“What Happens in Vegas”

Each year my hubby slips away for a safety professionals conference in Las Vegas. Tired of him having all the fun, this year I made arrangements for the kiddos and slipped away with him for a much needed get-away.  I was told by several people before we left that I would either love Vegas or absolutely hate it; there was no in-between.

Me?

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I fell in love with Las Vegas.

Now you know I am not a wild and crazy girl, but guess what?!  You don’t have to be to have fun in Vegas, and “what happens in Vegas” doesn’t necessarily have to “stay in Vegas”

And I had a blast the four and a half days we were there!

So what can you do in Las Vegas if you are not a huge gambler or a late night partier?  Here are seven fun things you can do and still get a Vegas experience!

Las Vegas

1. Take in a show.  As cliche as it seems, you can’t go to Vegas without seeing at least one live show.  There is something from everyone from impersonators to live concerts.  The week we were in town Brittany Spears performed twice and we had an option of no less than FIVE Cirque du Soleil shows!  We opted for a musical and watched Jersey Boys  (the Frankie Valli & Four Seasons story), which was playing nightly at the Paris hotel theater.   The music was fabulous, making it an awesome choice and a show we enjoyed very much!

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2. Enjoy dinner at a high end restaurant!  Enjoy yourself and splurge.  We chose to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant at the Paris hotel as part of a package that included dinner and the Jersey Boys performance.

Eiffel Tower menu

Our reservations were early so that we had prime seating for the sunset and a view of the strip as it lit up for the evening.

Eiffel Tower view

We could also watch the fountains at the Belliago from our table.  Another good reason for dining early was to keep us from being absolutely stuffed while watching our show later in the evening!

Service at the Eiffel Tower was impeccable.  The sommelier was extremely knowledgeable and took his time going over the wine list with us.  The waitress was very friendly, yet professional and efficient.

Our filet medallions were cooked perfectly and dessert…. let’s just say I was very thankful for gym access!

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My Creme Brûlée was sheer perfection.

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Dinner at the Paris

3. Spend a day at Canyon Ranch SpaClub and Fitness Center.  Located in the Venetian Hotel this spa club has everything you could imagine to spoil yourself … which is exactly what I did.

Because I have fitness goals I am still striving to reach, I took advantage of the personal trainers on staff and had my booty handed to me.  It was a humbling experience as a licensed trainer to have another trainer whip you and nearly have you crawling out of the gym.  I told them what I was looking for and for two days got it.  I will definitely use the facility and the trainers again!  The fitness club has every kind of equipment you could possibly want or need for a workout, as well as cardio equipment and a climbing wall!  Fitness classes like spin, yoga, and zumba are available as well.

The ladies locker room is peaceful and calm which really encourages you to focus on the workouts to come!

While at the spa-club I spent the money and took advantage of one of the hairstylists, to “fix” me up for our  evening out on the town as well as a cosmetologist for a dramatic makeover that I’ll never be able to recreate!

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I’m not a “selfie” person …

It was so much fun and extremely relaxing.  Something every wife and momma needs from time to time.

While time didn’t allow for me to enjoy all the activities at the spa, with a spa passport you can use the steam rooms, rainforest aquavana, the sauna, and a hydrospa.  For extra you can schedule a variety of massages, manis/pedis, body wraps and even a couples mud bath!

4. Walk through the many themed hotels and take in the architecture and decor.

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I know, you’re thinking “how boring!”, but I promise you it’s not!  Our trip corresponded with Chinese New Year, so a walk through the Belliago was unique, colorful and so enjoyable!

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During the afternoon at the Venetian you may find a carnival atmosphere taking place right in the Canal Shoppes!

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With live music and colorful costumes, it’s worth taking a break from your day to sit and take in a little Italian culture.

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Stop by Buddy’s bakery or Godiva while hitting the Canal Shoppes in the Venetian. Just be sure to do a few extra reps when you hit the gym!

An if you want a bit of Egyptian culture, step into the Luxor.  You feel like you’ve traveled the world with just a little walking!

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5. Step back in time to the day of gangsters in Vegas with a stroll through The Mob Museum.   Located in old Vegas the Mob Museum housed in the old US Post Office and courthouse built in 1933, the museum shares the history of the mob from it’s beginnings in the United States to its rise in Vegas and the end of several prominent mobsters.  There are many interactive exhibits and plenty of history for you to soak in.  “The Godfather” just doesn’t tell all of the story!

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Another great exhibit in Las Vegas is the Titanic display at the Luxor.  Cameras are forbidden in the tour, but the images will be forever etched in your mind.  With actual artifacts from the shipwreck, paired with carefully reconstructed displays of various rooms on the ship and stories of the passengers you will need a box of kleenex.  Very touching indeed.

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6. Take a hike into Red Rock Canyon.  While the Grand Canyon is drivable from Las Vegas (3.5-4 hours), Red Rock Canyon is just an hour out and a day you will find most enjoyable.

RedRock Canyon

 Start in the visitors center where you will get an idea of the history of the area as well as the wildlife and variety of native plants you will see while you are out and about.

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 Talk with one of the Rangers and pick up a guide showing you the many hikes you can take.  It’s a stunningly beautiful area.  Take a picnic, enjoy a hike, take in the wildlife and soak in God’s amazing creation.

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7. Hit up a gun range for a military experience!  We discovered Battlefield Vegas by accident as I was trying to do something fun for Audley since he had been a good sport by hiking and dressing up for dinner.  Battlefield Vegas is owned and operated by US Veterans which made it even more appealing to us.

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The experience begins when you are picked up at your hotel in a military vehicle and taken to their location.  You can tour around outside and look at old military vehicles which made my veteran hubby quite happy.

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Once you go inside, you have several packages to choose from for your shooting experience.  We choose the Navy Seal package, plus added and extra gun.

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Apparently Audley has missed shooting an AK-47.

We just paid for one package and split it.

Audley had a blast…. and so did I.

The “instructor” assigned to help us with the guns was really great and I think shocked that I knew what I was doing.  You don’t have to regularly shoot to do this shooting experience; you will have plenty of help.  They guys are really awesome and were great for answering any questions you might have.  When you are finished shooting, shopping and touring, the guys will carry you back to your hotel or even a restaurant if you are going to eat.   There are other shooting experiences available in the area, but we really had fun at Battlefield Vegas and will definitely do this again!

For reference, hotels for every budget are available in Las Vegas.  You can stay in the Best Western or in Caesar’s Palace.  We chose a Hilton property (always our preference), using the Elara Grand Vacations for our stay.

Hilton Elara

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The pulled “shade” over the window was a screen for a TV projection!  We watched the Super Bowl in high definition comfort of our suite.

With a jacuzzi and full-sized living room and kitchen it was like we were in our own apartment instead of a hotel!  I’m not a gambler at all, but for the Vegas experience I did play a couple of slot machines.

With only four days for our trip, as you can imagined we in no way saw all there is to see.  I’m already planning to accompany Audley next year to his conference … I told you I loved it!

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Our Top Things To Do in the Florida Keys

Our family kicked off the new year in a way we never have before; leaving all of our traditions behind from black-eyed peas to college football and made so many memories together traveling to the Florida Keys!

It’s actually the busy season in the Keys as many people are wanting to leave behind the cold, wet days of winter and find a little sunshine and fun!  That is exactly what we did and I do believe we have discovered a new tradition for our New Year; every year!

After the lovely few days away I thought it would be fun to share a few highlights of our trip with a list of Our Top Things to do in the Florida Keys.  These are completely teenager friendly as we are not partiers at all, but out more to enjoy sights and culture when we travel.

Top Things to do While Visiting the Florida Keys

1. You can’t drive to Key West without travel the highway that runs parallel with the Historic Seven-Mile Bridge.  Seven-Mile Bridge, when it was finished in 1912, was the longest bridge of its kind.  It connected the middle Keys to the lower Keys as a railroad line until the 1930s when it was refurbished for auto traffic.  Now it is closed, but portions are open for pedestrians and bicyclists.  If you like history it’s a neat little stop as you travel through.

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Not all of the bridge is accessible at this time, but there is a massive project getting ready to begin to restore the entire length of the bridge.  I find that very exciting!

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I apologize for the blurry pics…. we were driving while I was trying to shoot.

The broken railings?  They were made from the railway trackage when the bridge was converted from a railroad bridge to an auto bridge in the 1930s.

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2.  The Ernest Hemingway Home.  If you ever took a high school or college lit class, you read Ernest Hemingway at some point.  Visiting his main residence in the 1930s was a really awesome way to visualize his life.  From the studio where he wrote his best-selling novels to stories that brought the man to life, the Hemingway Home was a fabulous treat.

Ernest Hemingway Home

Built in 1851, Ernest Hemingway acquired this well-built island home in 1931 while he was married to Pauline Pfeiffer, A French Vogue editor, for $8000.

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Hemingway Chandelier

Pauline hated this chandelier and had it removed & stored in the attic while living in the house.  I can’t even imagine…

The tour guide we had was absolutly fantastic and truly brought the colorful life of Hemingway to us in an entirely new way!

Hemingway Porch

James Bond turned in his “License to Kill” at the Hemingway house in the 1988 movie of the same name.

Hemingway Office

The room above the garage where Hemingway wrote some of his most famous works including “To Have & To Have Not”.

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This fountain and “flower bed” was built by the original builder/owner, Asa Tift, to resemble an old confederate ironclad boat.

3. Key Lime Pie from Blue Heaven restaurant.  If Blue Heaven is packed (or closed getting ready for a New Year’s Eve bash), just head across the street to Andy’s Cabana which is owned by the same family.

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And they have THE Key Lime Pie.

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4. Take a sunset cruise from the Port of Key West.  We chose the Jolly II Rover and are so glad that we did!  With a fun crew and beautiful views, it was the perfect evening to a fabulously fun day!

Jolly II Rover

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Madeline helping raise the sails!  Such a neat experience!

You’ll discover on this cruise that you are closer to Cuba than you are the nearest Walmart.  I thought that was just a really cool fact.

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On the Jolly II Rover you may also have the adventure of firing a cannon at other passing ships!

Ahoy mates

And the sunset?

Breathtaking, amazing, and unforgettable.

Florida Keys Sunset

5. Visit the Southernmost point.  If you want to get technical it is really not the southernmost point, but unless you wan to be arrested for trespassing on a military installation this will have to suffice.

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Lines form early to have your picture made here, so plan to arrive super early, or do like we did and go after sunset; no waiting necessary.

6. Take in the island real estate.  I love the houses and historic buildings found in both Key West and Key Largo.

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Enjoy the sightseeing and don’t catch island fever…. It can be costly!

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7.  “Sail away to Key Largo” with a ride the African Queen.

The African Queen is not a replica; this is the real deal built in 1912 and used in the 1951 movie The African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Kathryn Hepburn.

The African Queen

With the history behind the boat, as well as the legend, this evening cruise was a true highlight of our stay.

African Queen Steam Engine

Enjoy your own Boggey & Bacall … Or is it Bogart and Hepburn moment?

Take your pick, but a cruise on the African Queen is a step back in time allowing you to have your own romantic moment.

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African Queen Sunset

8. Hit the water in Key Largo at John Pennecamp State Park in a canoe.  Canoeing is a lot of fun and the perfect activity for everyone in the family.  The park also offers camping, snorkeling, swimming, and various other water-sports.

Kayaking

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9. Don’t forget to hit the beach.  Seriously.  The whole purpose of a vacation is to get away from your environment and relax.  Take time for this.

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If not for you, do it for your family.

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 I loved the naturally preserved beaches at John Pennecamp State park, but I also loved the man-made sandy beaches of the resorts.

And as you can see, my teenagers had a blast!

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In no way is this a list of all the things to do in the Florida Keys.  With this being our first trip and only having a few days to kick back, these highlights were what we enjoyed most!  When we return this year after Christmas we will have a whole new list of activities planned.

Just a few tips to getting around Key West.  First, if you are wanting to hit up historic Key West, find you a good parking space (legally) on the street and leave your car for the day.  You might want to brush up on your parallel parking skills before you go.  Walking about town is honestly the most logical way to go.  Key West is extremely pedestrian friendly. Make reservations if you have a specific, but popular hot spot you want to visit.  Lines for dinner can be quite long, especially when mile high Key Lime pie is involved.  Also, book your cruises early.  We purchased our tickets a few weeks in advance and the tickets were texted to me on my phone.  Quite convenient indeed, and we didn’t have to  risk being turned away at the dock.  Key Largo does involve more driving as the area is not so compact.  The drive all the way to Key West can be a long one. The speed limit is 45-55 and there is a lot of traffic.  Drive safely and go with the flow.

It’ll make the trip much more enjoyable!

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Packing Tips for Summer Travel

 We travel a lot in our family.  Mr. Jones job involves 65% travel so we have become near professionals getting him ready and off, even at a moments notice.  There have been moments he has called me from the office asking me to have a bag ready when he swings by the house or to have bag ready at the airport as he flies in from one meeting or job site only to immediately fly back out to the next safety emergency.

As the for kids and I we love to travel and hit the road continuously throughout the year from the five hour drive to the Grands to a trip to the beach or mountains for a get-away.  In the last six months, we have made 4 trips to Tennessee, taken a Disney cruise, I attended the Kentucky Derby, & just last week Audley & I flew to Colorado (he had a meeting and I happened to be teenager free).

Being on the go this much I have learned a few tips and tricks for making the packing process easier whether we be traveling by car or plane.  Hopefully these will help you be a little more organized the next time you and your family hit the road.

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**As soon as your plans are made for a trip start your packing list.  I know you can’t actually check weather and won’t have final plans until closer to departure dates, but you can begin a basic list of necessities;  toiletries, underwear, socks, potential outfits, toiletries, etc….

Once you can check the weather and you have decided on activities to include on your trip, you can add to your list making it as detailed as possible.  Checking the weather is actually very important because you don’t want to arrive at the top of Pikes Peak in June and discover it is 37 degrees.

Freezing our bums off on Pikes Peak ... It was a last minute visit, but WOW.....!

Freezing our bums off on Pikes Peak … It was a last minute visit, but WOW…..!

** Try not to pack anything that isn’t essential to your trip.  Look at your plans and pack accordingly.  If you are headed to the beach besides a swim suit you may also want to include cropped pants or shorts, sundresses, and maybe even a pretty dress for a nice meal out.

If you are planning a trip to New York you will want comfortable walking shoes, casual attire and of course a little black dress (a coat and tie for the guys) for a night at the theater!

If your trip involves a golf game, be sure to remember your golf shoes as well as checking with the facility and getting their dress-code.

Also, if you workout, throw in an outfit & shoes for the hotel gym.

Over packing only takes up space that you can use for that antique clock you might find in a shop on a side street in NY or make you suitcase heavier than you can easily manage.

**Before adding clothes to your suitcase, lay out all of your outfits.  Try to match shoes and accessories to more than one outfit to save space for packing.   After you have clothing for each event/activity you have planned,  pack one extra outfit that can be dressed up with strapy heels for dinner or cute sandals for casual stroll in case of emergency.

Matching shoes to my skirt

Matching shoes to my skirt

**Shoes should be the first item packed in your bag.  Since they are the heaviest (and the one item I tend to over pack & then have to remove), you want them on the bottom so that they aren’t wrinkling your clothes.  Use shoe bags (grocery bags also work well) to protect your shoes from scuffs and to keep them from getting our clothes dirty.

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** When you begin packing your clothes, add the heaviest items on the bottom (jeans, sweatshirts, etc), then add your tee-shirts, pajamas, blouses, skirts, & more delicate items to the top. You can also use tissue paper between your layers of delicate items for added protection.

Items like swimsuits, socks, & underwear can be folded (or rolled) and tucked into the sides of your suitcase.

I generally carry any jewelry I am taking in a carry-on bag if I am flying, but if traveling by car use a small travel jewelry box (you can generally find one at TJ Maxx)or ziploc bags separating the items and place them in your shoes for safekeeping.

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**When packing toiletries, I always look at my accommodations.  I know if we are headed to my parents, shampoo & conditioner will be provided.  If we are staying in an Embassy Suites I also plan to use their toiletries as they use Crabtree and Evelyn products which I LOVE.  Most of the time I carry my own toiletries.  I use multi-purpose clear bags no matter how I am traveling.   You can purchase travel size items at Target that will pass for air travel as be convenient for road trippin’ as well.  Also, those gift with purchase items from Lancome, Estee Lauder, Clinique and other cosmetic companies are perfect for travel.  In one of my clear bags is my facial products, the other has other travel necessities from Q-tips to toothpaste and a toothbrush.  My toiletry bags fit easily in my suitcase if I am traveling by car and work just as well for a carry-on bag if I am flying.  If you think you can slip a large can of hairspray, perfume or mousse through airport security in your carry-on, you can’t.  I lost many items before this lesson was learned.

I keep these bags packed at all times so that they are stocked and ready when I am.

When flying I pack my curling iron or straightener in my suitcase (almost all hotels provide a hairdryer), but if I am traveling in a car I carry a separate bag just for my personal items.  If you have daughters traveling with you, share these items.  There is no need for three of each item taking up space.

** Traveling with make-up is a necessity that can also be a pain if you don’t plan ahead.  Those great multifunctional kits that you can purchase at Ulta and Sephora (By Two Faced and Urban Decay) year round or during the holidays from Estee Lauder are perfect for travel.  Many times these kits contain eye shadows & liner, lip glosses, & blush.

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All you need to add is foundation (Estee Lauder will do a free 10-day supply for you to try) and mascara. Simple and effective for having you ready at a moments notice.

10-day supply of foundation keeps you from having to carry an entire bottle.

10-day supply of foundation keeps you from having to carry an entire bottle.

Something that will help you out for future trips is before you plan your next trip, make a packing list you can keep on hand at all times that consists of basic outfits, shoes, underwear, etc…. With all the note keeping apps available for our phones you can keep it on hand in case you ever have an emergency and need to throw together a bag.

Here is a small shopping guide to help you organize your next trip:

*Monogrammed Shoe Bag: Miss Lucy’s Monograms, $20.00

*Clear Travel Bags: Set of 24, Exclusive to Neiman Marcus online

*Estee Lauder kit:  Christmas 2014, 39.95 with purchase; these promotions are several times a year

*Lancome travel size facial cleansers:  Gift with purchase $39.50

  With summer vacation in full swing I thought it would be a great time to share a few of my tips for traveling while keeping your sanity, so in the coming weeks I hope to cover air travel as well as traveling by car with the kiddos in tow.

What are some of your no-fail packing tips? I would love to hear them!

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Food on the Beach

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to get back into the swing of things after a relaxing vacation?  I think I have discovered my destiny in life after my children grow up is to own a quaint, little seaside inn.
 {I would be a great beach bum!}
Our holiday to the beach was planned rather quickly.  With the jr. high school out for spring break (unfortunately college kids had their break several weeks ago), I decided that we all needed a break from work, soccer, band, rain, flooded yards, and laundry.  We took advantage of the many hotel points Audley has accumulated over the last several months with Hilton, loaded up the vehicle and headed off to beautiful Amelia Island, Florida.
It was fabulous having a week away from the reality of stay-at-home-motherhood!

 

Located on the Atlantic coast, Amelia Island is a beautiful and quaint island located on the Georgia/Florida state line.  This quiet coastal community is completely opposite Panama City/Destin/ Myrtle Beach which is why we chose this area to escape.  I don’t want 100 variations of the same beach shop every three feet and really despise the crowded beaches.  When I have a get-away, that is exactly what I want to do; GET AWAY!

 

We could not have requested weather any more perfect than what we had.  There were no crowds, no party-minded young people, just families content with having a good time.

 

And we definitely had a lot of  fun!

 

If you have tried to plan a vacation lately, you know that it isn’t cheap.  With gas prices out the roof and trying to fill up the bottomless pits that I call children money goes quick! But, there are ways to maximize the time and money you have to its absolute fullness.
Here are a couple of ways we were able to maximize our money on food costs……
  I packed a cooler filled with sandwich meats and cheeses, bottles of water, then fixed a bag loaded with chips, fruit cups, bread for the sandwiches, and other small snacks.  This kept us from having to stop at every convenience store we passed during the nine hour drive! A $1.00 can of Pringles (even cheaper if you use coupons) goes a whole lot further than .99 grab bags of chips, and a Dole fruit cup or granola bar is definitely healthier for a child to munch on.
Buying a case of water ($3.99/24 bottles) saves a bundle when you pay $1.50/bottle at a gas station!

 

Carrying simple groceries and snacks with us also served another purpose …. food on the beach!  Jumping waves, building sand castles, and tanning while reading a good novel really build up your appetite!

 

For eating out, we chose restaurants that were local, not chains.  Restaurants that feature products raised locally are my favorite.  There is something so appealing about eating the freshest of ingredients, ingredients that come from just down the road, not across the globe.
Yes, these can be pricey, but go at lunchtime!  Most of the time lunch menus are just as extensive as a dinner menu and half the price. When you are feeding five who all eat off the adult menu, dinner gets expensive!   I think that my children are well-behaved, but when going to a pricey restaurant at night, I don’t want the fear that they might disturb others who are dining.
Going at lunch allows their inner-foodie to enjoy a meal, at a lower cost, and I don’t worry as much if they might bother other diners.
Eating out for lunch nearly every day was an enjoyable break from the beach and touring the historic district.
right on the harbor in Fernandina Beach
For supper we made sandwiches and one night even grilled our own dinner out on the beach!  I bought steaks here before we left, and then we visited a local fresh seafood market and purchased shrimp.
 Local fishermen bring their fresh catch in daily to sell.  You can’t beat that!
Audley packed our small grill and we set up a little kitchen right on the beach for a fabulous supper as the sun set.
fresh Atlantic shrimp

 

And our chef of the evening …….

 

 

squeezing fresh lemon juice on the shrimp

 

 

 

Ribeye Steaks & grilled shrimp
It was great saving money on food, which allowed us the opportunity to do other things like play golf and check out some other local sites.
This week I hope to share some more of our holiday, including a great restaurant review!
Until then, I guess I will return to reality and begin one of the 99 loads of laundry waiting in the hallway!