The Park That Snaps Into Place -- Florida's LEGOLAND®

Thursday, July 31, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

Who would have thought that a simple toy, which was popular when I was a kid, would still be relevant in the 21st century?  Legos, the colorful, snap-together building bricks that have been sparking kids' imaginations for decades, has grown into a larger-than-life brand, reaching beyond the toy world into merchandise, apparel, movies and theme parks.  LEGOLAND® parks are now located on several continents and the newest and largest in the world is in Winter Haven, Florida.

Legoland, Lego land, lego park, legoland water parkLEGOLAND® Florida is a 150-acre interactive theme park with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, restaurants, shopping, a breathtaking botanical garden and the LEGOLAND Water Park, all geared to families with children ages 2 to 12. The 
park was built on the shoulders of a classic Florida attraction, Cypress Gardens. The old Cypress Gardens has been blended in to the park and it's still as jungle-like as ever. You can stroll through 39 acres of tended gardens and marvel at a magnificent banyan tree planted in 1933. But the real reason people come is the Legos. 

lego land, legoland, legos, winter haven florida, theme parkThe park is comprised of ten different "lands" including Fun Town, World of Chima, Land of Adventure, LEGO Kingdoms, Imagination Zone, Pirates' Cove, DUPLO® Valley and Miniland USA, which showcases Lego re-creations of American landmarks and attractions. Everyone loves to see the LEGO White House and Washington, D.C., the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco, the Statue of Liberty and New York City, cars racing around the Daytona Speedway and even the space shuttle on the Cape Canaveral launch pad. Activities for children are creative and interactive: kids can get their own LEGOLAND driver's license, they can douse a "blaze" at Fun Town Fire Academy, build a raft to float on the waterpark’s lazy river, ride a (not-too-scary) dragon coaster, or watch a pirate-themed water show on the shores of Lake Eloise. 

legoland, lego landOf course, there’s ample opportunity to buy new Lego building sets and other merchandise. Just like Lego building sets, the park is sized for different ages and abilities. There are smaller-scale rides for families with youngsters up to about age 12, while Lego maniacs find more advanced Technic-style coasters, cycles and water racers. 

Tickets can be purchased online and that's really the best way to do it. Discounts are usually available so check their website or do a search before you plunk down the full price. Whatever you pay, it'll be worth it. You're sure to have a great time and "build" some wonderful memories.

 

Get "Rainbowed" at Color Events Across the Southeast

Wednesday, July 9, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

 

color runs, paint parties, color run, color festival

I'm sure you've seen the pictures on Facebook, Instagram and other media: smiling people in clouds of colored dust or jets of bright paint, their clothes and bodies covered in a palette of pigments. Sometimes they're running a 5K; sometimes, they're dancing to dubstep at an outdoor arena. Whatever the activity, they are getting covered in color and having a great time. It's a technicolor trend that's been gaining momentum over the past couple of years and it's growing fast. Apparently, people really like getting "rainbowed".

Here's a rundown of some upcoming color events happening across the Southeast:

Races/Runs

Actually, to call them "races" is probably a misnomer because events like this are not timed and are really just for fun. You'll find most people walking with friends or jogging at a leisurely pace to the finish line (often in crazy outfits). At the start, participants are dressed in white. The run takes them through color zones, where people are waiting on the sidelines to douse the runners in a blaze of colored powders (powders are made of cornstarch and are non-toxic). The big finale at the finish line is a huge, celebratory, explosive color cloud, where the goal is to get as much color on yourself as possible and just have fun. It's also a great photo opp!

color run, color me rad, color race, texas

If you think you might like to try a color run, first read this list of 25 things to know before you do it. 

Color Me Rad 5K
September 6 | Wilmington, NC
September 12 | Morgantown, WV
September 27 | Tallahassee, FL
October 4 | Columbia, SC
October 18 | Johnson City, TN
 

The Color Run
August 23 | New Orleans, LA
Sept. 6 | Huntington, WV
Sept. 7 | Memphis, TN
Sept. 13 | Richmond, VA
Run or Dye, Color Run, texas vacationsSept. 13 | Tallahassee, FL
► Many more confirmed cities: check for yours here.

Run Or Dye
July 19 | Birmingham, AL
August 23 | Athens, GA
October 11 | Haines City, FL 
► Many more additional cities to be announced: check for yours here

The Color Vibe
July 19 | Fayetteville, AR
August 9 | Birmingham, AL
August 9 | Gulfport, MS
August 16 | Greensboro, NC

neon dash, color run 5k, atlanta georgiaSept. 6 | Montgomery, AL
► Many more confirmed cities: check for yours here.

Neon Dash Night Time 5K
Oct. 11 | Atlanta, GA

Color in Motion 5K
► Check here for many upcoming dates throughout the Southeast.

Paint Parties

These events vary greatly but the three things they always have in common are lots of great music, dancing and colorful paint blasts.

Paint party, Life In Color, nashville TN, tennessee, raleigh nc, north carolina

Life in Color

"Life in Color" bills itself as the world's biggest paint party.  Here's how they describe their spectacular show: "we transport fans into the ultimate, mind-blowing, heart-pumping, electronic dance music experience, featuring the world's biggest DJs, art, soaring aerial acts, stilt walkers, contortionists and fire shows...leading up to the famous paint blast."  
Sept. 12 | Nashville, TN
Sept. 13 | Raleigh, NC

neon paint party, el paso texas, anthony texas, texas vacationGlo Paint Party
Get your glow on at The Neon Paint Party, featuring electronic dance music, awesome DJs, black lights and gallons of neon paint. Events are for the 18+ crowd and are held at the hottest venues in the Carolinas. 

July 22 Charlotte, NC
July 25 Raleigh, NC

NeonGLOW Paint Party
July 12 New Orleans, LA
July 19
 Thibodaux, Orleans, LA


color festival, colour festival, texas, HoliColor Festival

With its origins in India, the Color Festival was initially inspired by an ancient Hindu practice known as Holi, the "Festival of Colors", which would usher in the Springtime. It was meant as a happy reminder to put away bad feelings and throw worries to the wind. People would ceremoniously throw colored powders into the air, filling the sky with bright clouds of color.

The Color Festival is an all-day celebration of music, dance, fresh vegetarian cuisine and yoga, featuring their world-famous color throws which urge everyone to embrace happiness and love.  All ages welcome.

July 12 | Charlotte, NC
TBA  |  Miami, FL

► Additional dates and cities to be announced

 

So, what's the point of all these color events?  

Judging from all the smiling people having a great time, it's just all about letting loose, being happy and getting RAINBOWED!

 

 

"Go 4th on the River" - A Must-See Fireworks Show in New Orleans, LA

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

new orleans, fireworks, louisiana,

If there's one thing New Orleans knows how to do, it's throw a great party. Independence Day is no exception!

new orleans fireworks, louisiana fireworks, july 4th, louisiana travelThere are many places across Louisiana where you can see amazing fireworks displays, but not many where you can see dueling pyrotechnics and floating, exploding shells on the Mississippi River. For that kind of spectacle, you'll have to head to NOLA's “Go 4th on the River” celebration.

Go 4th on the River is ranked by the American Pyrotechnics Association as one of the “Top Five Must-See Fireworks Displays in the U.S." The show features two "dueling barges" over the Mighty Mississippi, each participating in a choreographed fireworks battle that lights up the night sky. You'll also see unique pyrotechnics that, when launched, land in the water and shoot up a towering column of light, sparks and color, creating a show not only in the night sky, but in the water's reflection.

The fireworks display is free and can be viewed from either side of the river. Just bring a blanket or lawn chair, grab a seat by the levy and prepare to be amazed!

Local radio stations Magic 101.9, WWL 870 AM and FM and website WWL.com will be airing a simulcast of the music which coordinates with the fireworks show so bring your streaming device or a portable radio.

Go 4th and have a great holiday!

> Here are a few more events occurring in NOLA between July 3-6.

fireworks, louisiana, new orleans, independence day, free fireworks

 

 

 

 

 

"The Way We Worked" - Smithsonian's Amazing Tribute to American Workers - Tunica, MS

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

Every day, Americans are hard at work doing whatever it takes to keep this great nation of ours thriving. Whether on farms or in factories, offices or classrooms, on the streets or in outer space, work is and always has been a major part of all of our lives. The Smithsonian Institute is recognizing and celebrating the American worker (past and present) through a wonderful traveling exhibit called “The Way We Worked”. 

Tunica MS, Mississippi“The Way We Worked” shows the history of Americans working together, predominantly through powerful photographs culled from the national archive’s rich collection. They tell a compelling story of our American culture and show some of the fascinating ways work has changed over the last century. Besides the photos, “The Way We Worked” also features artifacts, presentations by scholars, engaging film and audio presentations and interesting interactive displays, all communicating how work impacts our lives individually and as a community. In an effort to continually grow and enrich their content, the Smithsonian encourages visitors to share their own work stories for their archives. 
 
nurses, Tunica, MS, MississippiThe exhibit is currently on display at the Tunica Museum in Tunica, Mississippi, located off Highway 61, across from Paul Battle Arena. Admission is free and it is open to the public on Tuesdays through Saturdays till Tuesday, July 15. It is being sponsored by the Museum and the Mississippi Humanities Council.

Besides the Smithsonian exhibit, the museum is also presenting their own exhibit which includes a recreation of “Grandpa’s Office”, two movies about farming (one from 1938 and one from the present), vintage business equipment and their equivalents, and much more.
 
Once you are done viewing the exhibits, stick around and check out the rest of the museum for a look into the town’s fascinating history. There are lots of videos, displays, artifacts, a nice little gift shop and an area memorializing the local veterans.
 
I highly recommend that you visit the Tunica Museum and experience this wonderful exhibit…even if you have to take a day off from work to do so!
 > More info on the exhibit.

This is just one of the great things to do and see in Tunica, MS.  For more great ideas of what to see in and around town, visit Escape to the Southeast.

 

The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum - It's a Home Run!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

Photo from Louisville Slugger Facebook page.Louisivlle Slugger Factory Kentucky

Call me un-American, but I'm really not a huge fan of baseball. So when I recently decided to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory in Louisville, Kentucky, I brought my two nephews who are baseball fanatics. Having them there really enhanced the experience, but I realized that even if you can't name a single current MLB player (like me), you will still enjoy this factory tour and museum.

Louisville Slugger Museum, Kentucky, baseball batWhen you arrive at the museum, the first thing you see is a 120’ tall baseball bat. The Big Bat, billed as the largest bat in the world, is a replica of the Louisville Slugger Babe Ruth used. Besides being an impressive sight, it sets the backdrop for some pretty cool photos!

You definitely should do the factory tour. We watched the workers making bats right before our eyes, which the boys really thought was cool, especially to think that the bat they were watching could end up in the hands of their favorite player. At the end of the tour they give you a free mini bat to take home, a really great souvenir. You can also purchase a personalized bat, a nice customized memento of your visit.

After the tour we explored the museum and had a great time. We saw some fascinating memorabilia, life-sized statues of legends like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Derek Jeter, and a short but interesting film called, “The Heart of the Game”.

One of my favorite events was a demonstration that showed you what it would be like to stare down a 90 mph fastball. Very exciting…and a bit scary!

There’s also a signature wall, an area for kids, complete with impressive Lego structures of various ballparks, and a batting cage where you get to swing replicas of the actual bats made for some of the stars. I swung Ty Cobb’s bat…I should say attempted to! I believe it was one of the heaviest bats they made!

Outside the museum is the Louisville Slugger Walk of Fame, which runs a mile from the Big Bat on West Main Street to Louisville Slugger Field on East Main Street. Players inducted are enshrined with a bronze cast of the bat they used, and a bronze home plate with highlights of their career.

Actually, I take back what I said earlier: please don't call me un-American.  Because even if I'm not a baseball nut, I really enjoyed learning more about America's favorite pastime and I really gained a new appreciation for the game. I highly recommend a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory! It's a real home run!

Note: On Main Street, nine other attractions are in walking distance and well worth checking out. You can get more information at: Museum Row on Main.

For more ideas on what to do in and around Louisville, KY, visit Escape to the Southeast!

 

 
 

Drink In the Fun at Atlanta's "World of Coca Cola"

Tuesday, June 3, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

Atlanta travel, Atlanta things to do

World of Coca Cola

 

It's one of the world's most iconic brands and it's headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. If you want to learn about and experience the most famous soft drink on earth, you'll love the "World of Coca Cola." 

Step foot inside the Lobby and you'll see: this is light-years beyond a standard factory tour. The World of Coca-Cola is a museum, interactive expo, art gallery, bottling facility and a soft-drink tasting experience.

The building contains over 1,200 Coke artifacts from all over the world, dating back as far as 1905. Displays show how the Coca-Cola brand, logo and advertising have evolved through the decades. Video presentations and digital exhibits tell Coke's story around the world and interactive exhibits make visitors a part of the action. There’s also a real Coke bottling line filling small glass bottles. Get a free bottle to take home as a souvenir!  As you walk around, look for the 7-foot Coca-Cola Polar Bear who's always ready for a hug and a fun photo opp.

One of the most talked-about parts of the tour is the tasting room where visitors can sample over 100 flavors from around the world. You will probably never have Inca Kola outside of Peru, but you can have it here. It's interesting to see how tastes vary around the world and you'll soon find that what is popular in other parts of the world is very different than what most Americans like.

A visit of the entire attraction is estimated to last an average of 2 hours. View admission prices and buy tickets here.  Also note these Special Ticket Offers that allow you to combine admission prices to World of Coca-Cola and other popular Atlanta attractions to save money.

All this and much more make the World of Coca‑Cola a unique, must-see Atlanta experience! 

It’s Always Party Time in Pensacola, FL

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

Pensacola FLorida, Pensacola Beach

Some 450 years ago, Spanish galleons sailed into Pensacola Bay, and explorer Don Tristan de Luna led an expedition ashore to establish the first European settlement in America. This historic landing is the basis of numerous celebrations every year, making Pensacola a destination where it’s always easy to find a festival or special event. pensacola beach, pensacola florida, landing ceremony

Flags of five governments have flown over Pensacola – Spain, France, England, the Confederacy and the United States – and an organization called the Fiesta of Five Flags organizes an array of activities every year. Its calendar includes the DeLuna Treasure Hunt, the Pensacola Crawfish Festival, the Fiesta Sand Sculpture Contest, the Fiesta Boat Parade and the Pensacola Seafood Festival. 

June 1 this year is a big day because of the Fiesta Landing Ceremony that reenacts DeLuna’s arrival, and June 5 resounds with the Fiesta Day Parade. There are more than a dozen events from this one organization.

The Pensacola Bay Area’s rich history and diverse population set the stage for many other events.Pensacola starts the year with the family-friendly Pelican Drop Celebration, and Mardi Gras follows quickly in February. Music fills the air in April with the Pensacola Jazz Fest, and November features the two-week Frank Brown International Songwriters’ Festival.

Pensacola florida, Fiesta Day ParadeThe area is steeped in military history as well. Top attractions include the National Naval Aviation Museum and the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue 
Angels. You can watch the Blue Angels practice their full length air show every Tuesday and Wednesday from March through November.

And don’t forget the beaches. Pensacola Beach and Perdido Key have miles of the sugar-white sand that makes the Gulf Coast famous. After all, these beaches have been attracting visitors for centuries.


More info on Pensacola.
 

One Cow at a Time in Little Rock

Friday, April 4, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen

Sometimes a vacation experience can be enjoyable and serious at the same time. That’s true at Heifer Village on the campus of Heifer International in downtown Little Rock. Its neighbor, the Clinton Presidential Library, gets loads of attention, but the hands-on learning experience of Heifer Village has a special appeal, too.

Heifer International is a global nonprofit whose goal is to end hunger and poverty. That’s a tall order, but it’s been working on it one family and one cow at a time since 1944. In truth, it’s not just cows. Heifer International also provides sheep, rabbits, honeybees, chicks, ducks, goats, geese, pigs, llamas, water buffalo and other livestock to needy people in more than 125 countries.

Visit Little Rock Arkansas vacation tripYou learn at Heifer Village that the concept is to give livestock and training to families so they can learn to produce more of their own food and help their neighbors. It’s a mission based on the proverb, “Give a man a fish, and you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

As you might expect, Heifer International is big on sustainability, so it’s no surprise to learn that its Little Rock headquarters is a LEED platinum-certified building. Adjacent wetlands along the Arkansas River complement the building’s design and the organization’s mindset. Inside are a visitor center, a café, a gift shop and spaces for a variety of programs and events throughout the years for families and adults. Stop by the gleaming headquarters, have a bite of lunch and learn how people in Arkansas extend a helping hand around the world.

Forty-five miles away in rural Perryville is another Heifer International facility, the Heifer Ranch, where you and your family can learn even more about practical ways to address hunger. 

Read more about visiting Little Rock, Arkansas at Escape to the Southeast!

"Start Your Engines" for NASCAR's Main Event - the Daytona 500!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen
 
 
Daytona 500, NASCAR, Daytona Florida, Florida travel, Florida vacation
 
One of the things February is known for is the Super Bowl, the most anticipated and watched sporting event of the year. But actually, there's another huge sporting event that takes place in February, and it's much more fast-paced and exciting than the football match-up. It's the “Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing”, the Daytona 500.
 
daytona 500, NASCAR, daytona florida, florida travel, Florida vacationHeld annually at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, this main event is a 500 mile long NASCAR Sprint Cup motor race, and is regarded as the most important and prestigious race on the NASCAR calendar. This year, the race will commence on Sunday, February 23 at 1:00 pm. There are a lot of fascinating activities leading up to the big event so if you are a racing fan, give yourself at least a couple of days to experience it all. Here’s a schedule of the events taking place at the track.
 
Even if you are not a fan of racing, once you get there and take it all in, you will no doubt become one. I would highly recommend you splurge for one of the tours.(Check the list of available tours). I did a few years ago and absolutely loved it.  We got to explore the track and take a lap around the infield. No, not in a race car... but riding in the slow moving tour vehicle gives you a much better chance to experience it all! I knew that the track was big, but you can’t imagine the scope until you are actually there. And those intimidating 31 degree banks…let’s just say that seeing it on TV does not do it justice. I especially loved the Victory Lane -- it was so cool to see where the winners stood and actually stand there myself! You can also walk around the exhibits, get up close to actual race cars and so much more! It was definitely one of the highlights of a very exciting week! 
 
And while you are in Daytona Beach, try to find some time to explore the area because it is rich with history, culture, nightlife, and some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see. 
 
So “drivers, start your engines” and head over to Daytona International Speedway for one of the most exciting sporting events of the year!
 
>> Read more about Florida travel on Escape to the Southeast.
 
 
 
Photo credits: Top BannerRight Image

Hot Springs, Arkansas: Take a Long, Hot Soak on a Chilly Winter Day

Friday, January 31, 2014 by Debbie Henriksen
 
hot springs, arkansas, visit arkansas, arkasnas
147 degrees.
 
That’s the temperature of the mineral water bubbling out of the ground in 47 spots around Hot Springs, Arkansas. And in the midst of one the country's coldest winters, I can't think of anything nicer than taking a good, long soak in these natural, healing waters. 
 
Folks have always gathered at these founts, from pre-history American Indians to today’s vacationers, to wash their cares away. A storied history swirls around the healing waters. Recognized as the first national preserve in the U.S., the area attracted bathers galore before the Civil War. Gangsters, including the infamous Al Capone, laid claim to the town in their era, but not all visitors were so sketchy. Major League Baseball teams practiced here at the turn of the 20th century so players could soothe aching muscles.
 
hot springs, arkansas, visit arkansas, arkasnasThese days, Hot Springs visitors flow around the National Park Service’s eight historic structures called Bathhouse Row. Start your visit by walking through the Fordyce Bath, which provides a glimpse into early 20th century bathhouse culture. Then, pick out a couple of services at either the Buckstaff or the Quapaw Bathhouse. Both are privately run.
 
Patrons line up morning and afternoon for the no-frills Buckstaff. Forget the idea of chic spas with piped-in mood music. Buckstaff hasn’t changed much in decades, and that’s a good thing. For a whopping $64, you can partake of the Traditional Bath experience that includes sliding into a 100+ degree bath for 20 minutes and following that with your choice of a sitz bath or the steam cabinet and then a cool shower. Before you depart, you’re treated to a full-body Swedish massage. 
 
hot springs, arkansas, visit arkansas, arkasnasThe Quapaw Bath & Spa reopened a few years ago with several unisex pools open to guests. Each is kept at different temperatures, from 90 to 104 degrees. Even if you forgot your swimsuit, Quapaw’s gift shop offers affordable swimwear as well as upscale products. You could spend the entire day here, trying out the steam room that’s situated over a natural spring, sampling the café’s salads, sandwiches, beers and smoothies, and relaxing with a soothing massage. 
 

For more information on Arkansas travel, visit Escape to the Southeast!

Experience Louisiana's Christmas Eve Bonfire Tradition

Monday, December 23, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen
 
Christmas bonfires in Louisiana
 
 
Leave it to the Cajuns to redefine the meaning of "Christmas lights".
 
For miles along the levees of the Mississippi River, Christmas Eve in St. James Parish, Louisiana is ushered in by over a hundred enormous bonfires. Although not everyone agrees on how the Christmas bonfire tradition began, most people do agree that there's a real beauty to the 20-foot flames that light up the night sky.
 
Louisiana Christmas Eve bonfiresSome believe it began as a way to light the path for those attending Christmas Eve Mass after dark. Others think it was started as a beacon to help Papa Noel (the Cajun Santa Claus) find his way to children's homes. Whatever the origin of the tradition, the "feux de joie" (fires of joy) bring many families and friends together each year on Christmas Eve. 
 
Preparations for the bonfires begins soon after Thanksgiving as people in the community build extravagant wooden pyramids along the river. While bonfires can be found in many parts of Louisiana, the Parish of St. James has really embraced the tradition, particularly the small riverside communities of Lutcher, Gramercy and Paulina, along Highway 44. 
 
On Christmas Eve, the festivities begin at around 7 pm, when the fire department gives the "go" sign and the pyramids are set ablaze. Fireworks are usually part of the celebration too. The fires line the levee for miles and attract thousands of visitors. It's no wonder, as the long line of fires reflecting on the water is a spectacular sight.  
 
If you'd like to be a part of this tradition, there are a few ways you can participate. You can walk along the levee and experience the many different celebrations taking place around the fires. Each one is typically surrounded by family members who built the fire. Stop and chat with these friendly folks along the way. You can also opt to get there before dark, scope out a parking place and "tailgate". Many people bring their own food, but there are usually vendors out selling delicious gumbos and other authentic Cajun foods. (Driving directions and parking advice can be found here).  Another option is to leave the transportation to someone else by taking a bus tour.
 
If you go, you're sure to enjoy this this unique Louisiana take on "Christmas lights" and perhaps even make it part of your annual celebration.
 
Wishing y'all a very Merry Cajun Christmas!
 
 
 
 
 
 

Asheville NC's Mecca of Gingerbread Artistry

Friday, December 20, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen

There's a spicy-sweet smell wafting through the air in Asheville, NC. That's because the biggest gingerbread throw-down in the U.S. happens here at the Omni Grove Park Inn. Gingerbread artists from across the country converge here in November for the chance to have their creation take top prize in the National Gingerbread House Competition.

These ain't your grandma's gingerbread houses!

Those who compete in Asheville are decorating masters, elevating a simple recipe of flour, sugar and spices to extremely detailed, complex, artistic tableaus of holiday scenes, animals, and vehicles - with precision, beauty and whimsy.  The prestige of this contest is evident, not only in the judges who preside, most of whom are culinary celebrities, but also the serious prize money:  First place winner gets $5,000!

Contrary to the contest title, entries don't necessarily have to be "houses". And they don't have to be entirely gingerbread either, although each entry must be completely edible. Contestants may use things like candy, fondant, chocolate and other decorative or structural baking materials.

Judges evaluate every minute detail. They examine each piece with flashlights, rulers, measuring tapes – they even use drills, to ensure that no inedible substances are used. What are they looking for?  Creativity, complexity, originality, difficulty and precision. 

2013 marks the 21st year of the contest.  Over 150 entries were submitted. On November 18th, prizes were awarded in four categories: child, youth, teen and adult.  Here’s a look at all the winners

Contest entries are on display at the Omni Grove Park Inn through January 2 and there’s no charge for admission!  In addition to the gingerbread profusion, enjoy the beautiful holiday displays and festive music throughout The Grove. A day – or weekend – spent here is sure to boost your Christmas spirit.

Asheville is a cool town with a fun “mountain” vibe and plenty of holiday events and boutique shopping. For more information on Asheville and surrounding areas in North Carolina, visit EscapeToTheSoutheast.com.

 

 

Visit the Spirit of Christmas Past in Williamsburg, VA

Monday, December 2, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia is a living time capsule of a thriving early American colony. No matter what season you come, you leave life as you know it behind. You become an 18th century traveler to the early years of the American Revolution, a time when our country's freedom and independence was taking shape. But visit during the month of December, and you'll step back into Christmas 1775.  All of the original homes, shops, taverns and public places that stood more than 300 years ago are entirely decorated in a festive array. The city is taken over by the sights, smells and sounds of holidays past. By nightfall, each window is illuminated and the scenes glow in warm candlelight.

Colonial Williamsburg Holiday CelebrationsColonial Williamsburg's calendar is filled with special events all throughout December. Here's just a sample:

  • The Grand Illumination – This event on December 8th kicks off the season with a bang - literally. Spend the day strolling the city, taking in all the beautiful decorations and enjoying special dining events and performances as you wait for the evening’s highlight: a thrilling fireworks display.
  • Christmas Decorations Walking Tour –  A guided look at festive building exteriors and streets decked in their holiday splendor.
  • Musical Performances – From symphonic orchestras to fiddle and banjo duos, from carols played on the glass armonica (an instrument  invented by Benjamin Franklin) to wassailing carolers, music of every kind is present throughout the village.
  • Holiday Dining – Experience the flavors of an 18th century Christmas. All restaurants in the Village embrace the season, offering their own take on a colonial-style holiday feast, through food, entertainment and atmosphere.
  • Various plays and reenactments, including the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol" can be enjoyed throughout the season.

There are many more events, too numerous to list.  See the whole itinerary at the Colonial Williamsburg Holiday calendar. Certain events require tickets which can be purchased online, but don’t wait.  Popular events sell out quickly, as do the lodging options in town.

Start a new holiday tradition this year at Colonial Williamsburg.

Learn more about things to do in Virginia at EscapeToTheSoutheast.com!

 

Weston, WV: You'd Have to Be Insane To Enter This Asylum

Monday, October 28, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen
 
Are you looking for a truly spine-tingling adventure this Halloween? Then head out to Weston, West Virginia, where you’ll see one of the most impressive (and haunted) structures in the country, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.
 

Construction began in 1858 but was delayed due to the Civil War. It was completed in 1881, and this enormous structure is the largest hand-cut stone building in America. (It is the second largest in the world, surpassed only by the Kremlin.) It was built to house 250 patients but by 1950 it reportedly contained over 2400 patients! Conditions were horrible for the patients -- they were kept apart from families and friends, and so-called treatments included frontal lobotomies and electro-shock therapy. Thousands of deaths occurred here, including patients killing one another and employees of the asylum. And since many were buried right on the grounds, it’s no surprise that this historic psychiatric hospital is one of the most haunted places in America.

The facility stayed open until 1994 when it was forced to close due its deteriorating condition. It was bought in 2007, and today it not only offers ghost tours (including a Private Paranormal Tour) but also historic tours that sound fascinating. >> Tour information

I am hoping to spend my Halloween taking part in their Overnight Ghost Hunt this year. (If you can’t make it on Halloween, a few other dates are currently available.) On previous tours, visitors have reported seeing ghostly forms, lights and orbs, etc. and hearing gurneys being pushed back and forth, banging noises, voices, laughing, screams coming from the electro-shock area, and warnings to leave the building! You can go it alone, but I think I’ll stick with the group option. Not that I’m afraid of encountering spirits and experiencing paranormal activities in a dark, scary, oppressive asylum all by myself, mind you!  It’s just that I think it would be even more fun sharing the experience with other like minded individuals…yeah, that’s it!  (You can find more like-minded individuals on their Facebook page.)

 
 
For more information about traveling in West Virginia, visit Escape To The Southeast.
 

5 Uniquely New Orleans Things to do for Halloween

Sunday, October 27, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen
 
Right around now, people across the U.S. are doing typical Halloween activities like pumpkin picking and hay rides, costume parties, haunted house attractions, etc. But in New Orleans, Louisiana, things are FAR from typical.  With a flair for the macabre and a close connection to the spirit world, NOLA is a city that celebrates the haunted, the spooky, the mysterious all year long. That's why there's just no better place to visit this time of year!
 
Here are just a few uniquely New Orleans ways to celebrate Halloween:
 
 
1. Experience a "Mourning" at Hermann-Grima House
Hermann-Grima House is a historic Federal mansion in the French Quarter of New Orleans. A fascinating tour any time of year, the home takes a dark turn every October to reenact the funeral of the widow Grima. With rooms in the house draped in black, tours will focus on the many "rules and regulations" of death and mourning in the 19th century.
 
 
 
 
2.  Purchase a "Spell Kit" at Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo
Named for the 18th century Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau's has what you need to cast a spell, perform a seance ritual or beckon the spirit world.  The store offers a great selection of Voodoo Dolls, Skeleton Keys, various animal bones and claws and much more. Even if you're not looking to cast any spells, it's a very intriguing (and somewhat creepy) store to browse through, whether in October or any other time of year.
 
 
 
3.  Prepare to be Scared on the Ghost Tour of the French Quarter
With so many haunted sites, cemeteries and ghost tours in and around NOLA, which one do you choose?  Depends whether you want to get REALLY scared or not.  If you're after the real deal, sign up for the New Orleans Ghost Tour of the French Quarter. Visit sites with actual, documented paranormal activity. 90% of tour participants capture spirits in their photographs! This tour is offered year-round but it's a perfect addition to your New Orleans Halloween revelry! The company also offers several other spooky, creepy tours focused on Voodoo and Withcraft Rituals, Vampires, or Cemeteries.
 
 
 
 
haunted new orleans4. Go on a Haunted Pub Crawl with Bloody Mary 
Throughout history, the local pub has been a place where nefarious plans have been laid and scandalous deeds, fueled by whiskey and beer, have been carried out. Do the spirits of murdered pirates, politicians and prostitutes still inhabit the pubs where they died? Bloody Mary takes you on this fascinating walk through some of New Orleans' legendary pubs. Don't think of this as a bar-hopping, drinking pub crawl.  It's a history tour with a paranormal twist. Having said that, a few cocktails may be served (at extra cost) so guests must be 21+.
 
 
 
5. ...and speaking of Bloody Marys 
It's typically thought of as a brunch drink, but the name is just so perfect for Halloween imbibing. If you enjoy that mixture of tomato juice, vodka and hot sauce, here are a few of the best places in New Orleans to get a "killer" Bloody Mary (from Eater.com)
• Cafe Atchafalaya -  Their garnish-your-own-Bloody-Mary bar lets you build a meal in a glass.  Plenty of creative add-ins you'd never expect make for a unique experience.
• Dante's Kitchen - Everything's better with bacon, including Dante's special bacon-infused Bloody Mary.
• Cafe Adelaide - try the perfectly-spicy secret recipe, garnished with okra, green beans and olives.
 
Do you have any suggestions for unique Halloween fun in New Orleans?  Please let me know in the comments.
 
Planning a trip to New Orleans, LA?  Visit EscapeToTheSoutheast.com for more information. Order your free brochure here.

South Alabama Raises a Monument to a Pest

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen

In Enterprise, Alabama, at the intersection of College and Main Streets, there’s a 13-foot tall monument that holds above her head an object of great admiration and honor: a boll weevil.  In further reverence to this shiny insect, there is a street called  Boll Weevil Circle, a strip mall called the Boll Weevil Plaza and a Boll Weevil Inn. Your country music plays on radio station Weevil 101 (call letters WVVL).  Why all this glory for what most consider an insidious pest?

Early in the 1900s, boll weevils invaded the U.S. from Mexico, eating up cotton crops wherever they spread. Rather than throw in the towel, farmers around Enterprise resisted – not by fighting the insects, but by planting crops the weevils wouldn’t eat. In short, they heeded the advice of agricultural scientists such as George Washington Carver at Tuskegee Institute and rebounded dramatically with crops of peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans.

In 1919, an Enterprise city councilman proposed honoring the boll weevil for forcing Enterprise to diversify its economy. A monument was dedicated that year. The monument is a classical Greek female figure standing on a pedestal and holding high a giant boll weevil. The inscription reads: “In profound appreciation of the Boll Weevil and what it has done as the Herald of Prosperity, this monument was erected by the Citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

Every October, the South Alabama town renews the tribute with a one-day Downtown Boll Weevil Fall Festival. This year, it will fall on October 19th and promises small-town fun at its best.  For more information, visit the City of Enterprise, Alabama's website.

 

 
If you're planning a vacation in Alabama or any of the USA's Southeast states, please visit our website for lots of great travel information.  You can also request a free copy of our "Escape to the Southeast" Travel Guide, the official guide of the Southeast.  Order it today! 

 

Put on Your Lederhosen! It's Oktoberfest in Helen, GA

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen
Helen Georgia travel

 

It's in the air: the smell of schnitzel and beer, the sound of the oompah-pah band.  It's time for one of the oldest and best Oktoberfest celebrations in the United States in Helen, Georgia!

Helen is a charming alpine city tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Chattahoochee River.  Although it's only an hour and a half drive northeast of Atlanta, Helen's Bavarian-styled buildings and cobblestone streets will have you thinking you somehow arrived in Germany.

Helen's famous Oktoberfest began on September 19 this year and runs through October 27.  You can expect to see a wonderfully eclectic mix of people, ranging from octogenarians in lederhosen to hillbillies in overalls.  The center of the festivities is the Festhalle, a walled pavillion with one side open to the river.  

Helen Georgia vacation

There are dozens of long tables for communal seating, concession areas, bars, a dance floor and a stage for the various bands.  You can always expect some great music at the Helen Oktoberfest. (Check out the 2013 band schedule.)

As expected, there are lots of traditional German delicacies to enjoy such as pretzels, schnitzel and, of course, Bavarian beer which you can enjoy in their outdoor biergarten.

If you need a break from the beer and Bavarian revelry, Helen has plenty to offer, including a market square with galleries, shops and restaurants. 

Nature lovers will enjoy canoeing, fishing, kayaking and tubing on the  Chattahoochee River.  Breathtaking Anna Ruby Falls, with its rare double waterfall, offers amazing photo ops.  For something different, try a gold mine tour! 

At this time of year, though, the main attraction in Helen is the Oktoberfest.  Yes, it can be touristy and boisterous at times, but then again, that's kinda the reason it's such a fun event.So, polka your way down to beautiful Helen, Georgia!  You'll not only experience an adorable Alpine village, but a wonderful Oktoberfest that guarantees a great vacation for the entire family.

Prosit!!

 

 

>> More information about Oktoberfest in Helen, GA

 

 

 
 
 

Whooping It Up for Whooping Cranes in North Alabama

Thursday, September 19, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen

Although you'll most likely drive into into Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in North Alabama, most of its visitors arrive by air.

That’s because most visitors here are birds – many, many birds. In fact, 285 species have been identified on this 35,000-acre tract along the Tennessee River between Decatur and Huntsville.

The most storied and conspicuous of Wheeler’s visitors are whooping cranes. These giants stand up to five feet tall and have wingspans of almost eight feet.

A few whoopers, North America’s most famous endangered bird, plus thousands of slightly shorter sandhill cranes spend winters at Wheeler. There are now a few hundred whooping cranes in existence thanks to human intervention and protection after the total population at one time plunged to only 15 birds.

The first whooping cranes found Wheeler thanks to a follow-the-leader game. A man disguised as a bird flying an ultra-light aircraft first led juvenile cranes to land here as part of Operation Migration, which established an eastern wintering ground in north Florida.  Operation Migration teaches whoopers from central Wisconsin the route. In the program’s early years, they stopped at Wheeler. Now, mature birds bring youngsters with them.

Wheeler’s wildlife observation building offers a glass-enclosed room (spotting scopes included) that provides you a sheltered place to see a great variety of birds – migrating songbirds in spring, hummingbirds returning from Central America as summer approaches, warblers in October and thousands upon thousands of ducks and geese in autumn and winter. In addition, other wildlife is abundant, five hiking trails are open and fishing is good.

For more information, visit the websites for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge and Operation Migration

 
If you're planning a vacation in Alabama or any of the USA's Southeast states, please visit our website for lots of great travel information.  You can also request a free copy of our "Escape to the Southeast" Travel Guide, the official guide of the Southeast.  Order it today! 

 

Richmond, VA: Rich in Civil War History

Tuesday, September 3, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen
 
I saw the movie “Lincoln” recently, and it reminded me how less than 150 years ago, a large part of Richmond, Virginia had been burned to the ground. Back then, Richmond was the capitol of the confederacy, and when the Union army was threatening to capture Richmond, retreating Confederate soldiers set fire to as many buildings as they could. But in practically no time, Richmond bounced back and emerged from the smoldering rubble of the Civil War to become an even more important and economically powerful city than before!
 
Richmond is a city that everyone should plan to visit. But it’s an especially great destination if you are even a little intrigued by our nation’s history. Begin by spending some time at Richmond National Battlefield Park. The park is actually a number of battlefields and visitor centers located in the City of Richmond and adjacent counties. The park's Visitor Center at Tredegar Iron Works houses an informative museum containing many Civil War artifacts. The surrounding grounds were the location of the iron works which produced cannons, small arms and the armor for the warship Merrimac. The American Civil War Center next door also has some artifacts and a gift shop, but its main focus is in showing different perspectives of the Civil War, from the viewpoints of northerners, southerners, and African-Americans. I found it really fascinating and thought provoking. A driving tour of the battlefields includes 13 separate sites with four visitor centers along an 80 mile route (some of the visitor centers are only open seasonally), and though I suppose you could see them all in one day, I’d recommend that you give yourself a couple of days to take it all in.  
Don't rush your way through Richmond! The city is filled with so many wonderful historical things to do and see. For example, you can take a free guided tour of the beautiful Virginia Capitol Building, which is full of historically significant artifacts and rooms. Take a nice walk or drive on Monument Avenue, where you’ll see statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stuart, and more. Pay a visit to St. John’s Episcopal Church (where Patrick Henry delivered his impassioned "Give me Liberty or give me Death" speech.) and stop by the fascinating Hollywood Cemetery, where U.S. presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, Jefferson Davis, Jeb Stuart and George Pickett are buried. (Make sure you pick up a guidebook at the gate house - it will lead you to all of the many prominent people who are buried there.) 
 
Of course, Richmond is not only a mecca for history buffs -- it’s an incredible, vibrant city with something for everyone.
  
 

Charleston, WV: Catch Up on Culture in the Capitol

Monday, August 26, 2013 by Debbie Henriksen


Mention the southern city of Charleston and most people will think of South Carolina.  But West Virginia features a Charleston too, and it happens to be the state capitol and the largest city in WV (not to be confused with another WV city called Charles Town). Home to a variety of exciting cultural and recreational attractions, it's a city well worth visiting.  And, if you're into history you can't miss the Cultural Center near the State Capitol building.

As you enter the Center, you are greeted by its Great Hall, a beautiful space with marble walls and floors and crystal chandeliers. There is a theater behind the great hall which features dance, music, plays, film festivals, and many other types of events. The center also houses reference and archive libraries, and a wonderful State Museum which was constructed to showcase the Mountain State’s historic, artistic, and cultural heritage. The Museum was recently renovated, and what an amazing job they did! It is like something you might expect to find in Washington, D.C.  The layout makes it a pleasure  – you don’t wander around aimlessly, hoping to catch something interesting. No, they have it ingeniously laid out so that you follow along chronologically, taking in their self-guided exhibits at your own pace. It is a great way to experience some of the pivotal moments in West Virginia’s history. 

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this experience, and also pleasantly surprised to find out that my visit was free! The museum is open to the public January through December, most days except major holidays, Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5:00 p.m.

I consider the State Museum at the West Virginia Cultural Center a must-see for anyone living or visiting the great state of West Virginia!