Occidental Caribe Punta Cana Travel Diary

I kicked off my first trip of the year by heading to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with a handful of great friends. Sounds like the perfect trip to escape the could northeast winter, right? Well, that’s what we thought. But unfortunately, besides the warm weather, there was nothing perfect (or even particularly great) about our trip to the Occidental Caribe in Punta Cana.

To start things off, we check in and our rooms aren’t next to each other as requested. Now, I know what you may be thinking. That is an optional perk that you can hope for when booking your rooms, but typically isn’t guaranteed. I get it. But when booking our rooms we specifically asked for all of the rooms to at least be close to one another, since we were traveling with my brother who is still a minor and therefore needed a guardian for our trip. Fast forward to check in: not only is one room in a totally different building across the resort, it also happened to be my room, making me super far from my little brother. I asked them to at least put us in the same building, but they insisted it was impossible until I refused to back down and they found us a room right above them.

As if that wasn’t a headache enough, our rooms weren’t even ready! We were checking in well after 3pm (check in was at 3), and only one of our 3 rooms was ready. That was ridiculous. After a long day of travel they insisted we give them another hour, so we had to cram in all our belongings in our of our friends’ room and all change and freshen up so we could go grab a late lunch on the resort. During this, I changed in a closet. A CLOSET. Because there were 7 of us who were hangry and wanted to get to a restaurant (and unlimited drinks) as quick as possible.

Occidental Caribe Punta Cana

When we finally got our rooms, neither of our keys worked. We had to get a new set of keys and I found that a teeny bit ridiculous. Pair that with the fact that the numeration of rooms and layout of the resort didn’t make sense, and you have a whole bunch of us (highly educated, pretty bright) traveling to a resort that confused us and made us lost multiple times.

Now. Food and drinks. Food was the worst of any resort I’ve ever been to. EVER. Let’s put it this way: the Mexican resort on the resort didn’t even have Mexican food. (Since when is a tuna sandwich Mexican cuisine?) There were 5 restaurants on the resort and only one of them didn’t require a reservation: the nasty buffet. I’ve been to resorts where one or two of the restaurants require reservations as they are more upscale and/or a la carte plated meals, but never have I experienced such a frenzy for reservations. The restaurants were super small and they did reservations in half hour increments. I’d say that each restaurant could do no more than 200 covers a night, which is nothing considering that I know multiple thousand people stayed on our resort.

The drinks were watery, in the smallest plastic cups ever, and the bartenders didn’t know how to make any classic drinks (even when we asked in Spanish). I knew this wasn’t going to be a 5 star resort so I didn’t expect the luxury I experienced at Secrets Wild Orchid in Jamaica, for example, but this was straight up like the Motel 8 of resorts. Our toilet broke every single day, and not be all TMI, but it broke with just #1 in the toilet. Like what kind of nonsense is that?

Occidental Caribe Punta Cana
Occidental Caribe Punta Cana

Many people spoke very little English and essentially only the front desk people weren’t fluent just conversational. Luckily I can speak conversational Spanish to get by, as could a couple others in our group. If there weren’t those of us who can speak and understand fairly easily, we wouldn’t have even be able to order our meals at most of the restaurants. Speaking of which, some restaurant employees weren’t even informed; in one restaurant, the waitress couldn’t even tell us what time the restaurant closed!

Other complaints? Room service had a fee (unlike other all-inclusive resorts I’ve stayed at). Our tub was dirty upon our arrival. There was only one ATM at the resort and it was broken the entire time we were there. (We ended up having to pay major $$$ fees in the form of cash advances at the casino which was open limited hours.) There were multiple broken slots at the casino. Entire hotel was counterintuitive and layout made no sense (e.g. one of the restaurants was right across from hotel rooms). The channels on the TV said they were in English but they were in Spanish. (We were able to watch Judge Judy in English one day though.) Only one device per wifi. What if you have your laptop and phone? You paid $12 a day and it didn’t even work. You had to log back in every 5 minutes. Luckily, I had an international phone plan so I didn’t have to bother, but some of my friends did and were disappointed with the fee, one-device rule, and constant timing out.

Occidental Caribe Punta Cana

The balcony attached to our room was broken. BROKEN. One of our friends was swinging it one night and I got a video of how badly it was broken and how much of a safety hazard it was. We were on the third floor!!! That could have been a tragic accident for someone who had one too many drinks.

But here comes the worst part: my tummy was bothering me on our last morning and I was curled up in bed while some friends enjoyed their last morning on the beach. Check out was at noon, but at 10am two men walked into our rooms! Yes, used their hotel keys and just walked in. So not only did the front desk check them in 5 HOURS before they should have, they also gave the room away while it was still being inhabited. It was scary, gross, and a total shock that solidified our horrible experiences. 

Meanwhile, when our friends were checking out a receptionist told them “I won’t let you go home” when they were missing a room key. Like what?!?!?! So the moral of the story? If you’re going to Punta Cana, don’t stay at Occidental Caribe. 

(Bob has stayed at other lovely resorts in the country as one of some other family members, so if anyone is looking for recommendations, I’m happy to pass some on through their word of mouth.)

Music Midtown + Citi Private Pass Travel Diary

If you’ve been tuned into Insta and/or here on the blog, you can see that Bob and I have been traveling non-stop. This summer alone we’ve been to Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Jamaica, and most recently, back to Atlanta for Music Midtown. Music Midtown was the first music festival I’ve ever attended, and it was a great experience! I’m already itching to see who will perform next year and even looking into trying some other festivals next year.

When I was perusing the Music Midtown website, I noticed that Citi cardmembers could take advantage of Citi Private Pass benefits at the festival. We’d gain access to the Citi Cardmember Lounge, which was air-conditioned, equipped with a private bar and a GIF booth, charging station, and live feeds of the stages. They were also giving away promotional swag (sunglasses and branded sunscreen) and playing games to win VIP passes throughout the weekend!

A really awesome perk was that you could link your Music Midtown passes to your Citi card, so you could go “cashless” and make purchases throughout the festival simply using a pin you set up. This was a convenient feature that provided me with the peace of mind that I wouldn’t have to bring my wallet and risk losing it as I traipsed around the festival.

Citi Private Pass Cardmember Lounge

On Saturday, the first day of the festival, Bobby and I got there early and headed to the Citi Cardmember Lounge. We spent a couple hours there, enjoying drinks, making GIFs in the photo booth, and playing corn hole outside. I struck up a conversation with Chris and Meghan, executives from Livenation and Citi respectively, and to our surprise we ended up with VIP passes for the day.

Music Midtown Citi Private Pass

We headed over to the Citi viewing section at the Electric Ballroom stage to see DNCE, and trust me when I say they were amazing. I have no shame in admitting that I’ve been a Jonas Brothers fan for 10 years now (eek, I’m getting old), so seeing Joe do so well with his new project made me so happy! They sounded great live, had impressive stage presence, and performed a ton of songs — both songs from their upcoming album and covers from Prince, David Bowie, and Drake.

Music Midtown 2016

After DNCE, we headed to the VIP section of Music Midtown. Although it wasn’t air conditioned like the Citi Lounge, and the charging station was considerably less efficient, Bobby and I still had a great time. There was free Shake Shack, free alcohol, and private bathrooms! Plus there were couches, corn hole, and chairs set up all around so you could view the stages while relaxing.

On Saturday we also saw Leon Bridges, a bit of Logic and G-Eazy, and then we saw Collegrove (comprised of Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz) close out the night. It doesn’t get more ATL than that! We were able to enjoy the Collegrove section from the front row of the VIP section, so thanks Citi for that awesome perk!

Sunday was dreary and rainy, and the festival was even evacuated for a while because of extreme weather. Even though we bought ponchos, it was downpouring so hard that by the time they resumed with the shows after the delay, we were pretty tired of trudging around in our muddy sandals. Unfortunately, we missed Kesha and Alabama Shakes because of this, but hey — there’s always next time. After we realized the rain wasn’t going to end, we headed off to dinner at a restaurant in Atlantic Station called Yardhouse, that had awesome drinks and delicious ahi tuna nachos!

All in all, Music Midtown was a huge success, even if we only had one full day of bright weather and VIP perks. The next day (Monday), we hung out with friends and went to Top Golf (which was soooo cool), and then it was time to head back home. Side note: I wish we had more pictures from Music Midtown, but they didn’t allow cameras in so I couldn’t bring the handy dandy DSLR. Plus I was trying to live more in the moment. It’s kind of nice just going off memories to reminisce on the experience with.

All the trips we’ve been on lately have been extremely fun and memorable, but I am very excited to settle in and enjoy more than a week or two at home.

Have you been to any festivals lately? Let me know!

AS

Montego Bay Travel Diary

Let me start by saying that I just got back from the best — and I mean best — trip ever. Bobby and I decided a few months ago that we wanted to go on a beach trip this fall, and the destination we picked was Jamaica! My mom’s side of the family is from the West Indies, so I was excited to visit the land of my matriarchal roots. Plus, Bobby jokes that he is Jamaican at heart, because he is so laid back and lives by their motto of, “no problems, mon.”

Montego Bay, Jamaica

We arrived on Monday morning at the Secrets Resort Wild Orchid in Montego Bay, and we were astounded by the hospitality! Once the automatic wooden doors to the lobby of the resort opened up, it was like we’d entered a whole new world. We were greeted with cold towels (to cool down from the heat we’d just been in outside), champagne, and they even had fresh cookies! Our room wasn’t readily available as we’d arrived a little before check-in, but they instructed that two of the restaurants on the resort were open for lunch and that we were free to eat there. (Side note: there were no wristbands at this resort even though it was all-inclusive, and that was a nice touch that we loved.)

We had lunch at the Oceana restaurant, which is a cool outdoor patio restaurant nestled between the pools on the premises. I had an awesome burger and sweet potato fries, while Bobby ordered a jerk pulled pork wrap with fries. Everything was delicious, and we ended up eating there on the last lunch of our stay as well. All of the food was surprisingly delicious, which was a nice change from other all inclusive resorts that both Bobby and I have been to. I think that it was the combination from the resort being upscale as well as the Jamaican culture consisting of really impressively flavorful cuisine.

The drinks were awesome as well! There were some delicious signature drinks that we indulged in all week, and some classic drinks we were used to in the states were made with a fun spin in Jamaica! Beyond the food and drinks, the activities were also so fun! (Special shoutout to Chase in the entertainment department!) There was a schedule posted throughout the resort each day with fun activities, from cornhole tournaments on the pool deck to beach volleyball and soccer. In the evenings, they had sports nights, talent shows, and beach parties! I have never been to a resort with such constant and seamless entertainment for everyone’s tastes!

We went off the resort once during the trip to visit Dunn’s River Falls. It was a really unique excursion where you get to hike up a waterfall in the middle of the forest! You hold hands with the other people in your group and climb up the rocks together as the waterfall gushes down on you. The day we went was pretty busy because two big cruise ships had docked in Montego Bay that day, but we made the best of it…and the 2 hour drive there and back. The experience itself was awesome, the tour guides there were great, and I’d totally do it again.

All in all, I had an excellent time at Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay and I highly recommend you consider it for your next tropical vacation.

Here are some more photos from our trip:
Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay

Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay

Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay

Have you ever been to Jamaica? Let me know!
AS

Charleston Travel Diary: Part 3

We left you with a cliffhanger about where we enjoyed dessert after a second scrumptious meal in Charleston and the answer is Jeni’s! The night before, we had heard that it was the best place to eat ice cream in town, and after our server at HoM recommended we stop there after dinner, we were sold! We walked down King street and headed there to enjoy some yummy ice cream in creative flavors.

When we arrived the line was long, as to be expected on a warm summer evening. As we moved up in the line, employees offered us tastings of their different flavors and Bob and my brother, Bernard, enjoyed trying a couple. They eventually settled on their churro ice cream flavor, which sounds weird but tasting amazing. (Like Cinnamon Toast Crunch in ice cream form!) I opted for a lemon sorbet float since I’m allergic to milk and didn’t want to ruin the rest of our trip. I wasn’t crazy about the sorbet because it had lemon seeds and grains in it, but I respected the fact that it was freshly made and clearly not straight from a chemical plant somewhere. At any rate, our pit stop to Jeni’s was a success. Next time, I’ll brave the chances of an adverse reaction in order to try one of their ice cream flavors for myself.
Jeni's ice cream Charleston

 

After that we briefly kept strolling through the city until we reached a Walgreens (that had slurpees, champagne, and froyo machines!!!) to pick up some odds and ends before hopping in and Uber and headed back to the hotel to crash.

The next morning, we woke up and had a slow morning that consisted of lounging in bed and going for a swim. Everyone wanted to make a stop at The Market, which is a long strip of small stands that people that stuff like t-shirts and crafts, so we headed there. However, Bob and I became tempted by our proximity to Lowcountry Bistro, which was another restaurant that we had heard amazing things about. So we headed there while my family perused The Market.

Once again, it was lunch time for us but still sleepy time for most of Charleston, so the place was pretty slow when we first were seated. (Rest assured, the place filled in throughout our meal and was packed by the time we left!) Temptation got the best of me again and I opted for moonshine, even though it may have been before noon. 😉
lowcountry bistro charleston

Bob then suggested the idea that we share a flight of moonshine, which came with three flavors we were allowed to choose. We chose cranberry (which was our backup option when we were told that strawberry was sold out), white lightening (which tasted like a hybrid between tequila and vodka), and apple pie (which was really good). The moonshine arrived with a pimiento cheese and cracker platter, so it served as a pseudo appetizer for our meal. I was a little surprised to see the moonshine flights in small glasses that were slightly larger than shots, but I was no longer confused once we consumed the three flights and realized we were feeling a bit tipsy. Man, that stuff was strong.

 

For our meals I ordered a burger (yes, I love burgers) with grits on the side, and Bob got the chicken and waffles. I loved my burger, I just wish the side of grits was larger for the price we paid. Bob loved his fried chicken, but he found the waffle kind of mediocre. (Better to be unimpressed by the waffle than the chicken though, right?)
lowcountry bistro charleston lowcountry bistro charleston

I also ordered a side of cornbread because Bob and I love it so much, and while we were expecting to split one piece, we were shocked to find three large, warm pieces of cornbread being served to us. They were absolutely delicious!

lowcountry bistro charleston
As you can imagine, after this meal we were stuffed to the brim. We waddled over to The Market to meet my family, happy, full, and ready for a nap. This meal served as the end cap for our trip to Charleston, and we were happy to have ended it on a high note. We hopped to the car and headed to our next destination: Atlanta!

 

Any Charleston peeps out there: what did we miss? Anything we absolutely have to hit up next time?

AS

Charleston Travel Diary: Part 2

If it seems like we have been MIA for a couple days, we apologize! The last few days have been a whirlwind traveling back home from a supersized vacation, catching up with work, and preparing for some big changes. But alas, here we are back at it with part 2 of our Charleston travel diary.

Have we mentioned how absolutely lovely Charleston was? Yeah? Okay well don’t mind me saying it again: Charleston was absolutely lovely. After our tour of McLeod Plantation and exploring some of the grounds on our own, we were starving. We hopped in an Uber and headed back to the historic Charleston area, where we were very excited to try out a restaurant that I had read awesome reviews about: HoM.
Hom restaurant Charleston
We got there around 11:45 and the place was empty, so that made me a little nervous because although I hate crowded restaurants, a restaurant being completely empty makes me a little nervous. However, we walked in anyways and were promptly greeted by a man who I’m guessing was the manager. He instructed us to seat ourselves and we grabbed a game of Connect 4 in the process. HoM is a really cool restaurant; not only do they have board games for you to play at your table, but they also have awesome decor and ping pong tables in the back. The whole brand identity was clearly well thought out, and the marketing nerd in me really appreciated that.
Hom restaurant Charleston Hom restaurant Charleston Hom restaurant Charleston
We ordered some cocktails (Bob chose a Hefeweisen and I ordered a Ren & Stumpy), and we both really enjoyed them. In fact, my drink tasted like liquid gold. Ya know, if gold was supposed to taste good. I had no shame ordering a second one, even though it was barely noon. (Side note: when the manager was greeting us, we joked with him about why the restaurant was so empty and he responded that it was barely lunch time. I’d heard that Charleston was a sleepy city and slow to wake up, but I wasn’t expecting 11:45 to be a revolutionary time to be craving some good eats. Oh well.)
Hom restaurant Charleston Hom restaurant Charleston
Anyways, I ordered a Cowboy Killer and Bob ordered a Godzilla, and we shared their tater tots and fried chicken macaroni and cheese. Yes, you read that right: fried chicken macaroni and cheese. I also ordered a side of grits because #cheesegritsrock. Everything was flavorful, expertly prepared, and cooked to perfection. You can tell that, just like the restaurant’s ambiance, a lot of care was put into the menu as well.
Hom restaurant review Charleston
Hom restaurant review Charleston
[Speaking of which, I must add that in part 1 of our Charleston travel diary I neglected to mention how my brother ordered a burger at Smoke BBQ our first night, and when we were brought our dishes we were told that his burger needed to be prepared again (because the first burger had been overcooked) and they brought him out some complimentary wings to enjoy in the meantime. As if that wasn’t considerate enough, the cook who made his burger came to our table when the new burger was sent out, because he wanted to personally ensure that my brother was enjoying his food. We were absolutely blown away by the level of investment that this cook had in his food, and I wish I could tell him this again personally. At any rate, I just wanted to throw that in there as an aside to how the hospitality in Charleston was just as great as the food.]
Back to HoM. Our server was super friendly and was thoughtful enough to mention some fun places for us to check out if we wanted to go out that evening. This was helpful because Bob and I had planned to ask her for her favorite places to go at night, and she beat us to it. Perhaps she was psychic 😉
Hom restaurant review Charleston
Anyways, we paid the check and headed off to the Old Slave Mart, a museum that resides in the actual building where slaves were bought and sold. As self-professed nerds and lovers of learning, I have to admit that it would have been nice if that museum was a bit bigger and interactive. There were some voice recordings to listen to — but they were simply recitations of a slave’s firsthand account, not the actual slave’s voice. The museum was small and cramped, with us crowding onto strangers to read the different displays, and I was hoping there would be many visual artifacts, but there were only a couple sets on shackles and a small hymn book in a display case. It was, however, incredibly intriguing (in a very somber way) to look at old advertisements for estate sales and opportunities to buy slaves. There was even a chart adjusting the price for an enslaved person with inflation and I was astounded to learn that a highly sought after slave would cost almost $40,000 in present day currency.
Charleston Old Slave Mart
The tour of the Old Slave Mart was quick, and my family dashed off to finish their activity package while Bob and I had the afternoon to ourselves. We did some more walking through Charleston and headed to another attraction that I was eager to see: The Edmonton-Alston house.
I have to say, I was excited to see this home, as it is located right on The Battery and Robert E. Lee once spent time in the home when his hotel in Charleston caught on fire and he needed accommodation. Not to mention, it was amazing that a direct descendant of the Alston family still lives on the 3rd floor of the home. However, the tour was too rushed and loquacious for our liking. Our tour guide, while clearly knowledgeable and passionate, spoke way too quickly and went through the history of the home and its inhabitants in a way that was too hurried and overwhelming to be easily digestable. I will say that the parts I processed were absolutely fascinating, but the tour definitely should have been longer and in smaller tour groups. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the home, which stinks, but we could take photos on the piazza, where Fort Sumter can be seen in the distance.
Edmonton-Alston house Charleston
While I was enchanted by the fact that the same dining room table was still there from the 1800s and that so much of the home was frozen in time, I wish that it was more interactive. Allegedly, there were diaries still in the library of the home and it would have been nice if they were in display cases or if pages were magnified and displayed somewhere for guests to read. I feel like that would have been more captivating and conveyed a better sense of the era about which we were learning. However, because of the lack of engagement I was disappointed. We learned some fun facts but all in all it felt like we paid money to take a tour of a beautifully maintained home and drink some cold water. If that’s all I wanted to do, I could just take a stroll through Bobby’s house. 😉 However, for a historical buff wanting to not only see the home but learn the stories that occurred within it, the Edmonton-Alston house left a lot to be desired.

 

All tuckered out from the walking we had down thus far, we headed back to our hotel and tackled some work for a bit before freshening up for dinner. My family was very tired as well, so they chose to stay in the hotel and order in, but us youngins (myself, Bobby, and my brother) decided that we wanted to experience more Charleston dining. We had raved about HoM’s awesome food, so my brother wanted to check it out. Yes, we ate at HoM two times in one day. #dontjudge

 

He was equally as impressed and he scarfed down his meal. Bob and I ordered the same meals — except this time I ordered the fried chicken macaroni and cheese without the fried chicken and Bob ordered a craft beer from a local brewery, but besides that our orders stayed the same — down to the two Ren & Stumpy cocktails I ordered again.
Hom restaurant review Charleston
I’m a dessert girl, so after dinner we headed to a highly revered shop downtown for some sweet treats. Any Charleston folks or fans have a guess as to where we went? Stay tuned for the conclusion of our Charleston travel diary!

 

In the meantime…there’s no place like HoM. 😉
AS

Charleston Travel Diary: Part 1

Charleston was a complete 180-degree pivot from our experience in St. Pete. We only had 40ish hours in this lovely city, but we didn’t let having less than two days to explore hold us back.

We arrived in Charleston on Monday evening and headed to our hotel, the Springhill Suites Marriott. The location was great. We were just a 5-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of historic Charleston like King St. and the Market and all that fun stuff, but we were tucked away in a quiet corner of town with a nice river view. I can’t say enough positive things about the staff at the Springhill Suites; they were all very helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable about the area. The hotel even had a complimentary shuttle that ran downtown and back from 5:00pm to 11:00pm which was an awesome perk! We didn’t use it, because my family had rental cars we drove when we were going someplace together or Bob and I would hop in an Uber, but it was great to know that the service was there — they even provided a map and some suggestions where to go!

After settling into our hotel and washing up for dinner, we headed into the city to explore some good Charleston eats. I had read a lot of blogs, TripAdvisor reviews, and Yelp listings to see the best places to eat in Charleston, and Smoke BBQ was consistently favorably reviewed. Some even dared to say it was the best barbecue in Charleston!

Smoke BBQ Charleston

I had a pulled pork sandwich, a side of macaroni and cheese, and I shared a side of hash and grits with Bob (who also ordered the pulled pork with a side of fries). It is not an understatement to say that we loved our meals. We left stuffed — but not before I grabbed some homemade rice krispie treats to snack on later! Smoke was a casual restaurant with a fun ambiance — and great music playing in the background. If you’re visiting Charleston, I highly recommend giving it a try.

We went back to our hotel and everyone crashed before a long day of sightseeing that was to come the next morning. Bob and I woke up and headed to McLeod Plantation, while the rest of my family took a carriage ride and explored Fort Sumter. Bobby and I were captivated by the plantation tour and learning about the history of the family who resided in that house for generations. We even were able to tour the kitchen, dairy, and cabins in which enslaved people worked and lived. It was a sobering and informative experience, and it really put things in perspective.

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

Some interesting facts we learned…

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

This was the actual facade of the McLeod main house, which is an antebellum period home. However, the colonial facade was added to the back of the house (which now looks like the front) when Charleston’s blue bloods and successful families decided to use their old plantation homes as a way to bring in tourism and revenue to the Charleston area.

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

African Americans still lived in these cabins until the 1990’s. I repeat, these cabins, which don’t have bathrooms or running water, or any modern amenities, were inhabited until the 1990’s. Yes, the ’90s. Meanwhile, we were sitting on our comfy couches watching All That on Nickelodeon. It really makes you check your privilege.

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

The type of cotton made on James Island plantations like this one was called sea island cotton. It’s now extinct, but it used to be shipped over to places in Europe like Liverpool where it would be made into lace. Because of the long fibers in sea island cotton, a special cotton gin had to be used, as seen below. It was much different than the cotton gin Eli Whitney created that we learned about in textbooks.

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

Also, the McLeod Plantation used to be over 1,400 acres, but over time pieces of land were sold to make money as sea island cotton died out, and now the property resides at just under 40 acres.

Our tour guide, Mark, was really informative and we really appreciated his passion for history. McLeod Plantation is owned by the state of South Carolina, whereas many other plantations in the area are still privately owned. That made the admission fee less expensive than other plantations (only $10) and the employees working there seemed to genuinely love history and tell an unbiased account of the property’s story. I want to visit more plantations on our next trip to Charleston, but this was an awesome start!

McLeod Plantation, Charleston

After our tour of McLeod Plantation — and doing some exploration of the grounds of our own — we hopped in an Uber and headed to lunch at a restaurant that we loved so much we had to eat there twice in one day. 😉

We can’t wait to tell you more about our trip to Charleston! Stay tuned!

AS

 

Summer in St. Pete Beach

I will start this off by saying that I had high hopes for our trip to St. Pete Beach. It was the first of three stops we were making on our week long trip across the South, and since Bob and I both love beach vacations, we thought we’d naturally love it, right? Wrong.

St. Pete Beach was undoubtedly the worst city that I have been to. Ever. I have been to many tourist trap beach cities before, like Myrtle Beach for example, that have more charm, lovelier beaches, and better food than that of St. Pete Beach.

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We touched down in Tampa first thing that morning, then picked up our rental car to make the short drive to Saint Petersburg. We were all itching for a good meal and so upon the recommendation of my family from down south, we headed to the nearby Chick-Fil-A for some grub. It’s a shame that I have to admit that this was my favorite meal in St. Pete, but it was. I don’t typically eat fast food, so I wasn’t exactly excited to go there in the first place. I always say that if it can be served in a drive-thru I don’t eat it — except for Starbucks and Panera, since they have a commitment to higher quality, sustainably sourced ingredients. However, when in Rome, right? So I ate as deep southerners do and indulged in a spicy chicken sandwich. It was surprisingly yummy, as was their lemonade, but I’m sure many of you already know that.

For dinner that night we went to a place called Crabby Bill’s. I had cautioned my family against eating there as it had some less than stellar Yelp reviews, but my family wanted seafood, the restaurant was willing to accommodate our large group of 28 people, and everyone ragged on me for putting all my faith in Yelp anyways. So I obliged, and I had a mediocre fried grouper sandwich and fries which were bland and forgettable. We ordered hush puppies as an appetizer, which most of our table enjoyed, but I thought they were too strong in their onion flavor; I prefer sweet hush puppies but that was a personal preference. We ordered some frozen drinks as well. Having been a bartender myself when I was younger, and thus heckled by desperate patrons asking for a heavy pour, I try not to criticize an establishment too much when they don’t make a “strong” drink. But our drinks tasted like the sugary sweet virgin drinks I ordered on a cruise with my family back when I was 7 and thought it was cool to walk around with a piña colada. (AKA, we tasted no alcohol, got no buzz, and abstained for purchasing anymore overpriced virgin slushies from their restaurant.)

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The next day was spent at the beach in the morning, at Chick-Fil-A in the afternoon (I was not as impressed the second time around), and at a wedding in the evening. The wedding took place at the Grand Plaza Hotel right at the beach on St. Pete, and although the food wasn’t the greatest, they seemed to have their act together and their bartenders were really great. (They also had a great beach bar on their property called Bongos that had some awesome cocktails.)

By day 3, we were all pretty sick of St. Pete. Almost everyone we encountered there was rude, which was a harsh realization for us as we’re from a town that is notoriously warm and welcoming. The condo we were staying at was also run by the biggest jerk ever; it was so bad that Bob and I considered getting a hotel room — but all the hotels on the major street were booked up. (Except icky motels that sketched me out.) Which brings me to my next point: the hotels in St. Pete were really mediocre. The nicest hotel on the strip with the Don Cesar, a Loew’s hotel, but besides that there were not many choices for places that were not strip motels or didn’t look stuck in the 1990s.

The positive part about our location was that we got to enjoy private beach access, which was fun and relaxing for my family to enjoy. We paid to go stand up paddleboarding one day at the Don Cesar, and 5 minutes after our session began we saw some lightning and they had to postpone our appointment. Alright, no big deal. Bob and I figured we’d just go to lunch and then meet back up with my family for our rescheduled session when the weather passed. We went to a Mexican restaurant called Monarca’s on Gulf Boulevard. The experience started positively with being brought chips that reminded me of Chipotle’s (just missing some of that great lime juice), but it quickly went downhill when they brought us queso that I’d be willing to bet came right out a jar, and nachos that were so gross they were inedible. Our waitress didn’t come back to our table once — not to fill our drinks or ask how our meal was — it was incredibly frustrating. I wanted to talk to a manager, but we were antsy to get back on the beach so we just paid the bill and left. (Side note: what Mexican restaurant doesn’t have a liquor license? Monarca’s margaritas are premade with a frozen mix, not tequila…) When we got back to the beach we were told that our session had to be canceled because of an impending storm (that never ended up happening), so we never got to stand up paddleboard or go on a banana ride at Don Cesar. Major bummer. Fingers crossed they actually refunded our charges like they said they would.

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That night we went to another chain — Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Company — and I was so disinterested in any more mediocre food that I only tagged along to enjoy family time. I ordered a Bubba’s Blue Hurricane, which ended up being a really good cocktail, but I didn’t order a meal. I saw an appetizing warm chocolate chip cookie a la mode dessert so I ordered that to share with Bob, but it tasted straight out of a box and the ice cream was already gross and melted when they brought it to us. Yuck.

The highlights of our stay were the wedding and reception with my family, floating and frolicking on the beach with Bob and my brother, seeing my baby sis build her first sandcastle, and meeting some friendly neighbors who lived in the neighborhood in which we were staying. (They were legitimately the only friendly people we met on our trip — even if we didn’t like the restaurant they recommended.) Oh, and driving out of Saint Petersburg city limits felt pretty nice too. 😉

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All in all, St. Pete Beach was a disappointing city for people like Bob and I who enjoy culture, class, company, and a little bit of luxury. I’d only ever go back under the circumstance of another family event like this one. The next morning we packed up and headed to the next city, which is one that we’ve absolutely fallen in love with. If you follow us on Instagram you already know where that is, but if not you’ll just have to wait and see… 🙂

xoxo,

AS

Relationship Wednesday: Conflict Resolution

I’ll share some of the things that I’ve learned throughout the course of our relationship since conflict resolution is a major key to long term success. Conflicts can cause the end of relationships if you are not diligent enough and willing to work hard to solve any problem that comes up. Many people take the easy way out at the slightest sign of tough times and will run away with their tails tucked between their legs, but that’s no good. Relationships are hard work and the most meaningful ones come from putting in days, weeks, months, and years, building and enforcing a healthy relationship. If you love someone you will work hard for them and come up with a solution since there is always one.

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Alexis and I have been through several conflicts during the course of our relationship. Yes, even though we may appear to have the most perfect relationship on this blog, we still have our conflicts and battles that we have to fight just like any other couple in the history of mankind. I will not dive into the specifics but there were a couple of times that we thought we weren’t going to be able to overcome our issues. (We have always known we were a perfect fit, but sometimes differing opinions or actions have caused a strain that made us question if we were just being naive twenty-somethings.) However, we always found a way to come to a solution or compromise because we love each other sooooo freaking much. You always have to work hard and keep on fighting and searching for the resolution to your conflict.

Seriously guys, don’t give up! If you really love someone right down to the bone then no conflict is too big to tackle; there is always a solution at the end of each problem even when it seems like nothing can be done. Ask your parents and people who have been through this before! We cannot count the number of times that our parents have offered us priceless advice about our relationship and how to overcome something. They’ve been through everything together and they know how to tackle all of the hard problems and any issues that they’ve come through. Even doing some reading online can be helpful — but remember that every situation is unique and that advice should be taken with a grain of salt. (Random Internet forums do not know the intricacies of your individual relationship.)

Sometimes we can be blind to the solution right in front of us, so an outside perspective is key every now and then. Basically, relationships are work. But they are a great kind of work, since the reward of love is so fulfilling.

The biggest things I’ve learned about conflict resolution?

  1. It’s worth any fight if you know the person is “the one.”
  2. Even during a fight make sure you still take time to love each other. (Show it and say it.)
  3. Don’t let fights ruin any big moments. 
  4. Not every problem can be solved in one day, and that’s okay. Keep sorting it out and working together.
  5.  Ask for advice from people who are well-versed in relationships. Bonus points if they are very familiar with you and your partner.
  6. Be calm and patient.
  7. Love conquers all!
  8. Kiss and make up! Both figuratively and literally. 🙂


    I know I sound like a hopeless romantic, but I mean it when I say you should never stop fighting for the one you love! Love is too precious to come by to just give up. Remember that, even when your significant other is doing that thing you can’t stand for the 177th time.

What is your advice for handling conflicts? Share it with us!

BS