10 Things: Visit Pensacola Beach

Happy Wednesday dear Friends!

Over the weekend I hit the road with my friend, Tami, for a girl’s weekend in Pensacola Beach, Florida.  We had a fabulous time getting away from Atlanta, soaking up some vitamin D, and catching up on the latest happenings in our lives.

Between Hurricane Sally in late 2019 and Rona shutdowns in 2020 Pensacola Beach has weathered its storms and is ready for summer 2021!  Pensacola Beach is not a PCB, Destin or Daytona (thank goodness), but it’s the perfect location for a family or girl’s getaway.  The atmosphere in Pensacola Beach is so much warmer, welcoming and friendlier than larger beaches.  It retains a bit of a vintage vibe which I appreciate more than ever right now!

So, what can you do in Pensacola Beach?  Here are “10 Things” to fill your week while vacationing here.

1) Eat at one of the many local restaurants along the strip. Pensacola Beach is making a splash in the foodie scene and there are so many great options!

Tami and I first ate at Laguna’s Grill and Bar as we rolled into town. This adventure park/restaurant was so bright and colorful, a fun place to dine and play!  The coastal views made for the perfect welcome to the beach.  I ordered delicious shrimp tacos made using gulf-caught shrimp and the crispiest fries ever!  Tami dined on a grilled cheese sandwich made with gruyere and Havarti cheeses.  It was all so delicious.

Another great place to eat was Water Pig BBQ. Sitting right on the water the chopped brisket with caramelized onion tasted even better.  You have to try the pimento cheese as well!  After supper, walk next door to Water Pig’s sister restaurant, Red Fish, Blue Fish for a drink and watch the sun go down.  The setting is beautiful.

Sunday Brunch at the Hilton is absolutely wonderful.  With live music, fresh seafood and so many other dishes from prime rib to fresh pasta, if you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.

Also located at the Hilton is an unassuming restaurant on the second floor called Bonsai.  I plan to review this separately, but y’all, trust me, you will want to check Bonsai out!

 

2) Head over to Ft Pickens National Seashore for trails, fishing, and history.  This beautiful area is rich in history and absolutely stunning. Learn about the fort itself as well as the fortifications that were made up through World War II and take in all the natural shorelines this preserved area has to offer.  There are park rangers around to answer your questions, but tours are mostly self-guided.  If you’re not a fan of history, you can hike along the parks many trails, or take a guided nature tour.  While in the park we saw a majestic eagle, turtles and so much more.  If i hadn’t been driving, I would have love a pic of the eagle.  Y’all, he was stunning!  Fort Pickens is a great place to watch the sunset, ad I’ve heard rumors that it makes a fantastic viewing area for watching the Blue Angels practice. The area is a part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and if you are an America the Beautiful passholder you are covered here.  Otherwise, it’s $25 a car and the admission is good for seven days.

 

3) Find adventure out on the water.  Pensacola beach has so many options available for water activities aside from playing in the surf.  Rent a boat for fishing, or dolphin watching, take a sunset cruise, kayak the calmer bay water, paddle board, parasail, or rent a jet ski to jump wakes and fly across the water.

Tami and I rented our jet skis from Key Sailing and had an absolute blast out on the water.  The staff at Key Sailing were friendly and helpful.  The jet skis were new and well maintained.  I highly recommend that you check them out.

Key Sailing

400 QuietWater Beach Rd.

Pensacola Beach, Florida 32561

(850) 932-5520

 

4) Shop the Boardwalk shops.  These shops are a mix of small boutiques as well as the more well-known Ron Jon Surf Shop and southern beach staple Alvin’s Island.  In the Boardwalk area you will also find a few restaurants and ice cream!  There is also a beach entrance in the area, so if you forget your sunscreen or need an extra towel, everything is extremely convenient.

 

5) Miniature Golf at UFO’s.  When our kids were at home no beach vacation was complete without at least one mini golf excursion.  UFO’s is cute and different with it’s out of this world theme.  It’s also walking distance from many of the local hotels or restaurants making it super easy to get around.

UFO’s Pensacola Beach

2 Via de Luna Dr

Pensacola Beach, Florida 32561

(850) 677-8830

 

6) Stay at the Hilton Pensacola Beach.  This beachfront property has everything you need for a fabulous vacation stay:  great food, beautiful views, fantastic pool area, a top-notch staff who went above and beyond, and of course access to the beach right out the back door.  Tami and I had a 2 1/2 room suite that could easy sleep 6.  There were 2 queen beds as well as a set of bunks perfect for kiddos.  The sitting area had a sleeper sofa if needed as well as a kitchenette for making sandwiches and keeping drinks cool in your room.

The breakfast buffet each morning is convenient and delicious.  Have Miss Shirley make you an omelet from scratch or choose a more carb heavy breakfast by munching on a large assortment of muffins, bagels, and waffles.  There is something for everyone!

If you stay at the Hilton, have Donna or Jacalyn from the Butler’s Pantry.  make you a Teavana Peach Tranquility tea in the evening to drink as you unwind on your patio.

Hilton Pensacola Beach

12 Via de Luna Dr

Pensacola Beach, Florida 32561

(850) 916-2999

 

7) Visit the Gulf Islands National Seashore.  Fort Pickens is not the only preserved area on Pensacola Beach. On the opposite side of town you will find the Santa Rosa area of the National Seashore.  This, to me, is the beach.  Sand dunes, and plenty of natural, and mostly unspoiled beauty.  This is a beautiful area for a walk, catching the sunrise, or sitting and savoring the quiet, natural sounds of the coast.  I wish that more beaches would would retain these large areas of preservation and less development.

 

8) Get your fitness on.  Pensacola Beach is bike and pedestrian friendly.  Leave your car at the hotel and venture out to explore.  Take a walk on the beach, hit the trails in the National Seashore areas (there is a great paved trail in the Santa Rosa area), or bike around Pcola.

You never know what you’ll see on a beach walk!

If you need a workout, hit the gym at the Hilton.  They have everything you need for a great sweat session!

 

9) Be sure to watch the sunrise or sunset in Pensacola Beach.  There is prime viewing for both just about any way you look!  My favorite sunrise was out on the beach as i was walking back from the pier and the most beautiful sunset was one I watched from Red Fish Blue Fish.  There are other beautiful places to watch from, but plan ahead, because it goes fast!

 

10) Finally, don’t forget to catch some rays on Pensacola Beach!

{Like you would, right?}

The beaches were well staffed with trained and attentive lifeguards (who stayed on top of red flag conditions).  Watching them work over the weekend was exhausting, especially when dealing with people who overindulged in alcohol and others who just wanted to push their buttons.

If you need a chair and umbrella, the guys at Lazy Days are great to work with and will happily make a great deal for more than one days rental.  The chairs were well kept and comfortable for tanning, enjoying the waves, or people watching.

It’s not too late to plan a getaway for this summer.  Pensacola Beach is a 5 1/2 hour drive from north Atlanta which makes for an easy weekend road trip.  Check out all Pcola has to offer and let me know what you think!

Wonderful World of Disney — Sweet Treats Edition

In the last five years we’ve been able to visit Disney in several forms from a Cruise, parks, resorts to just stopping and shopping at Disney Springs while passing through. One thing is for certain, the wonderful world of Disney loves its sweet treats and puts so much effort into every confection no matter where you are!

Recently while in Orlando visiting Hollywood Studios I couldn’t help but capture some of these delights to share with you!

“This much I know. If you are what you eat, then I only wanna eat the good stuff.” — Ratatouille

From marshmallows to apples dipped in chocolate the Mickey theme is everywhere you turn!

And Mickey tastes delicious!

Of course many of your other classic characters make an appearance in sweet shops as well. Goofy’s Candy Company in Disney Springs is one of my favorite stops.

I’m a firm believer that calories don’t count at a Disney, so while I did enjoy some of these treats, I brought home the rest for Audley to enjoy!

As Winnie the Pooh says, “I wasn’t going to eat it, I was just gonna taste it.”

Sweet treats in the parks are often themed to match where you are. While in Galaxy’s Edge I stopped by the Milk Stand and shared blue and green milk with ” The Child “.

In case you’ve wondered (and the Instagram poll I conducted proved it), blue milk is the best!

Regardless of your preference for blue or green milk, it’s a very refreshing treat on a humid Florida afternoon.

Fantastic confections were also found at the new Riviera Resort. Made fresh daily you could grab a cupcake to eat while savoring your coffee or a delectable cheesecake to enjoy for dessert after a Tuna Niçoise salad.

 

And while the sugary treats are mouth-watering and hip expanding, you can’t visit Disney without enjoying Mickey Mouse shaped waffles. They are my most favorite treat of all!

A happy way to begin the day indeed!

“You know the thing about good food? It brings folks together from all walks of life. It warms them right up and it puts little smiles on their faces.” — The Princess and the Frog

Hollywood Studios; Coronapocolypse Style

This year has been anything but normal, so when my girlfriend Tami reached out to me for a little road trip to Orlando I had a bag packed in a snap! The idea of doing something “normal” was extremely exciting!

Walt Disney World arranged park entry to Hollywood Studios (I’ve only visited Magic Kingdom and Epcot so this was exciting) and a stay at the new and gorgeous Riviera Resort. We were able to check out the newest rides and spaces, as well as all the health and safety measures they are taking so you can still enjoy the parks!

Disney’s Hollywood Studios was Walt Disney’s third park which opened in 1989. Its undergone several transformations over the years, but continues the premise as an ode to the “Golden Age of Hollywood” with details and architecture that will send your imagination into overdrive as you step back in time.

Hollywood Studios is an opportunity to emerge yourself in the movies you love through interactive rides, shows, parades, and experiences.

When you first enter the park you’ll stroll down the main street of the park; Hollywood Blvd. it is homage to the beautiful Art Deco style of the 30’s and 40’s. Neon, chrome, architecture with personality surround you as you meander towards the park’s iconic Chinese Theater.

img_9698

While waiting in line for Micky & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, check out all the handprints in front of the Chinese Theater & see who you recognize!

Once you reach the Chinese Theater you can experience the fun of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway adventure! This brand new ride actually opened just a few days before the coronapocalypse shut the world down. It is the first ride to actually feature the iconic Mickey Mouse! It’s a super cute ride no matter your age.

Hollywood Studios is so much fun to walk through as you check out each themed area.

One of my favorite rides was the famous Tower of Terror that has been a hit in the park since 1994! I could’ve ridden it several times!

Galaxy’s Edge opened in 2019 to delight of Star War’s fans of all ages. It is by far the most popular attraction in the park! In Galaxy’s Edge I enjoyed blue and green milk with baby Yoda aka “The Child” and guided the Millennium Falcon on a Smuggler’s Run. Tami & I also took a 3-D Star Tour with C3PO. It was so much fun!

Toy Story Land is so colorful and enticing we had to check out a few rides there as well! The Slinky Dog Roller Coaster through Andy’s Backyard is so cute and if you’re not a fan of coasters you can twirl with the Aliens!

As you can imagine, with this virus going around there are changes to the parks and how things are done. Here are a few things you should be aware of if you are planning a trip in the next few months.

*Masks are required on all Disney properties, at all times, unless you are sitting and actively eating and drinking. This includes parks, resorts and Disney Springs. Take extra masks… it’s hotter than the devils kitchen in Florida this time of year and a mask soaked with sweat is highly uncomfortable.

*When you purchase your tickets to the parks, you must make a reservation for the days will will use the ticket. They’re limiting park attendance, so you must have a reservation to enter.

*Before entering the park your temperature will be taken. If you have a fever, don’t go.

*Each ride is set up so that you are socially distanced as you wait. There are limits on how many can ride and only every other car/row is used.

*There are hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer stations everywhere in the park. I do mean everywhere.

*As for experiences in the park, they are different. There are a limited number of character experiences, generally found in the form of parades, and very few shows. You can feel a difference in the level of “magic”. The Disney Parks app is essential as you order and pay for your food and sign-up for times for certain rides. The Advantage of park policies right now are short lines for most of the rides.

Overall visiting a Disney Park has definite pros and cons right now. I am not a fan of masks so it was a policy that dampened some of my enthusiasm (and my mood once the sweaty thing rubbed a blister on my jaw). I did love limiting guest attendance to the park; shorter lines, not stepping on heels of people in front of you and not feeling like the whole world is crammed in around you.  Smaller crowds is a definite plus and it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they kept that policy! Ordering food through the app is super convenient, but I am not a fan of my payment info being saved on the app.  Overall it was a fun trip and i would go back if given the opportunity.  If you decide to make the trip, just remember to make a reservation and plan out all the details of your trip before venturing down to Orlando!

Late Summer at Pollo Tropical

It seems more and more families are looking for healthier options when dinning out while traveling or after a late day of sports. I know when we chose to dine out I really research healthier options because that is super important to my own family!

Fortunately we live in an area where several healthier options are available, including the inconspicuous Pollo Tropical; an upscale fast food option.

Last week I was invited to try a few new menu options as well as taste some of their original eats from this unique brand.

What makes Pollo Tropical different from other fast food restaurants?

** How about no freezers in the restaurant?! Everything is brought in fresh; prepped and prepared fresh in house daily.

**Pollo Tropical serves chicken that is natural; in other words, no hormones or antibiotics have been injected into their chicken as it was raised.

**The chicken is marinated in their special citrus marinade overnight and grilled fresh (never frozen) & right where you can watch.

** Recipes are traditional made with fresh ingredients daily, including the sauces on the sauce bar.

**Pollo Tropical prides itself in not using trans fats in their foods, and because everything is prepared fresh in-house there are a lot less unnatural preservatives in your food!

While known for their citrus marinated grilled chicken, Pollo Tropical has added Pollo Bites; fresh marinated chicken, dipped and battered in-house then fried in canola oil. These for perfect for those kiddos that love their chicken nuggets!

Also new to the menu are a couple of different chicken sandwiches. The chicken BLT with spicy chipotle ranch is so delicious!

For lighter fare, the bacon-shrimp salad served with dressing hits the spot. The shrimp is also marinated in the citrus marinade and then boiled.

The pulled pork sandwich with guava bbq sauce is such a treat. And I learned that in the Miami area this sandwich is served with a Cuban bbq sauce.

Originally founded in 1988 the Pollo Tropical chain has grown to 140 restaurants throughout Florida and up into the metro Atlanta area. This makes it really convenient for my southeastern friends when they hit the road for vacation!!

Check it out!