Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Year In Review

Goodbye 2016. You have been a very strange year full of blessings and tragedies. I don't want to say good riddance as the year has been pretty good to us. We had the blessed opportunity to do more traveling than normal this year. Our friends adopted a baby. We bought our first house together. However we watched as the world became full of attacks and more hate than I thought was possible. With all the good came a lot of bad and I am looking forward to a fresh start in 2017.
2016 was also my year of visiting Disney Parks around the world! Check out the differences between the castles in Disneyland Paris, Disneyland California and Disney World!

January 
January started off in a whirlwind. I received a promotion at work that involves travel. This blog took a hit from that until I learned how to properly time manage my day job and my full-time hobby. Along with starting a new position in January, my best friend and I ran the 2016 Walt Disney World Half Marathon. We run at least one race during Marathon Weekend and then go on a cruise. Keri and I had a blast dressed up as Retro Minnie and present day Minnie.
The moment we crossed the finish line, we hopped in our car and headed to Port Canaveral to board the Carnival Valor. We went on a 7 night Girls Cruise through the Western Caribbean. The cruise was a blast. We had a lot of laughs and memories - like Cave Tubing in Belize and to learning how to make authentic Mexican Margaritas in Cozumel. Going on an annual girls cruise is something we started 5 years ago and we will continue it as long as possible

February
My husband and I went back to New Orleans with my in-laws for a family trip and so we could run the Rock n Roll New Orleans Half Marathon. As always, we had a fantastic time in our adopted city.

March
In March, we had the opportunity to check out the brand new Beach House Suites at Loews Don CeSar. This is my favorite place to visit in Florida and loved having the additional space and kitchenettes.

April
I ran the inaugural Star Wars Darkside Challenge in April, the Star Wars 10K on Saturday followed by the Star Wars Half Marathon on Sunday. I had a great time running this race with my friend Gelcys who taught me everything I needed to know about Star Wars during the 10K.
Gabe and I visited Nashville to run the Rock n Roll Nashville Half Marathon. Anyone looking to do that race needs to know in advance how hilly it is. It took us flat runners by surprise. Little did I know my first trip to Nashville would end up being one of many in 2016. I visited Music City 3 additional times in 2016 for work.

May
May was an insane month for me with work, going from one location to the next. We also spent a lot of time at Disney!

June
In June, we took a two day trip to Savannah for my birthday. We had a wonderful time in Savannah (although really hot and humid). The week we returned home, we put an offer on a house and it got accepted!

July
July was a fantastic month for multiple reasons. Our friends adopted a baby! After many years of heartbreak, their dream finally came true and I now have an absolutely beautiful nice named Lilly who I just love to pieces.
Two weeks after Lilly was born, Gabe and I closed on our house. After the financial crisis of 2007, I never dreamed of owning a house again. It wasn't an easy process and there was a short time where I thought the closing wouldn't go through. Now we are homeowners!

August
Let the fun of renovations begin! We bought the house and immediately started making modifications. 5 months later, we are no where near finished but the kitchen is 80% completed (need to redo the floors & install a back splash). We also replaced the horrid carpet with wood on the bottom floor.
I also went on a group girls cruise to the Bahamas with a few friends. We laughed so hard we cried. A few of us actually cried and had amazing conversations and a lot of drinks. This was the first time I booked a cruise many months in advance and took advantage of the easy payment plan on Carnival. We each paid $50 a paycheck and the cruise was paid in full 2 months before we sailed.

September
We had an amazing travel month in September. When we learned runDisney would host the inaugural Disneyland Paris Half Marathon in 2016, which fell on our anniversary, there was no question if we would go. We visited Paris for the first time on our honeymoon in 2014 but truly fell in love with the city of lights this trip. On our trip, we checked out Palace of Versailles, Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney Studios Park, Paris Catacombs, Louvre & Notre Dame. It was a blast!
After spending 5 nights in Paris, we took a short flight to Amsterdam to finish out our trip. We both truly loved Amsterdam. It was beautiful, friendly, historical, fun and of course a little naughty. While in Amsterdam, we took a quick trip to Old Holland and got to see working windmills and everything!

October
We visited New Orleans again in October to see the city during Halloween. We are both huge fans of everything Halloween and have heard great things about the city during our favorite holiday. We visited during the week of Boo's Krewe Parade, which was a Halloween themed motorized float parade. It was fun, however we both expected a little more being it was the city that is home to Mardi Gras.

November
November started off with another runDisney race - this time my best friend Keri and I ran the Wine Dine Half Marathon. This was the first time the race was held during the day vs. at night. I thought this was the most organized race runDisney has put on and welcomed the change with open arms.
A few days after running at Disney World, my husband and I jumped on a plane and headed to California so I could run the Super Heroes Half Marathon. This race gave me my first coast to coast medal which is now in happy company with my Castle to Chateau medal. It was also our first trip to Disneyland & Disney California Adventure! EPIC!

December
We had a fantastic December with family and friends. I sit here on December 29th and am thankful for all the experiences we have had and look forward to a fantastic 2017.

I hope you and your families have a safe and Happy New Years!!
xoxo

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Visiting Disney California Adventure

Last month, my husband Gabe and I had the opportunity to visit Disney California Adventure while in town for the Super Heroes Half Marathon weekend. I've wanted to visit California Adventure since it opened in 2001. I remember being insanely jealous they got a Roller Coaster. When we walked inside the park, I was excited beyond words.
Over the years, I have watched friends visit Disneyland for runDisney events. Running through Disneyland was a bucket list item for me that I didn't expect to cross off this year. Between visiting Disneyland California for the first time, getting my first Coast to Coast medal and visiting Disneyland Paris, 2016 ended up being my dream Disney year.

 Read about our first trip to Disneyland, California
After getting our tickets, we ventured off into the park. At first glance, it reminded me a lot of Disney Hollywood Studios in Florida. The old Hollywood themed stores, the street performers roaming around, interacting with the crowd. A few of the same rides - Toy Story Mania and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.....
That is where the similarities between Disney California Adventure and Hollywood Studious come to a screeching halt. I can say without pausing, DCA is the best Disney park I have been to and wish on all my stars that Disney would build something similar in FL.
We began our adventure with a trip to Clarabelle's hand scooped ice cream. Tap-tap, hey Disney, are you listening? PLEASE bring this to Florida? This ice cream shop offers the famous kitchen sink desserts but that wasn't what stole our hearts. It was the hand dipped ice cream bars, where you chose a flavor (I got vanilla), hard shell (milk chocolate) and your toppings (everything). The ice cream was fresh, soft, delicious and we didn't give a second thought to the Mickey Bar.
With full bellies, we began our adventure in Cars Land, the one place I got more photos and videos of than anywhere else on our trip. I was fascinated with what they did to this section of the park. It's almost as if you jumped inside your TV screen and became part of the Cars movie franchise.
Everything was themed exactly like the movies. From Cozy Cone Motel to Flo's Cafe. It was cute cute cute.
We spent both Friday night and Saturday afternoon at California Adventure. Luckily, we chose to wait out the single rider line for Radiator Springs Racers on Friday night because it was closed on Saturday. Both Gabe and I loved this ride. You start in a car and race through the desert, just like the movie. There are sharp turns, fast drops and it was a ton of fun. The end of the ride, you race against another car.
Instead of character meet and greets, you meet the car! Which talks, and actually drives through the town. Check out my video below of Towmater. 



If one thinks Cars Land is cool during the day, you have to come see it at night. The lights were incredible and it felt like an entirely different experience than during the day.
After leaving Cars Land, we headed over Paradise Pier, the Boardwalk section of California Adventure. I loved that this entire section was themed after going to the boardwalk back in the day. This is where you will find California Adventure's famous Corndog (same stand as Disneyland but a much shorter wait)!
California Screamin is the Roller Coaster that you see in all the photos of California Adventure. The photo above shows where you start and get catapulted up in a very fast speed into a thrilling ride. It looks like an old school wooden coaster but it is much smoother than those rides tend to be. See the circle (sun) in the center? The photo actually shows a car going upside down through the loop. We had a blast on this ride and would do it over and over again.
We played many games at the boardwalk and won quite a few prizes. These were old school style boardwalk games. The one thing we loved about the games at Boardwalk were the quality of prizes. We walked away with full size Authentic Disney stuffed animals, including a cast member Mickey.
We also rode Mickey's Fun Wheel, which I will warn you, is quite the scare if you aren't prepared for it. This innocent looking Ferris wheel has swinging gondolas, which fly you through the inside of the wheel. If you aren't up for this, they have a few stationary ones as well.
It was time for lunch and we luckily got a same day reservation at Wine Country Trattoria. Even though we had dinner that evening at the Avengers Pasta Party, I ordered the Quattro Pomodoro, one of the best pasta's I've had at any Disney property. This consisted of Fettuccine with a blend of of Tomatoes, Garlic, and Basil. It was the perfect blend and full of flavor. Plus the wine selection at Wine Country Trattoria made for a very happy day. 
After lunch, we headed to the opposite side of the park so we could attempt to get on Tower of Terror. However, the wait was over 2 hours and it is currently the same as what we have in Florida. It would have been nice to say we rode it before Guardian of the Galaxy takes over but it wasn't worth spending our entire short window at the park waiting in line. I did get a quick photo of it under renovation though!
This side of the park had a lot of fun things for kids of all ages. The imagination and creativity that went into this park is shown throughout. I personally thought Flik's Flyers was adorable - guests rode in "air balloons" also known as food containers! Everything was from a bugs point of view. Cute cute cute!
The night was closing in on us but we had to take advantage and get the famous corn dog at Corn Dog Castle. I can honestly say that the corn dog lived up to it's hype. Although we have a similar version at the food trucks inside Disney Springs, it doesn't touch this one. If you find yourself in Disneyland, do yourself a favor and get this staple!
It was time to say goodbye to Disney's California Adventure. We were very pleased with our time there and would go back in a heartbeat. With this being the third Disney location we have been to in the past 4 months, without a doubt, it was our favorite of all the parks.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Introducing Grey Salt Tampa Fall & Winter Menu #HardRockTampa

A few weeks ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to check out the new Fall and Winter Menu at Grey Salt located inside of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa. For those who aren't aware, Grey Salt is Marc Murphy's restaurant and you may know him from the Food Network.
He is a judge on Chopped and has appeared on a variety of other shows such as Iron Chef America, Guy's Grocery Games, Beat Bobby Flay, Worst Cooks in America, Unique Eats, The Best Thing I Ever Ate, The Best Thing I Ever Made, The Rachael Ray Show and The Today Show among others.
with Marc Murphy 2015
Aside from Marc Murphy's busy TV schedule, he is also a restaurateur and we welcomed him with open arms last year when he opened up Grey Salt.
Grey Salt is a Mediterranean Restaurant who gets it's influence and name from Marc's childhood. Marc grew up throughout Europe, predominately in Southern France where grey salt is a household staple. We've had the chance to try a few media tastings at Grey Salt but this was our first sit down dinner.
We kicked off the evening with a few appetizers. These Mozzarella Fritters were absolutely incredible. The fritters consisted of lightly fried mozzarella with ricotta and Parmesan cheese. This made up to be a very light, airy and cheesy delicious bite. I would order the fritters again in a heartbeat.
Up next was Grilled Octopus with cherry tomato, white beans and crispy capers. We first had grilled octopus while hiking Cinque Terre in Italy. Marc Murhphy's grilled Octopus was just as good, if not better, than the grilled Octopus we had on the coast of Italy.
A simple yet delicious Wild Baby Arugula salad was just what we needed before heading onto the next courses. With freshly shaved Parmesan and roasted shallot balsamic vinaigrette, you can't go wrong.
PASTA! This was our first time trying the homemade pastas at Grey Salt. I am here to say without a doubt, this will not be our last time eating these delicious pastas. I was mildly obsessed with the Chicken Papparadelle pasta above. Papparadelle is my favorite noodle and there is nothing better than fresh Papparadelle. A few folks at our table agreed it tasted like the filling of a chicken pot pie with the fresh veggies and seasonings. I would order this again in a heart beat.
While Papparadelle is my favorite noodle, coming in close second is Bucatini. I love the hallow long noodle and we've attempted many times to perfect it at home. I was pretty ecstatic to see both of my favorite noodles offered at Grey Salt. The Bucatini Con Vongole - white wine, clams, garlic and chili flakes. Simple yet delicious.
Then the entrees came out with a bang. I truly felt like we were back in Europe with the multiple courses. Up first was Filet Mignon Au Poivre. This dish was cooked to a perfect medium rare and topped with crispy onions and cut like butter.
One thing you must perfect if you are on the gulf is Local Grouper and Grey Salt did just that. This was topped with a lemon sauce, almonds and green beans which allowed the grouper to be the main star of this dish.
The Glazed Pork Chop was next to hit the table but I could smell the fragrant fennel well before it was placed in front of us. If you aren't a fan of fennel, I wouldn't suggest this dish. With braised fennel, agrodolce (a traditional Italian sweet and sour sauce) and olive oil, this dish was full of flavor.
The final entree of the night was Sea Scallops. While scallops aren't my jam, these were pretty good (once I got over the texture). I mean, anything with brussels sprouts and bacon will be delicious right? Grey Salt's Sea Scallops are over a chickpea mash with the above mentioned crispy brussels sprouts & bacon vinaigrette. This is a perfect Fall/Winter dish.
Full yet? Imagine our surprise when dessert came out. I could barely look at it. With one eye open, I grabbed a spoon and dove into the Tiramisu. The funny thing about Tiramisu is that Gabe used to hate it. Until we went to Rome, where he was strong armed into ordering it and ended up ordering seconds of dessert. Who does that?! Now he always tries it anywhere we go in hopes to find something similar to what he experienced in Italy. This Tiramisu was really good, one of the better ones we've had in the states.
I absolutely loved the Hazelnut Crunch Bar,which was a chocolate covered chocolate mousse and nutella bar topped with coffee gelato. I'm not a huge chocolate fan but this was an A+ in my book.
The table also tried two more desserts, which I couldn't eat, even if I tried. I heard rave things about both - this was the Tarte Tatin - with apples and caramel, topped with vanilla gelato.
And lastly we have the Lemon Cheesecake - Made with ricotta, lemon curd, hazelnut croquant and seasonal berries.

Our meal at Grey Salt was incredible and we look forward to our next visit. I actually won a $200 gift certificate to return back and we are going tonight for a much needed date night!

Special thanks to Grey Salt Tampa for hosting us at this dinner. As always, all opinions are my own. 

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