Quick Beach Trip: Orange Beach AL

We decided to take a quick trip to the beach over Thanksgiving holiday. We purposefully weren’t getting together with any family, and I felt as though we’d surely go batty if we stayed here at home rather than driving down to the water for something fun that we haven’t done in months. This is the first time we’ve spent the night in a hotel since…Feb? I’ve been so full of paranoia that I know I haven’t been in a dozen buildings counting our house and the homes of the two other households in our ‘pod’ since March. We needed this.

I was careful to clean, we wore masks for the first hour or so that we were in the hotel room, and each time I left the balcony door for an hour or so when we first got there for lots of good fresh air circulation.

Island House Doubletree Hotel, Orange Beach, Alabama

First leg was at the Doubletree Island House hotel in Orange Beach. The rooms have this Hilton CleanStay sticker on the doors:

Island House Doubletree Hotel, Orange Beach, Alabama

Island House Doubletree Hotel, Orange Beach, Alabama

I paid for the room with Hilton points, and they all have beach-front balconies, so it was perfect. Because Hilton has keyless room entry, I didn’t even have to visit the front desk to get in the room.

Island House Doubletree Hotel, Orange Beach, Alabama

Since it’s a Doubletree, this was a thing (and Hilton released the official Doubletree cookie recipe earlier this year).

Island House Doubletree Hotel, Orange Beach, Alabama

The balcony view was positively dreamy

Orange Beach, Alabama

Anyway, the beach was terrific as always. The boys got in the water a little too (it was late-November cool but not crazy cold)

Orange Beach, Alabama

Orange Beach, Alabama

Orange Beach, Alabama

All the food we ate was either from a drive-thru or some that I had packed in a cooler (saddest Thanksgiving meal ever that we made the best of (and I think we were filled with so much gratitude of being somewhere fun that we didn’t even think about it at the time) was the turkey sandwiches on white bread straight from the Igloo from home that was our Thanksgiving supper. May that forever be our last Thanksgiving from a Ziploc bag. Amen and amen.).

We played outside, we walked quiet downtowns, we positively frolicked on the beach. It was terrific. Tomorrow, I’ll post part two of this trip: Mobile, Fairhope’s downtown and its kitty welcoming committee, our balcony without a view in Ft Walton Beach, some 30A, and more. xoxo!

Ritz-Carlton St Louis, and some Route 66

Our next overnight on winter break was St Louis — I think I’ve maybe been once but unsure, and I know the kids haven’t been. We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, which is technically in Clayton, Missouri. It was such a great stay, in most part to the hotel being decorated so beautifully for the holidays.

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

My fave R-C bathrooms are the ones in which they’ve done them in all white/grey marble like this one and the one in New Orleans. If I can ever line things up to renovate my bathrooms at home, at least one of them is going to be like this (there’s a part of me that also wants to do one of them as an ***all-red bathroom*** like my Aunt Helen had — the entrance to it was even long red beads. Also: she had an orange kitchen. She had indoor grass in one of the bedrooms. She kept the plastic on the furniture because it was soooo fiiiiiiine. She was, to child-me, a design goddess.). But back to that, um, bathroom, yes to timeless marble, though I’d rather they’d have done a marble facing on the bathtub:

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

There was a small balcony.

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

Elevator bank

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

We were there on Christmas Eve, and the main restaurant was serving a prix fixe holiday supper. We just wanted simple food, so we ate in the Lobby Lounge which was a terrific setting. There was living room type seating and it was just the right balance of comfortable and nice.

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

If I lived in St Louis and wanted to take my kids for holiday pics, I’d most certainly come to the R-C for lunch or supper and take advantage of all the decorations for a great setting.

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

It was all decorated beautifully — and the centerpiece was this fab gingerbread snowglobe

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

Ritz-Carlton, St Louis

St Louis Arch

We got to the arch too late in the day for a tour, and Ted Drewes closed early for the holiday, but the next day we got to see some pretty great Route 66 signs:

Gardenway Motel, Route 66 Gardenway Motel, Route 66

Gardenway Motel, Gray Summit MO

Sunset Motel, Route 66 Sunset Motel, Route 66

Sunset Motel, Villa Ridge MO

Bourbon, Missouri water tower

The Bourbon, MO water tower

Jesus, King of the Road, Cuba MO

Jesus, King of the Road in Cuba MO

Wagon Wheel Motel, Route 66

Wagon Wheel Motel, Route 66 Wagon Wheel Motel, Route 66

Wagon Wheel Motel, also on Route 66 in Cuba, Missouri

21C Museum Hotel, Louisville

Over winter break, we took a big trip, and our first overnight was at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. This is our fifth 21C ; Bentonville is our fave. The room here is nice but pretty vanilla, and Labor and Materials is the big exhibit going on soooo, but there was plenty going on anyway…

21C Museum Hotel, Louisville KY 21C Museum Hotel, Louisville KY

21C Museum Hotel, Louisville KY

In the museum, our faves:

Daniel Jackson, The Thousand Yard Stare

Daniel Jackson, The Thousand Yard Stare which is an imaginary self-portrait of the artist “slicing vinyl records and drinking beer while a crow rests on his shoulder”

Virgil Marti, Landscape Wallpaper

Virgil Marti’s Landscape Wallpaper which is screen printed fluorescent and rayon flock on paper utilizing blacklights

Camille Utterback & Romy Achituv, Text Rain

Camille Utterback and Romy Achitv’s Text Rain, which drops video letters on people but it’s actually the words to a poem by Evan Zimroth

Shugie and the Lincoln

outside, the super-fun 21C pomegranate Lincoln limousine — and if I had any sense, I would have asked the valet about getting a ride because the boys would have just eaten that up

Red Lincoln Limousine

Red Lincoln Limousine

also, outside, Serkan Özkaya’s David sculpture, which the 21C brought here from Istanbul

Serkan Özkaya, David sculpture


The Brown Hotel, Louisville KY

We visited The Brown Hotel, which was lovely (and from where the Hot Brown originated)

21C Museum Hotel, Louisville KY

and decided to have supper across the street from the 21C at Mussel & Burger Bar which was delicious

There was also a delightful 80s sweater sighting the next day at Nord’s Bakery

Nord's Bakery, Louisville KY

Okay! Next stop: St Louis and Route 66

Avalon, Tesla, And a Million Dollar McLaren

We had an amazing weekend in Atlanta. It was part of Shugie’s birthday, and he loves

  • a/ great restaurants, which, ha. We really didn’t go anywhere great, and the most interesting thing we did was get carry-out from BurgerIM (see?) an Israeli hamburger chain (due to wanting to be in the room for the Bama-LSU game). The boys said the hamburger tasted like Five Guys, so pretty meh to them, but I had a grilled chicken which was delish.
  • b/ great hotels, and while we didn’t stay at his fave, the Atlanta Ritz, we did stay at an Autograph Collection, which had more character than your garden variety Marriott.
  • c/ cars, and he totally scored in that regard

We checked in Friday evening at the Hotel at Avalon, in Alpharetta. Avalon, as it turns out, is a shopping village including valet service, with the usuals (Williams-Sonoma, Crate & Barrel, Pottery Barn, etc) but also Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, Sundance, a pretty big Apple store

Avalon, Alpharetta

— and because I’m always trying to get that good-Mommy gold star, a Tesla dealership. Or Tesla shop? Or Tesla place-where-they-have-a-three-cars and you-can-place-an-order?

Shugie at Tesla, Avalon, Atlanta

The people there are super nice. Shug was spending quality time at Apple, and Shugie and I went over to look at our choices. I’m open to getting a Tesla at some point, but really would like to wait until the battery will allow more output in miles. I like driving in the middle of nowhere and not have to really consider tethering myself to a radius involving a 240v outlet. Shugie on the other hand, is just in love with cars and they were so kind in showing him how to open the door (make an ‘L’ shape with your hand, press down on one side), encouraging him to get behind the wheel, answer his questions, and we talked colors and wood trim. I was starting to come around by the time it was time to go.

Shugie at Tesla, Avalon, Atlanta

A cousin of ours has a couple of Teslas and really enjoys them, and maybe Shugie will get one when it’s time.

We also drove over to the Lamborghini dealership. They were incredibly nice and helpful there, too. I joked to the salesman that our family “are merely Lexus drivers” (but let’s not forget I drove a series of junky cars in college which included a LeBaron with a blown head gasket that was eventually also a car-b-que, a Buick sporting a lovely primer & Bondo combination, and okay another Buick that had such substantial electrical problems that I was out an alternator every couple of months). Anyway, we had a good laugh about it — I didn’t want him to think we were truly in the market for a $100k+ car — but explained how much Shugie loves next-level cars, and we were encouraged to look at everything, ask any questions, etc.

Lamborghini Interior

Shugie would really like to get some sort of internship at Lamborghini in college, and in the next couple of years take a factory tour, and we were even told who to get in contact with in Atlanta and Italy to get that scheduled when we’re ready. Just so, so, so nice and helpful.

Lamborghini Interior

Motorcars of Atlanta also stocks Rolls Royce, Aston Martin, McLaren…

Rolls Royce Interior

And here is a $1M McLaren that is truly a work of art

Shugie with McLaren McLaren


Our stay was at the Hotel at Avalon, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Very pretty, and we were within super-easy walking distance to all the shops and the theater there. The boys were very happy to wear the robes provided. We’ll definitely consider staying here again.

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Ummm I ordinarily wouldn’t share this pic but the library wallpaper here is something else:

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Hotel at Avalon, Alpharetta GA

Oh! Marriott is in the midst of a roll-out of bulk toiletries rather than the little individual bottles of shampoo, conditioner, etc. and here, they were stocked with fabulous Molton Brown in Indian Cress for hair, and body wash and lotion in Orange & Bergamot. Love.

Most Romantic Inn in America?

Earlier this year, we took the opportunity to visit the Henderson Park Inn in Destin, Florida again. It’s been voted the, and one of the, ‘Most Romantic Inn(s) in America’ by publications, and I mean…it’s pretty fab. I have two kids, so my hotel stays are usually along the Marriott and Hilton lines rather than amazing tiny B&Bs, but I get it.

The one thing I do want to point out especially is that they call themselves a B&B, but in my mind, a B&B is when you’re staying upstairs in the ‘Miss Cavanaugh Room’ at…you know…Barbara and Steve’s dream Victorian somewhere and secretly inside you’re all “where’s the tv?” but decide to roll with it and it’s fine, and in the morning you saunter down to the crazy formal dining room for their amazing cinnamon rolls and heritage breed sausage from Old Man Phillips’ farm and there’s perfectly-done eggs and just-squeezed orange juice and wanna-make-that-a-mimosa?whysuuuure.

Here, it really is more of a hotel. There’s a fridge in the main building with drinks you can take all day, and there’s a great breakfast with a smiling omelette guy ready to put whatever you want in that skillet, and there’s a sack lunch included to take for wherever you’re jetting off to during the day. There’s a happy hour at which I think giddily ingested three (free) glasses of merlot while on a swing just watching the waves go back and forth. But there are no ‘innkeepers’ and you don’t have to worry about making too much noise walking on creaky floors, or waking someone if you come in too late from supper.

Henderson Park Inn is situated right at a state park, so there is no development whatsoever on one side of the beach. The people staying there are nice-nice and the staff is super friendly.

Our room. Turndown chocolate is a Lindor truffle (though some local-ish chocolate would have been super nice), and we had a welcome gift of their own cookbook, which was a great touch. 

This tray with roses, wine, and fruit was also set out

There’s more than one grouping of rooms at the Inn, and this was the lobby at our small building. 

This is Destin, so copious amounts of time was spent on the beach. The sand really is sugar white and is so soft that it feels almost like walking on cake flour

There didn’t seem to be a lot of regular jellyfish in the water, but we did see this beautiful Portuguese Man O’ War and a couple others (if you’re feeling technical, this is not really a jellyfish, but the big thing to remember here is that you can get stung by this monster’s tentacles even with it beached like this, and it will seriously destroy your next few days if so)

We had supper one evening at the on-site restaurant, the Beach Walk Cafe (reservations also available on OpenTable, so easy-easy), which was completely lovely (and my pics here are not at all doing it justice)

There was an amuse, an app of shrimp cocktail and other of Kung Pao shrimp, a steak, and pork chop, all of which were delectable. Old-school but still charming that way, all the women leave with a single stem rose

What’s pretty new is The Henderson, their family hotel across the street. The takeaway is that Henderson Park Inn is for couples and The Henderson is for the kids and grandparents…everybody. It’s not *on* the beach, but they have a great pool and looooook how comfortable and lovely the rooms are. There’s tons and tons to do every day as well.

Staying at either place, guests are welcome to swim at The Henderson, as there’s no pool at all at the HPI.

And the lobby. The lobbyyyyyyy. Yassss.

The chandelier. My love.

We’ll definitely consider this hotel the next time we come down with the boys. Lovely.

Chocolate Cake For Days

That wasn’t our first trip to the Gaylord Opryland this year. Back in May, we stayed there (an atrium balcony suite in the Garden Conservatory upgrade thanks to Marriott Platinum status) and visited the Nick Cave Feat. exhibit at the Frist.  First, though, here’s the room:

The living area was by the balcony, and the bedroom was just as one enter’s the hotel room.

Our view:

Supper one night was at the Old Hickory Steakhouse which, from reviews (people on OpenTable where I made my res like it better than people on Yelp), looks a little hit or miss, but we had a great experience.

Our table was outside under the atrium, so we got to view the rest of the area while we were dining

We started with the seafood tower, which had lobster, crab claws, shrimp, and oysters

I was boring and only wanted a Caesar salad for my entree. It was as expected suitably boring.

…though I did have a good amount of the creamed spinach and kale with gruyere and a poached egg atop which was delicious

…annnnnd a bite of this steak which was beyond:

…and and annnnnd ohmystars this crazy chocolate cake which completely rocked and no we didn’t even finish a third of it

Lunch that following day was at Arnold’s, which is always good — not mind-blowing, but solid yummy meat-and-three

Oh! And on the way home, we stopped at Stan’s in Columbia, Tennessee for anytime breakfast and cracklin cornbread:

Let’s get back to that exhibit though. Tomorrow. Pics of *amazing* Nick Cave works. Promise.




PCB SB, Bay Stay, And Firefly

When I was in college, Panama City Beach was *the* place to go. We didn’t act crazy, but we were poor college students and would stick six or seven or eight of us girls in a hotel room on weekends so we could afford to just go and soak up the sun and splash around and act silly and neverrrr tell boys the truth about what hotel we were staying at, because weirdos. Remember when MTV would go to PCB and Daytona and the islands to do Spring Break shows in the 90s and it was all Hawaiian Tropic and Body Glove and crunch socks with white Reeboks and Colin Quinn completely out of his mind (and off-script)? Yeah. What I remember is that no one could afford PCB on SB because someone at least 24 had to sign for the room with a credit card and the rooms were — I don’t know — 5x what they were the rest of the summer, and none of our parents were going to do that. So my SB were always less beach and more catching rays via plastic-lounger-in-the-backyard so it at least *looked* like my vacay game was strong.

Aaaaahhhh college.

Now that we have kids, we’re thinking about where we can go that it’s all family and fun. Usually we like to stay right on the beach, but I noticed that the Sheraton Bay Point Resort was crazy inexpensive (and had just had a $30M renovation as it was rebranded to a SPG property) so we decided to give it a go. It also has a spa, a Nicklaus Design golf course (golfboards?), and tennis courts.

The hotel is right on St. Andrew’s Bay, so while we weren’t watching the Gulf’s waves roll in, we flipflopped over a long boardwalk past the hotel’s waterfront bar/grill and further to another little private island where we played for a long time in shallow water that went out for a long distance. We also saw more hermit crabs than ever. It was super fun (sorry I didn’t take my phone out there for pics!). And there were a couple of pools closer to the hotel that we really enjoyed as well. Just a great experience.

Our room:

This is the view from one of the bridges driving out. Fab:

For supper, we tried Firefly, which is in a rather boring-looking shopping center. Don’t let that keep you from making a reservation. We waited here for a couple of minutes while our OpenTable res opened up:

and then were seated in the main dining room which has this large faux light-bedecked tree in the middle, which was actually more charming than it looks here:

Every single thing was delicious. The boys were happy with their kids menu, and we all shared bites of this stuffed filet, and the fish below too:

Just delicious, delicious, delicious. We will come here again next time as well.

They’re like, “mom, can we look all whatever next to this tree and you take our picture?” — yes, lovebugs!

Grand Hotel, Pensacola

Usually when we’re in Pensacola, it’s for business plus family beach time, but this trip was purely business — and short — so we decided to stay in the city and finally try the Grand Hotel which is built into the old train station. It’s not especially grand, but was interesting to see the tilework and fixtures from the older part of the property.

If you’re thinking that’s it’s vaguely Crowne Plaza-ish at the top strip, it’s because until a few years ago, it was a CG. I’m not sure if the franchisee didn’t want to keep up with IHG standards of upkeep, but the rooms still have familiar emerald green carpeting and dark furnishings.

It’s not particularly easy to get a good picture of the exterior as it’s so close to the highway. It’s a popular place to stay when there’s a concert or game going on at the arena across the street.

The train station was built in 1912 to replace the 1882 L&N Union Station. It eventually went vacant in 1971 and developers added a 15-story hotel tower to give the site new life.

It’s like 1984 met the Haunted Mansion with that sofa in the lobby.

The room was okay — nothing great but not terrible, the bed was alright but the bathroom was small. The trains still do run right by the hotel at all hours. If you’re a light sleeper, you might want to plan for whistles/horns/whatev and make it a Benadryl/diphenhydramine kinda night.

And the view was…



The Graduate, Athens GA And Cashing Us Ousside

Lobby = niiiice. We loved the idea of getting to try the Graduate Hotel in Athens, Georgia — it’s part of a small chain of niche hotels (nine now, with four more opening in the next couple of years) with retro decor serving college towns.

The only thing is that it’s truly a motel — the lobby is in a separate building, and the rooms surround with outside corridors.

…but the interiors are styled in such a way you just roll with it. Naugahide- or nauga-ish headboards, plaid accessories…

…some kind of paint-by-number portraiture exhibit on the television credenza…

…trying too hard on the chalkboard there, but the Crosley radio is nice…

as is the wannabe rotary touch-tone phone (Crosley also makes a sweet pink Princess phone this style).

Malin + Goetz amenities in the bathrooms.

I’m kinda smitten with their lobby in Oxford. We have season tickets to UAB (and the Saints, and we go to AL, AU, and other games) but I want to show the boys tailgating in the Grove so that might be a great opportunity to see the hotel in person.

We haven’t been to an Ole Miss home game since ’06 (Ole Miss has a special place in my heart because every time I visualize myself in grad school, it’s getting a MA in Southern Studies there) but here’s how the NYT put it:
In many tents, food is served on silver trays, drinks splash through fountains and chandeliers hang from the metal supports. Fur coats abound. Jackets, ties and cowboy boots are common.

Prominent chefs are hired to cater meals, and chicken is a favored entree. “You don’t want to be a chicken in northern Mississippi on game day,” said Tim Walsh, the executive director of alumni affairs.

We walked through the tailgating area at UAB for the first game, and I thought, Lawd. We need to show Legion Field how to tailgate (tailgating is, after all, a sukkah party with a solid roof). Look for us one weekend in November if things go the way I think they will.

BTW, I had a genius idea for our sukkah party invitations this year. I’ll send nice-nice ones to the neighbors and other friends, but for our-age-and-younger friends who love memes, I came up with this idea that I’ll fill in with more of the details later:

The Good and the Wha? at the Mansion on Forsyth Park, Savannah GA

While Savannah’s Kimpton Brice was fun, we were looking forward to trying the Mansion on Forsyth Park too. It’s a Marriott Kessler Collection, so one can expect art *everywhere*, an in-hotel gallery, trendy furnishings, and a very boutique feel.

This hotel can get expensive in the high season, into the $400s. Thankfully we were able to jump on a Marriott package on an off-week and were able to save tons. We avoided valet fees since there was a ton of on-street, non-metered parking right beside the hotel.

There’s art everywhere. Everywhere-everywhere. This is the hallway to our room

Our room

The bed was soooo comfortable. It can be purchased from the Kessler Living site, and Av and I are a few years past due for a new mattress. I’m thinking, though, that we might give the Casper mattress a try (Consumer Reports liked it too). If you have experience with it, I’d love to hear.

This is where our problem was. I took the boys swimming one morning. See how the pool surround is marble? Know how marble is really, really slippery? So maybe having marble all around a pool isn’t the greatest idea. When Shug got out of the pool, he actually slipped and fell on his side getting out. He was hurt but was able to walk it off. Shugie got out right behind him and did the whole slide-but-catch-yourself thing. Also, you can’t see in this pic, but around the lounge chairs by the pool steps — and I didn’t see them until we were toweling off and Shugie stepped on one — there were little shards of marble. His foot was cut but it wasn’t too bad and we were able to stop the bleeding with some pressure. Sooooo….

…we did what anyone would. We got up, went to the lobby and told the front desk person that an area of the marble decking may have some kind of cleaner residue that makes it really super slippery, and that there are some shards of marble that need to be swept up.

We thought that was it. We just wanted someone to know. We weren’t upset, we didn’t ask for a Bandaid, neither of the boys were in tears, this was for informational purposes so they could do something about it. The front desk person asked us to wait just a minute. Here, I’ll paste the text of an email I sent to management:

The woman at the desk immediately went to get the manager on staff. (name retracted here) came out, and rather than doing what any person in any similar position would do — express that they were sorry about these things happening and thanking them for letting the hotel know so it could be fixed — she treated the three of us as potential lawsuits.

She scribbled notes on a series of post-it notes, then told us to show her the shards. Rather than walking with us back to the building, she got on the phone and started laughing.

At no point did she ever say “I’m sorry that happened” or “thanks for letting us know” so no one else would similarly be injured. Several minutes later, there was a knock on our door with her telling me to fill out a multi-page incident report.

How did this go so wrong? 

Even my kids realized this wasn’t handled correctly. She never said she was going to get the shards swept up (though a maintenance man did come over to look at the shards too), or look into getting the slick spot on the pool deck taken care of. Never acted as though she cared. 

I was going to let this go, but just today, one of my boys asked me again if I thought she took care of things so no one else was going to get hurt on their vacation. The other one asked me why she didn’t say “sorry” like they are taught to do at school. The fact that they are still thinking about it is enough for me to reach out to you.

I have no idea why we were treated as though our next stop might be a lawyer. And I have no idea why this was handled as though my children were exhibits rather than little people who were hurt and had genuine concern for others. 

BTW, when the maintenance man came to look at the shards, he reminded me that the pool deck of course gets slick — it’s smooth stone. I just didn’t say anything. Maybe if they’re so accustomed to people falling getting out they should consider putting down something other than a smooth stone. You know, like just about every other pool that has a textured decking.

Your pool can be so hot it breaks Instagram but if the fact that people get hurt around it elicits a you-shoulda-known, maybe something’s not right.

Actually, I realize that their fear of lawsuits is real, but we presented as nonchalant people who just wanted someone to look into something for the next guest and we were on our way up to our room to get ready for another fun day in Savannah. And if filling out an incident report is policy, okay too. Anyway. This could have turned out so much better. And I was especially proud of our boys for even several days later hoping that they got things fixed so no one else would get hurt.

Let’s talk about fun stuff again! The hotel, true to its name, is right at Forsyth Park, the one with the famous fountain. We spent lots of time there around the fountain and the park — Shugie brought his football so he and Shug were kicking and passing the ball…running everywhere, having a great time.

One morning, we had the breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, 700 Drayton, which was included with our stay. It was all really good, from the pancakes to the omelette, benedict, and shrimp and grits.

And the setting there was really pretty as well.

I think we’ll pass on staying at the Mansion on Forsyth again. The TripAdvisor reviews are giving me pause too. Maybe the Bohemian Riverfront next time?