Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hotlanta Hotel

Mr. J and I went to different colleges in Atlanta.  He graduated a year ahead of me, but he's had the opportunity to return a few more times than I have since he walked the stage.  Every year for the last few years, he's actually met up with a bunch of his college friends during Homecoming Weekend.  

In October 2009, I finally had the chance to join him.  It was so strange since this was the first time I went back to the ATL since I graduated in 2003.  The city changed a lot since I left, especially the Buckhead area.  It used to have a lot of clubs where college kids partied until the wee hours of the morning.  Now, it's filled with restaurants and hotels. 

Photo credit: W Atlanta - Buckhead website

For our 3 night stay, Priceline gave me a HUGE surprise when I won my bid of $75 / night at the W Atlanta - Buckhead.  I couldn't believe my luck!  Not only was that less than half off the asking rate on the hotel's website, it was in a great location as well.  The W in Buckhead is located a few buildings down from Lenox Square Mall.  It's also on Peachtree Street, the main drag that brings you all the way to the heart of the A and beyond.  Talk about a major lucky break for me :-)

Because of our stay at the W in New Orleans, I was expecting the room to be much smaller than it was.  Despite the fact that Starwood Hotels is very consistent with its decor of the W brand, Mr. J and I loved this one ten times more than the one in NOLA.  

The only strange thing about the room was that it did not have a tub like all of the other W hotels we've ever stayed in.  It's ok though since I never use it anyway.  But still, it just stuck out in my mind while we were there.

When Mr. J finished his guys' time at Homecoming, he dropped by to say hello to my sorority sisters and I, who were sitting in the lobby.  

We even saw one of the characters from the Real Housewives of Atlanta there.  Can you guess who it is?  Yes, that is a man and he is wearing Louboutins.  I am jealous!

My sorority sisters and I spent hours just people watching at the bar in the lobby.  The bartender there is a blast and we had so much fun.  Like other W hotels, this one also had a Whiskey Blue bar.  However, it was located on the roof instead of in the lobby.  Guests of the hotel were able to get into the lounge for free and through a private elevator.  Very cool!

Nuthin' Like NOLA

Neither Mr. J and I ever had a chance to visit New Orleans before Katrina.  So, when he was offered an opportunity to do a recruiting stint during the Black NBA Conference in September 2009, we both jumped at the chance to spend a weekend there.

Mr. J's company paid for the hotel stay during the first two nights of our trip and we had to take care of the last two nights.  Since I had such great luck with our Chicago hotel earlier that year, I decided to try and use Priceline again for this trip.

We had such different hotel experiences, and we surprised each other by agreeing that we liked the Priceline hotel better in the end.  For our first two nights, we stayed at the W New Orleans.   

Photo credit: W New Orleans website

The W is located right across the street from the Loews Hotel on Poydras, but it's a little bit farther away from the Convention Center than we both expected.

Photo credit: W New Orleans website

It's swanky, sexy, smooth.  Plus, it also has the Whiskey Blue bar in the lobby (there's one in NYC and I love that one).  When you walk through the lobby of this hotel, you feel like you are heading to the club.

 Photo credit: W New Orleans website

The rooms were very modern and small.  I think this has more to do with the older building that the W used to renovate into this posh hotel.  The bathroom was extra tight, which I was not happy about.  All in all, we were happy we didn't have to pay for that hotel stay since it was quite pricey.

Photo credit: Hilton New Orleans Riverside website

For $46 / night for 2 weekend nights, we had a massive room with river views at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside.  I couldn't believe it!  The hotel is located right next to the Convention Center and it also had a street car stop right in front of it.  What better way to discover the Big Easy than to ride around in the street car?

I was pleasantly surprised that the room was so large (especially compared to the W).  The Hilton is absolutely massive, so I felt like we were walking forever before we reached our room.  Mr. J, however, assured me that it wasn't as far from the hotel entrance as I thought.  I think I was concentrating on drinks and beignets too much to really understand where I was going.  Hehe.

The bathroom wasn't spectacular, especially since the hotel was dubbed a four star.  I think for the price it was still great ;-)  Mr. J and I will gladly return to this hotel the next time we visit friends in the area.

Chic Suite in Chi Town

I've been on a roll with Priceline lately and plan on bragging about the great steals I've been able to grab through the site.  My personal love affair with Priceline actually began over a year ago, when I first quit my job.  I finally had the time to travel and even if we couldn't afford to go to exotic places, I was determined Mr. J and I would go visit most of the large cities in this country.

Photo credit: Hyatt Regency Chicago website.

One of my first "wins" on Priceline was for a hotel in Chicago.  We wanted to go and visit the Windy City for our first anniversary weekend, which landed on Memorial Day Weekend 2009.  I was so darn nervous but decided to give it a shot.  Betterbidding looks confusing to the average newcomer and I almost gave up before I even started.  However, I am so glad I tried it since it's worth the knowledge!

Photo credit: Hyatt Regency Chicago website.

We ended up at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, located on East Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue.  This is at the beginning of the Magnificent Mile, an area in downtown Chicago with lots of shops and sites.

My winning bid was for $64 / night for 3 nights.  Talk about a sweet deal, especially since the price on the hotel's website was for double that amount for the same dates. 

The guy who checked us in was very nice and upgraded us to a junior suite.  He said he was on his way out for the night and decided to welcome us to the city with a little bonus.  I couldn't have gotten a better deal for that price!  Our room had a mini fridge, a sink, and comfy couch.

The only downside to the room was that it was so obvious a smoker was in there recently.  We didn't feel like changing rooms by the time we figured out how much it bothered us, so we bought some Febreze and the problem went away.

Did I mention how awesome the hotel's location was/is?  When we went, we arrived late in the evening that weekend.  Mr. J and I were starving since we missed dinner, so the concierge suggested that we grab some famous deep dish pizza from the Giordano's around the corner.  We could only finish less than half of that pie.  So much cheese and pepperoni.  I was truly in hog heaven.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Serenity in Sin City

Not sure if my readers are aware, but I am obsessed with Priceline and BetterBidding. There's just something about nabbing great hotels at deep discounts that gets me super excited. You see, I was too scared to use Priceline's Name Your Own Price feature until someone told me about BetterBidding. People actually post what bids they win at what price level so that you can get a better gauge on what you will get in the end. It's worked for me amazingly well in the last year and I highly recommend it!

Photo credit: Trump Hotel website

On our last trip to Sin City, I was actually aiming for a four star hotel on the Vegas Strip. Alas, I kept clicking on the wrong button and multitasking bit me in the butt. I won a bid for the Trump Hotel instead of the Venetian, the Palazzo, or the Wynn like I had hoped. However, I am actually glad we had a chance to stay here. Trump lives up to his brand and the hotel felt like a calm oasis in a desert full of crazy.

Here's the lobby during the day time. Yes, everything sparkles when it comes to anything Trump related.

We told the guy who checked us in that we were in town to celebrate Mr. J's birthday and hoped he would get us a room with a decent view. We were prepared to do the $20 Vegas handshake, but the guy was nice and did it gratis. I've read on the internet that if you want to try and get a better view at check-in, shake the person's hand and give him/her a $20 bill for the extra perk.

Check out that comfy bed and pullout couch. The studio actually includes a mini fridge, a stove, a microwave, and complimentary bottles of water as well as wi-fi access. Be forewarned though. The hotel charges a silly resort fee of $15/day in addition to the nightly rate.

The jacuzzi tub is massive! There is also a tv inside the bathroom, which tickled Mr. J.

My genius self tried to take a pic of our 27th floor view of the South Strip. I am mad at myself for not re-taking the pic without the flash. Live and learn, right?

Honestly, the biggest downside to the Trump is that it is not located directly on the Strip. It's across the street from the Fashion Show Mall but you have to walk a ways from the main drag to the hotel. I thought I would be annoyed by the lack of a casino as well, but it turned out to be a pro instead of a con. After wading through endless clouds of smoke throughout the Strip, it was nice to walk into a building with clean air.

Mr. J and I are more than happy to stay here again, especially after discovering the great coffee in the lobby on the last day of our stay. A cab ride to Mandalay Bay was a little over $15 and a cab ride to Caesar's Palace was right at $10, so it's not that far away from the action.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2010 Silent Auction, Fashion Show & Luncheon

Last fall, my friend Priscilla (owner of Destiny & Light hair and makeup services) convinced me to join the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary here in Tampa. She knew I was searching for a way to volunteer and she suggested I try joining a group to help me figure out how to manage my time for efficiently. Thanks to her, I was also volunteered to be the Silent Auction Chair for the Auxiliary's annual fundraiser.

I was extra nervous since I never did anything like this before. However, I figured that if I could ask people for money in my professional life (well, used to anyway) then I can certainly do it for charity.

My first official event as a Silent Auction Chair was a great success. The event committee as well as my own sub-committee were amazing to say the least. These woman worked hard to collect donations, obtain corporate sponsorship, and put together a fashion show all at the same time. The annual event was held on April 10th but it took me a little while to get some pics from people.

Check them out:

The event co-chairs and myself, right before everything began that day.

The Auxiliary sells orchids at the event as another way to raise more money.

This is just a small sample of the auction items we had available this year. Thanks to everyone who attended, we sold all 110 items!!!!!

Mr. J is actually an Advisory Board Member. He was such a trooper by helping us out with the Fashion Show that day (as well as bidding AND winning an item from my Silent Auction).

These are some of the models from the Fashion Show. Clothing and accessories were provided by Stein Mart.

I can't wait to see what we come up with for next year!

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Well, sort of. I am trying out this whole mobile blogging thing from Mr. J's weekly hockey game. He's in a league here (yes, they exist in the Sunshine State) and the new season just began. I stopped coming to his games a while ago but decided to start becoming a regular again.

Anyway, Mr. J is the one in the middle of the pic. ::swoon::

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Southern Goodness: Red Velvet Cupcakes

Mr. LLL and I play in a bowling league that runs from end of August until now. At the end of the season, we have this huge pot luck at the bowling alley. Mr. LLL volunteered my good ol' brownies w/ chocolate chunks, but I wanted to make these red velvety pieces of heaven in addition to my staple bites.

I am so glad that we only kept a few of each in the apartment since I am addicted to sugar and can eat these suckers all day. I use Paula Deen's recipe for the cupcakes. The brownie bites are Duncan Hines :-) Yum yum!

For the cake:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tablespoons red food coloring
1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the frosting (Paula's recipe called for double, but I had plenty of frosting using half of the portions):
8 oz pound cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
Chopped pecans and fresh raspberries or strawberries, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with cupcake papers.

In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In a large bowl gently beat together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla with a handheld electric mixer. Add the sifted dry ingredients to the wet and mix until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake tins about 2/3 filled. Bake in oven for about 20 to 22 minutes, turning the pans once, half way through. Test the cupcakes with a toothpick for doneness. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting.

For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese, butter and vanilla together until smooth. Add the sugar and on low speed, beat until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and mix until very light and fluffy.

Garnish with chopped pecans and a fresh raspberry or strawberry. Frost the cupcakes with a butter knife or pipe it on with a big star tip.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Eating at great places for cheap

weezermonkey mentioned using a gift certificate at a great place in Las Vegas on her blog one time. I had no idea what that was, but I had to find out. Basically, it's a website where restaurants offer $25 gift certificates for typically less than half off.

Well, the website also runs specials and today is 80% off of that $25! Use code "ENJOY" to pay only $2. Yay for deals!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!

I want to wish my beautiful Mom a Happy Mother's Day! We've gone through a lot together and even though we barely see eye to eye, you have certainly played such a large role in my life. You raised me on your own and I know you worked double shifts so many times until your body ached, just to provide me with the best you could.

Thank you, Mom, for everything, then and now. I love you more than words can ever express.

I also want to wish my mother-in-law, whom I have known since I was 16, a Happy Mother's Day as well. She too has played a large role in my life and I just want to wish you a wonderful day. Here's my two beautiful moms!

The most random billboard yet

I thought I've seen it all with regard to billboards but apparently not until yesterday. I was at a stop light and looked up to see this gem. I couldn't help but take a picture since I needed proof it exists. For those of you who live in Tampa, this is at the corner of Spruce and N. Dale Mabry. Teehee!

If you can't read it well, the sign says: You Rectum, We Fix 'Em. Painless Hemorrhoid Treatment.

::giggle snort::

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Big Lights

I was in NYC (yes, again) this past Monday and Tuesday just to hang out with friends and do some networking at the same time. It's always amazing to me how the beat of the city can instantly change my mood. I think taking the AirTrain from JFK and then switching to the subway system once I get into Manhattan helps me get back into the swing of things too.

I saw old friends and former co-workers on Monday afternoon and evening and ended up eating dinner with a larger than expected group of 10 (or was it 12?) at this place called Fatty Crab in the UWS (that's "Upper West Side" for all of you non City folks). It's Malaysian inspired cuisine and everyone enjoyed ordering the entire menu so we could all sample and taste.

Since I forgot to take pics of my own, check out the photo section of the restaurant's website.

After dinner, we headed to my friend's building and had more wine at the rooftop terrace. OMG, I am so mad that I didn't take one picture in full focus since the view was AMAZING.

My flight back to Tampa on Tuesday was delayed multiple times. JetBlue was definitely not my friend that day, especially since I tend to eat when I am bored. I ate a salad, then 4 hours later I ate a slice of pizza. After that, I decided to have dessert. The plan was to choose one of these goodies but of course I ate 2. The third I devoured a day later. Oops.

I will be back NYC!

"These streets will make you feel brand new, big lights will inspire you. Let's hear it for New York!" Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, Empire State of Mind