View of the ocean from a boat

We’re packed into a cargo van, eight of us, just wrapping up our adventures in Turks & Caicos, a stunning little slice of the world with crystal clear waters and miles of powder soft sand.

We were there as part of the Social Media on the Sand, a conference of about 100 bloggers brought together to hone our craft, hosted by the Beaches Resort on the island.

It was a trip I eagerly anticipated, knowing it was the last of several other getaways I’d been part of over the summer, reviewing other incredible coastal spots, including Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and Costa Rica.  My expectations were high for this trip, having always been a fan of the nearby Bahamas.

As we crowded into the shuttle for the 20 minute drive to the airport, we were exchanging opinions of what we’d each experienced over the past few days.

My closer friends knew this trip wasn’t the smooth journey I’d hoped for…from issues with a mean gate agent on the first leg of the trip that led to missing luggage…to afternoon thunderstorms that caused cancelled excursions on the water that I desperately wanted to be part of.

It felt as though forces were challenging me to dislike this place that I so desperately intended to enjoy.

But as I sat in the shuttle, heading to the airport to go home, I was sad to be leaving.  I was not eager to be leaving behind this gorgeous little place I was finally able to visit firsthand.

The Beaches mentality: it starts with the beach. And they’re right.  That’s the first thing that hits you.

It wasn’t until I saw it for myself that I was able to believe just how different the color of this water is from the other places I’ve visited.  This is bluer than the emerald green waters of Florida’s Panhandle. It is lighter than the turquoise seas off Aruba.  This color is more like the shade of blue green that you find on a Tiffany’s Jewelry Box.  And the island is the present wrapped inside.

The true treasure: the people.

Johnny, the boat crew, in Beaches Resort.

Take Johnny, for example.

He’s part of the watersports crew at Beaches.  He happily snapped photo after photo of us aboard his boat as he took us on a trip out on the Atlantic, around the northeastern tip of the island, into the Caribbean waters, to what I’ll always refer to as ‘Iguana Island’, a national preserve built to teach others about these little reptiles that outnumber the people on Turks & Caicos four to one.

Bloggers on the Island Adventure Excursion

I think of Alex, or Flash as he’s known in his sporting circles, our tour guide on Iguana Island, who doubles as a model and competitor on the national rugby team, and his grandmother who still runs her farm on the island.

There’s Rashawn, who greeted us when we checked in at the resort with a ‘welcome home’ and later helped us reclaim our missing luggage that finally arrived at the airport.

Beaches Resorts flower

Beaches Resorts landscape

I can’t forget Malcolm, the horticulturist from Canada who now calls this Caribbean island home, who we bumped into while searching for friends we were supposed to meet at the tennis courts one early morning.  Malcolm offered to go to the front desk to call our friends’ rooms, and after we resisted, literally walked us to the other courts at the resort, taking us on a shortcut through the property so that we could get there more quickly.  And when I asked how they kept the grounds looking gorgeous, he gave credit to the 40-plus staffers who work with him to keep the resort weed-free.

Adam Stewart, CEO Sandals

I certainly can’t forget Adam Stewart, the CEO of Sandals Resorts, whose father, Butch Stewart, started it all back in 1981, both of whom happened to be vacationing at the property with 70 members of their family and friends while we were there.  Adam is a charismatic man, clearly passionate about the resorts and the people who work there, along with those who visit.

the original Beaches resort

We met with him while on our trip, hearing the story of how it all came to be and where the next resorts in the group were being built (just wait until you see what they have planned next—it resembles the huts over the water that you picture when thinking of Bora Bora).

Beaches future plans

He explained his different theories on getting it right: that the only ‘no’ you’ll hear at Beaches is ‘no problem’, or ‘the closer you look, the better we look’.  He makes it happen by giving every generation their own vacation while at the resort, through programs like their Sesame Street partnership and Super Nanny daycares, or the Bubble Maker program, where eight year olds learn to scuba in the resort pools, literally getting in the water with tanks for 20 minutes, then graduating to the SEAL Team, where they are given ‘missions’ to complete in the pool.

They know water makes us all feel like kids again.  Take a look at the fun in the video below.

These are the folks who invented the swim-up bar (genius, right?) and host 13-thousand weddings a year (we saw one each night we were there).

Beaches Resort wedding

This is the resort known for the ‘all-inclusive, unlimited, all the time’ mentality that also has a giving side through its Sandals Foundation, which gives back to the people in the communities where the resorts are so incredibly popular.

As I think over this trip and let the good wash over me, and the bad fall away, I realize it’s the people who made this adventure memorable…not just the older friends I got to see again at the conference, but the new friends I made, including Noel, our shuttle driver, who beams with pride as he talks about his 14 children, including his son Joel, a bartender at Beaches, who we know served us a drink or two during our stay.

Beaches shuttle driver

Noel makes me realize a missing bag and delayed excursion pale in comparison to the brilliant memories made on the trip.

My friends in the shuttle ask if I’ll return…if it’s a trip I’d like to take again.  I only have to pause for a second to say I certainly hope to.  But next time, I want my whole family to come along.  This is the kind of place I believe they’d enjoy, too.

Sunset walk

What to know if you go:

  • All rooms are not the same.  If a balcony view of the water is what matters most to you, make that clear in your reservation.
  • Book your excursions early.  The snorkel trips fill up fast and you want to go on the first day or two there.  That way, if yours is cancelled, you’ll have time to try again.
  • Not all the restaurants are open at all hours.  Many won’t serve lunch until 12:30.  Keep that in mind when planning your schedules.
  • There are 19 restaurants. Some are great for breakfast, but not as good at dinner.  Others offer delicious dinner options, but not as good at lunch.  And some are musts for dessert.
  • This resort is not ‘cheap’. You will pay a good bit for what you get, but once you are here, there’s very little need for money.  Even tips are included.  Keep that in mind when you look at the price.  Even the shuttle rides from the airport and back are included.

(Note to readers: As mentioned above, I was a guest of the Beaches Resort as part of this conference.  Our fees for attending were deeply discounted.  As always, my opinions remain my own.)

{ 9 comments }

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna performs during a dress rehearsal for the show. (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing) (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing)

 

Cirque du Soleil is back in Atlanta for another performance and this year’s show, Amaluna, is all about the girls.  You’ll be transported to an island governed by goddesses for an adventure that will have you holding your breath, caught up in the beauty of their moves and sheer strength of their bodies.  The artists are phenomenal, along with the costumes and set.  And it combines for a concoction of all kinds of romance.  It’s a show you won’t want to miss.

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna performs during a dress rehearsal for the show. (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing) (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing) The cast of Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna performs during a dress rehearsal for the show. (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing) (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing)

 

Whether it’s the main character balancing her body on one hand while she shifts her body into unbelievable contortions, the hula hoop Houdini who can keep the silver hoops moving around her ankles even while doing handstands, the balancing expert who somehow keeps longer and longer pieces of wood (parts of palm trees actually) suspended in mid air stacked one on top of the other—all while picking up each piece with her toes and continuing to keep every stick suspended, or the male character who climbs a 20 foot high pole using only the strength from his arms and hands, with his body stiffly floating in mid air behind him, these are the folks who have mastered the art of impressing people with unique expertise.

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's Amaluna performs during a dress rehearsal for the show. (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing) (Photo by Pouya Dianat/Allied Integrated Marketing)

 

The amazing thing about Cirque du Soleil is that when you watch these artists oozing with talent on stage, they make what they’re doing look so easy that you start thinking maybe it really is easy, and maybe you could do it, too, with enough practice at home.  I admit I’ve been trying to pick up more items around the house with my toes as I practice the cool balance routine.  But I can’t balance a plate and a cup most days, so I don’t see so much hope for myself for that act.  I already know my arms couldn’t support my weight for more than a minute, so the notion of them pulling my body up a pole 30 feet high is pretty hopeless, too.  Even sitting cross-legged on the floor is painful these days, so becoming a contortionist is also pretty ridiculous.  I was a mean hula-hooper back in the day, though, so it’s possible you may see that skill reinvented here, though it’s unlikely I’ll be able to hold a handstand for more than a split second.

I guess that’s the cool part about a Cirque show—you know what these people are doing is next to impossible for the rest of us.  Seeing those skills incorporated into a show that is performed with such beauty is a rare treat.

If you want to catch the show, we have a special discount for StressFreeBaby readers. Save 20% on a Family 4 Pack.  Just CLICK HERE to buy your tickets today.

We also have two pairs of tickets we are giving away to two lucky readers! The tickets are only good for the 7:30pm show on Tuesday, October 28th, so only enter if you know you can go then.  Just comment below and tell us who you would take and why.  You have until midnight EST on Thursday, October 23rd.  Our winners will be named on Friday October 24th and will be picked at random. (Must be 18 to enter, no purchase necessary.)

I brought this sweetie with me to celebrate her upcoming 16th birthday! We both LOVED the show. I’m certain you will, too!

des kayla amaluna

{ 12 comments }

Fox Theatre Ghost Tours for Halloween (#Giveaway)

by Desiree Miller on October 13, 2014

stage and ghost light

We all know the Fox Theatre in Atlanta is filled with some incredible history, but I bet you didn’t know there are sections of the building that some consider haunted, including one section that an area psychic says is so filled with evil that she can’t breathe while in the room.

haunted room

You can learn about it all first hand while taking a ghost tour of the 85-year old building.

The Fox Theatre Ghost Tours for Halloween are underway through October 16th.

over motors

You’ll find out all about Roosevelt, the man who haunts the boiler room at the Fox, and you’ll see spots like the hospital room (you won’t believe you missed this in all your trips to the Fox for shows), the powder room, sub-basement areas and the freight elevator.

screening room

For decades, Fox employees have claimed to have seen—or felt the presence of–these ghosts.

hospital

The specialty tours start at 7pm every day and run every 20 minutes until 10pm.  Tickets are $25 each and are on sale now at FoxTheatre.org, at the Fox Theatre ticket office and by calling 855-285-8499. The ghost tours are not recommended for children under the age of 10; children under 6 are not permitted.

There’s even a fortune teller on hand for free sessions while you wait for your tour to begin.

tarot cards

We are giving away tickets for four people to take a tour.  Enter quickly, though. The tickets will be given away on the 15th at noon EST, so leave a comment below about your favorite trip to the Fox (but only if you can attend on the 16th  since we know that’s the last show of the year).  We will notify the winner ASAP after the drawing.  Good luck!

{ 6 comments }

FREE (Crazy Good) COFFEE at RaceTrac and Gift Card #Giveaway

by Desiree Miller on October 13, 2014

free coffee

(This post was written by me on behalf of RaceTrac. I was compensated for the post, however all views and opinions are 100% my own. #ad #CrazyGoodCoffee)

Want a crazy good coffee deal?  RaceTrac is offering FREE COFFEE all this week, from Oct 12 through the 18th.

That’s all coffee, in all sizes, and all blends. All. Week. Long.

You don’t have to clip any coupons or buy anything else.

It’s like the coffee fairies have landed in your dreamland. But it’s real. No need to pinch yourself. Just pull into your closest RaceTrac and enjoy.

The toughest part might be picking which blend you prefer.  There’s a line-up of six different kinds:

  • 100 percent Colombian Roast
  • Pumpkin
  • Hazelnut
  • Extra Caffeinated
  • Regular
  • Decaffeinated

Then, you can customize with a variety of creamers, sweeteners and toppings like whipped cream (um, yum!).

Each blend is made of 100 percent Arabica beans and brewed fresh 24/7.

RaceTrac’s new 6,000 square foot model stores include an massive coffee bar areas so that you have plenty of room for prep space.

One warning, though: Don’t drool and drive.  This Crazy Good Coffee deal is meant to leave you smiling.

And guess what?! On top of that, we have a $25 RaceTrac gift card to share with one lucky reader.  Just comment below by sharing your favorite coffee concoction (straight black, pumpkin with a splash of whipped cream, etc) and follow us on YouTube at http://youtube.com/desmiller1 and http://youtube.com/RaceTracVids .   Entrants must also follow @RaceTrac on Twitter and like RaceTrac on Facebook.

Enter by midnight EST on October 27th. You must be 18 to enter and reside in the US.  No purchase necessary.

{ 7 comments }

The 88-thousand Dollar Point, #JourneytoCollege

by Desiree Miller on October 9, 2014

mom and son

If there was ever a person who could be a great promotion for college test prep services for high school students, it would be my oldest son.

He did very well on his ACT, getting a score high enough to be accepted at a nationally recognized state university.  It was the first school to accept him and ranked second in the nation in his desired major.  This was where he knew he wanted to be.  The only issue was this school wasn’t located in our home state.  That meant we’d be paying out-of-state tuition rates.  Yikes.

Fortunately, we found out about something called Academic Common Market, an agreement between about 16 schools (located mostly in the south) that allows out-of-state students to attend at in-state tuition rates, if they meet certain qualifications.  One of those qualifications required him to have a certain score on the ACT—one point higher than he had already achieved.

It’s important to note the difference in tuition rates for out-of-state students and in-state students is about 22 thousand dollars.  Each year.  Yes, each year.  22 thousand!

So, we signed my son up for the test again, explaining that this single point would save us 22 thousand bucks, or about 88 thousand dollars if you are looking at four years of college.  I have to say it again. 88 thousand dollars. I don’t know about you, but that’s no chump change in my book.

He took that ACT test again and again. And again.

But he never got that extra point.

“Mom, I gave you the best I had that first time around,” he explained with frustration.  What could I say to that?

In hindsight, I know I should have signed him up for the services you find through companies such as the Kaplan Test Prep Program.

At the time, I was worried about the expense and he was not a fan of sitting through any kind of tutoring session.

We were both being stupid.  I think about that one point every month when I send in the check paying for him to attend this out-of-state college that he’s grown to love so much.  I don’t regret sending him and am proud to support him as he chases his dreams.  But still, this was one very expensive lesson learned.

I have three others who will be going through the college process (hopefully), one who is facing it now in his senior year.  He also wants to attend an out-of-state school.  He’s already taken the test twice.  And if getting one more point is going to dictate whether he gets in-state or out-of-state tuition, you can bet we’ll be signing him up for a test prep program without a second thought.  We can’t afford another 88-thousand dollar mistake.

(Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience. #JourneytoCollege)

 

{ 0 comments }

Creating a Better Workplace for Women & Men: Global Women’s Initiative

October 8, 2014

When I was pregnant with my first child 20 years ago, I recall checking in with the HR director at my job, wanting to confirm the maternity leave policy.  Her response to my ‘wonderful’ news: I should have checked with the company first.  Seriously. She felt it was selfish to ‘go off and get pregnant’ when it might inconvenience the company.  And she wasn’t joking when she told me I should have checked before making a baby. I was married and figured the only person I needed to be on […]

Read the full article →

What Does ‘The Fox’ Say? THANKS!

October 7, 2014

Those of us who call Atlanta home feel particularly privileged to spend an evening out at The Fox Theatre.  It’s THE place for incredible live entertainment and events.  It’s an Atlanta landmark and everyone who has called the ATL home at some point probably has a story about the time they once went to ‘The Fox.’ I particularly enjoy watching the Broadway Across America shows that take place there, where I can bring my family for performances that we’d otherwise catch on Broadway.  Sitting in the historic theatre, soaking up […]

Read the full article →

SLEEPING BEAUTY: DIAMOND EDITION New Scenes and #Giveaway

October 6, 2014

Maleficent stole the show earlier this year, but now Sleeping Beauty takes center stage again with Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment’s upcoming release of SLEEPING BEAUTY: DIAMOND EDITION, coming to Blu-Ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere for the first time ever Tuesday, October 7. The 2-Disc Diamond Edition Blu-ray Superset (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy) contains digitally restored picture and sound, a digital copy of the film, and new bonus features. Those bonus features include three never before seen deleted scenes and other behind the scenes action. Sleeping Beauty is considered Disney’s […]

Read the full article →

Sometimes a Detour is Exactly What You Need

October 6, 2014

We were supposed to be spending the day at the beach, then seeing more family for dinner before heading back on our eight-hour-long drive home to Atlanta in the morning, but I was having a tough time relaxing at the beach anymore after our little run in with the shark. That’s right. The shark. Before the shark, we were enjoying a rare day of calm seas and clear water—the kind of clear where you can stand waist deep and still see your nail polish on your toes sinking into the […]

Read the full article →

Costa Rica: The Land of Starfish, Sunsets and Shade Trees, #IGTT

October 2, 2014

Blue starfish and massages under shade trees. This is what Costa Rica is to me. It is also surprises around the bend, and those bends may be sharp, narrow turns on Costa Rican roads, where you sometimes wonder if the van carrying you from the airport to your hotel will be able to squeeze through the light post on the side of the road and the oncoming car… or make it up the steep mountain road…audibly hearing the engine struggle with each gear, as if to say, “I think I […]

Read the full article →