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.

Clifford

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.

GeronimoStilton

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.

IMG_1158

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.

sign

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.

lazyriver

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?

snocones

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!

holidayinnresort

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

Advertisements

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

taste-of-the-beach

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!

taste-of-the-beach-tshirt

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.
H20-pork-nachos
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.

taste-of-the-beach

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.

Carla-Hall-Taste-of-the-Beach

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.

kids-craft-table

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!

6 Things to Look for When You Rent a Beach House

renting-a-beach-house

Before I lived in Florida, going on vacation to the beach meant packing up the kids, suitcases and beach gear, hopping in the car to drive several hours until (finally!) we arrived at our coastal destination of choice. The sparkling blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and its white sandy beaches are never more inviting than after you’ve been glued to your seat, staring at the highway in front of you, and forced to listen to countless renditions of “Let it Go” from the wanna-be Elsa in the backseat. The last thing you want to happen upon arrival is to discover the beach house you’ve rented — your home away from home for the week — is not what you expected.

Chances are, if you’re renting a beach house, you’re vacationing with others. Most beach houses for rent are designed to accommodate extended families or groups of friends who want to enjoy their stay together. Often the best houses are booked as much as six months to a year in advance so it pays to plan ahead. When you begin your search for a beach house, here are six things to look for:

1. Sleeping accommodations – This is probably a no-brainer but unless you plan to bring air mattresses or sleeping bags for the youngsters, you should start by narrowing your search to those homes that provide a place for everyone to lay their head.

2. Shared spaces – Consider how you plan to use the space in your rental home. My family loves to cook so we look for a well stocked kitchen with seating for everyone to dine in the same room. If you prefer to only eat at restaurants during your vacation, this may not matter to you. Do you watch movies with the whole gang? Look for living areas large enough to accommodate this. If your week at the beach begins to seem like too much family togetherness (and we’ve all been there), having two separate living areas can be a plus.

3. Photos – It’s hard to imagine renting a beach house sight unseen (at least in photos), but look closely at rental listing photos. You can get a sense of the home’s decor, and a home that looks like a museum may not be right for a family with active children. We all know boys playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles don’t mix well with Picasso.

Photos sometimes give you clues as to the floor plan of the beach house. For example, if the only door to the pool or balcony is through a bedroom designed for children, this raises a red flag, both for the safety risks it poses and so that nap time won’t be interrupted when Uncle Chris is ready to dive in for an afternoon swim. If Grandma has a bad knee, you’ll want to be sure her room is not at the top of three flights of stairs. Floor plan is not always apparent in photos so see tip #6 below if you have concerns.

4. Amenities – Beach communities and resort neighborhoods are becoming increasingly competitive in the amenities they offer to rental guests. First, I look for convenient beach access. After all the beach is the main attraction and you don’t want to hike forever and a day to step foot in the sand. If beach access is not in your potential rental home’s immediate vicinity, is transportation available (e.g., shuttles, golf carts) to make getting to the beach easier? Pools are also an important consideration. You may pay a premium for a private pool or opt for using a community pool. Tennis courts, gyms, and concierge services are other examples of amenities you may be offered when you’re renting a beach house. Some properties have on site restaurants and spas. Decide what is most important to you and those you are traveling with, as well as what fits within your budget, and plan accordingly.

5. Reviews – Read the reviews or comments if they are included with a rental listing. You can often uncover some information that may not otherwise be apparent, such as whether or not the owner/management company is responsive if problems do occur.

6. Ask questions – Most of all, after you’ve done your research online, don’t be afraid to contact the owner/rental company to ask any questions that haven’t been answered, especially if you have any unusual requirements for your trip. Most are eager to help answer your questions and they may shed light on features of the home you hadn’t considered.

Of course all of these tips will only be useful if you’ve first narrowed down the location for your vacation. My family and friends have vacationed all over the Florida Panhandle (Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach, Navarre Beach, Destin, many points along County Road 30-A in South Walton County, Panama City Beach) and Southern Alabama (Gulf Shores, Orange Beach). Each community has its own strengths and unique offerings.

Vacation home rentals can be arranged directly through resort communities, independent property management companies or individual owners. My family has used Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com) to search for properties online and book our stay.

Good luck with your search for a beach house and enjoy your vacation!