael W Travels. Given his short list of locations, I wondered how many places on the list I had travelled – zero? twenty? Well, as it turns out my list was pretty short ending at eleven places with two of them being places I've only seen from the outside and haven't actually gone into; do those count?

Without further ado, here is my list:

No. 3 Times Square, NYC
No. 4 (tie) Central Park, NYC
No. 12 Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando, FL
No. 19 Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris (we saw it; does that count?)
No. 24 Epcot, WDW in Lake Buena Vista, FL
No. 27 Sacré Coeur Basilica, Paris
No. 29 Disney's Animal Kingdom, WDW in Lake Buena Vista, FL
No. 30 Disney's Hollywood Studios, WDW in Lake Buena Vista, FL
No. 35 Musée du Lourve, Paris
No. 40 (tie) Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, WDC
No. 43 Palace of Versailles, France (Once again… saw it; does that count?)

It would seem that I got most of my list knocked out as a child living within 7 hours of WDW in Florida. What do those children do that don't live so close?!? How do they survive childhood without getting Mickey's autograph, riding all of the rides, and overpaying for food at the theme parks? A tragedy, I'm sure!

How many places on Travel & Leisure's list have you been to? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Dresses For the Holiday Season

It's that time of year again – the time of year to go dress shopping! And I've already started the looking for you at my local Free People and Anthropologie stores…



1. Free People Teardrop Pixie Dress
2. Free People Petaluma Fit N Flare Slip
3. Free People Studded Lace Party Dress

4. Free People Shine So Bright Dress
5. Free People Little Dot Mini Dress
6. Free People Creme De La Dress

7. Free People Circle of Flowers Slip
8. Free People Mavi Lace Dress
9. Anthropologie Petal Fete Dress

I'm sure not everyone is as enamored with lace as I am, so I would love to hear and see what dresses you are liking this holiday season. Have you already picked out a beautiful holiday number? Are you still on the search for the perfect frock? Share! :)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions



Breaking out of her comfort zone this past summer, Mary J. Blige traveled overseas to London to become immersed in the culture and music scene following on the heels of such singers as Adele and Amy Winehouse. Her thirteenth studio album, The London Sessions, is slated for release this December with all that she has to offer including strong vocal chords and tons of emotion backed by strong lyrics and a number of collaborations with some of London's top artists.



Originally from New York, the singer grew up in a small town in Georgia (squee!) listening to R&B/soul musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Patti Labelle. After dropping out of college and returning to New York, where she had been born, Blige was signed on to Uptown Records in 1989 with production on her first album set to begin in 1991. Rather quickly her music went straight to the billboard charts obtaining her first top 100 hit in the fall of 1992. Since her beginnings Mary J. Blige has received nine Grammy Awards (plus a staggering 31 nominations), a 2012 Golden Globe nomination, and four American Music Awards attracting a loyal fanbase and propelling the sale of over 50 million albums.

While Mary J. Blige had never been at the top of my listening repertoire, I was excited to get the opportunity to open up my mind and give The London Sessions a listen for One2One Network. I was not expecting to enjoy this album as much as I did. Even though I don't have a favorite song from the album, I was impressed and surprised by the large number of themes she sang about making me feel as though she really did try to reach out to her audience in a new way with this album. The London Sessions is definitely filled to the brim with soulful ballads and emotionally charged songs making the album very likeable for fans of multiple music genres including pop, R&B, and soul.



Interested in pre-ordering the album on amazon or itunes?

Be sure to check out Mary J. Blige's official website for more information or follow her on twitter or facebook to stay updated on all things Mary J. Blige. :)

Are you a fan of Mary J. Blige? Will you be anxiously awaiting the arrival of her new cd in stores on Dec. 2?

** I participated in the Mary J Blige The London Sessions album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided a free album to review but all opinions are my own.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Currently…


Remembering: Last year at this time and how preparing for Christmas was so different from how it is this year…

Giggling About: Hannah Hart's videos, especially 28 Things About Being 28 and her venture into Melbourne, Australia.

"What's up with 'Emu, etc…'. Don't we have a right to know what's in our meat? Ironic coming from an American." :)

Planning: Thanksgiving – We are doing something entirely different this year and traveling to the north Georgia mountains with food in tow to see my grandparents and spend Thanksgiving with them. I'm trying to help Justin come up with unique dishes that will make this Thanksgiving different and better (as far as food) than last. I would really love to see more seasonal foods added to our meal plan than we've done before.

Anxiously Awaiting: all of the giveaways coming up including products from Schick, Hidden Valley, and Zep.

Interested to know: if I will like the numerous products I will be reviewing soon including Luke Barr's Provence 1970, Steven Brown's Glitterville's Handmade Christmas, Mary J. Blige's The London Sessions, and Indina Menzel's Holiday Wishes.

Baking: Alton Brown's chocolate chip cookies with butterscotch in them instead of chocolate chips. Yum! (Be sure to have a FULL glass of milk on hand. These cookies are super sweet!)

Keeping A Secret: Who isn't keeping a secret at this time of year? We've already bought so many gifts and we just have to keep it all "under wraps" until Christmas. :)

DIYing: nothing. I'm lazy. I'd rather spend my time photoshopping. But I guess I need to get busy thinking of a creative Christmas card to send out. Last year, at this time, I already knew what my plan was. This year … not so much. Pinterest to the rescue?

What are your 'currentlys'? Are you doing anything exciting? Perhaps preparing for the upcoming holiday season by chance?

** Day 12 of November Blogathon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Holiday Inn Resort – Panama City Beach, FL

image courtesy of TripAdvisor

Destination: Panama City Beach, Florida and Port St. Joe/San Blas
Date: June 2014
Hotel: Holiday Inn Resort
Brand: IHG
Status: Gold
# of travelers: 2

Hotel & Brand – Making the Decision



Justin's family was going down to Port St. Joe/San Blas for a week long family vacation at the beginning of summer right after we had returned from Europe. Knowing that all of this was happening, I researched and booked our hotel (the Holiday Inn Resort) in April giving us a discount for booking 30 days prior to our stay. While PCB is actually over an hour away from San Blas, Justin and I were working off the thought that his family was staying in Port St. Joe, which is approximately 30 minutes closer to PCB than San Blas is. Furthermore, if you have ever researched or looked for hotels in the Port St. Joe area, you would not be surprised to discover that there aren't very many … if there are any at all. Port St. Joe is a tiny little town on the cost of Florida with only a handful of restaurants and perhaps one or two gas stations within the whole vicinity. If you didn't get gas on your way into San Blas, you could very well get stranded. Finding food whether in a restaurant or grocery store was also limited. San Blas is a very small area indeed.

Due to the location of the family's escapade into Florida, Justin and I decided to take advantage of my status with IHG and stay at the resort. I had read on FlyerTalk that even with status, you weren't guaranteed an upgrade, but I was also reassured that even without an upgrade you would get a room facing the beach on the beach. That sounded good enough to me, and since Justin and I were arriving in Florida a good day and a half before his family came down, we decided the hour drive from a hotel on the beach was okay with us.

Getting There


image from Destination360

We drove from Georgia a good 6 hours to get there, I believe. The fun bit was seeing on Waze that our arrival time was an hour earlier than expected … or at least that was fun until we realized that we were changing time zones. We changed time zones at least twice before our arrival. It was a lot of fun living an hour behind our usual time zone of EST for a weekend.

As for other arrival methods … I have no idea. This hotel is located in the states which really limits transportation possibilities. Unlike previous hotels I've reviewed located in Europe where you could arrive by train, the US does not provide that much alternative transportation. I'd say you have access to the PCB area via car or bus … and perhaps boat, but that's it.

Price, Location, Rooms & View


image from Hotels.com

Usually I relate price to the room size or amenities, but in this specific circumstance, I feel it is necessary to talk about it in relation to the location. PCB would never have been my first choice of location due to the large number of bikers (motorcyclists) and college students that flock there for spring break. I'm not big into drinking to get drunk nor am I a partier. To top all of this off, I am not really a beach fanatic. When I go to the beach, I like being able to leave the salt water and sand to go somewhere decent for dinner, visit a museum … or go shopping at a real store. If I am at the beach, I do not want postcards of half naked women, all of the swimsuits, a new pet, or a magnet. (I might want a sundress and sunscreen, but that's a different story.)

I digress…

Anyway, the Holiday Inn Resort is one of the fancier hotels on (in my opinion) the nicer side of PCB. You can pay less and stay in one of the many smaller, less fancy hotels on the north side of PCB or you can go south, pay a bit more, and have a bit more room to walk on the beach without stepping over beach towels and high school/college students. Also, the further down the strip you get, the less motorcycles you'll see. This is not to say you won't see any, but you will see less. All of this meant that I was able to enjoy my stay at the beach making the extra I was paying worth it, to me. It won't be worth it for everyone who ventures to the coastal waters of PCB though. You will have to decide it's worth to you based on my review and others like it.

For clarity's sake, the Holiday Inn Resort is located on the southern isle of PCB. It is a few miles away from the local mall, but it is right on the beach. From what I've read, all rooms face the beach; in other words, you cannot get a bad room. Don't take my word on that though; I recommend contacting the hotel and asking specifically for a beach facing room if that is what you want. They may laugh, but at least you'll know you are getting what you want. :) The rooms are all crazy huge and include a fridge, an ironing board, toiletries, a safe, and a balcony. Obviously the higher up you can get, the better the view will be from your room.

Amenities, Disability Access, Parking, & Staff


image from Expedia

The hotel had so many amenities to take advantage of! Not only was the room fantastic and huge, but the pool was also almost grandiose! If European hotels are small and quaint, this hotel was an American's dream! With lemon and lime infused water as well as tea in the main lobby, a restaurant, strawberry and pineapple infused water at the pool, a kid's water park, a game room, a gift shop (selling the all important postage and everything you could have possibly forgotten), two bars (one located in a second building, one located near the pool), a place to order pizza and ice cream while sunning out on the pool deck, characters that walk around the pool during the morning providing balloons to all of the kids, music and karaoke provided by a disc jockey on the pool deck, a fitness center, a business center, free wi-fi, and chairs/umbrellas you can rent to take out on the beach, there is almost nothing this hotel doesn't have or offer. In fact, I was a bit disappointed to miss out on seeing flame throwers our one night there. There is quite literally something for everyone.

If the hotel is overwhelming with all of it's entertainment possibilities, the staff is right up there with it providing amazing service even over the course of our very short weekend. We arrived late, but they made sure we had a room … and even when I called two days after leaving the hotel thinking that I may have left my ipod there, they were courteous and took a look in the room just to check. Obviously they didn't find it since I later found it in my jacket pocket, but I sincerely appreciated the effort they put into looking for it and contacting me to say they had not yet found it.

As with many of the other hotels I have reviewed I cannot say with any certainty that this hotel is incredibly friendly towards those with disabilities, but nothing stood out to me as being unfriendly. In fact, given that the hotel has multiple elevators and nearly everything you could possibly want within close proximity, I would imagine that this hotel is actually incredibly disability-friendly. In fact, despite the fact that parking is across the street, they have a tunnel that goes under the road to get to it so that you don't have to cross the dangerous, busy street. They also provide handicap parking right in front of the hotel and provide golf cart rides to the parking lot for all those who are feeling a bit lazy. It's like the Holiday Inn Resort thought of everything!

Status & the Upstairs Bar (in the fitness building)

While I did not receive a major room upgrade (I'm not sure if they have those) or a room on a higher floor, the front desk did provide my husband and I with coupons to get a free drink at the bar. It was not a crazy spectacular benefit and the bar was practically empty when we went at around 10PM on a Saturday night, but the bartender was friendly and the drinks were good albeit typical. Justin had a scotch and I had a frozen daiquiri. Unfortunately the view from the bar left a lot to be desired. You could watch tv, but the windows were cloudy and made it difficult to see the only thing that existed below – the pool.

Overall Review


image from IHG

★★★★1/2

The only thing that stood out to me that I did not like was the lack of free breakfast options in the hotel. At $200 a room (even if it is during the busy season) without much around the hotel, it would have been nice to have a free breakfast. Other than that, the hotel was fantastic. Despite my lack of interest in going to PCB, I would definitely consider going again if I were to stay in this hotel. In fact, according to TripAdvisor, the price rates sinking down below $100 into December ($68 on 12/12) make this a fantastic hotel to stay at for the money, especially if you are going for business and not as interested in the pool/beach during the colder winter months.

Your Turn

Are you more of a party person or a resort person? Would you be content never having to leave the hotel property during a summer visit to PCB? Is there anything I've missed that you want to know?

For those interested, here is a list of things Justin and I did during our weekend stay in PCB at the Holiday Inn Resort.