4 Reasons to Plan Your Next Event at Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley

Today’s guest post is brought to you by Jen Andrade of The Mom Reviews.

Nestled in one of California’s most beautiful locations, Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley is inland from the Monterey Bay and surrounded by grand oaks and rolling hills. The beautiful private estate offers unlimited possibilities for weddings, engagements, family reunions, holiday parties, or business seminars and any other occasion you can think of.

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Once the center of social life in Carmel Valley, Holman Ranch hosted Who’s Who in Hollywood entertainment parties with the likes of Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Joan Crawford, and Marlon Brando! The lovely manicured grounds immediately inspire peace and tranquility, the quiet surrounds you all but a the chirping birds and buzzing bees.

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The focal point of the 400 acre Holman Ranch is its recently restored 1928 Carmel stone Hacienda, a magical estate that sits atop a grassy hill, offering breathtaking 360-degree views of the Santa Lucia Mountains.

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1. Amenities

Planning a wedding? The picturesque location offers so much for the bride and groom and the wedding party. Imagine sipping estate-grown wine in our stunning vineyards, exchanging vows al fresco among the rolling hills, tasting buttery and sumptuous house-pressed olive oil at your rehearsal dinner in our enchanting olive orchard.

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Exchange vows outdoors and within the sanctity of the Catholic Church doctrines or inside the private chapel, ensconced in the hacienda that has been sanctified by a Catholic Priest and seats up to 50 people.

Family Reunion in mind? Carmel Valley’s first pool was placed at Holman Ranch, stroll past the Pinot Noir vineyard to the Wine Cave for barrel tasting, or head to The Stables for a horseback or carriage ride!

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Gather and perhaps dance (quincenera?) in the Rose Patio. Other family events such as baptisms, memorial services, private masses, blessings, interfaith unions, and memorials are also welcome in the chapel on the property.

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Planning a friends’ retreat? Skeet Shooting, scavenger hunts, poker nights, billiards, and darts in the game room is available. Wine and olive oil tasting is available, space in the Carriage House can include tables for scrapbooking or crafting, yoga or Zumba!

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Planning a business seminar? All the technology you need is included:

-Drop Down Screens, Projectors and Conference Phone
-Audio Visual Equipment
-Wi-Fi Access
-Fully Appointed Executive Board Room

2. Amazing Photo Opportunities

Everywhere you turn there is a view that you can’t miss. There are gardens of flowers you have to see. The architecture of the buildings themselves are so ornate and unique they can be the stunning backdrop to wedding or family photography. Even if you’re there for a business seminar, you can’t help but snap a shot that may be the next framed art in your living room or office! Here’s what I mean!

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3. Cozy Cottages

10 guest rooms, most with two beds or a bed and sofa bed (sleeps up to 4) provide a comfortable setting to get back to at the end of a great day. Heating and air conditioned rooms offer a private full bath with organic bath products, and there is also a lobby area with a full kitchen and fireplace. holmanWe loved the patio decks most with their wooden rocking chairs and tables to enjoy your morning coffee or a night cap in the evenings.

4. The Wine

Holman Ranch has a small 20 acrre estate vineyard located in the world-class Carmel Valley appellation. Harvested by hand and cellared in their estate wine cave, the wines are crafted to present the true varietal character of the fruit “vine to bottle.” Thanks to the climate of central coast California, the warmth of the valley combined with the cooling marine layer provides optimal growing conditions for Pinot varietals.

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Their off-dry Pinot Gris was amazing, and if you love sweet whites, the Sweet Love late harvest Savignon Blanc tastes like Hawaii in a glass! The 2010 Hunter’s Cuvee named for Holman Ranch owner Hunter Lowder is an award winner and has a delightful story to go with it!

Tasting Holman Ranch wines can be done at their tasting room less than a mile from the ranch, 19 E. Carmel Valley Road. and events can be planned at that location as well!

I’ve dined with the owners, enjoyed the wine, stayed in the cottage, and have toured the gorgeous grounds, vineyard, cave, and olive grove.

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There is so much history, beauty, love, and professionalism at Holman Ranch that it inspires me to plan an event every time I think about it, it’s truly an idyllic location!

 

Discovering Alaska on the Carnival Miracle #LumiaatSea #CarnivalMiracle

Nokia Disclosure

Alaska is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I’ve spent time in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, the forests of Costa Rica, the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. But nothing could have prepared me for Alaska. You grow up hearing about the vast Alaskan wilderness, the wildlife everywhere, a land remote, isolate and inviting all at once.

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On Tuesday morning, we floated past a pod of humpback whales. I sat on the balcony, not even needing the binoculars I brought from home, watching them spouting water up into the air. A seal swam by the Carnival Miracle as I ate breakfast on the Lido Deck.

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A SEAL! WHALES! We even saw a pair of Dulles Porpoises frolicking in the waves outside our balcony!

Wednesday morning we began our journey through Steven’s Passage, known for being feeding ground for Humpback whales, and pods swam alongside the ship for what seemed like hours. We stood, huddled together in the rain on the deck, as the Miracle’s onboard naturalist directed us where to look and told the cruisers about the feeding and migratory habits of the species. Afterwards, Angeline and I boarded a small Catamaran and took the only excursion the ship offered as we drifted through Tracy Arm Fjord, a close up encounter with the Glaciers.

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There were harbor seals lazing on icebergs, lolling about with their little furry fat rolls jiggling, their whiskers twitching, just enjoying a lazy day in the sun. Our naturalist explained that in the Glacier Bay, the seals had no predators because the whales don’t go that far into the bay – that’s their safe space! They weren’t feeding, they were just lounging around, mother and pups, enjoying not being at the bottom of the food chain for a moment. We even got to see a few swimming around!

And the glaciers? They were pretty spectacular in their own right. Of course I’d never seen a glacier in person before and I was startled by the bright blue color deep within the glacier itself, which became even more beautiful as we experienced a capping! I know that the term is White Thunder, when a piece of the glacier breaks off and falls into the sea – forming an iceberg. But wow, is the name incredibly spot on! Imagine a deep, rolling thunder and then SPLASH as the ice hits the water!

The best part of the day was right before we headed to dinner – a killer whale swam alongside our balcony and Angeline was screaming MOOOOMMMMM! From outside as I rushed to get out of the shower. I only managed to catch it as it swam towards the back of the ship, but even that far away, it was an impressive sight!

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Our last port of call in Alaska (before heading to Victoria, BC, and then back to Seattle on Tuesday) is in Juneau, and part of our The Best of Juneau shore excursion includes whale watching. All of my camera batteries and phone charges are plugged in…I imagine I will be taking A LOT of photos!

I was excited to see Alaska. The forests, the ocean, the wilderness, the icebergs and glaciers…but the wildlife was the main draw for me. We’re only halfway through the trip and I’ve already seen more than I ever anticipated…

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Celebrate The Sunset of Summer #AlamoDriveHappy

#AlamoDriveHappy Disclosure

Summer is almost over. Before we get back to the grind of back to school, homework, after-school activities and “life as usual,” why not plan one last day of summer fun?

Angeline and I just embarked on an Alaskan cruise, but of course you don’t have to go all the way to Alaska to celebrate the sunset of summer! There are so many places full of incredible things to see – like the Chihuly Gardens we visited this morning in Seattle. I highly recommend checking out an exhibit if you have one near you!

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Why not plan one last spontaneous weekend trip with the kids before everyone gets carried away in new class schedules, mountains of homework and all of the other craziness that the new school year brings?

I always love to travel, but summertime is my all-time favorite time to get out of the house and explore the world with Angeline. It’s the perfect time to bond as a family because there are no distractions: no school, no home work, no deadlines…it’s all free time when we can really concentrate on what matters most: family. And what better way to bond than to create memories? Last summer we went on a Caribbean cruise and to Europe. This summer we went on a (different part of the Caribbean) cruise, North Carolina and now to Alaska. These are memories that we will cherish together forever!

When planning one last summer trip, you don’t have to go all out – even a short trip to the beach, a weekend camping trip at a local national park, or even a staycation and playing tourist in your own city will make memories to last a lifetime…or at least until winter break rolls around!

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A few things to keep in mind:

What can you go that is quick and easy? Pick a place close by that doesn’t require a lot of planning, research or packing. Where have you been before that you’ve always wanted to back to because there wasn’t enough time to see it all? What’s nearby that would make for a great weekend getaway? For instance, we often go down to the Florida Keys when we want a getaway without a lot of hassle. It’s just an hour or so away and we know the area (and accommodations, restaurants and activities) like the back of our hands!

What should you bring to ensure an amazing trip? Sometimes you can make an ordinary place magical with a few different items! For instance, do you live near the Great Florida Bird Trail? Grab a pair of binoculars and go see some awesome birds that you wouldn’t ordinarily see! Do you live near a lake or river? Buy an inexpensive rubber tube and make your own tubing trip!

North Carolina Family Vacay

I am joining my fellow Alamo Chief Travel Moms this month to offer tips, tricks, and inspiration for last-minute plans on Pinterest…and of course we are hosting a giveaway too!

This month’s awesome Alamo Drive Happy box contains some great items to help you make the most of your last summer trip – and of course, every trip that comes after!

What’s in this month’s Alamo Drive Happy box?

About a Mom – @aboutamom

Geomate Jr. Geocaching GPS
Angela says: “Turn any end-of-summer family vacation into an exciting treasure hunt by going on a geocaching adventure. The Geomate Jr. Geocaching GPS will help you locate and find caches all over the United States.”

A Nut In A Nutshell – @blueviolet

Ocean Charms: DIY Jewelry Kit
Liz says: “Your treasured travel memories will stay with you forever when you preserve them by making your own unique and special beach charm necklace.”

Dear Crissy – @crissy

Motorola MR350R Walkie-Talkies
Crissy says: “Have kids that want to do different things? Take advantage of your final trip of the summer by splitting up to take on different adventures with the kids, but stay in touch quickly and easily to keep each other updated.”

The Divine Miss Mommy – @stacieinatlanta

Bushnell Waterproof Binoculars
Stacie says: “Take these binoculars along on that last summer trip to see everything in a different perspective. Don’t miss a thing, and catch all of the details!”

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The Rebel Chick – @therebelchick

Samsung ST150F WiFi Digital Camera
Jennifer says: “This WiFi-enabled smart camera is perfect for sharing your end-of-summer summer adventures with your family and friends back home in real time!”

Win an Alamo Drive Happy Box!

Alamo Drive Happy Giveaway

Alamo has some brand new Pinterest boards, and we want YOU to help us fill them up with awesome travel content! The new Alamo Pinterest board themes are Summer Travel ScenesDIY Summer Crafts for Kids and Labor Day Family Travels. Don’t they sound fun?

To enter, tweet me with a photo and/or link to something that could be included on one of the Pinterest boards. You can tweet as often as you’d like, just make sure that each tweet contains a different idea.

You must be following Alamo Rent A Car on Pinterest and Twitter, and each tweet must mention me @TheRebelChick and use the #AlamoDriveHappy hashtag.

Leave the direct url to each of your tweets as a comment below!

This giveaway is open to US residents and ends on August 18.

Top 5 Beaches in La Romana, Dominican Republic

Those traveling to warm tropical places often do so to explore a country that they are not familiar with. They may choose to escape to a warm tropical climate to evade the onslaught of winter weather that they may be facing. Many tourists love to visit the warm sandy beaches to soak up some sun. Here is a list of the Top 5 Beaches in La Romana, Dominican Republic.

Top 5 Beaches in La Romana Dominican Republic

La Romana, Dominican Republic’s Top 5 Beaches

Playa El Caleton

This is a great beach getaway for those with families. No need to bring beach umbrellas or even lounge chairs. They are available for you to rent for a nominal fee. Fresh seafood and drinks are sold right on the beach by local vendors. There is no need to leave the beach until it is time for you to retire for the day. Plan on spending the day there.

Playa Caleta

This beach is slightly off of the beaten track. This of course does not mean that you will not enjoy it. Many locals prefer this beach over the others because it does not have that “touristy” feel. In fact, you may enjoy watching the small fishing boats in the horizon as you relax under your beach umbrella.

Playa La Minitas

Playa La Minitas is one of the more popular beaches in the Dominican Republic. It can only be entered via a resort and therefore, you must be a resort guest or make a purchase in one of the shops in order to gain access. However, it a water sport lovers paradise. Rental booths line this beach and a small area is roped off for swimmers.

Bayahibe Beach in the Dominican Republic

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Bayahibe is one beach that is in very close proximity to La Romano, which we visited as part of a shore excursion with the Carnival Freedom. Bayahibe Beach is a Blue Flag beach, which means it is part of the Blue Flag Program that works towards sustainable development of beaches and marinas through strict criteria dealing with water quality and environmental education.

 

 

Bayahibe Beach Break in La Romana Dominican Republic

Bayahibe Beach is a popular beach that is enjoyed by many when visiting the La Romana cruise ship port because it offers everything you could possibly want in a shore excursion: sun, sand, cocktails, food – it even has a gigantic pool complete with water polo and a swim up bar!

Bayahibe Beach in La Romana

Carnival Cruise Lines offers a Bayahibe Beach Break shore excursion when their ships are in the La Romana cruise port, which is how we experienced this lovely beach! {I received a complimentary excursion but bought tickets for Angeline and her two friends}

Included in the Bayahibe Beach Break is the pool and beach access at the 5 star resort, a welcome coconut drink, beach towel and sun bed, as well as open bar with tropical cocktails and drinks!

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Catalina Island

Catalina Island is just across from La Romano, it can be reached by taking a tour boat. Great for snorkeling, swimming, or relaxing on the white pristine beach.

 

Have you ever been to the La Romana area in Dominican Republic? I would love to hear about your favorite beach!

Premier Thoroughbred Horses Races at Gulfstream Park

If you’re tired of the same boring dinner and a movie for a date, an afternoon out at Gulstream Park is a fun alternative. And you can actually win money! My wife and I were shown a good time at the park by Vince Matthews, who is Miami’s ambassador for horse racing and whose job it is to raise awareness of the sport. The goal no doubt is to increase exposure, but it’s also to lower the median age of its fans. Living in south Florida, we’re fortunate to have several great tracks, something most of the rest of the country doesn’t have.

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Okay, so I mentioned this being a pretty cool date. It is! Maybe not a first date lest one of you think the other is a degenerate gambler. I mean, I’m a degenerate gambler, but I’ve been with Mrs. Degenerate Gambler for six years. I have nothing to hide. Gulfstream’s Ten Palms Restaurant offers a yummy Sunday brunch for $35.00. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet with Eggs Benedict, an omelet station, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and all manner of breads and bagels and pastries. Breakfast not your thing? (Weirdo). That’s no problem. They’ve also got carved turkey or ham, fried chicken, ribs, cocktail shrimp, lentil soup, and a variety of desserts such as flan, different puddings, tres leches, bread pudding, and the best cheesecake in the form of a cupcake I’ve ever had. A mimosa is included in the price, along with coffee, of course. Oh, and there’s fruit and salad, if you’re one of those people. What my wife and I did was eat breakfast and then lunch a few hours later (don’t judge us!). This is all perfectly fine with the wait staff, who are very attentive. They must’ve refilled my coffee and water ten times. So while you’re stuffing your face, you can watch the races from the restaurant which overlooks the track. Of course, you don’t have to get the brunch buffet while watching the races, but if you plan on being there any amount of time, get yourself some brunch.

Brunch at Gulfstream Park Race Track in Miami

If you go to the track just to watch the horses and not to gamble, then… Yeah right! You want to win money! It can be a little overwhelming if you’ve never wagered on horses before. I hadn’t. But everyone at Gulstream Park is really helpful and really patient. The most common wagers are Win, Place, and Show bets. Win means you’re betting on the horse to finish first. Place, first or second. Show, first, second, or third.

Gulfstream Park Race Track

Payouts are based on what the Win price, Place price, and Show price, respectively, are. And these prices depend on the odds of a particular horse to win. For example, bet $2 on a horse with 10-1 odds and it wins, you win $20 plus your original $2. A horse with long odds, say 20-1, will make you more money, but there’s a reason they’re 20-1. The favorites, horses with the best odds, tend to win these races more often than the others. But just betting on favorites to win won’t make you much money, though there is something to be said for having a good time and not losing money.

 

In addition to these bets are more exotic kinds of wagers. You can wager on a particular horse to finish first and another horse to finish second. That’s called an Exacta. Or, you can bet on two horses to finish first and second, regardless of order. That’s called an Exacta Box. You can do this for three horses (Trifecta) and four horses (Superfecta) and so on. The payouts for these bets are really high, even on modest wagers, but the more horses involved, the more difficult it is for the best to come through. On this particular Sunday, the first race began at 1:15 PM. That’s called the post time. Races are measured in furlongs, which are equivalent to roughly 1/8 of a mile. All this information can be found in the daily program. Get yourself one. In there, you’ll find what time each race begins, the horses’ past performances, jockeys, trainers, owners, and all kinds of stuff. My wife and I pretty much stuck with the what horse names we like best route. Not the most profitable, but still fun.

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Prior to the race, the horses are brought out from their stables to the fountain area for the public to see. In the third race, a maiden race (for horses who’ve never won a race), I notices a feisty three-year-old named Guarimbero who was giving his handler a heck of a time. I decided to bet $20 on him to win at 14-1 odds, and he did! By two lengths! Unfortunately, we weren’t as lucky on the other races, but still ended up with more money than when we’d started. I think a successful strategy for not losing would be to bet favorites to show. You won’t make much, but you won’t lose much, and you’ll be able to watch the races with a rooting interest. If you’ve ever wanted to go to the track, or you’re looking for a fun, different way of spending the day, visit Gulfstream Park. You won’t be disappointed.

eric at Gulfstream Park Race Track in Miami

The races are at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, FL and take place in the afternoons every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  The first race is at 1:25 PM and the last race is at 5:30 PM.

Visit Gulfstream Park to find out more about the thoroughbred horse races, dining and their casino!

 

The Perfect Napa Valley Girl’s Getaway

Many people travel to the state of California for many different reasons. Families with young children often like to head down there to do Disney, some like to do the Hollywood scene, some will head down there and let their heart lead them, and others like to visit the beautiful wineries of Napa Valley, which is what I recently did. The perfect Napa Valley Girl’s Getaway ended up being just what my friends and I needed to reconnect, blow off some steam and have fun together after not seeing each other all year.

Napa Valley isn’t just about romance – while there are plenty of couples every where you go, there are also families and many girlfriends out just having fun. We even spotted a bachelorette party or two!

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

 

The Perfect Napa Valley Girl’s Getaway

Pick a Central Location

Our base of operations was the Andaz Napa Valley, which had a great location right in the middle of downtown. Just a few blocks from the farmer’s market, the famous Model Bakery, plenty of great bars, restaurants and tasting rooms, we never had a problem grabbing an Uber when we wanted to go farther away for dinner. Yountville and St Helena were both about a 20-30 minute drive, so make sure that if you are staying in downtown Napa Valley, you have an Uber account set up and plenty of money to spend on fare. I didn’t see a taxi cab the entire time I was in Napa Valley, but there were Uber drives all over the place.

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

The History Lesson is Complimentary

The orchards of the Napa Valley are breathtaking, there’s no doubt. The wines created from the grapes that are grown in Napa Valley have an incredible history, and not only are the winery employees happy to tell you all about the history behind their wineries, but tour guides, Uber drives and just about everyone  you come across are all excited to tell you about the history of Napa Valley in general, sharing tidbits of old-world gossip along the way. We learned about everything from how vineyards began, to the hippy communes supporting them, how vineyards changed hands over and over again, which winemaker left which winery to start their own, etc, etc. It was quite interesting!

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

Each winery has a different tale to tell as far as their history, but they all have one thing in common: agriculture. Each winery we visited was able to tell us which was their best year, how much rain fell in certain years, which fire lent a smokey flavor to which year of wine – it was all very fascinating!

The Views Are AMAZING

Napa Valley is a beautiful place to visit. Not only is the scenery gorgeous, but the wineries, hotels, boutiques and restaurants put a lot of effort into making everything sophisticated yet charming.

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

My favorite photos of Napa Valley were taken at Repris Winery, which is actually pretty close to Sonoma. This winery began in the 60s as a hippy commune and has turned into the one of the most unique wineries in the area.

Their wines are not sold to the public or to restaurants and stores – you have to be a wine club member or purchase from their winery directly during your visit. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND VISITING. While the wine is expensive (well, at least for me) at $55+ a bottle, the experience is worth it. Repris Winery only accepts a few appointments a day, and let’s just say that the experience is worth it.

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

After spending an afternoon being led around the winery on a Jeep with one of the winery guides, I ended up buying four bottles of wine. I almost bought an advance but decided against it. How much wine can I possibly drink?!

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

It’s a Dry Heat, Y’all

If you are coming from a humid climate like I was, you will want to bring along eye drops and nasal spray as well. It is very, very dry in Napa Valley, and while I am not complaining because that dry heat was a nice reprieve from our balmy Miami summer, the dryness got to be a little uncomfortable.

The Food is AMAZING

I had no idea what a foodie mecca the Napa Valley region was until I arrived and we began visiting the local eateries.  There are so many famous chefs in the area, even Iron Chefs! My personal favorites were Bottega in Yountville, which is run by Chef Michael Chiarello and Cole’s Chop House in Napa Valley. Neither are cheap, but the food is delicious and totally worth the splurge!

I also recommend grabbing a pastry or cookie – or a delicious slice of pizza – at Model Bakery, mojitos in the Merchanile Social Bar in the Andaz Napa Valley lobby, or even the brunch restaurant in the Andaz Napa Valley lobby. It was the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had!

A Napa Valley Girls Weekend Getaway #Lumia1020

I recommend downloading the OpenTable app for your smartphone so that you can arrange reservations for the local establishments. It is much easier than calling, waiting on hold, etc. Just don’t forget to cancel a reservation if your plans change! OpenTable is available for pretty much every device, from iPhones to iPads to Windows Phones to Kindles!

Download UBER and Save $30 on Your First Ride!

Uber is a must for Napa Valley, as it is so easy to get a ride. You pull up the app on your smartphone (it is available for iOS, Windows Phones) and request a car to pick you up. It’s similar to using a taxi cab, except that it’s completely cashless – you just register your credit card on file and never have to worry about having cash on you. The tip is also included in the price! You can choose which type of car you want: a black car, SUV, etc, and price depends on where they are picking you up and where they are dropping you off. There are never any surprises when the ride is over. You can even split fares between your friends if they have the Uber app.

If you haven’t used Uber before, I would love for you to register using my Uber invitation so that I can receive a credit when you use the service for the first time! You will get $30 off your first ride!! You could end up getting your first ride for free!

Have you ever been to Napa Valley? What was your favorite place?

Exploring Madrid

Madrid is one of Europe’s great cities when it comes to culture, and the Spanish capital is renowned for its museums, architecture and theatres. Whether it’s for a weekend trip or a few days away, Madrid city breaks can also be very affordable.

The Golden Triangle of Art

This area of Madrid, on the Paseo del Prado, consists of three impressive art museums. The Prado Museum, the most famous of the three, displays art from great classic Spanish artists Goya and Velazquez. Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, often considered to be the most powerful anti-war piece of art ever created, is among the paintings that can be seen at the Reina Sofía Museum, while the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum possesses a variety of important work from German, Dutch, English, and American artists.

History And Science-Related Museums

Madrid’s National Archaeological Museum has a notable collection of artefacts from the past few millennia, including Celtic, Greek, and Roman, and impressive examples of work by Visigothic goldsmiths. Reflecting Spain’s prominent role in the colonization of the Americas is the Museum of the Americas, which includes items from prehistory to the present day. The major science-related museum in Madrid is the National Museum of Natural Sciences, which has six different departments ranging from Biodiversity to Geology.

Shopping And Entertainment in Madrid

Madrid has a wide range of department stores, but it’s also a city with many family-run shops, too. Salamanca is the upmarket shopping district of Madrid, while the city’s Rastro Flea Market is one of the biggest flea markets in Europe with an amazing 3,500 stalls. For fans of the theatre, Grand Via is the place to visit and found in this area are many opera houses and theatres. Significant venues in Madrid include the National Madrid Theatre and the Royal Theatre.

La Plaza de Espana and The Royal Palace

La Plaza de Espana is the most important avenue in Madrid, and notable features include a monument dedicated to Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote, and its large fountain. Nearby is the Royal Palace, which is the biggest royal palace in Western Europe, and this is open to the public most days. Inside the Palace are important works of art, and a collection of furniture, ceramics, and tapestries. The Palace gardens are open to visitors, and guided tours are also available.

Abundant in captivating culture, Madrid is a city-sized museum, waiting to be explored.

Costa Rica Reminded Me…Life Doesn’t Have to be So Complicated.

Life is funny sometimes, and I am constantly being reminded that I need to embrace the curve balls that are thrown my way. You never know when an opportunity will present itself and you have to be open minded when it comes to travel – and life in general.

Last week, a friend called me on a random Monday night to catch up, and told me about her spur of the moment trip to Costa Rica for the following week. Before I knew it, I was booking a flight and hotel to join her! Could I have put a week at home to good use? Could I have caught up on work, cleaned the house…and finally gotten around to redecorating my home office and bedroom, like I’ve planned to do all summer? Of course.

But those things aren’t very fun!

I flew out to Costa Rica on Monday, and what a trip it turned out to be! Firstly, I always have a blast hanging out with my friend; ever since she moved away a few years ago, we try to get together at least once a year. This trip made three times I’ve seen her this year alone, so that in itself was awesome!

We hung out on the black sandy beach and enjoyed the gorgeous pool with a view of Snake Bay…

Andaz Adults only Pool in Costa Rica

We went snorkeling, I got stung by a jellyfish, we ate great food and drank lots of Imperial beer (the official beer of Costa Rica)…

We went on a Riverboat Tour and saw all kinds of Costa Rican wildlife…

capuchin monkeys in Costa Rica

We did a Zipline Canopy Tour with the best tour guides you could ever ask for…

Zip line in Costa Rica

I came home completely relaxed, refreshed…and happy. Oh so happy!

I’ve never really thought about visiting Costa Rica before. I have heard so many wonderful things about the country from the travel blogging community, but nothing really stuck out to me in a way that made me want to see it for myself.

Now? I am in love with the country. In love with the lush green forests, the white faced Capuchin monkeys eating breakfast in the trees outside our hotel, the bats that fly overhead as you’re walking to dinner…and the people?

The people of the Guanacaste area in Costa Rica are so different than Americans, it’s almost impossible to explain. Imagine us, materialistic, driven, ambitious – and Costa Ricans are the exact opposite. It’s a simple way of life over there, one spent preserving and enriching the landscape, a culture completely devoted to living life day by day, moment by moment, without the all-consuming materialism that we have here in the United States.

At one point, I asked our guides about taking me into town to see the city, to perhaps shop, eat in local eateries, see a museum…and they laughed. “Downtown” doesn’t exist in the way I imagined. As we drove through the small city of Filadephia and Liberia, the two major cities (or what would pass as cities in the United States), I realized just how excessive we are in the states. Instead of our mega chain grocery stores and department stores, they grow most of their own food and their grocery stores sell the basics, and aren’t much larger than our convenience stores. There wasn’t a Walmart in sight.

Small village

Why can’t we live like that? What makes Americans want more more more? What drives our Capitalistic desire to build, acquire, dominate – at any expense? In Guanacaste, the people are more concerned with preserving the forests and wildlife than they are building tourist traps. Life is simple in Costa Rica, and for the most part, people just live their lives day by day, spending time with family, eating good food, working their jobs and spending time outdoors. Everyone was so friendly, so kind, so genuine!

The tours we took were a complete change from the usual excursions I take on vacations in other countries. No one pushes to sell you things, no one reminds you a million times that you can tip them at the end – they are excited to show you a good time, show you how they live their lives and make you fall in love with their country…and we did!

pottery making

When you visit Costa Rica, you take it as it is, and if that’s not enough for you…well, it says more about you (and me) than it does about them.

Check out P.F. Chang’s Summer Menu & Win a Foodie Trip To Boston!

This article is sponsored by P.F. Chang’s.

Today I have a two-for-one for you guys! Firstly, we are going to talk about the awesome seasonal menu at P.F. Changs, which have a fantastic perfect pairing of wine with each dish…and secondly, I have an amazing foodie travel contest to tell you about!

The seasonal menu at P.F. Changs is full of delicious food, each paired with a spirit that compliments the cuisine. It’s like having a built in wine expert right there on the menu! Many of the dishes are paired with a Riesling, as that kind of wine pairs so well with Asian cuisine. It was actually the first time I’ve had a Riesling with Asian food and now I know what I’ve been missing all these years! They say that Samuel Adams beer also goes well with these dishes, but I do love my Riesling!

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The P.F. Changs Seasonal Menu

Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Spring Rolls - Lemongrass chicken, julienne carrots, celery root, cilantro, peanuts, Thai basil and mint wrapped in cool rice paper, with a sweet chili dipping sauce.

These spring rolls were so light and refreshing, I ate both of them! They were perfect with the sweet chili dipping sauce!

spring rolls

Heirloom Tomato Salad - Market-fresh heirloom tomatoes, avocado, Thai basil and zesty ponzu dressing.

Chiang Mai Curry Noodles with Chicken - Sliced chicken breast wok-tossed with egg noodles, Fresno peppers, cilantro and a coconut-curry infused broth, garnished with Brussels sprouts and topped with crispy wontons.

I ordered the Curry Noodles as my entree and loved it! It had a bit of a kick to it because those peppers are a little spicy. I actually set the peppers aside because I didn’t want it to be too hot for me, as I am sensitive to peppers. Chris had some too and he agreed that it was delicious!

curry noodles

Seared Ahi with Wasabi Guacamole - Yellowfin tuna, seared and served rare, topped with wild baby arugula and green beans in a chili-lime ponzu sauce, served with wasabi guacamole.

Orange Peel Shrimp - Hunan chili sauce with fresh orange slices, garnished with daikon sprouts.

Cantonese Lemon Chicken - Fresh, crispy whole chicken breast sliced and drizzled with warm lemon sauce and served with chilled broccolini salad.

Pink Cherry Cosmo - Absolut Citron Vodka and Cointreau Liqueur with fresh lime juice and cranberry juice garnished with a Pink Blush cherry.

Spicy Paloma - Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila and fresh jalapeño slices, balanced with freshly-squeezed white grapefruit juice.

foodie trip

P.F. Chang’s Perfect Pairings Contest

P.F. Chang’s Perfect Pairings contest began on July 11th and will run through August 18th, with a winner chosen on August 29th.

To enter the contest visit, simply visit  pfchangs.com/perfectpairings and say what two things you think pair perfectly together for the chance to win a trip for two to Boston to tour the Samuel Adams Brewery and dinner at P.F. Chang’s!

Do it like this:

“Asian-inspired dishes go with craft beer like _ and ”

Each participant will have the opportunity to win a $100 gift card and become eligible for the grand prize of a trip to Boston for an exclusive Sam Adams Brewery Tour for two, followed by a 4-course pairing dinner at the P.F. Chang’s downtown Boston!

Go enter to win the P.F. Changs Perfect Pairings foodie trip!

Don’t Let Bugs Suck the Fun Out of Summer! #CutterRepellents

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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Cutter® Insect Repellents.

Summer in Miami always means lots of time spent outside, but there’s one drawback to all of that summertime sunshine…it’s also mosquito season! We are so close to the Florida Everglades, which is beautiful…but it’s a swamp, which is prime mosquito real estate. We love being outside during the hot summer months, whether it be a day trip down to Card Sound to walk the trails in the mangroves, going to the Zoo or park or fishing down in the Keys – everything we love about summer is outside! Luckily, we have Cutter® insect repellents to help keep the nasty mosquitoes away so that we can enjoy our time outdoors without coming home looking like we have been struck with measles!

Cutter® insect repellents helps protect against mosquitoes as well as ticks, biting flies, gnats, no-see-ums, chiggers and fleas – all of which seem to breed and attack like crazy during the summer months. I want to focus on the issues with mosquitoes because that is my biggest issue during the summer because of the environment where we live.

Card Sound Road Crocodile Lake

We rely heavily on insect repellent during our outdoor adventures and Cutter® offers solutions in three great forms: Cutter® Skinsations Spray, Cutter® Dry and Cutter® All Family Mosquito Wipes. 

My favorite insect repellent for every day use is the Cutter® Dry insect repellent because it is so easy to put on and doesn’t need to be rubbed in! It is a non-scented spray and dries pretty quickly without leaving a greasy residue on your skin – so you can simply spray it on and go about your business without having to go wash your hands. 

Crocodile Lake Card Sound Road

Cutter® insect repellents contain a 7% DEET formula that the American Academy of Pediatrics recomments for children, so it is safe for the entire family. That means that you only need ONE insect repellent for everyone in the family!

Because Cutter® helps protect against mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks, fleas, gnats, no-see-ums and chiggers, it’s not only great for protection while we are out fishing in the Keys, but can be used everywhere, no matter what you are outside doing this summer! You can use it to help repel fleas, ticks and chiggers while out hiking and camping in the woods, and avoid those nasty biting flies and gnats while at the park too!

Cutter Insect Repellants

When we go fishing, I have started to bring the Cutter® Skinsations spray because it has a nice scent that isn’t overpowering and really doesn’t smell like the traditional bug spray we are all used to down here in Miami.

It also has aloe and vitamin E, so it moisturizes your skin while helping to protect you against mosquitoes! I think this might be the first insect repellent I have used that actually moisturizes your skin – it’s a pretty nice bonus!

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When Chris and I go out fishing in Key Largo, we fish right in the mangroves, where mosquitoes breed like mad! It’s our favorite fishing spot because this channel is one of the biggest channels between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. There are SO many different species of fish, ranging from Jack, Snapper, Tarpon, Trout to our favorite: Snook! Last weekend Chris caught a Mutton Snapper, and while it was just barely regulation size (there are limits on size for certain species of fish, and the Fish and Wildlife dept take them very seriously – you can go to jail if you take fish out of the water that are undersized or oversized), it was our best catch of the day!

Mutton Snapper

The best time to fish in Key Largo is during sunrise and late at night, when the tide is going in and out. Unfortunately, that is also the best time to catch a nasty case of mosquito bites…bringing along Cutter® Skinsations insect repellent is vital to an enjoyable fishing experience because those mosquitoes bite right through your clothes! This spray is great for also spraying ON your clothes so that you don’t end up with bites all over your back and legs from thirsty mosquitoes.

Because all you really want to do is enjoy the spectacular sunrise over the ocean and catch fish. Who has time for swatting away bugs?

cutter repellents

Cutter® All Family Mosquito Wipes are also great for packing in your tackle box to wipe your face. If you’ve never had a mosquito bite your eyelid, consider yourself lucky. You can keep these in the glove compartment in your car, in your tote bag when you head to the park – they’re great for keeping on hand for bug emergencies!

Why Insect Repellent is so Important for Your Family

Of course we all want to avoid being bitten by any kind of bug, but there are two that really worry me: ticks and mosquitoes. We all know that ticks can carry Lyme disease, which can be fatal.

But did you know that mosquitoes can carry the West Nile Virus? According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were a total of 890 infections of West Nile Virus in the summer of 2013 – with 33 deaths! West Nile Virus is serious business and using insect repellent is an easy way to not only help prevent irritating mosquito bites, but also help reduce your risk of becoming infected with the West Nile Virus.

Using Cutter® insect repellent, in any of these forms, helps keep the nasty bugs away so that we can have fun this summer without worrying about irritating and painful bug bites or worse!

You can learn more about Cutter® insect repellents on Cutter.com. Also check out the Cutter® Facebook page to learn more about their products and their “like to win” promotions that happen weekly and bi-weekly!

cutter facebook page

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Cutter® Insect Repellents.

The New #DisneyMoviesAnywhere App Makes Summer Travel With Kids Easier!

This blog post is part of a paid SocialMoms and Disney Movies Anywhere blogging program. The opinions and ideas expressed here are my own.

Summer is all about travel and If you’ve been following along with me on social media the past month or so, you’ll see that we kicked off our summer travel season early this year! Now, Angeline is a teenager, but we face a lot of the same traveling dilemmas that families with young children face…namely, keeping her entertained during the to and from and during downtime.  With the new Disney Movies Anywhere app for iOS, parents lives are made a little easier because our kids have access to all of their favorite Disney movies anytime, anywhere!

Disney Movies Anywhere #DisneyMoviesAnywhere App

Each year, we take a family road trip to Western North Carolina, which is about a 14 hour drive. We have done this almost every year since Angeline was 2 and I think now that she is 16, we finally have that long stretch of driving down to a science!

I grew up visiting my grandparents in North Carolina and attending our annual family reunion, and I am so happy to be able to give Angeline that same experience. We are now preparing for a first for our family…we are taking along Angeline’s boyfriend on our NC Road Trip! He will accompany us to our family reunion and we plan to show him some of the places that we have been going to as a family since forever; for instance, Looking Glass Falls in Pisgah Forest has been a favorite sunny day spot since I was a kid, and we always take Angeline there to splash around on hot days!

North Carolina Road Trip

With two teenagers in the backseat for a 14 hour drive, I am so grateful to modern technology – thank goodness for the Disney Movies Anywhere app for iOS, otherwise we would have two very bored kids in the backseat!

The Disney Movies Anywhere app is perfect for summer travel because you can view your favorite Disney movies streaming when connected to wifi, but you can also download them to view when you are offline. After you download the app, just sign up for Disney Movies Anywhere and connect your iTunes account. You can enter the special codes from your Disney DVD/Blu-ray purchases to save your movies to your account or buy them from the iTunes store (and earn Disney Movie Rewards off those new purchases!) and they are always there in your account when you need them. There is also free content available in the app, including new original programming, exclusive clips, fun movie factoids, and you can preorder Disney movies that are in theaters or returning from the Disney vault.

The Disney Movies Anywhere app is available for iOS and works on the iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini and Apple TV as well. You can check out this video to get a better idea of how it works.

Right now, when you download the Disney Movies Anywhere app, register, and connect your iTunes account, you will receive a free copy of Pixar’s The Incredibles! A new Pixar movie will be released each week at the special price of $14.99 for a limited time – they are regularly $19.99, so now is the perfect time to stock up on your favorites! 

4 Tips for a Better Family Road Trip

Bring LOTS of Entertainment - Kids get bored so easily in the car, and there is nothing worse than a child crying “I’m bored! Are we there yet?” from the backseat. Make sure you download the Disney Movies Anywhere app on each child’s iOS device and have them choose a few movies to download so that they are available offline during your road trip.

Travel Tip: Electronics are no fun when the batteries die. Invest in an inexpensive back up battery charger with multiple USB ports so that your kids can keep their devices charged on long road trips without using up all of the outlets in the car!

Schedule Bathroom Breaks Into Your Travel Plan – When we map out our route, it’s easy to overlook things like gas station stops and bathroom breaks. At the end of the trip, those 10 and 15 minute stops can really add up and set you back, so plan accordingly. Count on stopping once every 200 miles for a gas refill and make sure the kids go to the bathroom each time you stop for gas. Even if they are sleeping or say they don’t have to go – wake them up and take them to the bathroom. It’s Murphy’s Law that as soon as you get back on the highway, the kids will all wake up with an urgent need to use the restroom!

Pack a Cooler Full of Snacks – Gas station stops are known for their aisles stocked with junk food and there’s something about a road trip that stimulates the appetite! Instead of spending a fortune and filling up on junk food during your road trip, plan ahead and pack a small cooler (or big one, depending on the size of your family) with juice boxes, bottled waters and healthy snacks that your kids will enjoy. Think cheese and pepperoni, carrots and small ranch dressing containers and apple slices. Of course, no road trip is complete without a little bit of munchies, so bring along a big bag of pretzels, granola bars or other snacks that won’t leave your kids with a sugar high!

Bring a Comfy Blanket and Pillows – There’s just something about being in the car for long stretches of time that makes us doze off. Bring along a pillow for each child, as well as a blanket so that they can cozy up if you crank the AC.

Go download the Disney Movies Anywhere app now and get your copy of Pixar’s The Incredibles!

 

You can also Like Disney Movies Anywhere on Facebook to stay up to date on their current promotions!

Adventure Awaits in an RV #GoRVing

Ah, summertime. As soon as the final school bell rings, I smell the open road calling! While we have had many different kinds of vacations, I have always dreamed about taking an RV trip with Chris and Angeline. My grandparents used to have an RV when I was a kid, and my cousin had an RV when we were in our 20s. My in-laws have an RV and take the grandkids on all kinds of summer adventures when they visit, and I greedily listen to their tales once she comes home.

An RV is such a perfect way to take a family vacation and my dream is to take a road trip across Route 66 or through the Smoky Mountains National Park in an RV with my family. With Angeline graduating high school in two years and heading off to college, I am hoping that we get to make my dream a reality before it’s too late!

I’ve drooled over RVs listed for sale in the neighborhood flyers and every time I see a new RV pulling into the RV-friendly park across the street, I feel a tiny pang of jealousy. That’s right, I have a park with an RV campground right across the street from me! Every winter, the RVs begin pulling in and I tell Chris, “Do you see how happy they are? They have a hotel on wheels!” Then I begin fantasizing about the RV adventures we would have on the open road…

Adventure Awaits in an RV #GoRVing

RVing Allows You To Go Whenever, Wherever

There are so many benefits to RVing for your family vacation. Each time a friend or a family member goes RVing, I pump them for details and then run back to Chris to tell him about my new ideas for a RVing road trip for our next family vacation. My very favorite RVing plan is to drive along Route 66. I want to see the historic sites, visit small towns and all of the famous roadside attractions.

You see, that’s the thing about RVing, you can visit all of the places that you wouldn’t ordinarily spend an entire vacation at – no one plans an entire vacation around visiting the biggest ball of yarn in the United States, or the Cadillac Graveyard. But in an RV? It’s so easy to work all of those places into your itinerary because all you have is time!

Go RVing #GoRVing

RVing is one of the most convenient vacation ideas for families and adventurers alike, for so many reasons!

The Benefits of RVing

Avoid Costly Hotels – Your hotel is built into the vacation so there’s no making reservations or saving up thousands to cover hotel bills. There are many parks and RV parks in most places where you can park your RV for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.

RVs are Pet-Friendly – We have two shelties that I always want to bring with me on vacations. While they can handle a road trip in the car just fine, it’s finding pet-friendly hotels at our destination that proves to be an issue. With an RV, you can bring however many furry friends you wish along for the family fun without worry!

There’s Room for Everyone – Unlike hotel rooms that force you to book a second room for large families, RVs are a one-price-fits-all sort of vacation! My old pastor and his family used an RV for road trips, as it just wasn’t economical for their family of ten to pile into two separate vehicles and book several hotel rooms.

Save Money on Food During Vacation – Aside from airfare/hotel expenses, the biggest expense most families face on vacation is dining. Between breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, the costs can quickly add up even for small families. When your vacation revolves around RVing, you not only have a fridge right there to hold snacks and groceries, but you can cook all of your meals and save a ton on dining expenses! Of course you can still go “out” to eat when you like, but wouldn’t it be nice to eat out only because you want to, not because you must?

#GoRVing Go RVing for Unlimited Adventures!

Go Wherever, Whenever – I love to explore and go on adventures, and that is why RVing appeals to me so much. When you go RVing, there’s no worrying about whether or not an airport is near your destination, whether or not hotels are booked…you can go anywhere you want, any time you want. Take a scenic drive along US1 from Key West to Maine, or drive along Route 66 and visit the Santa Monica Pier.

#GoRVing Go RVing for Unlimited Adventures!

Stop along the way, drive straight through – you are only limited by your imagination!

Get Social With GoRving!

Check out the GoRving website and take a look at the Scenic Route Blog for great ideas for your own GoRving adventure!

You can also like the GoRVing Facebook Page and follow @GoRVing for fun ideas!

Tell us what you love most about RVing or if you’ve ever wanted to try it!

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Go RVing via Burst Media. The opinions and text are all mine.

Celebrate Summer & Be Prepared with a Puracyn® First Aid Kit #PuracynFirst

This is a product-provided, sponsored conversation that contains affiliate links. I received one 4 oz. spray bottle of Puracyn® OTC Wound & Skin Care and a branded first aid kit. All opinions, text and experiences are my own.

When we were kids, that first sweet day of summer vacation was like a freedom bell ringing across the country: let the fun begin! I remember being so excited not to have any school obligations, getting to spend more time with my friends, visiting family on vacation – summer meant two full months of possibility. Anything could happen! As we enter adulthood, start our families and become steeped in adult responsibilities, summer means something entirely different. I vowed to celebrate this summer and get out of my home office as much as possible – and I’ve done pretty well so far! We did something that we’ve never done before: we took an eight day cruise to three new destinations: Curacao, Aruba and La Romana!

I am a pro at packing light, but preparing for an eight day cruise with two adults and three teenagers requires a whole different level of packing. I even brought a Puracyn® first aid kit, because you never know what will happen when three excited teenage girls go running around the Caribbean, especially with them being in the water so much!

There were rocks, limestone bluffs – the landscape in Curacao and Aruba was completely foreign to us and we all ended up with a little scrape here or there.

Why You Need a Puracyn® First Aid Kit

When disaster strikes, isn’t it nice to have everything you need to quickly fix up the kids in one place? A Puracyn® First Aid Kit is perfect for the care of minor cuts, scrapes and lacerations! Whether it’s while you are out on vacation or simply a fun day at home, it’s so helpful to have everything you need in one little container.

So many things can happen during our summer activities, and while small cuts and scrapes don’t normally require a visit to the doctor, you need to properly care for them to help prevent infections and promote proper healing. When cuts and scrapes are cleaned properly, they heal better because you’ve removed dirt, debris and bacteria, and of course, cover them with a bandage to prevent any new dirt from getting in there!

The Puracyn First Aid Kit contains a 4 ounce bottle of Puracyn® OTC Wound & Skin Care spray as well as an ice pack and bandages, so you are covered no matter what the injury. No water is necessary, you can simply use the spray to clean the wound and then cover it up so that it can begin healing! Puracyn® OTC Wound & Skin Care is a unique, patented solution of electrochemically treated saline for cleaning and healing wounds, including cuts, abrasions, irritations and lacerations. The solution mimics compounds naturally produced by the body, making it an ideal aid in wound cleaning and healing.

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We all go outside and do things that we wouldn’t normally do during the summer. Did you know that 39% of outdoor, recreational related injuries happen during summertime activities? Whether you are walking along limestone bluffs, hiking, surfing, mountain climbing, horseback riding – you name the activity, and Puracyn® OTC Wound & Skin Care spray will come in handy!

Puracyn simplifies the process of first aid and frees up more time for summer fun!

Are you ready to kick the fun up a notch this summer? Puracyn® is hosting the Puracyn® Favorite Summer Firsts Giveaway on Facebook, where you can win a summer themed prize package for fun at the beach, on a camping trip, at a backyard BBQ and more!

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Puracyn® Favorite Summer Firsts Giveaway

Puracyn® wants to see your Favorite Summer Firsts. Show them your first summer backyard bash, your first summer splash, your first summer outdoor adventure, or your first summer road trip… or whatever comes to mind… and you could win! One winner will be randomly selected each week on Thursday, July (3), 10, 17, and 24, to receive one (1) of four (4) Puracyn Favorite Summer Firsts prize packages, each valued at approximately $400.

You can enter the Puracyn® Favorite Summer Firsts Giveaway here.

Prize packages include:

First Summer Backyard Bash
First Summer Splash
First Summer Outdoor Adventure
First Summer Road Trip

Have you had any summer firsts yet? Are you planning any first-time adventures for the rest of the summer?

This is a product-provided, sponsored conversation that contains affiliate links. I received one 4 oz. spray bottle of Puracyn® OTC Wound & Skin Care and a branded first aid kit. All opinions, text and experiences are my own.