Vacation Reads for the Whole Family

InterContinental Hotels Group invited my family to the Holiday Inn Resort at Pensacola Beach for a complimentary breakfast with Clifford the Big Red Dog and pool passes. I was not asked to write this article and opinions are my own.

One of the most important decisions I make when going to the beach is what book to toss in my beach bag. I love a good, juicy beach read.

In fact, we’re all avid readers at my house. My youngest daughter learned to read this year, and the rest of us frequently have our nose in a book. As a working mom, it can be challenging to find time to read, but I do enjoy it when I can (often that’s on vacation), and I love that my children like reading. My husband and I read aloud to them throughout their preschool years, which can be so beneficial for a child’s learning and development.

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When I heard about Holiday Inn and Scholastic teaming up to encourage kids to read while they’re on vacation, I was immediately interested because it’s the intersection of two things we enjoy: books and family travel. Through the Summer of Smiles program, Scholastic book characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog and Geronimo Stilton (He’s an adventurous mouse journalist, I learned) are greeting guests at select Holiday Inn hotels during breakfast events.

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In addition to photo opportunities, there are book character-themed coloring and craft activities for the kids. At the event we attended, children were offered a free book. Afterwards a small lending library was set up in the hotel lobby so that young guests can borrow books to read, or parents traveling on business can borrow a book to read a virtual bedtime story to their children back home. It’s a neat concept and my daughters enjoyed the experience.

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I’m all for anything that encourages reading and gets kids and parents to unplug from their electronic devices, especially on vacation. At the Holiday Inn Resort at Pensacola Beach, the breakfast with Clifford and friends was one of many perks offered for kids.

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We were able to explore the pool area, which includes a lazy river. I hadn’t floated along a lazy river in years and this was a first for my girls. We had so much fun doing this together, and I lost count of how many times we went around.

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I enjoyed lounging by the pool, too, while the girls met and swam with a mermaid, who makes daily appearances at the pool. Pirates also visited the pool on the day we were there, and a “dive-in” movie was scheduled for the evening. And what kid doesn’t like a snow cone bar?

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We left the hotel with snapshots from the meet and greet with Clifford, and I took several photos around the pool. I only regret not being in any of the photos myself. (We have to make a point to get out from behind the camera, moms!) Regardless, it was a memorable day spending time with my daughters. Happy travels and happy reading to all this summer!

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What are you and your family reading this summer? Leave us a comment.

It’s Taste of the (Pensacola) Beach Time Again

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Pensacola Beach’s annual Taste of the Beach event is Friday-Saturday, September 18-19, 2015.

Friday is a ticketed, VIP event with celebrity Chef John Besh. You may know him from his highly acclaimed New Orleans restaurants: August, Besh’s Steak House and others; or you may have seen him on one of several cooking shows on TV.

Saturday is the day to go and take the whole family. Check out the schedule of events here. Chef Besh is sure to bring an impressive showcase of culinary skills to the live stage presentation. There are surfing lessons and all sorts of activities for the kids. You can sample the best food and drinks Pensacola Beach has to offer at affordable prices, hear from Chef John Besh and even get a chance to meet him during the meet and greet. A fun 80s band, the Molly Ringwalds, closes out the evening with live music.

I wrote about my experience at last year’s Taste of the Beach. It was a lot of fun and I hope I get to make it out to the beach this weekend for round 2! Yum!

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Breakfast with the Blues at Pensacola Beach

All eyes were on the sky this morning at Pensacola Beach as the Blue Angels practiced high-flying stunts above the sand and surf. The U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, which calls nearby NAS Pensacola home, is preparing for its annual air show over Pensacola Beach.

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Officially, the air show is Saturday, July 11, but for beach-goers who can’t wait for the weekend or just want to avoid the larger crowds, there are a couple of opportunities to catch a glimpse of the jets in action a little early. The first, known as “Breakfast with the Blues” happened today at 8 a.m.

With my coffee, camera and kids in hand, I made my way out to Casino Beach, the large public beach area that is the hub of activity on Pensacola Beach. We found a shady spot in the shadow of the Pensacola Beach Pier and stood in awe of the skilled maneuvers the Blue Angels are famous for. It is not for the faint of heart! If you’ve ever seen the Blues perform, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the Blue Angels, you can catch them practicing again tomorrow, July 9, at 2 p.m. The dress rehearsal takes place Friday, July 10, and the Pensacola Beach 2015 Air Show is Saturday; on both days, civilian air acts begin at Noon, and the Blue Angels fly at 2 p.m.

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Many folks watch from hotels, condos or boats, but there are plenty of spots on the sand, too. For my money, I’d find a cool spot with shade, snacks and flowing beverages. Although I haven’t tried it yet, I have heard good things about Casino Beach Bar & Grille. It is right in the middle of the action at Pensacola Beach, located just east of the pier. They offer plenty of seating under umbrellas, as well as beach chairs and a covered bar area, and they have misting machines to help you stay cool.

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Enjoy the Blues! And remember those pilots’ mothers, who I imagine have a hard time watching their flying aces perform heart-stopping, jaw-dropping aerial stunts and make it look easy.

Taste of the Beach at Pensacola Beach

crab-taste-of-the-beach The annual Taste of the Beach Festival at Pensacola Beach has been going strong for seven years. The 2014 event was my first time attending, and Taste of the Beach did not disappoint.
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The food, of course, is the main attraction. Our party sampled generous portions of Angry Pork Nachos, prepared by H20 at the Hilton Pensacola Beach, and cheeseburger sliders from Surf Burger. Each plate was just $5. For seafood lovers, there are plenty of options from fish tacos to peel-and-eat shrimp. Those wanting to cool off with a frosty beverage can choose a frozen cocktail or beer.

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Tables and chairs were set up under tents, providing a shady spot to enjoy your food and drinks as you look out over the Gulf. If you wanted to spend your day on the beach, you could easily come and go from the festival area to play in the sand and surf.

Chef Carla Hall, co-host on The Chew and former Top Chef finalist, entertained the crowd during a live cooking demonstration. She prepared gazpacho and kept the festival-goers engaged with an interactive presentation.

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One section of tents was designated as a Kids’ Area, which made it easy to corral the youngsters for face painting and sand crafts. Our only disappointment was that the snow cone station ran out of ice.

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Taste of the Beach was a nice way to spend a couple of hours and try delicious food prepared by Pensacola Beach chefs at an affordable price.

Hootie Hoo from Pensacola Beach


Carla Hall is packing her knives and going…to Pensacola Beach. Hall, a fan favorite and finalist on reality TV show Top Chef and now a co-host of ABC’s The Chew, is the celebrity chef for this weekend’s 2014 Taste of the Beach.

There’s no word on whether she still says “hootie hoo,” a phrase that fits the warm, playful persona that first made her popular on Top Chef. But as a fellow Southerner, Hall is sure to feel right at home with “y’all” in Northwest Florida.

She’ll be greeting fans, performing cooking demonstrations and answering questions against a scenic backdrop of crystal white sand and emerald waters. Local restaurant chefs will serve up their finest dishes, too. You can sample a wide variety of seafood and other specialties for just $5 each.

It’s a draw for foodies and those looking for something different to do. I’m hoping to see Carla, sample a few dishes, and take my kids to some of the family friendly activities. Admission is free and there are free surfing lessons, hermit crab races, hula hoop contests, a parade and more! Here’s a link to more info. for those who are interested: http://www.tasteofpensacolabeach.com/event-info/

Hope to see you at Pensacola Beach!

Pensacola Beach: Blue Angels Weekend

The U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, the Blue Angels, are a national treasure. The sleek blue jets with yellow trim are impressive on the ground. When they take to the skies, it is nothing short of magical. Performing aerial feats that demonstrate the precision and skill of these uber talented pilots, the Blue Angels delight crowds at air shows across the nation. In 2014 they are expected to perform before 15 million spectators.

This past week, the Blue Angels returned to their home base in Pensacola and performed before the hometown crowd at the Pensacola Beach Air Show. The main performance took place on Saturday and early estimates indicate it drew record numbers to the beach. Fans lined the shore, filled hotels and condos, and anchored boats in the Santa Rosa Sound and other nearby waters to watch the show. From any vantage point, the Blues are a must-see attraction.

For families with young children, watching the Blue Angels earlier in the week is a good option as the traffic and crowds are lighter. They perform a “Breakfast with the Blues” warm up session on Wednesday prior to the show, and a dress rehearsal on Friday. A friend who attended Breakfast with the Blues this year with her two children told me she didn’t know why she had waited for the Saturday show in the past. The mid-week morning experience was ideal for her family.

If you missed them this time around, the Blue Angels are performing almost every weekend between now and November at air shows in Chicago, Cleveland, Memphis, Houston, San Francisco and many other locations. They culminate the season back at Naval Air Station Pensacola with the Blue Angels Homecoming Air Show, Nov. 7-9.

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This photo was taken a few miles away from the beach in Gulf Breeze, Florida, and doesn’t do justice to the true spectacle you’ll experience at a Blue Angels show. The Pensacola News Journal has a fantastic gallery of photos from this weekend’s beach show at PNJ.com.