You Need a Day at Disney Springs During The Holidays #disneysprings

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If you’re planning a trip to the Disney parks (or even just to Central Florida at large) I’ve got to urge you to add a day (yes, a full day!) at Disney Springs to your travel itinerary. It is an excellent place to spend some time whether it be a down day in between busy theme park days, or just a stand-alone destination. Going during the holidays is an extra special treat as I’ll share with you here.

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Disney Springs used to be Downtown Disney. They renovated, revamped, added a beautiful spring that runs throughout the property, added tons of stores, and great for locals: a huge (free) parking garage. If you’re staying at a Disney property you can get to Disney Springs via complimentary shuttle or boat too. During the holiday season Disney Springs is decked out in Christmas cheer with wreaths, ribbons and tress everywhere!

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In speaking with Sara, the marketing whiz behind Disney Springs, I discovered that they doubled the size of what Downtown Disney started out with. There are now so many places to eat, drink, shop, be entertained, play, have your kids entertained or just relax. It was a bit surreal because Sara said, “where we’re standing now (a beautiful shady spot in “Town Square” of Disney Springs) was a parking lot a little while ago!” I noticed as I went around Disney Springs that it’s more of an experience than I expected. I was legit expecting just a regular outdoor mall… I was so wrong!

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Walking through Disney Springs you find recognizable brands (and a few that may be new to you) to shop. I actually broke my “No Spend November” in a store called American Threads that was completely new to me. But majority of the stores are national brands like UGG, Lily Pulitzer, Diamonds International, Vera Bradley, Columbia, SuperDry, Uniqlo, Sephora, Kipling….ok ok I wont name every store, you can visit this site for a full list: DisneySprings.com

It’s spread out so nicely so you get to just meander and explore all the shoppes and treats in store at each one. I was pleased to find that there are lots of areas to just sit for a spell and enjoy a drink, a Sprinkles cupcake and some shade. No matter where you are on the large property, you have a lovely view.

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(image via Jen of JenOni.com)

There are two really nice treats for kids (and parents) that I have got to share. The Bippity Boppity Boutique (where little girls are transformed into princesses) and the Once Upon a Toy (where kids can build their own toys) shoppes are in Disney Springs too! So if you don’t want to wait in a crazy line, aren’t going to the parks, or can’t get a reservation while you’re at the parks, you can do it there. No muss no fuss.

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There are excellent restaurants as well. I had the pleasure of enjoying the hugest, juiciest fillet ever at STK. The sides, creamed corn, brussel sprout slaw salad, and mini sliders were amazing as well. The truffle oil in the sliders was an unexpectedly decadent touch.

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I also enjoyed a treat at PaddleFish which opens next month. The lobster roll was one of the best I’ve ever had (and I would hunt for them all over NYC) and the drinks were to die for.

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I didn’t get to eat at Fronterra, the Mexican restaurant, but I enjoyed a cocktail while taking in the gorgeously colorful ambiance. Other restaurants are celebrity Iron Chef Morimoto’s self titled hot spot, and celebrity chef Art Smith’s Homecoming where you can get soul-comforting southern cuisine. (There are TONS more places to grab a quick bite as well) I’m excited for the new Planet Hollywood Observatory to open up there.

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After shopping and eating you can enjoy live music at one of the many places offering daily live performances. House of Blues is well known for their concerts, but you will also find random artists sprinkled throughout Disney Springs creating a great musical atmosphere. In one area, there was an edgy/artsy version of Nutcracker being performed by some amazing dancers on tour. (check out the FB Live of that)

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This is going to sound weird, but walking through Disney Springs reminded me of the days I would spend just walking through NYC with friends. We’d shop, sit and eat, shop some more, grab a drink, meet up with other friends, grab dinner, browse shoppes and sit for a coffee. While walking we pass all kinds of street artists and little experiences for a bit of revelry. That’s exactly how Disney Springs is.

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Making it extra special for the holidays is the incredible StarBright Holidays show. It was a beautiful light show of all these twinkling “stars” set to music and creating gorgeous images in the sky. I later found out that the lights were drones. Intel had a hand in creating that show, I can only imagine what it took to pull of that synchronization. (I facebook lived it for ya, check out the video here!) There was also a very sweet “Christmas Tree Walk” that had beautifully decorated themed trees from many of our favorite Disney movies.

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If you’re a local to the Disney area, you must go visit. It’s not the Downtown Disney that you may remember. If you’re in town for the Disney Parks or to visit friends/family, you must spend some time at Disney Springs. There is something for everyone here. All ages and all interests will find something they love to do, purchase, listen to, watch, and eat! Disney Springs is much more than a place to shop, it’s an experience!

Have you been to Disney Springs?

 

QUEEN OF KATWE Premiere – What It’s Really Like Behind the Scenes #QueenofKatweEvent

Disney made this Queen of Katwe Premiere post happen, but everything below is from my brain and heart.

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Have you seen those beautiful shots and vids of movie premieres and wondered what it’s really like? Well, I always have and am delighted to be able to give you girls the real scoop on what they’re like. I was chosen among 25 bloggers to visit LA for Disney’s Queen of Katwe red carpet movie premiere. Queen of Katwe is AMAZING and you just have got to see it. It opens with limited release today, and opens everywhere September 30th. (Let me know how you like it after you see it.) Anyway, I was really excited to experience all the Queen of Katwe Premiere goodness and report back to you.

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Here’s what to expect when you’re at  your red carpet premiere (and afterparty):

So, to start, some premieres are different. There may be pre parties and/or the red carpet experience may be more rushed (or less rushed). I hope to attend more so I can give you guys the scoop on  how others worked in comparison to this one.

The Celebs

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We saw, hugged, chatted with the stars of the film both on the red carpet and in the theater….and in the jam packed after party (I’ll get to that later and let you know my embarrassing faux pas with a celeb.) It’s interesting to watch how the celebrities interact with their assistants, the photographer and reports as well as the fans and other premiere attendees.

David Oyelowo was so gracious and sweet, stopping to talk and take selfies with as many people as he could before he was shuttled to the next point on the carpet by his handlers. Lots of other celebs that were not in the film were also on the red carpet. Industry big wigs and corporate folks behind the scenes on the film walked the carpet too, but not too much phototaking for them.

(BEHIND THE SCENES NOTE: There are 2 red carpets. One for the stars of the film and recognizable celebs, then another right next to it for corporate big wigs and movie execs…and bloggers! :))

The Fancy Feels

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Listen. A  step and repeat always makes me feel like a celebrity. (I should put one up at my front door) I don’t care how janky the event is, I’ll smize in front of that step and repeat and feel like everyone in the place is there to see me! ::singing Beyonce’s Ego:: At this red carpet (which by the way was a burgundy/maroon color for this film) it was a long line of photo ops with the signs from the movie. We’re there in our cute lil dresses – Oh, and some folks were in gowns all gorgeous and some were in a cute top and skirt, so attire at the event ran the gamut.

SIDEBAR: The day after the premiere I was able to visit the folks who dressed David Oyelowo and his family for the red carpet (and all the press he’s doing for Queen of Katwe) Kutula Africa (Kutula.org) had David looking sharp!

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above photo courtesy of Getty Images

 

The Business

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You see so much business going on. It’s a fun exciting event but then you remember…all of these people are at work right now! PR folks hustling their clients in front of cameras… actors walking along, smiling and being gracious, taking photos, somehow not going blind from all the flashing lights…security folks hustling people along and watching out for their clients…photographers snapping, reporters shoving mics in people’s faces…It’s a lot.

I was eavesdropping my heart out and when people weren’t talking about the film, they were talking about meetings for later on. Even us bloggers were sure to get pics on the red carpet because of the business we had to do (ie: writing posts like this one!)

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The Movie Itself

Well, I’ll give you the movie review in a separate post, but during the premiere you get to sit in a theater in your fancy dress and eat popcorn and watch the movie… just like regular.  You can kinda peep around and spot celebs if you’re like me  ::avoids eye contact:: There were a bunch of Disney child stars that I probably should’ve taken photos with so I can show my kids when they’re at an age to care. Oh, before the film there was a dude playing live music on the stage for us too.

The Afterparty

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The Hard Rock held the afterparty and I was happy to see so many people turn up for it. So many people I didn’t recognize hahaha and a few I did…like:

Jason George who was super sweet and practically begged for my photo so I obliged. *wink* Greys fans…I’ve got some spoilers for you!!*

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Highlights from the party were watching Lupita boogie on down with her on-screen children and when my favorite song from the movie came on. #1 Spice is going to be my new jam!

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Ready for my embarrassing moment: OK So I see a star I recognized and went over and was like “omg hey Jackee!” and Kim Whitley was like “…that’s not my name. beat it kid.” Ha!!! I’m kidding, She was totally sweet and kind about it. I did call her the wrong name lol but she was like “Oh girl I get it all the time for years and years don’t worry, she gets it too.” So I felt slightly less rude. I chatted with her and Vanessa Bell Calloway (who is still looking good!) for a minute and then left them alone.

So, there you have it. That’s what the Queen of Katwe Red Carpet Premiere was really like, from the perspective of one lucky blogger blessed with the chance to attend. Be sure to go watch the film guys. It’s really important, and also just really good. Here’s the trailer if you missed it in my last post:

Check your local theater because it comes out today in limited release and next Friday, the 30th, it’s out everywhere. Take your kids or make it a girls night out, but definitely go see this film, so Disney knows we want more like this!!

 

Have you been to a red carpet movie premiere before?

*no I don’t 

Epic #Blogher16 Recap

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Hey friends!! It took me a minute but I got this up. I was going to break it down by day, but said F it. It was an epic weekend so I figure an Epic #blogher16 Recap was in order.

If you are friends with me on Facebook you may have seen my FB Live videos sharing my experience this year at the annual Blogher conference. If you havent… go check em out here:

Blogher’s annual conference is my jam. I love the connection, the learning, the fun…

This year I took a bit of a different approach to the weekend. I wanted to specifically connect with certain people, have a #blackgirlmagic blogger meetup, attend one specific session, and strategically work the expo. Also, I wanted to try to document it live via social media….

So, here’s my superfantastic recap for you… in case you didn’t live vicariously through me on FB Live:

Thursday morning my freshly straightened hair and I drove from palm beach county down to Ft Lauderdale airport. Hopped on my jetblue flight and saw this:

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And got freaked out….but Jetblue calmed my nerves tweeting to me that it waas totally normal.

I dozed and read my book (PS #52booksin2016 is done! – This Book is the TRUTH! ) and landed in LA…

Met up with Kendra and Claudia and ubered to JW Marriott LA Live

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We immediately went down to a brand event and then came back to the hotel for the Evening at the Expo:

(that vid was taken on Friday afternoon, but you still get the point)

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I also went over to the booths I was excited to ambassador for…GoRVing and MeInEndo… but I’ll post on them separately.

My fave part about Thursday night was spotting all my efriends, and making new connections.

I had a yummy late dinner with Eva of SocaMom (who I’ve eloved for ever) and Kendra of Headband for Today (who’s already my IRL boo) and then headed to bed.

Up at the crack of dawn I went to the Staples Breakfast. We got to see Aunt Becky and Gabby Reece! They shared about Staples’ great back to school deals and programs, but also about motherhood at various stages. The back-to-school struggle is real yall. And I’m not sure homeschooling is gunna make it any easier. The homeschool prep feels very similar to what the back-to-school prep feels like! *gulp*

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They sent us home with an adorable bag of goodies and a Staples gift card. (yay for swag!)

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After this fun event I saw Sarah Michelle Gellar talk about life, motherhood, her clean/vegan brand and deftly handle Elisa’s tricky political questions! Oh yeah…and… Buffy and I totally hugged it out at a private meet and greet afterward. Cuz.. I’m like…fancy and junk. LOL

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As soon as I get it, I’m uploading our pic together…but I like this stealth stalkery shot taken by Mrs. Houseful. She’s my blogging e-friend who made the bag you see me toting above, and whom I generally can’t stand. Not sure how she coerced me into taking the selfie below.

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I went to an offsite brand event and came back for a bit of work, filmed the expo video up above, and went to the Goodnights event discussing bedwetting in children. Ro has been potty trained since just before he turned 3 and he stayed dry at night for a while, then started nighttime bedwetting again. I learned that’s called secondary bedwetting and is totally normal. Oh yeah… Fin was there….

You don’t know Fin? He saves us from Sharknados! Oh my bad… his name is Steve…Steve Sanders!

Ian Ziering is a dad who uses GoodNights with his children so he weighed in along with the moms and doctors on the panel.

Then we made out.

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That wasn’t enough 90210 for one day so Kelly Taylor and I went for a ride in an RV. Ian was jealous, I’m sure…

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Jennie Garth spent so much time hanging out and talking with the women at the GoRVing party. She was super sweet and fun. She seemed really into the RVing lifestyle! I had to show her my pic of Ian from earlier and she was cracking up.

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But before this I went to the fantastic VOTY (Voices of the Year) awards and watched some of my friends win well deserved awards for their written, digital, video, photo creations. I found out you can nominate yourself, so I’ll try to write something funny or smart one day this year so I can nominate myself for an award! 🙂

I went to my room to rest and recharge for a few minutes and ended up just hanging out with Roni and Kendra before our #blackgirlmagic meetup. Which was so lit.

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I really enjoyed it and from what everyone was telling me during and after, all who attended had a blast as well and was happy something was put together for our community. I hope to be able to do it again next year (but maybe sponsored or with a budget so I can at least feed folks or give em a drank or 3)

Afterward I went to dinner with a few fun efriends I was happy to connect with offline:

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I wish I had a better pic… my lamb burger was the ish tho.

Saturday morning I was up early for a breakfast with the #MoretoMigraine folks. I didn’t expect that breakfast to impact me the way it did. I’m a migraine sufferer, and there are so many ways it impacts my life outside of just the pain. I don’t talk about it often because it’s so misunderstood. It’s HARD dealing with migraines and raising 2 kids. There are complete days I just…miss. Anyway… the event was super informative and oddly normalizing for me. I have to work on my embarrassment and guilt about how severe my migraines are.

After the breakfast I went to the first (and only) session I had planned for the weekend. It was about pitching yourself to media. I feel like that’s a step coming soon for me so I’m pumped to put the tips into practice.

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My major takeaways:

  • Own your expert status
  • Niche down bigtime
  • Pitch with focus and clearly stated takeaways for the audience
  • Follow up and don’t be afraid to call

I headed to the expo and got to connect with several of the brands I had on my list. Then I went to my roundtable on Blab.im. (Not the most popular topic….) I got a bunch of work done, and caught up with my efriend Jenelle of Thirtysomething Mommy.

Afterward I got to catch up with the folks from a few more brands I wanted to chat with and visited the Aldi suite which was super cute and decorated like a baby shower. They have an awesomely priced baby line now. I have a few items that I’m excited to try out with Ro and Kai.

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I wanted to give Dr. Jessica Shepherd my card to interview her in the future for FitNoire and instead she was like “Um, no. Interview me now… on video.” So we did an impromptu video shoot and then she gave me a mini media training right there. Super helpful with great tips and tricks. I love that woman and want to be her when I grow up.

The closing session was the best session I’ve ever had at BlogHer. Social justice, feminism…it was just awesome. My wokebae Matt McGorry was there… along with Jurnee Smollet.

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Closing party was dope but I was so hungry I didn’t stay too long. The DJ was still in diapers, but he knew what to play for us old ladies to get us milly rockin’… ok ok… two-steppin’

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Chatted briefly with some chicks…heard a cat rapping story I will NEVER forget, and then headed out to dinner with some fab chicks… (do NOT ever eat at Wolfgang Pucks Bar & Grill in LA Live)

So that was my whirlwind weekend recap. I love me some blogher conferences. I’ve been every year since 2012 and I doubt I’ll stop going anytime soon. I just hope to speak there, learn there and connect there for years to come.

Didn’t get to join us this year? Here’s how to make the most of a conference you didn’t attend:

 

So That’s my Epic #Blogher16 Recap. See you at Blogher17!

5 Tips For Solo Travel

Today’s post is by Jo of JoannaE.com. (She’s got tons of great travel content if you feel like living vicariously through her after reading this post…)

 

5 Tips For Solo Travel
Every year thousands of men and women make the decision to travel solo. This trend has especially increased with women and there are many safety concerns from loved ones that arise. In effort to ease their fears, here are 5 tips for solo travel that can be used on your next domestic or international trip.

1. Do Your Research
Remember to research for any travel alerts and warnings for your destination. Always find out where the US embassy is if it is out of the country. There are countries where men are less likely to approach you if you’re married, so some suggest you wear a fake wedding band or engagement ring when you’re out in the day to avoid cat calls. Be mindful of your clothing choice and try your best to “blend in”.

2. Tell Your Friends and Family
Share a copy of your itinerary with your close friends or immediate family members. Make sure it includes airline, hotel or lodging information, and a number to contact you directly. Try to set a specific time each day (or time frame that you choose) to call, text or check-in via social media. Doing so keeps them informed of your whereabouts.

3. Bring ONE Carry on
Try your best to pack everything in one carry on. You don’t need a different pair of shoes for every night and basic essentials and toiletries can be purchased at your destination. You can even hand wash undergarments and tops. Having one carry on saves time, is less of a distraction, and you don’t have to worry about lost checked luggage. To keep clothing organized in your suitcase, look into investing in packing cubes.

4. Learn the Language
You don’t have to be fluent, but try to be conversational. If you’re visiting a country where English isn’t the primary language, learn simple phrases to ease the language barrier. Common phrases like ‘Hello‘, ‘Goodbye‘, ‘Thank you‘, and ‘Where is the restroom?‘ can help in shops, restaurants, bars, and other public areas. If learning a new language isn’t your thing, get a translator app for your smartphone or handheld device.

5. Stay Alert 
Always make sure you’re mindful of your surroundings. If taking public transportation, don’t get on an empty train or bus and try not to fall asleep. Trust your gut; if something doesn’t feel or look right, don’t continue. Know your alcohol limit in bars and restaurants. If you stay in a hotel, keep the “do not disturb” sign on and keep the lights and television on when leaving your room. Someone is less likely to enter the room if they think someone is there.

Domestic or international, your safety is always most important, but don’t forget to have FUN. Take lots of pictures, and enjoy the freedom of travel.

Do you have any tips for solo travel? 

JoAnna is a travel, beauty and lifestyle blogger at JoannaE and 1/3 of the natural hair group Type 4 Naturals. These blogs document Jo’s personal travels, offers travel tips, covers event recaps, natural hair reviews and more.

Extended Stay America – Brickell Miami

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Last month during the Hispanicize conference I stayed at two properties. The first was an apartment through AirB&B and the second was Extended Stay America in Brickell Miami. The location was perfect for me because I could leave my car in the parking lot and walk 5 minutes to the free “people mover” to get down to the waterside where the events were taking place. (Uber home from an event in south beach was about 10 minutes and about 10 bucks)

The room I had was clean, comfortable and standard. Exactly what I needed for this business trip. 20160407_163857

The bed was comfy, water pressure was perfect and the kitchen was just what I needed. I don’t cook real food on vacation, but I often wish I had more than just a coffee maker and mini fridge in my hotel rooms. The microwave was clutch, I actually used it a couple times to reheat food I purchased outside. In the mornings I just ran down to the lobby for the grab-and-go breakfast (complimentary) before heading out. They had fresh coffees, muffins/pastries, and fruit available each morning.

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Whenever I travel solo, I consider how it would be with the whole family. I could see myself at an Extended Stay America on vacay with the kids doing waffles in the toaster and oatmeal on the stove before heading out for the day. I had a King bed room, but if we had a room with two double beds it would be plenty space for our family of four. Or if they provided pack-n-plays.

Since I was traveling for work, I was online with my laptop for most of the time that I was in the room. The free wi-fi was fast, with no service interruptions. (unlike at my house :() And I liked that there were two desk areas so if I were there with John or a roomie, we wouldn’t have to take turns working at the desk vs working in bed.

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The service from all staff was really helpful and friendly. When I first walked in, there was nobody at the front desk, so I waited. After about a minute another guest came down and looked truly shocked that the front desk attendant wasn’t there.  I asked how long he usually waits to get help and he said “I’m actually kind of worried. I’ve been here almost a month and this is the first time I don’t see anyone at this desk.” (Yellow Shirt Dude in the vid)

I’ve heard of Extended Stay before but never used it. I knew it to just be a budget-friendly hotel with a kitchen. In my mind it was for families on vacation and keeping costs low. It totally is, but there was another element at this location…. While there I met a lot of folks taking true extended stays while working in the area and a family from up north who is purchasing a home in Miami but has about 2 weeks before they can move in.

There was quite a sense of community at this location as well. Some of the people in town for long work engagements gathered at the grill and patio set up in the back to hang out after hours… and when I ran into one at random in the elevator, he referred to me as “the new girl.”  (PS: I got invited to the backyard party!) I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was only going to be there a few nights.

What made this location stand out to me was the super friendly people and the most convenient location. The grocery store and a drug store was right across the street. It’s a very “runnable” neighborhood, with lots of families, condos and homes. Granted, I was only there a few nights but in speaking with the folks who were there, anywhere from a week to 6 weeks, they all raved about the place and the folks who worked there.

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The downside was the closet space, if I were to stay an extended period of time it just wouldn’t work for me unless I packed super light. The property does have an onsite laundry facility, so I’m totally being picky. If I were in town for a stretch, I’d certainly be making use of that convenience. Also, there is no gym or pool. Now, I knew this location didn’t have it going in, so I wasn’t expecting it. I was in town for business anyway so no pool for me. I did my runs outside and used a beachbody program on my computer. If I were on vacation I’d have to choose an Extended Stay with a pool for sure.

Overall this property was perfect for my needs, and from my talks with everyone staying there perfect for a longer stay as well. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants more cooking capabilities in their room, and a clean, comfy home base for vacation or longer work-related travel.

Or maybe I’m just saying that because this happened:

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Have you taken an Extended Stay America vacation?

I’m going to be traveling more often and always looking for great places to stay. This is why I happily partnered up with Extended Stay America for this post.