Busch Gardens Tampa Bay Bier Fest #thrillsontap

Monday, August 19, 2019
This weekend I checked out Busch Gardens Bier Fest in Tampa Bay. The annual beer festival will take place on weekends through September 8th and will give attendees the opportunity to explore over 40 craft beers from around the world! This includes 20+ Florida Craft Breweries and the beers will change throughout the festival.
Tampa has an incredible craft beer scene so this festival makes perfect sense! Along with 40+ beers, there are multiple food tents and  live entertainment. My in-laws were in town so we brought them along and had a great afternoon trying out multiple brews and bites.
I was excited to see my favorite beer, Abita Strawberry there! This beer used to be seasonal and was just made available year-round. If you go to the festival, give this beer a try. You'll thank me later.

3 Daughters Brewing, Barrel of Monks Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Big Top Brewing Co., Brew Hub, Central 28 Beer Co., Cigar City Cider & Mead, Coppertail Brewing Co., Crooked Thumb Brewery, Dunedin House of Beer, Escape Brewing Co., Florida Avenue Brewing Co., Fort Myers Brewing Co., Green Bench Brewing Co., J Wakefield Brewing, MIA Beer Co., Orange Blossom Brewing Co., Pierced Ciderworks, Sailfish Brewing Co., Tampa Bay Brewing Co., Two Henrys Brewing Co., Veza Sur Brewing Co., Walking Tree Brewery
Grand Mimosa, CiderBoys
21st Amendment Brewery, Abita Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery, Boston Beer Co., CiderBoys, Dogfish Head Brewery, Goose Island Beer Co., Lagunitas Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., Oskar Blues Brewery, Sea Dog Brewing Co., Short’s Brewing Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Stone Brewing, Terrapin Beer Co., The Bruery

Hofbrauhaus, Paulaner Brewery, Peroni, Samuel Smith Brewery, Stella, Wittekerke

We tried the Reuben Croquettes and the Deep Fried Cheese Curds. Both were exceptional and I would order them again. We paired them up with the Sweet & Hot Mustard and the Maple-Bacon Honey Mustard.
  • Bacon Mac & Cheese Bites
  • Reuben Croquettes
  • Deep Fried Cheese Curds
  • Dipping Sauces: Basil Parmesan Mayo, Sweet & Hot Mustard, Maple-Bacon Honey Mustard
Deep Fried Cheese Curds and Reuben Croquettes
The two sliders we tried were the Schnitzelwich Slider and the Bratwurst Slider. I preferred the  Bratwurst Slider with the Pretzel Roll, it was perfect with the braised red cabbage.
  • Bison Slider: Grilled Bison Slider on a Pretzel Roll with Provolone Cheese, Bacon & Onion Marmalade
  • Schnitzelwich Slider: Schnitzel on a Pretzel Roll with Swiss Cheese & Maple-Bacon Honey Mustard
  • Bratwurst Slider: Split Bratwurst on a Pretzel Roll with Braised Red Cabbage & Horseradish Mustard
  • Flourless Chocolate Torte: Served with Guinness-Infused Whipped Cream
Bratwurst Slider
The groups favorite bite of the day was the Impossible Burger Slider. We didn't tell my in-laws that it was a veggie burger and they raved about it being one of the best burgers they've had. I agree. If I am going to return to the festival this year, I would buy a full sized version of one of these sandwiches. I hope Busch Gardens puts it on their menu permanently. We also tried the Short Rib & Brie Melt. It was good, just wish there was a little more short rib on the sandwich we got!
  • Short Rib & Brie Melt: Short Rib, Brie & Caramelized Onions served on a Toasted Roll with Creamy Horseradish Sauce
  • ImpossibleTM Burger Melt: Impossible Burger on Texas Toast with Provolone & Red Onion Jam
  • Griddled Cheesecake Melt: Sweet Cream Cheese Filling on Pound Cake, Grilled & served with Guava Sauce

Impossible Burger Patty Melt
  • Fried Chicken Wings tossed in your choice of Spicy Mango Sauce, Blood Orange Sesame Glaze, or Korean BBQ sauce
  • Sweet Potato Fries served with Toasted Marshmallow Dipping Sauce
  • Deep Fried Pretzel Sticks with Beer Cheese Dipping Sauce
  • Shrimp Taco: Beer-Battered Shrimp, Flour Tortilla, Shredded Cabbage, Queso Fresco & Sweet Ginger Pickled Onions on a Flour Tortilla
  • Smoked Brisket Taco: Smoked Brisket, Corn Tortilla, Citrus Chipotle BBQ Sauce, Shredded Pepper Jack Cheese & Crispy Jalapeno Strips on a Corn Tortilla
  • Jerk Chicken Taco: Grilled Jerk Chicken, Flour Tortilla, Shredded Cabbage, Smoked Pineapple Salsa & Queso Fresco on a Flour Tortilla
  • Portobello Mushroom Taco: Portobello Mushrooms Sautéed with Peppers, Onions & Corn served on a Corn Tortilla with Shredded Cabbage & Pico De Gallo
  • Adult Root Beer Float with a shot of your choice
  • Hard Coffee Float: Pabst Blue Ribbon Hard Coffee served over Chocolate Soft Serve Ice Cream
  • Rosé Float: Astoria Sparkling Rosé Moscato served over Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream
  • Maduro Float: Cigar City Brewing Maduro Brown Ale served over Vanilla & Chocolate Swirled Soft Serve Ice Cream
One of the things I really appreciate about Busch Gardens festivals is that you can purchase a tasting lanyard. This is great if you're going with a group of people as you can evenly split the cost, and won't be sticker shocked at the end of the day. Our group of Four split two 10 packs and it was more than enough for us. There are multiple samplers in a variety of price points. The way it works, each food and drink sample equals one hole punch. If you want a full sized beer (or wine), you can use two hole punches. Pass Members save 15% off samplers and have the access to purchase an exclusive 12 item sampler.
5-ITEM SAMPLER: $29.99 ($25.49 w/ Pass Member discount)
10-ITEM SAMPLER: $49.99 ($42.99 w/ Pass Member discount)
12-ITEM PASS MEMBER EXCLUSIVE SAMPLER: $49.99 (must be an annual pass member to purchase this lanyard)

You can check out more details and hours of the festival on buschgardens.com 

Thank you to Busch Gardens for providing us with two tickets and tasting samplers. I was not required to write this post and all opinions are my own.

Isla Mujeres Mexico

Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Oh Isla Mujeres... you captured my heart. I will be doing a few posts on this amazing small island located just off Cancun. 😍
A few years ago, my best friend Keri and I started talking about where we would plan our 40th birthday trip. We met in 2nd grade and our birthdays are 11 days apart. At the time, we started throwing around having a girls trip in Napa.

As time went on, as wonderful as a girls trip in Napa sounded, I really couldn't imagine spending my 40th without my husband and this trip quickly turned into a couples trip with some of our closest friends. We did a lot of research and ended up selecting a tiny island in Mexico called Isla Mujeres.
Keri learned about Isla Mujeres from a show on HGTV. This 5 mile long island is known for calm turquoise waters and pure white powdery sand. We quickly realized this is exactly where we want to be. It's a quaint and safe beach town with tons of local shops and restaurants. Depending on where you stay on the island, you can walk to a lot of places, or rent a golf cart. After choosing where we would have our trip, Isla Mujeres was named one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world by Trip Advisor in 2019.
Getting to and around Isla Mujeres:
We flew into Cancun Airport direct from Fort Lauderdale. Once you get out of Customs (ours was a breeze in Terminal 4 - we had zero wait), you will need to take a taxi or car service to the Isla Mujeres Ferry. We pre-booked door to door transportation through Luxury Van Transportation Cancun. This included our ferry tickets and the taxis picked up the groups from the hotels on our different departure dates. While this was a little more expensive, it was a great peace of mind for everyone who traveled. They were extremely professional and I would suggest them in a heartbeat!

I strongly suggest renting your golf cart ahead of time. We booked ours 60+ days in advance and more than half of the companies we reached out to were already sold out. We booked 3 golf carts, all 4 seat carts. You cannot have more than 4 people on a golf cart (it's illegal and you will get ticketed). We booked through Isla Mujeres Golf Cart Rentals. Note - they will need to keep 1 drivers license on file for every cart rented. You won't need your license while on the island but it is worth noting.

Where to stay on Isla Mujeres
Although less than 5 miles long, there are many areas to stay on Isla Mujeres. We personally wanted to be able to walk out of our door onto a white sandy beach. We ended up in Playa Norte - or North Beach. Our group rented condo's at Ixchel Beach Hotel.  Keri and I shared a 2 bedroom penthouse and everyone else got individual single rooms. All rooms had a balcony overlooking beautiful clear waters. It had all of the amenities you would find in a major resort. I had multiple $30 massages overlooking the gorgeous waters. We were able to stroll down the market streets, where a ton of restaurants, bars and shops were located all within walking distance - some of which allowed us to put our tab to our room charge. This experience was exactly what we were looking for and more. I loved having a full kitchen, making our own drinks and enjoying life at island pace.

What to do on Isla Mujeres
With June birthdays, that put us on Isla Mujeres during Whale Shark Season and we were able to dive with these beautiful gentle creatures. I will do a full post on this experience that left us in awe, but if you find yourself there during season, do this! We also went snorkeling, zip-lining and had a lot of beach days. This was meant to be a chill trip, and for the most part, that is exactly what we got!

Cozumel Custom Private Jeep Excursion

Tuesday, July 23, 2019
What if I told you there was a way to drive a jeep around Cozumel, creating a custom experience based on what you wanted to do, including lunch - for under $70 a person? This such thing exists and I am here to share our experience on a Cozumel Custom Private Jeep Excursion
One of the many reasons I love cruising is being able to visit multiple destinations during one trip and Cozumel is one of my favorite ports to stop at. It's gorgeous, the locals are friendly, the food is great and the Tequila is amazing. Plus it's an amazing port to take a good photo of your cruise ship! Quick back story on our history with Cozumel - around 5 years ago, my best friend Keri and I were on our annual girls cruise and had to do a last minute excursion switch due to heavy rain. We booked Salsa & Salsa, where we learned how to make authentic Mexican margaritas and guacamole. This began our love affair with margaritas and on the excursion I am writing about today, I will tell you how we were introduced to our new love, Extra Anejo Tequila.
In January we went on the Norwegian Pearl on our annual girls cruise. Our 5 night cruise stopped for a day in Cozumel Mexico. We wanted to do something different and heard good things about a Cozumel Private Jeep Tour. We booked through Shore Excursioneer being this tour wasn't available through NCL.
We met up with our tour guide when we got off the ship. He informed us that he would be sitting in the backseat and were given a variety of activities we could do throughout the day. This was our custom tailored tour, and we were able to go at our own pace. The variety was great and allowed us to see another side of Cozumel than we've been accustom to. Some of the things we could do were: Snorkeling
Tequila Factory & Tasting
Punta Sur Ecological Park & Lighthouse
Chocolate Factory
Beach Club
San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
Horseback Riding
In full transparency, I had wayyyy too much tequila the night before. There was no way possible I could drive a car - so Keri drove all day while I slept from location to location. I knew Keri really wanted to go to the Tequila factory and that had to be our fist stop due to it's location - so I pulled myself together (the best I could) for our first stop. Mind you, it was at 10am.
We learned about agave and how it is cropped, pulped, fermented and distilled. Extra Anejo tequila is aged a full 5 years - this particular factory uses retired Jack Daniel bourbon barrels for the aging process. The entire process from crop to bottle takes 12 years - and this my friends is why Extra Anejo is so expensive.
We were able to try some of the factories award winning tequila including their 12 year old Extra Anejo. The label is Regalo de Dios Tequila and it is not available for purchase in stores or online. We sipped on some Blanco, Repasado, Anejo and Extra Anejo. The Anejo's were the smoothest tequila we have ever tried. It didn't burn and you could easily drink it without lime juice. Knowing we couldn't find it anywhere else, we were sold. I agreed to split a half case of Extra Anejo tequila with Keri. This set us each back nearly $300 and I quickly had buyers remorse the rest of the cruise. I will say now - I wish we bought our own half case because when this stuff runs out, I will be a very sad person.
Back in our jeep, we decided not to go snorkeling. We live in FL and have snorkeled quite a few times in our lives. Plus the water was a bit choppy and I didn't want to feed the fish, if you know what I mean. We headed over to the opposite side of the island, an area of Cozumel we had not been introduced to yet. We stopped at a beach, grabbed a few pics and headed off to our next destination.
Our next stop was Punta Sur Ecological Park & Lighthouse. While this was an amazing experience, please take this subtle piece of advice - do not climb a lighthouse if you are hungover. Walking up these steps reminded me of being at mile 23 in a marathon. I wanted to quit. My legs hated me. I questioned life. However the views are amazing!
At this point in the trip, we could have continued on to one of the other experiences, but I was done with a capitol D. Lunch was included so we went ahead and took advantage of that. I ate one bite of my food and put my head down on the table and that's when the tears started flowing. I was very upset that I not only wasted and ruined my own day, but I impacted Keri's experience as well. Repeat after me - I will not take 5 shots of Patron in one night (on top of everything else).
We got back to the boat and unloaded our tequila. I took some medicine and forced myself to eat a granola bar. With a few hours left at port, we decided to head down to our favorite spot to have a margarita in Cozumel, Panchos Backyard, a restaurant and bar located within the port of Cozumel. Our server remembered us from our last trip. He excitedly said "I remember you girls, how many times have you been here?" we equally excitedly responded "Five". Next thing you know, we have a full mariachi entourage in front of us - singing, clapping, and a sign that shows off our number of visits. I was very happy I pulled myself together!

We will do this tour again, with me in the drivers seat next time! You can book this tour through Shore Excursioneer or check with your cruise line to see if they offer something similar. 

The Mighty Mule Party Ticket Giveaway

Thursday, July 18, 2019
Around 7 years ago, I was introduced to a delicious spicy ginger cocktail called the Moscow Mule. It was my drink of choice and I turned many friends onto this beverage, typically served in a copper mug. It was only a matter of time before there was a festival celebrating this cocktail and it is coming to Tampa next week!

The Mighty Mule Party is an indoor festival that will take place on Thursday, July 25, 2019 at The RITZ Ybor. The Mighty Mule Party will feature unlimited samples from local Tampa restaurants and some of your favorite Vodka brands along with a food tasting. Each guest will receive unlimited samples of Moscow Mules from 12+ vendors and you will get to take home your very own official Mighty Mule Party copper mug.

Click here to buy tickets to The Mighty Mule Party
General Admission Tickets $35: General Admission ticket holders will all receive entry into the event, one Mighty Mule Party copper mug to to fill with unlimited Mule samples at any of the participating Mule stations, and complimentary bites from local Tampa Bay restaurants and caterers.
VIP Tickets $75: VIP Experience ticket holders will all receive one-hour early admission into the event, a VIP-only entrance, one Mighty Mule Party copper mug to fill with unlimited Mule samples at any of the participating Mule stations, one drink ticket for a full-sized Mule at any bar, complimentary bites from Tampa Bay restaurants and caterers, a VIP swag bag, and access to the VIP-only areas.

Mule Tasting

Enjoy unlimited Mule samples in your very own Mighty Mule Party copper mug: EFFEN® Vodka, Tito's Handmade Vodka, 7th + Grove (Grove Mule), The Bricks, Ella's Folk Art Café, Garrison Tavern, Hiro Sake, The Lure, Osteria Bar + Kitchen, Summer of Rum Festival (The Perfect Storm), Zukku Sushi (SOTO Sake Mule), MORE to be announced!

Food Tasting
Taste delicious bites provided by Tampa Bay's favorite restaurants and catering companies: 7th + Grove (Afro-Cuban sandwiches), Anise Global GastroBar (Candied Bacon + Caramel Popcorn), Garrison Tavern, New York New York Pizza, Zukku Sushi (Mini Poke Bowls), MORE to be announced!

General Admission Ticket Giveaway!
Head over to my Instagram account to enter to win a pair of General Admission tickets to the Mighty Mule Party. Look for this picture and leave a comment letting me know what your favorite drink is!

Melanoma Update and what Melanoma looks like

Tuesday, July 16, 2019
This post is an update from one I did in January regarding Skin Cancer and what I am currently going through. Over the past few months, I have been diagnosed with multiple location Melanoma and want to share my story (which is no where close to being over). Let's just say I won't be running for wine anytime soon (but will continue to drink it)! This is a long read, but I hope it will help educate others about Skin Cancer and what to look for.

Seven months ago, I received my first phone call from Pathology regarding a few biopsies I had taken in early December. I was told one of my 3 biopsies came back as Basal Cell Carcinoma Skin Cancer and I needed to come in for an excision. I was really upset and most people said "at least it's not Melanoma"...
The day after Christmas I had the Basal Cell removed by a different APRN than I originally saw in early December. The guy who did my first round of biopsies had a family emergency so I went to the next available location as I wanted the Basal Cell excision done prior to January 1st for insurance reasons. Prior to removing the Basal Cell, my new APRN did a routine skin check and made a statement that will be eternally burned in my memory "I don't like the look of that spot at all, I want to take it now" and proceeded to take 3 more biopsies. I was thrown off as I just had biopsies done 2 weeks prior and these were not new spots.
Basal Cell Carcinoma right thigh - before, healing and scar
Two weeks later, I received my second call from Pathology. This call happened a few days before I was going on my annual girls cruise with my best friend Keri. The results made my world stand still. Two of the spots removed on December 26th came back as Melanoma, Stage 1 and atypical severe and was told they both needed to be surgically removed. Hearing those words crushed me. I sat and stared at the wall in my living room for over an hour. How could I go from being petrified of Basal Cell to having Stage 1 Melanoma within a matter of 2 weeks? I thank god everyday that my APRN was switched.
The last time I wore a short dress
Being I was about to leave for a cruise to the Caribbean, my Melanoma excision was scheduled for when I returned home. I stressed out the entire cruise but made sure all of my spots were covered from the sun by wearing waterproof bandages and wearing SPF 50. In the photo above, you can see a white bandage peeking out on my right thigh, covering the Basal Cell removal. If you look closely at my left shin, you can see the small bandage which was where one of my yet to be removed Melanomas were. On the cruise, a few strangers made comments about my bandages, one even asked if I recently learned how to shave. That was the start of me becoming very self conscious about all my marks. Little did I know what was in store for me. My stage 1 Melanoma looked like a freckle. It wasn't raised so I never thought anything about it - but looking back at the before picture, you can see discoloration. Here are a before and after of the stage 1.
Stage 1 Melanoma left shin - before, healing and scar
It was decided I would start coming in for full body scans every 2-3 months. I went back on Valentines Day and they took 10 more biopsies. Two weeks later, pathology called to report 1 of the 10 was early stage Melanoma on my left abdomen. It had positive cancer cells but was caught early enough that we could wait to have it re-scooped during my next body scan. I needed to heal from the other excisions and biopsies. If you catch Melanoma early enough, you may not need a full excision - they will scoop out more skin, removing the surrounding areas. This is why it is very important to get checked annually (or more often if you have a family history of skin cancer).
10 biopsies, February 14th
My next body scan was scheduled for May 1st. Along with my Melanoma re-scoop, I had 13 additional biopsies taken. That's 14 spots I had to take care of. I will tell you, if you know anyone going through this, skin biopsies are awful. They're painful open wounds that take forever to heal. Also, I am allergic to adhesive, latex and most medicated ointments - It's been a fun 7 months 😔.
13 biopsies + 1 melanoma re-scoop, May 1st
I went to Scottsdale on May 16th for a work trip. That date put me slightly over the 2 week mark of the 13 biopsies. Pathology calls with bad results within 2 weeks and for once, I was feeling positive that I was clear. When we landed I saw a voicemail pop up from Pathology. I didn't want to call them back until I got off the plane and we were stuck on the tarmac for an hour.  It was the longest hour of my life. Finally, I found a quite place in the Phoenix Airport and returned the call to learn I had 4 new Melanoma's. FOUR. I had to sit down because everything started spinning. Being I was on a work trip, I was alone in a strange place with no family or friends. However, I met the most fantastic group of women who gave me strength. One gave me a bracelet - which has a hidden scripture on the underside (now my motto). Receiving that phone call in Scottsdale was meant to be. I was in a situation where I couldn't dwell and I had to do as the bracelet says...
The 4 results were: Stage 1 Melanoma on my right thigh along with 3 positive Melanoma cells: right abdomen, left thigh and right inner thigh. I made an appt to have the stage 1 removed and abruptly cancelled our Memorial Day plans as we were supposed to go to our friends Lake House.
Stage 1 Melanoma right upper thigh - before, healing and scar
July 2nd was my next full body scan, 2 months following May's scan. I went in thinking that I would have less taken this time, being I just had 13 removed 2 months prior. Not the case... 12 biopsies were taken and I was left dumbfounded, angry, sad and oddly - somewhat amused. I was not expecting 12 more. My APRN didn't want to take more than 10. Her medical assistant alerted her when she hit 10, but there were 2 more she wanted. I clearly remember when she circled the 12th spot, a freckle I have been closely watching on my right inner shin. Over the last few weeks it started growing and changing color.
12 Biopsies, July 2nd
For the past 2 weeks, I have been waiting for Pathology to call. Unfortunately, I've become far too accustom and I've come to a point where I expect a call.  Well, they called me yesterday. One of those 12 biopsies came back as Melanoma and I go in next week to have it removed.  Guess which one - the right shin. I don't have a photo of it yet but will add a before during and after to this post once I've healed.

I am using my blog and social media as a platform to educate others and as an outlet for myself. I've learned one thing through all this - Melanoma is not text book. It can look like anything. It can be a discolored mole or an innocent spot the size of a freckle. It can kill you. If you told me a few months ago that I would have 40 biopsies taken within 7 months, I would have never believed you. If you told me of those 40, 9 would come back cancerous, I would have thought you were crazy.

I get a lot of questions and comments from people around Melanoma causes and risk factors. Most assume I am going through this because I am a redheaded native Floridian. That isn't the case. Melanoma is genetic and my Mom had Melanoma once in 1999. Hers was successfully removed and she never had it again. My cousin who is the same age as me also had Melanoma in the same spot as one of mine, hers also successfully removed and never returned. I have a few uncles on my Mom's side who had Melanoma as well. While UV exposure is a major factor to Melanoma, it's not my main issue as I tested positive for the genetic mutation. I can stay out of the sun for the rest of my life and still end up with positive cells. Like any other chronic illness, I will have to deal with this the rest of my life.

I urge everyone who reads this to please make an appointment to get your skin check and keep up with it annually. If I was more pro-active with mine, I may not be going through this right now but I will say how thankful I am that we caught this at Stage 1.

The ABCDE's of Melanoma and what to look for

A: Asymmetry
The benign mole, left, is not asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle, the two sides will match, meaning it is symmetrical. If you draw a line through the mole on the right, the two halves will not match, meaning it is asymmetrical, a warning sign for melanoma.

B: Border
A benign mole has smooth, even borders, unlike melanomas. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.

C: Color
Most benign moles are all one color — often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.

D: Diameter
Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.

E: Evolving
Common, benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way. When a mole is evolving, see a doctor. Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.
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