It's no secret that Disney World is a special place in my family. We spent many a Sansom family vacation in there. Being from a family of all girls, except for my dad who grew up in a Disney-loving family himself, we all loved meeting the princesses, riding the not-too-rollercoaster-y rides, and dining with characters in the most magical place on earth. Then, I met and married a man who is from Central Florida, so now we have the perfect excuse to Disney-it-up when we go to visit friends and family in his hometown.
A few weeks ago Jason and I spent our first night away from our baby girl. My parents live just about 30 minutes from Sandestin Golf & Beach Resort (just a few minutes East of Destin), so Jason and I dropped off B with her Honey and Poppy and drove into a little slice of paradise.
When I was in college, I worked as a concierge at the Hilton Sandestin when I was home for a summer. Ever since then, I've been itching to get back there, but as a guest rather than an employee. Seven years later, I pulled up to the front door to check in, husband in tow (Jason and I had just met when I worked there and started dating a few months later).
When we arrived at about 11:30 a.m., which was several hours before check-in time. We knew our room probably wouldn't be ready, but we'd called ahead and found out that we'd get complimentary valet parking while we waited, and they'd go ahead and give us our armbands that gave us access to use to pools, beach, and spa, as long as we came after 11:00 a.m.
After we got our armbands, we got changed into our swim clothes and headed out to the pool deck to eat lunch at Barefoots Beachside Bar & Grill. We could literally feel our blood pressure dropping as we sat back and ordered our lunch.
After lunch, we went to find a few chairs to claim for the remainder of the afternoon. We thought we'd like getting the beach service chairs down by the water, but we knew that we'd have to go check in a few hours later and get ready for our dinner reservations. Instead we found a few chairs under an umbrella that faced the beach, but were located off of the pool deck (aka, free). For reference, though, beach service chairs are $40 for two chairs and an umbrella for a full day and $25 for a half day.
We both read for a little while, then it got really hot (hello, Florida in the middle of the summer) so we jumped in the pool. This hotel has two really nice outdoor pools and one indoor pool. For some reason, one pool was much less crowded than another, so we obviously opted for the less-crowded pool. After swimming for a little while, we went back to our chairs and both took a nap with the waves crashing in front of us.
Jason LOVES a good steakhouse, so I knew we only had one option for dinner: Seagar's. Seagar's is a little pricy, but this was our first trip without Brighten, so we decided to splurge and live it up while we had my parents babysitting. Dinner did not disappoint! Jason got his beloved steak and lobster. I also got a steak, but the highlight for me was the warm spinach salad. I was skeptical about if I'd like a "warm" salad or not, but I could have eaten like three of them!
We really took our time and ended up having a two hour dinner! This was such a treat for me because with a little one who is starting to eat solid foods, I am typically having to scarf down my food so that I can attend to her. Taking my time at a nice meal was really a gift, and it didn't hurt that the food was unbelievably good. They also had live music that night, which made the whole experience seem so fancy and special, again, a great departure from our usual fast, casual meal with a baby.
Once we finished dinner and our food settled, we decided to go night swimming! When my family and I would travel with my dad when we were growing up, some of my favorite memories are of all of us going night swimming. When Jason and I got back down to the pool, there were families doing the same thing, and we dreamed of doing that with Brighten someday.
The next day we slept in (all the praise hands), went to a lovely breakfast at Sandcastles while it stormed outside, and sat out by the beach for a little bit (once it stopped storming). Since it was pretty overcast, we decided to check on the movie times at Grand Boulevard's movie theatre, which is totally a Jason and Jessica thing to do! We ended up seeing a matinee of the new Spiderman movie, which was super cute and funny. It was the perfect end to our little getaway, because after the movie I was anxious to get my hands on my little Brighten. She had the biggest smile on her face when we walked through the door to my parent's house, but they said that she did great the whole time! I'm so glad that we chose to do this just for one night, only 30 minutes away from her. It's given me the confidence to go away to a further location for a longer amount of time next time!
One of my favorite things about this little getaway was the chance to really dream together, uninterrupted. We dreamed of our family a certain way for so long, and now that much of that is different, we needed that time to really begin to create new dreams for our family. We love Brighten so much, but anyone who has been around a baby for any length of time knows that it can be difficult to have meaningful conversations when you're chasing after them.
Several friends told me that going away for even just one night would be good for our marriage. At the time, I agreed, mainly because I was excited to hang out with Jason for 24 hours without any responsibilities. But now, I truly know how right my friends were. For anyone who has not gone on a little getaway without kids, even just for a night, I HIGHLY recommend it. There's something special about regrouping, and not just after kids go to sleep or for a few hours with a babysitter. Something about an extended amount of time just the two of us echoed the past and how things were before we began building our family, but it also included the wisdom and hopes and dreams that we have for our family in the present and future.
I've always loved the city. The BIG city. Put me in London or New York or LA and I'm a happy traveler. Honestly, the bigger the better. But now, I have a daughter and the thought of public transportation with a stroller and a squirmy baby makes me want to crawl into a fetal position.
For her nine months, Brighten has been on a lot of trips. We've been to the West Coast twice, Florida a few times, she was born in Texas, and we've also been to Charlotte, North Carolina a handful of times. The law firm Jason works for has an office in Charlotte, and we've had the chance to travel with him several times to explore what I am calling the perfectly sized city with a baby.
Sometimes there are places that just feel familiar and good. Charlotte is one of these places to me. It's bigger than Birmingham, but not nearly the size of some of the cities we like to frequent. It's pretty easy to get around, there's plenty to do, but I'm never overwhelmed with options.
One of my favorite memories of Charlotte was our weekend trip there last August. The office Jason works at was moving to a new building, so he had to go set up the new space the weekend before the move. In the midst of all of that, we'd be talking with Jenny about a baby girl who would be born in Houston, TX just a few weeks later. Jenny and I were trying so hard to coordinate a time for us to meet with her before we left for Charlotte for the weekend, but we couldn't seem to get anything to work out so we planned to meet on Monday night after we got back. As the story goes, that's when we found out that we were going to be parents to our Brighten. That trip to Charlotte, though, was so special because even though we didn't know what would happen, we had so many hours to talk about the possibilities, and I even allowed myself to go to Buy Buy Baby and try out a bunch of different things while Jason worked.
Now, going to Charlotte reminds us of that special time, and it's always so much fun to visit with our Brighten.
Where To Stay:
Before this last trip, we always have stayed close to Jason's office in Uptown at the Hilton or Embassy Suites. This time, though, we actually stayed in the South Park area and LOVED it. We had to drive Jason into the city each day and pick him up, but I would not have traded the drive for how convenient everything else was during the day. Our hotel also had a really nice pool, was dog friendly (so of course Swanson loved it), and we had tons of space with a kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms and bathrooms.
What To Do:
My Gym: My favorite thing that we did this last trip was go to a class at My Gym. Apparently, baby gyms are a thing, but a thing that has not reached Birmingham yet. We signed up online for a class for 7-14 month olds and Brighten absolutely LOVED it. Our first class was free, but we will definitely be going back next time we are in Charlotte.
SouthPark Mall: Okay, a mall is just a mall, but these days it seems like malls are becoming a thing of the past. When you walk around The Galleria in Birmingham or Brookwood Mall in Homewood, it's apparent that these things won't last forever. But the South Park Mall in Charlotte is a thing of beauty. It's thriving! Anchored by Nordstrom (my love), Neiman Marcus, and more, this mall has a fantastic presence. To make it even better, it was right behind our hotel, so it made it a nice, cool place to go after nap time before we went to pick Jason up from work.
Parks: I've always loved North Carolina for its easy-going weather. It's not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter. That, paired with the beautiful landscape of the city makes park-going an extra fun activity. Freedom Park has so much to do and our hotel was right next to Symphony Park. When we arrived, there was an actual symphony going on and it felt like arriving in Disney World with this incredible music playing.
Discovery Place: One of the things we have not done, but it's on our list for next time, is Discovery Place science museum. We drive by it every time we take Jason to or from his office and I think the Brighten would enjoy looking at everything, even if she's still a little too young to participate.
U.S. National Whitewater Center: Another thing on our list to do in Charlotte is the U.S. National Whitewater Center. From rock climbing over a pool of water, to ropes courses, trails, and zip lines, this place looks like a ton of fun. We totally should have done this last August before we had Brighten, but now it looks like we'll just need an excuse for a date night in Charlotte next time we're there.
What to Eat:
There are tons of good restaurants in Charlotte -- and lots of farm to table places, which I love. There is also a lot of good, southern cooking, which is always a plus to me. My two favorite restaurants we've eaten at in Charlotte could not be more different, though.
The King's Kitchen: This not-of-profit restaurant and bakery is literally everything I love about life. It's farm to table, southern food with a cause. My two favorite dishes have been the fried catfish and the pot roast, which are served as classic meat and three meals. Oh, and the biscuits are a must-have.
Seoul Food Meat Co.: This non-traditional Korean BBQ restaurant is literally incredible. I've had dreams about the food after we ate here. I opted for the chicken as my meat, and then we ordered a bunch of sides for the table: ramen mac n cheese, Sriracha cracklins, and the potato swirl were absolutely delicious!
There are probably so many more places to see and things to do in Charlotte, but our little family is going at a much slower pace these days. If I'm honest, I really thought that I would miss the fast-paced, exciting traveling that Jason and I used to do when it was just the two of us, but I am actually enjoying going slower, taking time to go back to the hotel for nap time, and really gaining rest from our time away from home.
What are your favorite little, big city? Does it hold a special significance to you and your family?
Oh, Portland. In one week I had several life experiences, which included feeling 50 degree weather in August, the most beautiful panoramic views, watching a guy hand out "brownies" on the street, and smelling some of the worst and best smells ever. I got to see "the coast" (not to be confused with "the beach"), a giant waterfall, and we even got to meet our case worker (#journeytojudah)! I ate some delicious food, drank incredible coffee, and relaxed. What a wonderful trip it truly was!
I could go through our trip day-by-day, but I assume you'd probably tire of this phrase repeated: "Slept until 9:00. Ate donuts. Watched TV. Went to coffee shop." Instead, I'll just tell you the places we ate and what we did.
PLACES WE ATE
- Voodoo Doughnuts // link : Jason walked to Voodoo Donuts our first morning in Portland. They were good, but I'm not a big donut person - so we didn't go back. I tried the Captain Crunch and something else with Rice Krispies on it. Jason tried the Maple Bacon and something with blueberries in it.
- Muu-Muu's // link : Monday morning I headed off in search of a pedicure and while I was finishing up I searched for restaurants nearby. I found Muu-Muu's, which was just a block away from where I was. I got the chicken and brie sandwich with fries and it was delightful!
- Sizzle Pie // link : Yummy pizza by the slice right across from Powell's.
- Papa Haydn // link : This place was kind of upscale, but really delicious. It was in the heart of NW 23rd St., which we deemed as "the place we'd live" if we ever lived in Portland. I'm sure that's pretty common, but it really was awesome. If you're a Birmingham person, think 5 points feel + Highland homes + 2nd Ave. N coffee and restaurants + Summit stores. If you're a Nashville person, think 12 South area. Anyway, Papa Haydn was great - I got ravioli and Jason got a sandwich. Their desserts looked incredible too and it seemed like a lot of people came in just for dessert.
- Montage // link : This restaurant is known for their Mac N Cheese. Being a good ole southern girl, I was skeptical - but it did not disappoint. I got the Buffalo Chicken Mac N Cheese and loved every bite!
- 21st Street Bar and Grill // link : Birmingham folks, think J. Clyde. Like for real, it's just like J. Clyde with the outside seating! Great food. We missed Happy Hour by about 5 minutes, but they seem to have great Happy Hour deals!
- Salt & Straw // link : Homemade and adventurous ice cream on NW 23rd. Arrive ready and willing to wait - you won't be disappointed!
- Food Carts // link : Portland has some of the most creative and yummy food carts! At any time you can find over 500 food carts throughout the city. Jason and I both ate at food carts each day for lunch.
THINGS I/WE DID
Since Jason was in class basically all day (8:30-4:30), I did a lot of exploring on my own. Honestly, I got a little bit lonely but I didn't mind the alone time :)
- Pedicure at Mimosa's // link
- Coffee at Public Domain // link
- Coffee at Barista // link
- Scenic Drive to Multnomah Falls // link
- "Noon Tunes" in Pioneer Square // link
- Walked the Pearl District // link
- Get lost in Powell's City of Books // link
- Walk the Waterfront Trail // link
- Drive to the coast (Seaside, OR) // link
- Visit Washington Park // link
If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to go to Portland, Oregon, definitely say, YES! It's quite an interesting place and I thoroughly enjoyed myself!