Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair Sip and Stroll Ticket Giveaway

The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair 2017

While the Houston area may boast several events for wine and food enthusiast, the ultimate food and wine celebration in Houston is the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair.  Over the past 6 years Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair has been raising the bar on the culinary standards in the city with a decadent celebration of food, wine and spirits in a collaboration that is truly unforgettable.  This year the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair is making some exciting changes to the mix to not only showcase some of the best food Houston has to offers and the top tier of wine and spirits from around the world.  Attendees win as the festival gives you an insider’s glimpse that will take your knowledge and appreciation to the next level.

In lieu of some of introductory events the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair will take on the road as teacher as it showcases food and wine in a more intimate setting.  In order to provide the perfect setting the On the Rocks Bartender Challenge has been replaced with private dinners to kick off the weekend festivities.  Choosing either the Boiling Point seafood boil or The Italian Invasion Dinner guests can mix great food and wine with intimate company and some great insight as they enjoy their favorites or try something new.  Additionally the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair has added several learning experiences that guest can attend Friday and Saturday.  There is nothing like identifying the why of your love for some of your favorite flavor profiles.  Taking the time to get deeper into the educational side only strengthens your appreciation for your favs and gives you clues on how to find other top picks based on your own palette.

The Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair made sure not to mess with the best, with their program changes, and Friday nights Grand Tasting is sure to be one for the books.  The Sugar Land Marriott Town Square serves as the perfect location to meet food and wine nirvana.  With everything from inventive culinary creations (I still dream about the upscale Frito pie) and tried and true favorites from HEB and local restaurant superstars the event provides a something for everyone in an unforgettable night.

Other favorites, such as Saturdays Sip and Stroll will keep more recent location changes, now done at Constellation Field but enhanced it with a two day option so you have all of Saturday and Sunday to get a chance to grab your favorite bites and beverages while enjoying some of the great performers who always deliver during the event. As the Sugar Land Wine & Food Affair promises more of the core that has built its following as well as some great new opportunities to appreciate the food and wine on a different level this event is going to be a must on any food and wine lover’s schedule.

Day 2 in Tokyo Enjoying the mix of fun, fashion and serenity of Meiji Shrine

One of the big draws for me to visit Tokyo was getting some peace from the beautiful scenes and parks the city is renowned for so the Shibuya district was at the top of my list.  On my second day in Tokyo my quest lead me to Shibuya and the Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine to take a walk in the park if you will.  Often my travels are about seeing all I can see but crossing a city off your travel list does not have to be what wanderlust is all about.  Coming off the death of my grandmother, my motivation for traveling to Tokyo was just to take a break and appreciate my blessings and nature is one of the best spaces in which life is put into perspective for me.

Meiji Shrine is a huge area encompassing the temple area, covered walk ways and bridges, museums and historical buildings.  Unfortunately for us the access to the Treasure Museum is limited to the weekends, however the grounds in themselves are a looking glass into the world of ancient Japan.  During your stroll to the Temple you get to enjoy the tree lined walk ways and trails.  From the old wine barrel displays to the bonsai garden you have a sense of reverence for the history that is contained within the park area.

As we approached Meiji Shrine you are reminded that despite it begin a tourist attraction it is a place of worship for many as well. From the ritual cleansing of the face and hands instructions at the entrance to the shrine and prayer area there is a real sense of peace in watching others celebrate their beliefs.  I was lucky enough to even see a wedding processional solemnly parade through the courtyard.  This temple also did a great job of giving some explanations to the ceremonies and celebrations that were ongoing in the space.  During my visit I saw the harvest festival which used elaborate fruit offerings as a celebration of blessings.

Outside of the Temple the park is an explorer’s paradise. The grounds allow you to visit several historical buildings or just relax in the grass and enjoy the peace and beauty of it all.  Outside of the temple, however, the city is still bustling all around.  We decide to just wander our way to our next destination, even passing some comforts of home such as Garrets Popcorn.  We grabbed lunch just blocks away at the Omotesando Hills.  This is a go to destination for premium luxury brands, but as usual there was just food on the brain.  After a tour of the ten restaurants and their menus we settled on a small restaurant doing what Japan does best when it comes to food, showcasing simple ingredients in an exceptional way.  Even with my simple order of chicken the barrage of colors and sauces and flavors on my dish made it one of the most memorable meals I had in Japan.

While luxury brands were not my cup of tea this trip I am always interested in exploring local shops so we headed deeper into Shibuya to see what we could find. This is a huge area for shops and stores, most that are original to Japan.  After a long day of walking and exploring we headed back towards our train stop but the relaxing tour of the Meiji Shrine stayed with us as a sense of appreciation for the beauty found all around us that is celebrated in Japan.

Balanced traveling: Putting rest and relaxation into making big moves

International travel often demands you spend your time on the move, but sometimes you just have to know how to sit back and relax too to get the most out of a vacation. As I hit the hotel room in Tokyo after a couple of days’ worth of traveling I knew that my normal hitting the road was not going to work. I needed rest and relaxation and with the Peninsula giving me some amazing five star luxury I was in the right place to make that happen.

Usually there are two separate but equal trains of thought on travelling: those who hit the destination all in, soaking all the fun they can out of it and those who have R & R on the brain and plan to lay back and take a mellow break from their everyday life. Admittantly the first one is usually my go to, but I learned an important lesson on balance in my Tokyo trip.  Spending time recharging at your hotel is not only a great way to not come back from your trip needing a vacation from your vacation but it is a good way to get your money’s worth when booking luxury travel.  I now consider it mandatory getting my money’s worth time.  Enjoy the plush robe and slippers, soak your stress away in the tub, and ponder life outside the phenomenal view of your window.  All these things help define the vacation separate from the ripping and running that probably occupy your normal life.

So as much as I like this balance sitting still too long will never be up my alley. But exploring will always be a passion of mine so why not start the exploration at the hotel.  Great hotels are typically prepared for wandering spirits and have great amenities.  The pool and spa facilities at the Peninsula were exceptional.  As with most things very orderly (there was instructions on pool routine, swim, and then sauna then swim).  With the incredible views of Ginza and invigorating hot tub it did a great job of unwinding both my body and mind.  Lesson learned for me though that exploring a new city can start first with your hotel as you balance your quest for adventure with a desire to re-invigorate yourself.

The Peninsula Tokyo: Kon’nichiwa luxury!

When in a strange land, having some place comfortable and safe to lay your head can give you real peace of mind and when that place is crazy luxurious you may have found yourself in the Peninsula Tokyo.  Set in the business district of Ginza the hotel offers class beyond compare, a central location, transit options from within the hotel, and impeccable service.  My initial Tokyo plans did not include the Peninsula, however with the 4th night free offer with the AMEX Fine Hotels I thought it would be a great addition to what was sure to be a great trip.  When I read you could also access the train from the basement of the hotel while also being just minutes from the Imperial Palace the scales tipped in the Peninsulas favor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I am a big fan of the Peninsula Chicago for their lovely high tea service, this was my first time staying at the Peninsula hotel. After some sickness on the plane and an hour ride from the airport, the welcoming staff was definitely a site for sore eyes.  As expected the lobby areas were beautiful, although much more compact from the sprawling Peninsula Chicago that I was used to.  After moving up to my room, however, I could care less what was the lobby dimensions as the room was simply amazing.  From the large walk-in closet and dressing area to the opulent bathroom to the huge master suite and sitting area with expansive views of the city around I was in love.  I would be doing a disservice if I did not mention my favorite part, the toilet.  No bidets are not the rage in America, but this one was something special.  I have seen nice ones, but a toilet that automatically lifts the seat when you walk in, has a warmer, spray settings for both front and back targets and even a dryer (Yes a dryer) literally blew me away.

As with most great hotels the extras are where you lose any lingering regrets you may have about the price. Including simple amenities that are a lot more important when you are far away from home like Q-tips and slippers, tvs and radios in the bathroom, Oscar De La Renta soaps and shower gels all add to a wonderful and luxury experience at a hotel.  These things you can’t qualify but also can’t duplicate at a hotel that is not on par.  For instance after noticing one guest was a mini, we came back to the room with a special baby basket and kids robe and slippers for my one year old Bronx.  Now this is class at its finest.

My next biggest concern with a hotel is always location as I like to hit the pavement in a new city no matter where that is in the world. The hotel is centrally located and close to the shopping in Ginza, the Imperial Palace by foot and the incredibly efficient train stations to get you to most of the highlights in Tokyo with ease.  The staff did a great job in arming us with site and transit maps before we headed out on our way.  The one drawback for me was in reading about the transportation options online before arriving.  When we went to book the basic car service I thought would be a free, first come first serve service, we were told it was only associated with suites in the hotel and could not be accessed.  As the trains were so convenient it wasn’t a sticking point, but some places such as Tokyo Tower, are still a bit cumbersome to get to with the transit system.

Without question the comfort and luxury found in the Peninsula hotel could have you spend your entire vacation in the 500 sq. ft. of a room and love every second of it.

Tackling Honolulu in 24 hours with Waikiki beach fun

Yes when you get news you have a long layover in Honolulu Hawaii of all places it is like you stepped out of a nightmare and right into a dream. My path to Honolulu was definitely not blue skies as there are few things worst then being told you won’t make a leg of an international trip.  So after a night of being puked on by a baby and a couple of hours sleep in LA I was stood at a counter close to tears about my flight to Tokyo.  Luckily an unexpected blessing was coming my way as although there were no flights to Tokyo in the next 2 days out of LA I could connect in Hawaii for a long layover.  No question my answer was yes!!!

 

So what do you do in Honolulu with just a day there and no real preparation for your trip? Well that’s easy.  First is just to remember there is always a silver lining and just be grateful.  After that immediately book a hotel room around Waikiki, buy some flip flops, and go flying towards the beach.   Just to highlight all the wrongs made a right on this trip for me a rainbow popped up to highlight my great luck.  The Waikiki beach and sunset is nothing short of amazing.  It is a great time to give pause to just what a blessing life is.  And as things are looking up there is still a ton to do in Honolulu once you get your beach time in.

The Waikiki beach area has really built itself up with great shopping and restaurants all within an easy walking distance. With their late night hours and busy walking traffic you almost get a baby Vegas strip vibe.  We set off to do a little shopping and fill our bellies as we took on the 24 hour Hawaii challenge.   The only downside of a very commercial build up is that you can lose some of the more authentic stores that are a real refection on Hawaii.  So after popping in a couple of Urban Outfitters and other stores we decided that food was the new top priority.  To start Hawaiian shaved ice!!! Okay I had a mild obsession while I was pregnant but my love did not prepare me at all to an authentic Hawaiian twist.  At Island Vintage Coffee Shave Ice they had fresh favors and Hawaiian ingredients that were one of a kind.  Not to mention how amazingly light the ice was.  It was a great warm up for what was to come.

We took some good advice from a stranger also scarfing down shaved ice and wandered into a newly renovated shopping center, the International Market Place.  In addition to some great luxury shopping options the third floor is dedicated to some great eats and good times.  On the weekends they have live entertainment and the band that was rocking 80’s music and 70’s funk had my son getting his serious grove on.  At the Eating House 1849, the food was an eclectic mix of Asian Hawaiian influences and the 1849 Spicy Ramen Bowl and Tavern Style Fried Chicken were a perfect cap to a long day.

Up in the morning and while my mind is on Tokyo there is still time for some final Hawaiian moments. We heard that the Island Vintage coffee company with their honey latte was the place to be and the long line we faced confirmed the recommendation.  With a gorgeous grassy area and great view of the boulevard it is a great way to wake up your day in Hawaii.  It is a great reminder that the best memories happen in a moment.    You don’t always have to have an extended stay, just a fabulous location with the ones you love can give you the opportunity to make memories that last a lifetime.

A-Town Birthday Showdown

I love celebrating life so when a good friend calls with birthday plans in Atlanta chances are I’m going to try and join in on the good times.  My most recent trip to Atlanta was a great weekend getaway to celebrate friends, fun, and oh so many laughs.  Of course with a trip with 5 ladies there are going to be some standard checks on the things to do list, eat, shop, and party so away we went to paint the town red in Atlanta.

As a foodie, getting a taste of a city is always at the top of my list and no restaurant did it better for me on this trip to Atlanta than Serpas.  The restaurant does serve American food but with such an edgy twist on classics it leaves you wondering exactly where it came from and how you can get more.  The national acclaims have come flowing in and every bit of praise is completely worth it.  I had the Stuffed Airline Chicken and after my foodgasm I was pretty sure it was the chef’s way to ask me to marry him.  The chicken was both juicy and crunchy with a stuffing that made you lick your spoon stopping only long enough to stuff some savory mashed potatoes in your mouth.  Hmmm hmmm hmnmm, this restaurant will make you want to change your weekend plans.

Outside of food the question becomes where will you get all of your shopping and fun done in the city.  We just Buckhead as our base location because how close it is in the vicinity of great food and shopping.  When traveling with a group of five it is important to make things convenient enough for everyone to have their own freedom in doing things.  This way you don’t end up want to strangle someone for taking too long to get dressed or not wanting to stick to the pace you are on.  Although Buckhead is a great shopping location, there are few better central locations to party than downtown Atlanta.  The variety of clubs makes popping around a breeze so you can get everyone pumped based on their preference and ensure a good time is had by all!  The variation in the trip was key to ensuring we all got to celebrate as a group and do the things we enjoy individually as well.

Bubbles and luxury-the Ritz Carlton Buckhead

The Ritz brand is synonymous with luxury and the Ritz Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta head up to that reputation and more.  Situated just steps away from Lenox mall the hotel offers great amenities and a personal touch that defines what a luxury hotel should be.  The lobby was definitely at the top of the list as a highlight for me.  If you are thinking is it because they gave you free champagne when you walked in the door then the answer is a resounding yes!  The mimosa station that was set up for happy hour on the Saturday we arrived was just what the doctor ordered when it came to shaking off the jet lag blues.  And as the Ritz name suggests just the ordinary would not do.  With flavors like Apple cider mimosas I made the lobby my central station as we waited for our room to be prepared.  Top that with the whiskey tasting that happened once the champagne was carted away and you begin to catch a glimpse at what makes this hotel stand out.

My next stop was at the spa.  While I only had time for a much needed pedicure I still had the opportunity to unwind in the shared spa areas and prep for what was sure to be a long party weekend.  The sitting area designed like a little oasis was the perfect location to slow down, drink some tea, reflex, relax and take a breath.   To top that with having your feet rubbed while watching a clear view of the city skylines you can lose yourself in the mellowness of it all.

When you add the bonus drinks and a staff that treats you like royalty the Ritz officially claims its title as one of the best luxury hotels. While I am also a fan of the Ritz Carlton in downtown Atlanta, the Buckhead location gives you just what you were looking for: the comfort and regal vibe you expect from a Ritz from the rooms to the staff.

Tropical family fun in Cancun Mexico

Yes Cancun is a party paradise, but this tourist mainstay is also a beautiful tropical paradise that works for family fun as well.   My trip to Cancun began because I wanted something a little more festive than Cozumel in my short weekend getaway to Mexico.  Admittantly the access is not as straight forward as I would like, with a 40 minute ferry and hour bus ride to get there from Cozumel, it is more than a trek to get there.  After such a long trip with kids though we found Cancun to be a great haven for water fun with a little something for everyone.

For the more adventurous crew the options abound while in Cancun. From trips to pyramids to ziplines to tours that include snorkeling marvels they have it all.  Planning is a bit of a factor as some of extended tours require an early departure time and previous day scheduling.  As we failed on both of these counts we had to do something that could be done immediately and had a shorter trip time.  In the end we wound up with the perfect mix as we took the Jungle Tour, a snorkeling/boating trip, which lasted only about four hours.  Driving the boat was the main draw for me as this definitely put a bit of the adventure in your hands.  As I hopped in the boat with my daughter and revved up the engine the excitement was real.  The tour takes you through the Cancun coastline to a snorkeling destination at the end of the Cancun strip.  Once you arrive you hop right off your boat and take a quick snorkeling tour full of both friendly fish and cool underwater statutes.  It was a great time to spend some one of one time with a loved one and get a real since of exploration.

For the more laid back or even the younger or older crowd there are still tons of options but in my opinion there are few better than the beach. A day at the beach, is filled with things that lend themselves to family time.  Be it crashing in the water, taking a sun soaked nap or even exploring the sand for treasures it gives you the perfect opportunity to do one of lives greatest treasures, one on one time with the ones you love.

Hard Rock in Cancun: Adding a little rock and roll to your vacay

The Hard Rock Hotel Cancun is everything the Hard Rock has become synonymous with: a party atmosphere, beautiful lodgings, and a great vibe from its guests.  When you add these classic Hard Rock elements with the natural beauty of Cancun in a premium all-inclusive hotel, you amp up the volume on a typical Hard Rock visit.  I have always loved the vibe of the Hard Rock hotels as the rock and roll theme always puts me in a mood for fun.  With the great restaurants and prime locations the hotel chains in Las Vegas and Chicago hold some amazing memories.  In Cancun, however, this type of fun isn’t a novelty, the city itself has built a brand for party and fun so how does the Hard Rock make it even better???? Beach, booze, and bliss.

You usually know a good time is in store when at check in you are offered a drink of your choice.  Well at least that is a good sign for me.  Once you step into this beautiful property you know that most anything you want is at your disposal.  The many restaurants offer convenient seating and a variety of cuisine options. The bars are fully stocked with premium liquors and the bartenders pour freely.  The rooms are comfortable even including large Jacuzzis and also a full stocked bar ready for you to raid.  Room service offers a variety of options and deliver any time of the day or night.  Even with all this the fun does not stop there.

 

One of my favorite features of the hotel was the pool.  The in pool seating allowed you to rest in water to get a break from the heat in comfort and style.  The pool atmosphere is lively with performances, games and entertainment throughout the day.  While the kids hopped in a game of volleyball I hopped in between bar, buffet and the pool and finally finished out my day of R & R with some time on the beach.  With the sun coming down we got a chance to experience some of the nightlife options at the hotel with a nightclub pumping music throughout the main pavilion and hookahs picked up by small friendly groups enjoying the night breeze.  A delicious taco cart came out just in time to smooth the munchies that descended as we danced and laughed into the wee hours.  With so much to do you escape some of the boredom that can come with being in one place for your whole vacation and with such a great location you are always free to hop into some of the fun party or adventure vibe of Cancun.  Hard Rock Cancun does a phenomenal job of giving you classic hard rock fun in a beautiful tropical environment.

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