I used to scrapbook. A LOT. I still have a closet full of scissors, paper, punches, and stickers to prove it. When I started blogging, I stopped scrapbooking, mainly because I didn't want to drag all of my supplies out and clean up after myself after a project was done.
A few months ago, I was invited to a dinner with a group of travel bloggers, hosted by Shutterfly. They showed us a new way to scrapbook our travels, using all those photos that are held captive on our computers. I finally tried one out and made a small book of my trip earlier this year to St. Lucia. After I received the book back, I was impressed with the quality of the printing, and how beautiful and professional my photos looked. Now, I'm hooked.
Shutterfly makes scrapbooking simple. Just upload the photos you want, choose a format or theme, and the software does the work of sorting and putting photos in layouts. If you're like me, and want to customize, you can customize, cut and paste to your heart's content. You can even add embellishments or "stickers" to your pages and make them as fancy or as plain as you like.
I may have a new addiction.
Visit Shutterfly.com to create your own personalized photobook.
Disclosure: I received some free samples of Shutterfly products. All opinions expressed herein are my own and not necessarily those of Shutterfly, Inc. Photos contained in the photobook are Copyright Glennia Campbell 2011. All Rights Reserved.
Looking for a budget-friendly, charming place to relax in sunny St. Lucia? Check out Bay Gardens Hotel or Bay Gardens Inn. Both locally-owned and operated properties are part of the same group as the ultra-fab Bay Gardens Resort, but a little farther from the beach and a little easier on the wallet. A great place for solo travelers, honeymooners, a friends' retreat or a family vacation, Bay Gardens Hotel offers a comfortable accommodations and two lovely pools in a lush, green garden setting.
I had the chance to tour Bay Gardens Hotel on my trip to St. Lucia and have a sumptuous lunch at the on-site Spices Restaurant. Walking into the property, I immediately loved the fun, tropical atmosphere of the chartreuse-colored buildings named after tropical trees like "Pawpaw" and "Sugar Apple". The courtyard surrounding the pool was bursting with tropical flowers in red and yellow hues. It's a bright and cheerful place, to say the least.
The lovely travelers: Jordanne Hunter, Donna Owens, and Julia Landry
It was hot and humid when we arrived, and we were all sweating within minutes. Even the calm and collected Miss Waltrude Patrick, the Hotel & Inn's General Manager, was starting to feel the heat after walking around the grounds. My traveling companions, Jordanne, Donna, and Julia, couldn't resist dipping their toes into the cool and inviting pool at Bay Gardens Hotel. Miss Patrick later treated us to a Frozen Lime Squash, a non-alcoholic drink made from freshly-squeezed limes and frothy crushed ice. I am not sure what else was in there, but it was a wonderful treat on a hot day. I am normally not a fan of the sourness of lime, but this was as refreshing as a dip in the cool pool.
Lunch at Spices was equally delightful, with fresh, locally-grown salads, fruits, and vegetables and a variety of entrees to please any palate. I had a dorado fish prepared Wellington style, a perfectly cooked-through filet of hearty dorado wrapped in a light puffy pastry shell. The pastry sat atop fresh vegetables on a flavorful, light curry sauce. My travel companions dined on Pumpkin Soup, a local specialty, and a Caribbean curried chicken that they declared to be "delicious."
We were joined by the owner, Mrs. Joyce Destang, and other members of the management team. The hotel is run mostly by women, and their commitment to customer service, quality, and hospitality is evident in everything they do. I found that St. Lucians are reserved when you first meet them, but are warm and charming and go from strangers to friends quickly. We started lunch with formal introductions and handshakes; by the end, there were hugs all around.
Walking into the Bay Gardens Resort & Spa, you immediately know one thing: You're on vacation. One of St. Lucia's premiere luxury resorts, Bay Gardens Resort is situated on lovely Rodney Bay, not far from the capitol city of Castries, but in a world all of its own. If you're planning to visit St. Lucia, Bay Gardens Resort should be on the top of your list of accomodations for a fun family vacation, romantic getaway, or a honeymoon trip for memories that will last longer than most marriages.
Step inside, where you'll be greeted by the friendly desk staff, a huge tropical flower arrangement (more like a giant, colorful bush), photos of the flora and fauna of the island, comfy wicker furniture, a gift shop stuffed with island memorabilia and gear, and a delicious island breeze wafting through, and you will quickly realize that it's exactly the way a tropical vacation ought to be. In fact, it would be nice if life were like this all the time. Ever.
I was part of a trio of bloggers and journalists invited to visit Bay Gardens hotels last week as part of a press familiarization tour. I am not sure how I got so lucky as to be invited, but I'm not one to look a gift horse or a trip to a luxury resort in the mouth, so there I was, a little dazed and confused from the flight, but excited nonetheless. We were met at the airport by Richard, Activities Manager and Jack-of-All-Trades for the hotel. Richard had us fill out cards in the van so we didn't need to check-in, gave us our keys so we could go directly to our rooms when we arrived. He had icy cold bottles of water and fruit for the 1 hour drive to the hotel, located on the opposite end of the island from the airport. Our friendly driver, Charles, stopped along the way to let us stretch our legs and enjoy the scenic views, and gave a running commentary of what we were seeing along the way.
Bay Gardens Resort is a 4-star, all-suite luxury resort that is part of a trio of hotels owned and operated by the Destang Family, but this is no mom-and-pop operation. The Destangs are local St. Lucian's with a long history of investment and involvement in St. Lucian business enterprise. Mrs. Destang was honored by Queen Elizabeth II and named as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her service to the tourism industry, an honor slightly below Knighthood. St. Lucia is a British Commonwealth and very few people have this distinction. After an hour or two at any of the Bay Gardens properties, you understand why these hotels would be fit for a queen.
Disney California Adventure' s new Cars Land opened recently, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the media corps of bloggers covering the grand reopening of the park as a guest of Disney Parks & Resorts. It was an exciting, memorable event that included a red carpet with celebrity guests, thousands of media folks from television, radio, print and online news sources, and a chance to experience Cars Land firsthand before the eager public arrived. As usual, Disney put on a thrilling show, featuring the opening of Cars Land, an entrance reimagined to look like Walt Disney's Hollywood of the late 1920's, and a brand new techno-night party called the Mad Hatter's T-Party.
Larry the Cable Guy, voice of Mater in "Cars"
The first night featured a red carpet with some of the voice talent from the movie "Cars", including the voice of Mater himself, Larry the Cable Guy. Larry is a very friendly guy, much like Mater in the movie, and joked around with everyone from the mombloggers to the TV broadcasters to the Radio Disney correspondent on hand.
Larry's co-star, Bonnie Hunt, seemed a little more shy, and was hiding under a baseball cap. I didn't realize it was her until she was halfway down the red carpet. Owen Wilson was nowhere in sight.
Real Housewives of Cars Land Carry Prada
John Ratzenberger, the Pixar "good luck charm" who appears in some capacity in every Pixar movie, was seemed to enjoy the attention. Ratzenberger's date was carrying a very interesting Cars-adorned Prada bag. I didn't see these on sale in the gift shop. Apparently, only the Real Housewives of Cars Land know where to get these.
Lonesome George, the face of the Galapagos Islands conservation efforts, passed away yesterday. He was well over 100 years old, and may have been around to meet Charles Darwin when he landed there in the 1800s. He was the last of his sub-species of Pinta Island tortoises and marks the extinction of his kind.
We had the privilege of meeting Lonesome George on a trip to the Galapagos in 2006. He was a friendly, albeit slow-moving fellow, who munched on greenery and seemed nonplussed by the amount of tourist attention being lavished on him. At the time, his caretakers had introduced four female tortoises into the pen with him, but he didn't seem at all interested in mating with them. He was a confirmed bachelor to his dying day.
We joined the Galapagos Conservancy on behalf of our son, largely because of meeting him and understanding the importance of preserving the unique, spectacular wildlife found in the Galapagos Islands. Even though Lonesome George didn't leave any offspring behind, it is important that we do our part to preserve these islands for our own kids and their kids.
Farewell, Lonesome George. You were truly one of a kind.
We traveled up to Redding, California last weekend to pursue one of our favorite family activities: viewing a solar eclipse. This time, we didn't need a fancy cruise ship or a trip to the Sahara Desert or even an airplane to get to the site. We just drove our trusty, dusty Lexus RX300 about four hours north.
An Annular Eclipse is one in which the moon covers most, but not all, of the sun. What's left is known as the "Ring of Fire". You don't get the same twilight effect or the diamond ring of a total eclipse, but it is still a pretty spectacular sight. The moon moves slowly over the sun, leaving only a golden ring shining through. The center line of this particular annular eclipse ran through Oregon, Northern California, Nevada, New Mexico, and the Texas Panhandle. It's a once-in-every-forty-years sight at any given location, so it was worth the drive north to see it in all its glory. The last annular we viewed was in Costa Rica when Alex was 18 months old.
We headed out on our 2012 eclipse adventure on Saturday, May 19, after a rushed packing job that left us without sunscreen, lawn chairs, or hats. As much as we travel, you'd think we wouldn't forget essentials, but it happens to the best of us. We made do with what we had, which included a golf umbrella in the car, and even a grocery bag that Frank fashioned into a hat so his head wouldn't roast. Thankfully, I found an emergency supply of sunscreen in my purse.
We met up with some local friends who are also eclipse buffs the night before for dinner. We weren't quite sure where the best viewing spots would be, so we debated the various spots that were recommended by the local astronomy club as good bets. We decided to play it by ear, waiting to see what the weather would be prior to making a decision.
On Sunday, we woke up to cerulean skies and little cloud cover. The news reported that it would be hot, so we thought that being near water would be a good bet. We spent the morning touring Redding, which is a lovely little town with view of Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta off in the distance, surrounded by lakes made from the hydro-electric dam nearby. The Sundial Bridge over the Sacramento River is something of an architectural marvel, with a tall spire swooping above the river like a tall-masted ship flowing in the wind. We walked across the glass-tiled bridge and enjoyed the views of the river and hundreds of tiny birds swooping over and under the bridge.
When planning our December roadtrip, a stop at the Saguaro National Park was an absolute must-see for my husband Frank. Frank loves cacti of all shapes and varieties. He has kept a cactus collection for more than twenty years through moves from California to Texas and back, with only a few casualties along the way. He loves cactus so much that Alex and I teased him throughout the trip by pointing at every wilted, dried out cactus we encountered and saying, "Hey, Dad, look! A cactus! Don't you want to take a picture of it?"
We thought it was hilarious. Frank just rolled his eyes, and endured.
Driving through the desert in Southern California is a study in contradictions. We drove from the opulent resorts of Palm Springs to the abandoned buildings and forgotten towns of Imperial County, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the state. The desert landscape is dotted with date palms, scrub, and not much else. When my son looked up from his video game player long enough, he looked up and said, "Hey, mom, is that the ocean?"
I was looking in the opposite direction and replied, "We're pretty far from the ocean." Then, I saw it: the calm, blue waters of the Salton Sea, looming on the horizon like a mirage in the desert.
The Salton Sea is on of the world's largest inland seas and one of the lowest spots on earth (-227 feet below sea level). The sea existed in ancient times, but dried up until 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. For the next 18 months the Colorado River rushed into the dry seabed, creating the current 35 mile long,15 mile wide inland sea. The sea is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, but not as salty as the Great Salt Lake, and the increasing salinity over time has lead to changes in the ecosystem. The only fish that can be caught there are tilapia, but hundreds of gorgeous waterbirds make their homes and migratory stops along the shores of the Salton Sea.
About 14 miles of the shoreline is used for human recreation (boating, kayaking, fishing, and camping), but due to state budget cuts, most of these services are dwindling. There is a State Recreation Area near Mecca, California, and that is where we stopped for a visit.
We drove through a thicket of palm trees to the park entrance, where a friendly park attendant named Nick took our $5 entrance fee and gave us a sticker to put on the car. We drove to the lot by the Visitor's Center, which was closed when we arrived. There was one other family in the parking lot at the time, and a lone fisherman out on a jetty casting a line out to the sea. We decided to explore the beach a little, and could see hundreds of gulls and large white birds that looked like swans floating by in pairs.
If you're looking for a true oasis in the desert, with luxury spa, swimming pool complex that includes a mini-beach for the kids, and an excellent restaurant, the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa in Indian Wells, California is the place for you. Thanks to Klout Perks, we were fortunate enough to spend the night in this luxury resort, and enjoyed every minute of our brief stay here. We booked a special rate that included a "Kids Eat Free" promotion. We enjoyed two meals at the Cava Restaurant, with their fresh, well-prepared menu items and well-stocked buffets.
After driving all day into the wilds of Southern California and Los Angeles, we finally made it to Palm Springs on our Holiday Road Trip 2011. We passed through the glittering lights of swanky downtown Palm Springs, home of movie stars, golf courses, and Sonny Bono, and ventured a bit further to Indian Wells and the Renaissance Esmeralda. The lobby decor was tastefully simple, and I liked the display of candles in the entryway. The Renaissance Esmeralda was the exact counterpoint to the glitzy, over-the-top Madonna Inn we stayed in the night before.
Our room overlooked the massive swimming pool, with a view of the mountains in the distance. The room was decorated with clean simple lines in muted desert tones. The beds were comfortable, with plenty of soft, cushy pillows. We had a small balcony overlooking the pool area, and in the morning, could see the mountains off in the distance.
The hotel did not seem terribly busy, so the pool was empty most of the time we were there. It is heated year round, but the chilly air probably kept most of the guests at bay. Our son, who must have been raised by dolphins in a past life, is never deterred by a little cold when it comes to swimming. He insisted on trying it out the night we arrived. He was particularly fond of the little sand beach, a great place to build a sandcastle.
Renaissance Hotels are part of the Marriott chain, but on of the higher-end of the spectrum. Even so, the price for a night was only $129, including free meals for kids with the purchase of an adult entree. There is a separate resort fee of $25 that covers parking, internet access and other amenities. The prices vary from $99 to $329/night depending on the season and check-in dates.
Alex was so enchanted with the place he asked,"Can we come back here and stay for a week?"
I was inclined to agree with him, and would love to go back and check out the Spa and other restaurants, and see more of what the Palm Springs area has to offer.
Disclosure: Thanks to Klout for sharing a $200 gift card with us from Renaissance Hotels as a Klout Perk. I received no other compensation or incentive to write this post. All opinions expressed herein are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Klout, Renaissance Hotels, or Marriott.
I had the opportunity to visit Disney's new Hawaiian Resort & Spa, Aulani last week. It is a gorgeous resort that was much more Hawaiian than Disney, but a little Disney magic thrown in for good measure. The decor and ambience pays homage to the Hawaiian culture, without being over-the-top or kistchy. There isn't a tiki bar in sight (which is not authentically Hawaiian anyway), nor is there an anthropomorphized animal wearing a grass skirt and doing the hula at every turn. Instead, it's a restful, rejuvenating place where familes can relax and have fun, while learning a little about Hawaiian culture along the way.
The standard room with two queen-sized beds is big enough for a family of three or four to enjoy without tripping over themselves. There was a folding crib in the closet and an empty mini-fridge that you could fill up with your own snacks and drinks. Each room comes equipped with a DVD player, so you can bring along your favorite Disney movies to enjoy when you need a little down-time. It's those little touches that make this family-friendly resort even more friendly to families traveling with small kids.
The decor is fairly simple, with accents of koa wood, batik-style prints, and Hawaiian quilt patterns. The only noticeable Disney reference was a cute Mickey Mouse lamp, carved out of wood and distressed to blend in with the rest of the room's Hawaii-centric theme. It reminded me more of upscale version of the Volcano National Park Lodge than the Disneyland Hotel.
My room had a balcony with a "partial ocean view", meaning the ocean was right behind the parking lot. Luckily, the room was on a higher floor, so the view of mountains and ocean were not obstructed when I sat out on the balcony.
As if Hawaii itself were not enough, the main attraction of the resort is the incredible pool/waterpark within the resort itself. Fashioned to look like lava tube structures, the xxx square foot pool features a giant slide through the rock structures, a climbing structure and a "lazy river" where you can float around in a large innertube.