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ICE! at Gaylord Texan is the Perfect Family Getaway

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We received tickets to ICE! to facilitate our review. All opinions are honest and are our own.

We, like most other families, feel like we’re busy all the time – and especially so during the holidays. It seemed, then, like the perfect idea to get away and do something fun for the whole family. The Gaylord Texan is less than three hours away, and we set our sights on going to the ICE! exhibit.

We stayed one night at the Gaylord as part of our trip, and I can’t recommend enough adding this to your itinerary. It was so nice getting back to our room at the end of a busy day and just relax. I’ll tell you more about our room in a bit (spoiler alert: it was amazing), but first let’s talk about the whole reason we went – ICE! The theme this year is Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, a classic theme that was nostalgic for the adults and charming for the kids.

If you’ve never been to ICE! before, you should know that there are lines to get in – as with anything that’s immensely popular, there are a lot of people that want to go. We knew this ahead of time and were prepared, which made the waiting much more pleasant. Our solution? We bought a huge bag of popcorn and a big bag of cotton candy for the 5 kids to share. This worked great! You might also want to bring along a book for each child (something Christmas-themed would be perfect) to read while you’re waiting.

The Gaylord does a wonderful job of decorating the areas so that it feels magical and fun. In one waiting area, you’re surrounded by what looks like various machines for toy making. In another, there’s a giant rotating ice mountain and mist floating down with snowflakes shining on it.

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Once you get very close to entering the exhibit, everyone receives a thick blue parka to wear. Another tip is to bring along your own gloves, hats, and scarves – this helps keep everyone warmer! The kids looked adorable in their parkas.

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Brian and his mom looked pretty cute, too!

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Once we got into the exhibit area I was really pleased with how easy it was to see each exhibit. It didn’t seem crowded at all, and we were able to go through at our own pace without feeling rushed. We could stop and look at all the details, and could take as many photos as we wanted – and trust me, there are so many things to take photos of! The attention to every aspect of the experience is beyond what you’d even expect. It was utterly impressive, and we were all wowed by the artists’ work.

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Check out the beautiful nativity, too:

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At the end of the exhibit there is a whole room filled with ice slides the whole family can go down – the kids thought this was a lot of fun and wanted to go down several times!

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If you want to check on tickets or get more info on ICE! click here – it’s running through January 1!

Once we left the exhibit we went and got hot chocolate – the perfect treat to warm up with after being SO cold! Afterward we went over to the adjacent area, which had all sorts of activities to choose from. We got to meet some characters:

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We also did the snow tubing, which was a hit with everyone. We got to go down the slopes 12 times, and the lines moved pretty quickly for this attraction. Living in Texas our chances for tubing down a snowy hill are pretty slim, so this was especially fun for all of us!

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There are so many activities to choose from! We already decided we want to go back next year and try out some of the other options, like cookies & milk with Mrs. Claus, an elf scavenger hunt, and throwing real snowballs!

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We really enjoyed walking around the vast atrium of the Gaylord and looking at all the different decorations. It is absolutely beautiful, and we had fun taking photos at various settings.

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We did photos with Santa, too!

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I’ve got to talk about our room a bit, too, because it was honestly a huge highlight of the trip for the kids too. We walked into the suite and all three of them said “Wow!!!” – I decided to do a little video tour so you can see for yourself what a perfect setup this is for families:

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The kids loved the view outside our room and spent a ton of time hanging out on the balcony, looking at lights and watching people walk by. This was our view at night – so pretty, isn’t it?

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This was an absolutely wonderful getaway for our family – the kids loved it and didn’t want to leave! They shared their favorite parts of our stay:

We can’t wait to go back and stay at the Gaylord again – they have fun things all throughout the year so we’ll be looking for opportunities to go and have another wonderful weekend getaway!

Ski Trip Tips

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I’ve been on a bit of a travel-related post kick lately, with posts on Texas road trips, a Hurst, Texas staycation… and now tips for taking the perfect ski trip.

The Ken Garff dealership had a promo recently for getting ski passes, so I was inspired to write about ski trip planning – I hope these tips will be helpful for you as you plan any spring getaways!

  • Make a list (and check it twice). There’s gear you need for skiing, and you want to make sure you come equipped. You’ll need skis, poles, goggle, a helmet, boots, gloves, a ski jacket, pants, and more.
  • Be an early bird. If you’re renting gear instead of bringing your own, reserve everything ahead of time online or  be sure and get to the store as early as possible to beat the lines and get first dibs on what you need. Get to the slopes early, too, and avoid fighting for a parking spot.

For more tips on planning your perfect ski trip, visit my guest post on the Ken Garff dealership blog.

Staycation: Hurst, Texas

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I wrote yesterday about road trip ideas for Texas – there are so many places you can go around the state that make for a great weekend or week-long trip. Of course, you don’t always even have to leave your city to have a great vacation! I wrote a guest post for the Holt Fiat of Hurst dealership blog all about how to have a staycation in Hurst. If you live in the DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) area, I hope these ideas can help you have a fun weekend with your family:

  • Get in some culture and see a play at the Artisan Center Theater – this is a great spot for couples and families to enjoy.

For more ideas of things to do, check out my post on the Holt Fiat of Hurst blog!

Three Texas Road Trip Ideas

A old hwy travels through the southern Texas desert near San Antonio

My family and I love to take road trips – and living in Texas, we have a lot of options as far as places to go. Texas is a huge state, of course; you could go to west to El Paso or east to Tyler, north to Amarillo or south to Houston.

If you’re one of my Texas readers, or if you’d like to do some Texas travel, you’re in luck – here are some ideas for places to go and things to do:

  • Waco: Roughly 90 minutes away from Dallas/Fort Worth, this city has gained popularity recently due to a popular show on HGTV. People are flocking to Magnolia Market, and it’s a fun stop for shopping – and dining, too. The store sits alongside a plot of land that houses food trucks and benches with tables, and a big patch of faux grass for kids to run and play. You can visit the Cameron Park Zoo for a less-crowded animal-viewing experience, stop by the Dr. Pepper museum, enjoy a stroll across the suspension bridge, and even take the kids to see a real mammoth excavation site.

Read more about Texas road trip destinations in my guest post on the Holt Fiat of Fort Worth dealership blog.

Family Fun at the Thinkery in Austin, Texas

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We received passes to the Thinkery to facilitate our review. All opinions are honest and our own! 

We’ve been looking forward to a family getaway ever since school got out. We went on a big vacation last year so we decided to keep it simple with a long weekend road trip this year; the first part of our trip took us to Austin.

We knew we wanted to try something different, and we wanted to look for something that would be a lot of fun for the whole family. We began researching kid-friendly Austin attractions, and when we visited the Thinkery’s website, we read this and knew it was a place we wanted to go:

The Thinkery is Austin’s home for “why” and “how.” A place where science and families play side by side. Where people connect with ideas by doing, making and experiencing. It’s a foundry for a new generation of innovators and creative problem solvers. And it’s a heck of a good time.

When you walk in the doors, you instantly get a vibe for how your experience will be. It’s not a quiet, sterile place. It’s vibrant, colorful, and full of happy noise. This chalkboard in the front part of the museum gave us an idea of all that was going on that day:

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We decided to start out upstairs and work our way back down; the water room was our first stop. First of all, loved that they provide aprons and Crocs for kids and parents to wear, so you’re not wet the rest of the day! The water room was so fun for all three kids.

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Make Traveling Headache-Free with a Free Trial of the CLEAR Airport Security Pass

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It’s going to be 80 degrees this weekend, so summer has basically already arrived in Texas. There’s about a month of school left, which means summer vacations are right around the corner. I’m sure you can hear the collective sigh of relief heard ’round the country – we all look forward to getting away as a family!

As any parent knows, though, traveling with children (especially young ones like ours) can be stressful. There’s so much to pack (which, seriously, how can such little people require SO much stuff?) and if you’re flying there are even more things to navigate before you’re on your way to relaxation. It’s important to have some travel tools up your sleeve, and thankfully, programs like CLEAR exist to make flying a much more pleasant experience. CLEAR is a membership-based service that allows travelers to get through airport security faster.

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My Dream Puerto Rico Getaway

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Puerto Rico, The All-Star Island for IZEA. All opinions are 100% mine.

Do you ever dream of traveling to an exotic place for vacation? I know I do! Summer will be here before we know it, and it’s a lot of fun thinking about where I’d like our family to go on our next trip. Puerto Rico would be an amazing choice – did you know you can travel there with no passport needed or foreign money required?

Puerto Rico is filled with world-class attractions that will turn any trip into a 5-star vacation story. Live your own 5-star vacation story in Puerto Rico. When I go on vacation I want it to feel like an escape, and want everything to be great quality. Puerto Rico delivers, and is a dream destination for getaways.

Here are just a few of the cool things that would be on my dream must-do list for a trip to Puerto Rico:

  • Puerto Rico has 270 miles of coastline and featured in the Top 10 beaches from Travel Channel — including Flamenco Beach in Culebra, often cited as one of the best beaches in the world. Our family loves to go to the beach, and I know a good part of our vacation would be spent on the Puerto Rican coastline.
  • Glow like an angel in the water in the Bioluminescent bays. The kids would absolutely love this!
  • Visit the only rainforest under US national park service, El Yunque, and climb to the clouds. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This would definitely be an escape from dry Texas weather!
  • Enjoy old world charm of San Juan and pick up some history tidbits along the way – I think it’s great when we can inject some fun learning moments into vacations with the kids.
  • Go horse back riding (even better: horse back riding on the beach!) or trek through the magnificent Camuy caverns that runs through the 3rd largest subterranean river in the world.
  • Give in to my foodie tendencies and experience the delicacies of Puerto Rican gastronomy. I can only imagine what kinds of great foods there are to experience! Puerto Rico is also famous for their Rums, so that would be a must-try, too.

Here’s a great video to check out:

Visit See Puerto Rico and find out even more about what you could expect from a getaway to Puerto Rico, and get started planning your summer vacation! Follow @PRTourismCo on Twitter and Like SeePuertoRico.com on Facebook to stay up on all the latest.

Visit Sponsors Site

Embassy Suites is a Win-Win for Families!

Note: We received a stay at the Embassy Suites in Atlanta to help facilitate this post. All opinions are honest and are our own. 

We took a road trip from Texas to Florida to Georgia this past summer, and it was a blast.

Did I mention we traveled with a nearly two-year-old? She and our 5- and 7-year-old sons were our companions, which made for quite a loud trip, but it mostly just a lot of fun, and we made all sorts of wonderful memories.

If you’ve ever traveled with small children, you know that navigating the time on the road is only part of having a successful family vacation. You’re staying away from home, out of routine, and you’ve got to find hotels that make this a smooth experience.

We spent the last part of our vacation in Atlanta – the kids and I had never been, and they had plenty of family-friendly activities, so it was a perfect city for us to visit. We stayed at the Embassy Suites near the Centennial Olympic Park, which ended up being a perfect home base while we explored the city. Check out our view, and you can see just how close we were to everything:

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A family-friendly hotel right in the heart of downtown? Win-win! 

As the name suggests, the hotel sat right on edge of the Olympic Centennial Park. One night we walked around the park and discovered the water fountain, which was one of my very favorite memories of this trip. The kids were dressed in regular clothes, but the boys were thrilled at the sight of the fountain so we just let them hop on in to have fun, and they loved it. One thing I learned is that you can plan all sorts of fun things (and we did!) but spontaneous moments like these are ones you’ll always cherish.

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We weren’t just close to the park, though – we were within walking distance of great shopping and restaurants, too. One of the Embassy Suites employees actually walked a block with us to make sure we could find Max’s Pizzeria, which was absolutely delicious.

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Needless to say, I’d highly recommend this hotel as your place to stay when in Atlanta. We learned, though, that Embassy Suites is a perfect chain for family travel – and it’s definitely one we’ll seek out again and again. Why, you ask?

1. Free snacks and drinks for two hours every single day at their evening reception:

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Here, in the atrium of the hotel you can see people gathering to get snacks and drinks; the kids thought this was SO cool! Free snacks that keep the kids happy & adults happy too? Win-win.

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We brought our snacks up to the room to let the kids munch while we got ready to go out.

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This brings me to another reason we loved staying at Embassy Suites:

2. A separate living and sleeping area – with a TV in each! We loved that we had a living room to hang out in – and at night the living room transitioned into the kids’ bedroom, with the couch converting to another bed. The kids liked having their own space and thought it was awesome that they had their own TV to watch cartoons on in the morning – and Brian and I liked having a quiet space to be able to watch what we wanted to on our own TV back in the bedroom. Happy kids and happy parents? Totally a win-win. 

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3. Absolutely amazing breakfast – free. I think we’ve all stayed at hotels that have touted free breakfast and then offer you boxed cereal. Embassy Suites goes above and beyond, offering a spread that is sure to suit any tastes in the family. There’s even a made-to-order omelet station. Check out some of the offerings:

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As you can see, everyone had different things, and everyone was happy. Total win-win. We loved it because we knew the kids would have plenty of energy to get out and sight see for the day after having a big breakfast. And thanks to the lovely location, we chose to eat outside one morning with the Centennial Park to look out on. So nice!

4. Refrigerator and microwave in each room. This is a lifesaver for families. It means you can keep milk on hand for the little ones, you can bring inevitable leftovers back from meals out, and you can pop popcorn to enjoy while you watch a movie in the living area.

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5. Incredibly friendly staff. Everyone from the bellhop to the front counter to the parking attendants were all so nice and helpful. I mentioned above that one of the employees helped us find a restaurant we were looking for. He went above and beyond, and was happy to do so. Things like this really add to the overall experience at a hotel, and were just another reason for us to love our stay at Embassy Suites. Yep, you guessed it – another win-win.

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We really loved our Embassy Suites experience in Atlanta and you can bet that we’ll be staying at an Embassy Suites on our next road trip because we know it’s a perfect place for our family.

World of Coca-Cola

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Note: We received complimentary tickets to World of Coca-Cola to facilitate our review. We were not compensated monetarily and all opinions are honest and our own.

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Brian and I both love Coke products – I like Coca-Cola Classic and he’s a big Cherry Coke fan – so we thought it would be fun to visit the World of Coca-Cola while we were in Atlanta. And our kids very rarely get to drink soda, so the idea of getting to taste a lot of sodas in the “Taste It!” room was pretty thrilling to them!

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We enjoyed getting to see all sorts of behind-the-scenes things about the history of Coke and how it was made (and even got to see the vault where the top-secret recipe is stored), along with all sorts of Coca-Cola merchandise that’s been marketed over the years. We got to meet the Coca-Cola polar bear, too!

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We even went to the gallery where we saw all sorts of Coca-Cola inspired art:

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But of course the boys’ favorite part was getting to try Coca-Cola products from all around the world! We had planned to try every single flavor but ended up not quite making that goal. It was still a lot of fun, and we survived the ensuing sugar rush after the fact, too. :)

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We spent about two hours here and that was plenty of time to see everything and spend some time in the gift shop, too. We all had a lot of fun! This is a great place to tack on to your Atlanta itinerary, and you can find all sorts of fun gift items for the Coke-lovers in your life. Visit their website for more information and to plan your visit!

Georgia Aquarium is Fun for the Whole Family

Note: We received tickets to the aquarium to facilitate our review. All opinions are honest and are those of myself and my family.

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We’ve been to aquariums before, but I had no idea what to expect before we walked into the Georgia Aquarium. This place, in a word, is awesome. 

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You walk into a central lobby of sorts, and everything branches off, making it easy to navigate. The lighting sets the mood and gives the whole place an aquatic, other-world feel.

We arrived just in time to attend the dolphin show, which we weren’t allowed to film at – but trust me, it was a blast! There is a theatrical element to it that I wasn’t expecting, but the kids really enjoyed it. We couldn’t get over how talented the dolphins and their trainers were.

After the dolphin show we went to one of the several areas allowing visitors to touch some of the sea life. We spent a lot of time here – the kids LOVED touching the manta rays and wanted to keep trying to touch one of the sharks in the tank, too (they weren’t ever quick enough, but Brian and I both managed)!

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The interactivity of the aquarium is really what sets it apart and makes it a stellar experience. If you’re not able to touch things, you’re able to get right up close and personal, or in some cases you’re even able to feel like you’re a part of the exhibit:

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The kids loved the 4D movie, complete with water spraying! And who doesn’t love the chance to wear some 3D glasses?

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There are so many larger-than-life tanks, and we couldn’t get over all the many fish we were able to see up close. The tunnel was one of the boys’ favorite parts, and I can see why – we were practically surrounded by fish!

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I’d highly recommend you plan a visit to the Georgia Aquarium next time you’re in Atlanta.  And now, I’ll leave you with my very favorite photo from our time there:

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Style & Fine Dining – For Kids, Too – at the Westin Peachtree Plaza & Sundial Restaurant

Note: We received a media rate and a restaurant credit to help facilitate our review. All opinions are honest and are entirely our own.

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When I walked into the lobby of the Westin Peachtree Plaza, I felt as if I’d walked onto the set of a movie.

It’s sleek and has HIGH ceilings with tons of natural light pouring in through windows and skylights. The elevators are housed in a cylinder of sorts, painted with a modern black & white floral pattern. It feels like a place execs would stay and make high-powered mergers, or that celebrities would stay while shooting on location. I have to admit, my first impression of the hotel left me in awe… but wondering if this was going to be a great place for our family with three kids to stay. Would we fit in?

For those of you that haven’t seen the Westin Peachtree Plaza before, it’s a gleaming, towering cylinder that’s the fifth-highest building in the city, and is the tallest hotel in the United States. You can see it as you approach Atlanta, and it definitely stands out in the skyline.

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Our hotel room was on the sixty-fifth floor. Yep, you read that right. This hotel has 73 floors and includes a rotating restaurant and bar, called the Sundial Restaurant, Bar & View. We were pretty near to the top, which meant we got amazing views of the city.

Full disclosure: I have a total phobia of elevators. So, as you can imagine, riding one up 65 flights was a little nerve-wracking for me. However, these elevators are QUICK, and we rarely had to stop on more than one other floor on our way up or down, because they’re so well-organized.

Once we got up to our room and opened the door, I could immediately see why people love staying here. The views are simply breathtaking.

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The kids thought it was the coolest thing ever to stay up so high, and couldn’t get enough of looking out the windows and pointing out various things they saw (built-in entertainment, folks – can’t beat that!).

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As you can see, a lot of time was spent at the windows. The lights of the city at night are spectacular, and make for a perfect nightlight as the kids go to sleep.

The rooms are slightly compact, but we still had plenty of room for the five of us. There are twenty rooms on each floor, but we felt almost like we had the floor to ourselves; we barely heard other guests. Everything is modern and sleek, down to the finishes in the bathroom – I’m kind of in love with the tile work around the mirror!

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The next day before we left we decided to have lunch at the Sundial Restaurant, Bar & View. I was a little uncertain, again, if our family of casually-dressed tourists would be appropriate, but was assured it’d be just fine for a weekday lunch.

There are two glass elevators housed in a smaller cylinder on the side of the building, and these are what you take to get up to the restaurant. It takes less than 1 1/2 minutes, and I even enjoyed the ride – the views are so great! You can see part of our ride in the video above.

The Sundial is just what you’d expect to be on the top of the Westin Peachtree Plaza. It, too, is sleek and modern and beautiful. It’s Atlanta’s only tri-level dining complex featuring an upscale restaurant, a rotating cocktail lounge and an observatory View Level.

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The kids quickly noticed what makes this restaurant extra-special: the dining area rotates! This meant our view changed as we ate, and we made the full rotation throughout our meal.

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It’s not every day you look out your window at lunch and see the top of a skyscraper.

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Or this. Gorgeous.

Elsie wasn’t too sure what she thought of it all, but the rest of us thought we had the best seat in the restaurant!

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The food was absolutely wonderful. Seriously. We loved every bite and I honestly don’t have a single negative comment. The flavors are masterfully balanced and it was probably our best meal of the trip. It is pricier than your average restaurant, but still affordable, and there’s even a kids’ menu.  Our waitress, Shauna, was great – attentive and friendly, which was especially great for the kids. Shauna, if you read this, thanks for exceptional service!

Here’s what we ate:

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Warm corn madeleines with house-made strawberry jam and local honey butter for our appetizer

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Chicken tenders with parmesan fries for the kids (surprise, surprise)

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Hand cut pasta with tomato, basil, ricotta and spring squash for me

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NY strip au poivre for Brian – a 10 oz. steak with horseradish whipped potatoes, carrots, and bordelaise sauce

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Fried apple pies with vanilla bean ice cream, cinnamon ice cream, and candy apple sauce for dessert

This was a great special treat for our family during the day but at night I can easily see how this is a perfect date (and proposal) spot. The menu is impressive, the servers and hostesses are friendly, and did I mention there are some pretty great views?

Before we left we checked out the observatory level and pointed out the aquarium, where we’d be heading next. You can really see all of downtown Atlanta from up there!

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I have to mention our bellman, Jose, before I close out this post. He was SO great with the kids. He let them ride on the cart with the luggage and asked them questions about themselves, and they thought he was awesome! We really appreciated that he made the extra effort to help the kids feel special and it ended our stay on a perfect note.

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If you’re looking for a special experience, I’d highly recommend staying at the Westin Peachtree Plaza. Whether you’re on a business trip, a romantic getaway, or – yes – a family vacation, you’ll fit right in, and will love it. You can make a reservation by clicking here. Keep up with them on Facebook & Twitter, too!

Tasty Travel: A Trip to the Denny’s HQ & Test Kitchen #DennysDiners

Note: I am participating in a compensated campaign as a Denny’s Ambassador. All opinions in my posts are entirely honest and are my own.

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I’ve always loved behind-the-scenes looks at things, so when I had the opportunity to travel to the Denny’s headquarters in Spartanburg, SC I was pretty excited. I’ve been eating at Denny’s since I was a kid, and I consider myself a quasi-foodie, so this was right up my alley!

You can see our awesome ambassador group in the photo above – it was great meeting the other bloggers that are a part of the Denny’s team! We were all treated to a great day, starting with a meeting in the Denny’s board room to hear about some of their marketing – both past and future – and hear from various members of the Denny’s team.  I love that they employ both traditional media and social media to really get their message out and connect with people (PS – If you’re not following them on Facebook and Twitter, you should be!).

After we finished in the board room, we got a tour of the new Denny’s test kitchen, led by Sharon Lykins, Sr. Director of Product Innovation.

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She told us about all the smart details they put into the kitchen for storage and efficiency, and I was incredibly impressed at all the research and testing they put into each and every menu item. Sharon also told us about how they provide freshness  in Denny’s food – from the grapes in their chicken salad to bringing in fresh fruit and cutting it in-house, they put in a lot of effort to make the food great.

Speaking of chicken salad, we got to sample their chicken salad sandwich and it is SOO good. I definitely know what I’ll be ordering next time we go!

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We also got to try their Alaska salmon filet, a great option on their Fit Fare menu:

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I wish I could tell you about a few of the other things we tried that will be on the menu soon… I’ll have to wait, though! There’s one item in particular that I just couldn’t stop eating at the test kitchen, and I can’t wait to take the whole family to try. Trust me when I say it is scrumptiously delicious!

Thanks to Sharon and the Denny’s test kitchen chefs for an amazing meal!

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We got to provide our feedback while we were at the test kitchen, too. It meant a lot to me that Denny’s really cares what consumers and moms think, and I’m glad I got to help contribute to the process!

One other thing we talked about while at the Denny’s HQ was their No Kid Hungry campaign,  a national movement aimed at ending childhood hunger by connecting kids with healthy food where they live, learn and play.

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Did you know 1 in 5 kids struggle with hunger in the U.S.? Just text “Dennys” to 877877 to donate to No Kid Hungry and receive a coupon worth $5 off your next meal at Denny’s.

In addition, guests are invited to contribute to the cause via two alternative means this year, including making a monetary donation of their choice at dennys.com/nokidhungry; all who donate online will be e-mailed a coupon for $5 off their next $20 meal at Denny’s.

Customers can also pledge their support by purchasing one of three exclusive No Kid Hungry campaign t-shirts – designed by Denny’s team members in Texas, Nevada and Kentucky – for $10 each. T-shirts are produced by Booster, available at dennys.com/nokidhungry and a portion of all sales goes directly to No Kid Hungry.

Don’t forget, stay connected with Denny’s: Denny’s Site • Denny’s Facebook • Denny’s Twitter