Described as “one of the top 50 places to live and play,” according to National Geographic Traveler, Mobile, Alabama is a city filled with hospitality and rich Southern charm. Known for the first Mardi Gras celebration back in 1703, and promoted as “America’s Family Mardi Gras,” Mobile is a special city where the entire community is proud to service and welcome tourists, guests and convention and meeting professionals. “Mobile Bay offers a genuine southern experience in a historic, yet vibrant coastal setting. A top-rated, riverfront convention center anchors a lively, walkable downtown offering world-class accommodations, lush parks and squares, retail shops, restaurants, museums and art galleries,” said Stacy Hamilton, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the Mobile Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“This 300-year-old port city is one of the oldest and largest along the Gulf Coast. The Hank Aaron Museum (Aaron’s boyhood home) moved to the Hank Aaron Stadium and is now open for meetings, receptions and tours. The character, architecture, passion and charm complement this fine Southern city by the bay, making Mobile a historical beauty to behold. Mobile Bay offers a lively arts and entertainment district, architecturally significant homes and buildings, beautiful gardens, parks and outdoor spaces, along with fresh local seafood, making it the ideal meeting destination,” said Hamilton. “The Carnival Elation, championship golf, a variety of water activities, one-of-a-kind event venues, city-wide historic tours, and a gracious hospitality community are sure to make your next meeting in Mobile a memorable one.”

The Carnival Elation arrived in Mobile in May 2010, replacing the Fantasy. Elation accommodates 2,000 passengers, offering four, five, and seven-day cruises from the Port of Mobile. “Pre and post-convention vacations are popular options for meeting delegates,” said Hamilton. “Candlewood Suites, an all-suite hotel will be located in downtown Mobile in December 2010. The entire Mobile Bay area offers an easy and efficient hotel and convention center package, with 1,100 hotels rooms within easy walking distance of the convention center, as well as wonderful attractions, restaurants, and nightlife nearby. The best value months to book are July and August, with room rates typically at a 30% discount. The average group rate for the City of Mobile is approximately $75.”

“Mobile has a little bit of everything. Those searching for the center of the social scene will enjoy the downtown area, while others will enjoy an artistic journey only a few miles away and across the Bay in the quaint Town of Fairhope,” said Kevin Hellmich, Senior Vice President of Sales for Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel. “Visitors can enjoy the beach, the pool and spa, or play golf on some of the world’s most challenging golf courses, tour historical monuments or get lost in the harmony of beautiful Bellingrath Gardens. Southern charm and hospitality is a specialty in Mobile where the entire community participates.”



Located on Highway 90 West is the Holiday Inn, a 3-Diamond AAA rated hotel, offering 159 guest rooms, five meeting rooms with a meeting capacity for 200 in 2,400 square feet of meeting space. “In July 2010 Mr. Shannon Harris became the Director of Sales. Millard Williams is the new General Manager. “Our location has easy access, with plenty of free parking,” said Shannon Harris. “Customers are the reason why we are here. We provide great Southern hospitality and service by hiring the right people for the right job. Rooms have a coffeemaker, microwave, refrigerator, iron, blow dryer, high-speed Internet access, and complimentary airport transportation with 24-hour advance notice.”

“The award winning Renaissance Mobile Riverview Hotel is perfect for all types of visitors,” said Hellmich. “Considered one of Mobile’s premier hotels, the hotel has 373 guest rooms, 16 meeting rooms, and 44,000 square feet of meeting space and two internationally acclaimed golf courses on Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Magnolia Grove. Located in the heart of the revitalized downtown area, the Renaissance invested in a $64 million renovation bringing an air of sophistication to beautiful downtown Mobile. Overlooking stunning Mobile Bay, amenities include coffeemaker and tea service, hairdryer, iron and ironing board, comfortable, luxurious bedding and on-site dining. The convenience and versatility of the meeting space at the Renaissance creates great options for meeting planners. Renaissance Mobile Riverview meeting planners are highly trained to suit the needs of all clients. The Renaissance is involved in many “Green initiatives, including e-sales kits and brochures, linen and towel reuse programs, water conserving fixtures in guest rooms, energy-efficient light bulbs, and the hotel thinks green by buying and supporting local farmers,” said Hellmich. “Connected via a skywalk to Mobile Convention Center, who can resist the stunning sunrises over Mobile Bay, combined with the exquisite service and hospitality.”

Decorated with elegance and exquisite Southern charm in mind, the historic Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa is located one block from Mobile Bay. Travel + Leisure recognized the Battle House as one of the “Top 500 Hotels in the World,” in 2009 and National Geographic Traveler named the hotel one of the ‘Top Places to Stay in North America.’ “Originally built in 1852, the Battle House was restored to its original grandeur when it reopened in 2007,” said Kevin Hellmich, Vice President of Sales, The Battle House. “The décor is reminiscent of a time gone by, where even the smallest event was a formal affair. The Battle House has a mantra of hospitality that flows from management to staff to guest in one fluid motion. The history of the hotel speaks for itself and the Southern charm and courtesy of the staff can be seen within a simple smile and greeting. Offering 238 guest rooms, 20 meeting rooms and 27,000 square feet of meeting space with a banquet capacity of 600, “The Battle House meeting planners are highly trained professionals who invest in making sure that the event is executed to the client’s satisfaction. The elegance of the Battle House makes the venue suitable for even the most elaborate events and the approachability of the staff and comfortable luxury is perfect for a casual gathering. If meeting planners book a meeting before December 31, 2010 and hold the event before December 27, 2011, attendees will receive a $100 credit during their stay. The credit may be used for green fees or merchandise at the golf pro shop, spa services and merchandise, and other credits.” New personnel at the Grand include: Mariluz Hilbun, Director of Catering and Event Management; Edwin Torres, Area Director of Food and Beverage; Jamie Rauch, Catering Sales Manager; Sharon Dixon, Catering Sales Manager; Derrick Williams, Senior Sales Manager; Lydia Ferrill, Executive Meeting Manager; Linda Menshon Dowling, Assistant Director of Sales; and Bailey Mixon, Senior Business Transient Manager.

Honored with the 2009 Environmental Achievement Award by the Baldwin County Commission for their efforts to produce “A Greener Grand,” the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa is highly involved with the Green movement in America. “The hotel installed environmentally friendly lighting and low flow sinks and toilets in addition to efforts to make compost and provide green buffer areas, preserving the natural habitat,” said Elizabeth Hard, Public Relations Specialist. “We are in the middle of a three-year room renovation project, updating all guest rooms. The Grand has won numerous awards including AAA – Four Diamond Award, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler accolades and it is located in Point Clear, Alabama, across Mobile Bay, only a few minutes from Fairhope. Meeting planners at the Grand ensure that every detail is carried out. Each meeting space is flexible and technologically enhanced. The Grand offers wired and wireless high-speed Internet access in meeting rooms and wireless in public areas. The scenic surroundings of the hotel not only inspire great ideas, but can be enjoyed later. We have 405 guest rooms, 22 meeting rooms with 37,000 square feet of meeting space. The Grand has been entertaining guests, serving as a gracious Southern mainstay since 1847.”



Standing tall and strong after hurricanes, historical battles, wars, the Gulf Oil disaster and the test of time, The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park is an amazing, unique venue. The USS Alabama offers a reception on the deck of a 35,000-ton battleship, or dinner inside an aircraft hangar filled with historical aircraft and displays dating back to World War II. The USS Alabama is a great place to host an event where history mixes with special events to make a commemorative occasion. The battle ship features three meeting rooms with a banquet capacity of 800 with 39,000 square feet of meeting space. Located on the Causeway, or what everyone refers to as Battleship Parkway, The USS Alabama is East of Downtown Mobile. “Our staff goes above and beyond to ensure that each event is successful and everyone has a good experience,” said Karen Conner, Director of Sales and Marketing. “We stand out because we are the only World War II battleship on the Gulf Coast. Although our attendance was down approximately 33% during the Gulf Oil disaster, our marketing strategy was to let people know that we are not located on the Gulf of Mexico and oil was not present. Our peak season for visitors is the summer and our peak season for events is fall and spring. At The USS Alabama you will have the opportunity to explore 12 levels of a WWII battleship and you can go below in the oldest submarine on public display.” With such history aboard an amazing historical ship, The USS Alabama is America’s most unique military attraction that will make a stunning commemorative occasion.

The Museum of Mobile, located in historic downtown Mobile explores over 300 years of history and culture where guests can learn about the history of Mobile in a historical landmark building. “The hospitality is genuine and sincere in Mobile,” said Elyse Marley, Special Events Coordinator. “Tables and chairs are included in the rental fee at the Museum of Mobile.” Featuring two meeting rooms with 4,800 square feet of meeting space, the Museum of Mobile can host a banquet of 90. Exhibits change frequently. The Museum is a great place to learn about the history, culture and heritage of Mobile. The Museum provides a hands-on Discovery Room and guests may shop in the Southern Market.



Mobile has much to offer meeting professionals and future developments are in the works. “Projected to open in late 2012, GulfQuest will be the first museum dedicated to the Gulf Coast’s rich maritime and cultural traditions,” said Hamilton. GulfQuest is expected to be a signature attraction for Mobile due to the unique shape of the 90,000 square-foot structure, designed in the shape of a ship headed into Mobile Bay. “GulfQuest is only the third interactive maritime museum in the world. Located on the Mobile River, adjacent to the Convention Center, GulfQuest will offer a variety of unique reception and event venues. Looking like a real container ship, GulfQuest will be dockside, making it a stunning architectural setting for the City.

Unlike other destinations where special events and meetings are held, Mobile, Alabama is a city that bounces back quickly from adversity, including hurricanes. “Mobilians truly celebrate and appreciate their coastal way of life each and every day, including picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off whenever challenges arise,” said Hamilton. “You can find our love of the Gulf Coast in our food, music, festivals and attractions, but especially in our people. I think our love for our historic port city keeps people coming back.” Centrally located between the pristine white sand beaches of Dauphin Island, Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, and near the South’s top gaming destinations of Biloxi and Gulfport Mississippi, it is no wonder the city is proud to market Mobile as “America’s Family Mardi Gras” where convention and business offerings cannot be challenged or beaten.



By Car: Interstate 10 and Interstate 65 intersect Mobile – just minutes from the Mobile Convention Center

By Air: Three airports – Mobile Regional Airport, Pensacola Regional Airport and the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport. Mobile has a total of six carriers with 188 daily flights, including 10,763 daily seats. Car rental service is available at the airports.

The WAVE Transit System is the public transit system, travels throughout Mobile County.

Mobile Bay Ferry transports vehicles and passengers between Dauphin Island and Gulf Shores.

Mobile Bay MODA! These electric trolleys are your connection for complimentary downtown transportation. Trolleys run every 10 minutes on a convenient three-mile route. Be sure to look for the green umbrellas at every stop. Moda maps are available at the Fort Conde Welcome Center. Schedule hours – Monday – Friday 7am – 6pm. Saturday – 9am – 5pm. For more information please call (251) 344-6600.

Taxi Service: Ride inside safe, clean and dependable taxi and shuttle service, available 24-hours-a-day, seven days-a-week in Mobile. Yellow Cab is the largest provider of taxi and shuttle service in the Mobile area. Please call (251) 476-7711 at any time to schedule a taxi service.



Sales Tax: 9%

Hotel Tax: 14% room tax

Special Event Venues: In addition to the beautiful waterfront convention center, Mobile offers a great variety of special events, including the Mardi Gras Museum, beautiful historic homes and gardens, battleships, aviation museums, sailing schooners, and trendy art galleries and shops.



Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel and Spa,

Grand Hotel Marriott Resort,


Hank Aaron Museum,

Holiday Inn,

Mobile Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center,

Mobile Convention & Visitors Bureau,

Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel,

The Museum of Mobile,

The USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park,





Corpus Christi, Texas A Beautiful, Affordable Nature City by the Bay Where Wildlife Watching Never Ends


Dearest Readers:

Stories about travel, amazing cities to visit and to admire. Enjoy!

Recognized as the ‘Birdiest City in America,’ Corpus Christi’s personality is one to behold. Corpus Christi is not just a place where birds flock; it is a beautiful, and affordable coastal city and one of the nation’s biggest shipping ports. The Coastal Bend of Corpus Christi provides 11,000 hotel rooms with September through January considered as the best and most advantageous times of the year for meeting groups to consider booking events. Home of the longest undeveloped barrier island in the world, Corpus Christi has public access to over 120 miles of virtually untouched beachfront via Padre Island National Seashore. Since Corpus Christi is such a great, affordable setting for meetings, the coastal city is a great setting to combine a vacation during meetings.

“Year-round, Corpus Christi is one of the most affordable destinations on the coast and in the winter months, we offer an even better value for those seeking a tropical reprieve. Centrally located on the Texas Coast, Corpus Christi has waves, wings and wildlife,” said Regina Garcia-Posada, Communications Manager for Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“When considering where to host a meeting, meeting planners find when they compare our group rates, food and beverage and audio visual packages, Corpus Christi offers a value that surpasses the rest,” said Garcia-Posada. “Our hotels are diverse, from Four-Diamond Hotels with superior meeting facilities to newly built Select Service brands, to Resorts of the Gulf; all with affordability in mind, and most important, friendly service. What makes Corpus Christi such an interesting and unique nature loving atmosphere for hosting group meetings is the accommodations. The 5,050 seat Whataburger Field accommodates group events for 10-2,000 people during in-season and off-season. Another interesting setting is the Old Market Pavilion, a prime mid-size facility with a covered pavilion that can easily host up to 2,000 guests and full-service event planning is available. Texas State Aquarium offers a one-hour tour of the shoreline of Corpus Christi on the 100 foot luxury yacht, TSA Explorer. A Texas State Aquarium guide will be aboard to answer questions and share expertise about historical sites and wildlife.”

Another interesting venue is the USS Lexington Museum on the Bay, offering the interactive exhibit, Virtual Battle Stations which will engage the audience, sending shivers down their spines in “Air to Air Combat,” “Carrier Landing” and Ship’s Gunnery,” video interactions. Historically, some of the most astonishing events in history took place on the USS Lexington, including World War II action from Tarawa to Tokyo, giving her the name of the Blue Ghost. “The Hangar Deck has more than 40,000 square feet of convenient, accessible space where groups up to 2,600 may meet and celebrate any event,” said Debbie Crites, Marketing Director of the Museum. “Hangar Bay II has air conditioning and heat for events year-round. The USS Lexington’s MEGA Theater, has comfortable stadium seating and state-of-the-art audio/visual technology, perfect for presentations, product launches or award ceremonies. Total capacity for this stadium is 193.” The USS Lexington is an ideal one-of-a-kind, unforgettable setting that makes planning a cocktail reception, banquet, stage show, or team building event a breeze in an outstanding museum on the bay of Corpus Christi.

The Solomon P. Ortiz International Center is uniquely located on the Port of Corpus Christi Ship Channel and can accommodate groups of 10 to 2,000. Offering soundproof, flexible meeting spaces for group accommodations complete with a banquet hall and an outdoor square, the Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center offers meeting rooms ranging from 580 to 16,555 square feet. Regardless of the event, the Ortiz Center is a perfect setting to accomplish the goals and the mission of any specialty event.

Located in the Downtown Marina District on the Corpus Christi Bay, the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel has rooms with “spectacular views of the Bay, with views of the USS Lexington to the north, and the Marina and yacht basin to the south,” said Paulette Kluge, Director of Sales and Marketing. The hotel has 821 rooms, including seven specialty suites, 13 Bay view suites and 15 junior suites. All rooms include coffeemakers, iron and ironing boards, hairdryers, complimentary airport transportation, terrycloth robes, express check out via TV and same day dry cleaning available for all guests. The Omni has 24 meeting rooms with the largest meeting capacity suitable for 1,115 and 38,000 square feet of on-site meeting space. “All meeting space is on one floor and can be easily accessed via escalator. Described as the “Best Hotel in Corpus Christi,” by the Corpus Christi Caller Times Best of the Best Award, the Omni has a staff of dedicated hospitality professionals on staff, committed to the best service. “Omni Hotels and Resorts just earned the JD Powers highest ranking among 15 upscale hotel brands,” said Kluge. “Recent staff additions include Daniel Cornelius, Director of Food and Beverage. Known as the place to celebrate special events, the AAA Four-Diamond Republic of Texas Bar and Grill, located on the 20th floor of the Bayfront Tower at the Omni, serves an excellent variety of prime steaks, wild game and fresh seafood. Considered one of Corpus Christi’s top destinations for dining, the Republic of Texas Bar and Grill is the only restaurant in South Texas to receive this honor.”

Easy to get to, complimentary parking at the hotel and an easy-in hotel, Radisson Beach Hotel is affordable, and comfortable. Located with the ocean as the back door, Downtown Corpus Christi is only one mile from the Radisson Beach. “Every guest room has a balcony and a microwave and mini-fridge. The Radisson is a full-service hotel offering a restaurant and a large bar overlooking the ocean, a gift shop, exercise room and business center. We have 139 guest rooms, seven meeting rooms with 3,300 square feet of meeting capacity. Overlooking the ocean, we have a ballroom and a smaller room on the main hotel lobby floor. Both of these rooms received new wall surfaces and carpeting in 2009. The ballroom can be divided into three equal rooms,” said Carla Ligon, Director of Sales and Marketing. “There is another large room on the second floor which overlooks the ocean. This room may be divided into two sections. Special events and meetings do occur in Corpus Christi. Every year the city has Buc Days and Bayfest, Beach to Bay Marathon, the Texas International Boat Show and many Coastal Bend Festivals. Our local cuisine is delicious and reasonably priced. Radisson Beach Hotel is located on Corpus Christi Beach next to the USS Lexington Aircraft Carrier Museum and three blocks from Texas State Aquarium. We aren’t here to break the bank; we are here to provide hospitality with excellence. Radisson is a full-service hotel, but we are not full of ourselves. We recognize returning guests and we call them by name. We rely on the fact that our beaches and the ocean are our attractions and we build on that with great beds, including the Sleep Number Bed, great service, good food and appreciation for tourists that spend their time with us. Our employees are trained with the attitude of ‘It’s Everybody’s Job,’ and that is our motto.”


Corpus Christi’s beaches have remained open to the public and are unaffected by the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill. City officials and the Convention & Visitors Bureau Communications team closely monitored the oil spill and have kept tourists and visitors well informed. “Corpus Christi shares more than 65 miles of gulf and bay beaches out of the 624 miles of Texas coastline,” said Garcia-Posada. “We have great weather, value destinations with unique meeting spaces overlooking the Corpus Christi Bay. Dine with the sharks at the Texas State Aquarium. Become part of history in the newly air conditioned meeting spaces aboard the U.S.S. Lexington on the Bay, or watch the ships steam into port from the Solomon P. Ortiz Center and the American Bank Center. This outdoor odyssey offers recreational activities with over 100 miles of windswept dunes along the southeastern Texas shoreline. Corpus Christi is not only a place to relax and unwind; it’s also a nature lover’s dream with over 150 nature sites within the coastal area. Now the largest coastal city in the State of Texas, Corpus Christi provides plenty to do for an active group, or a vacationing family. Moments and memories made here are sure to be tucked away in a special memory book for all to enjoy.”

“Our CVB has done a great job of getting the word out that our beaches have not been affected by the oil disaster in the Gulf,” said Ligon. “The Holiday Inn Beach Hotel at North Padre Island is the only full service hotel on the island offering 149 guest rooms. For meetings, there is a main ballroom that can be divided into three rooms, located on the main floor of the hotel. The Holiday Inn Beach Hotel is still within the city limits of Corpus Christi, located on the east side, towards Port Aransas and Mustang Island. The property is a 3-diamond AAA hotel. North Padre Island is most beautiful with miles of natural beaches. This area has wildlife and conservation at its best. Holiday Inn Beach Hotel is a beautiful, affordable location for business retreats and corporate meetings, and family reunions. The Hotel offers live outdoor entertainment during the summer, plus the benefit of beach access and a seawall perfect for leisurely strolls. The hotel has a gift shop, exercise room, a business center and meeting rooms of up to 2,100 square feet. We don’t charge extra for the little things. Parking, local phone calls and our high-speed Internet access is complimentary. Our goal is to build relationships. The atmosphere is full of beach, sand, sun and fun. The memories are free and yours to keep.”


Sales Tax:             8.25%

Hotel Tax:            15% (breaks down to State – 6%; City – 9%)

Transportation:    Downtown transportation includes the B-Trolley, the public bus system that will take passengers around the town for a very affordable low fare. Shuttles are designed to look like trolleys serving the Downtown and Port Aransas year-round. Passengers may travel around the downtown attractions and accommodations while enjoying a scenic tour. Look for the “B” signs for Trolley routes arriving every 10 – 20 minutes. Taxis, limos, and charter busses are also available.


Buc Days,

Corpus Christi Convention & Visitors Bureau,

Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority,

Fares for Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority,

Holiday Inn Beach Hotel,

Omni Corpus Christi Hotel,

Padre Island National Seashore,

Radisson Beach Hotel,

Texas State Aquarium,

The Congressman Solomon P. Ortiz International Center,

USS Lexington Museum on the Bay,

Whataburger Field,


 Here Comes the Bride: Ways to Ease Bridal Jitters

Wedding day – the ultimate day a young girl dreams about from early childhood, until the glorious event arrives. A wedding day requires much preparation, planning the details, mailing invitations, ordering flowers, finding just the right cake, reception, and planning the honeymoon. The list of Things to Do seems endless. Exhausted, the bride starts losing sleep, she snaps at friends and family. She is described as having the wedding day blues, or maybe – she has cold feet. Bridal stress is common during this time. The bride strives to please everyone so the most special day of her life will be memorable, only to feel jittery and tearful when she recognizes everyone else is adding their viewpoints to the never-ending details. The latest trend for brides-to-be is a relaxing day at the spa. While there are a variety of spas available, many are targeting wedding events.


The Tides Inn

The Tides Inn, located in Irvington, Virginia, on the Chesapeake Bay at Carter’s Creek, is a secluded resort where privacy and relaxation are catered to everyone, especially for the bride before her big day. The Spa provides several retreat packages for the bride to be, including The Tides Indulgence Day Package, supplying an aromatherapy benefiting the body and mind. This 90-minute package includes an Essential Oil Massage with wrap, followed with a 60-minute Marine Herbal Facial and an Ultimate Pedicure.


The Shores Resort and Spa

The Shores Resort and Spa, located in Daytona Beach, Florida, offers bridal packages to ease the pre and post wedding day stresses. The bride will enjoy the Javanese Lulur Royal spa treatment, consisting of a Balinese massage with vital oils, an herbal exfoliation, leading to a refreshing body that glows for the special day, followed by a stimulating cool yogurt splash and a scented shower. Additional treatments include the Chocolate Raspberry Peppermint Delight Package, where the bride experiences a delicious, sensuous treatment of a chocolate and raspberry massage, followed with a peppermint pedicure. Another popular day spa treatment is the I Love You So “Berry” Much body wrap. This relaxing mask eases the tired, stressed muscles and purifies the body. Bridal pampering continues with the Bilberry Facial. The final indulgence for the bride includes the Chocolate Raspberry Hot Stone Pedicure. Imagine tired, aching feet soothing the stress of wedding day blues away by receiving a massage of warm stones on the feet and lower legs while your senses are tempted with the delicate aroma of chocolate raspberries.


Opulence Medi Spa

Opulence Medi Spa located in Daytona Beach, suggests unique spa treatments. Hosting bridal parties with massage and body wraps, skin services, waxing and make up tips, Opulence Medi Spa provides gift certificates, specialty gift bags and baskets, and services for the entire bridal party.


Practicing Spa Treatment Etiquette:

Spa treatments are a great way for the bridal party to relax prior to the wedding. Like many details of the wedding day, spa treatment etiquette should be practiced. For example, the bride and her bridal party should arrive for the scheduled appointment twenty minutes early. Many brides choose not to wear makeup to the spa treatment. Dress comfortably and be certain to leave all jewelry at home. If you carry a cell phone, please turn it off since the spa treatment is a place to meditate, relax and unwind, not chat on the telephone. Most day spas have age restrictions for guests, requiring those fifteen or younger to have parental consent. When booking a spa treatment for a child, inquire about age requirements and policies of the spa. Another consideration not to forget is the gratuity of 20%.

On Arrival

When arriving, check in with the desk early enough so the bridal party will have ample time to change into a robe and slippers. Introduce yourself to the front desk and relax. Focus on breathing and relaxation techniques while experiencing a little bit of Heaven as your body and mind exfoliates the stress of wedding day blues away. Now, you may dream about your special wedding day, knowing your body and mind will glow as you walk down the aisle to build a new life of wedding day bliss, not stress.

If You Go:

The Tides Inn Spa is located in Irvington, VA. Their web site is located at:


Shores Resort and Spa:

Located in Daytona Beach, Florida, visit the web site:


Opulence Medi Spa is located in Daytona Beach, Florida. Visit the web site:


Barbie Perkins Cooper is a talented, award-winning writer of travel guides, screenplays, fiction, non-fiction, plays, and numerous articles for regional, trade and travel publications. She lives in Mt. Pleasant, SC.





The Art of Making Chocolate…




Shawn Askinosie shares his passion for chocolate beans and the art of making chocolate
Photo credit: Barbie Perkins-Cooper, Editorial photojournalist

Shawn Askinosie, The Chocolate Maker of Springfield, is Raising the Bar for His Passion in Life as a ChocolatierDSC_0174

Stepping inside the aromatic setting of Askinosie Chocolate Factory tempts the taste buds of anyone who craves the tantalizing taste of chocolate. Located in a historical building built in 1894 in the commercial district of Springfield, Missouri, this chocolate factory makes chocolate artistry that snaps. Askinosie Chocolate Factory is the newfound passion of Shawn Askinosie, a former criminal attorney who chose to leave the hustle, bustle of the courtroom scene, for his newfound passion as a chocolatier. Discovering his passion for baking began a few years ago when he was searching to ease the stress of criminal law. He found therapeutic relief when baking cupcakes and pastries. Unbeknownst to former clients, his law degrees are now displayed in the men’s room of his factory while he pursues a passion he dreamed about and now lives, the love and euphoria of chocolate making.
As time progressed, he discovered he wanted to learn more about chocolate, especially the art of roasting cacao beans and the art of chocolate making. Researching his newfound passion, he chose to learn all he could about the chocolate industry. Traveling to meet with farmers in the Amazon rain forest, he found a new calling in life. Although the process of chocolate making is tedious, for Shawn tasting the raw beans in the pod, dealing with the farmers, and striving for the highest quality product he demands, Askinosie Chocolate Factory is raising the bar to a new standard for the artistry of chocolate making.
Changing his career to follow his dreams, Shawn Askinosie works diligently to create the best chocolate available, roasting chocolate beans, grinding and melting the chocolate until it meets his high standards. Askinosie is the first chocolate maker outside of Mexico to make chocolate. He travels internationally to Mexico, the Amazons, introducing himself to the farmers who grow chocolate trees. He has many farmers in each region and he shares the profits with the farmers.
He contributes an amazing percentage of the tour profits of Askinosie Chocolate Factory to cocoa educational programs, collaborating with universities. He is a wealth of information about chocolate, the history, and development, and the health benefits of dark chocolate.
Unlike the demands of criminal law, the artistry of making chocolate requires lots of time and patience. The process could best be described as intense and time-consuming, something Shawn is accustomed to practicing during his career as a lawyer. Cacao beans are stored in a climate-controlled environment. The beans are cleaned and roasted at a high temperature. The roasting process of cocoa is similar to the roasting procedure of coffee beans.
There are many steps to making chocolate and Shawn is proud that Askinosie Chocolate Factory performs all the steps to make the chocolate the proper consistency, gloss and snap. He wants to create the perfect, most delectable flavor he can to the chocolate beans and give them a creamy, smooth texture. There are many health benefits related to dark chocolate and the nibs have a nutty taste with anti-oxidants that are good for your health.
Tempering, a delicate procedure of melting the chocolate at just the right temperature, is one of the most difficult procedures. “If the temperature is one degree off, the batch of chocolate is ruined,” said Askinosie. “The art of making chocolate is a lot harder than baking cupcakes.” Askinosie Chocolate has a gloss and snap, one of the secret qualities of pure chocolate artistry.

Following His Passion:

Shawn Askinosie has lived an interesting life, including living in Japan for a while, and working with Vietnamese refugees. Reaching burn out from the demands of law, he felt blessed to find a new passion in baking and chocolate artistry. During school tours at Askinosie Chocolate Factory, he stresses the importance of education and goals to students, encouraging them to “Don’t do the same thing over and over in life. Follow your passion.”

Tours of Askinosie Chocolate Factory are held every Tuesday at 3pm. Excited to share his knowledge and expertise about the art of making chocolate, the factory shares 100% of money from the tours with partnerships with universities and cocoa educational programs.

After touring the immaculate factory, it is easy to understand why Shawn changed his lawyer suit threads for the passion he expresses so eloquently as a chocolatier. Believing in yourself, seeking your dreams and following your passion makes for a great recipe for success and happiness while enjoying the delicate taste of chocolate.


If You Go:
Visit Askinosie Chocolate Factory at 514 E. Commercial, Springfield, MO. Phone 417-862-9900. Visit the website: for additional information and to subscribe to the newsletter or order chocolates.

Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a travel writer, photojournalist specializing in hospitality, food and wine and photography. Residing in Charleston, South Carolina, Barbie is the author of “Career Diary of a Photographer,” and “Condition of Limbo.” In September 2007, she was chosen as an approved artist for literary arts with the SC Arts Commission Arts in Education Roster of Approved Artists.

Philip Simmons The Charleston Gatekeeper

A story I published in 2002 about the “Charleston Gatekeeper, Mr. Philip Simmons. Simmons was an amazing man to interview and meet. I still remember the passion held in his eyes. Now, we in the Charleston community remember him as a legacy. A tall, humble man with kind eyes and a pleasant voice. One of the most admirable characters I have ever met. Rest in peace, Philip Simmons!

Philip Simmons
The Charleston Gatekeeper
Hammering His Way into History


Barbie Perkins-Cooper

His eyes embrace a gentle, caring nature. When he speaks, his voice is soft and harmonious, demonstrating the pleasant, soft-spoken Southern gentleman named Philip Simmons, an internationally known blacksmith. Although he is almost 90 years old, he stands tall and upright, walking with a determined stride, passion dancing in his eyes.
Born on June 9, 1912 on Daniel Island, South Carolina, Simmons is truly an inspiration to others, a role model to the City of Charleston and the artistry he preserves.
He was just a small boy when he came to Charleston in 1920, with a gleam in his eyes, determination in his pace. Following the advice of his grandfather he moved from Daniel Island to Charleston to pursue his schooling.

Discovered His Passion

One day while walking in Charleston, he discovered a blacksmith shop. He entered the shop, watching the blacksmith while he worked. The blacksmith moved methodically hammering the iron into bits and pieces of works of art. Philip recognized he had discovered his life’s work. He told the blacksmith he wanted to learn the trade of a blacksmith, because he wanted a job. The blacksmith listened, encouraging the young lad to return when he was older.

When Simmons turned 13 in 1925, he returned to the blacksmith’s shop, working as an apprentice for Peter Simmons, a former slave, blacksmith, and mentor to Philip Simmons. Although not related, Peter Simmons saw something extraordinary in Philip Simmons and took him under his thumbs teaching Philip the artistry of blacksmithing.

Perceptive of the artistry of his protégé and friend, Peter Simmons, Philip Simmons strove to learn all that he could about iron working. He cleaned the shop, repaired items, and when the automobile era began, he found himself working on automobile metals, shaping iron objects into useful items for cars, and wagons. Continuing to expand his passion for his love of blacksmithing, in 1939 Simmons turned his infatuation with iron work into a lifetime career by repairing iron gates. Within a year or two he was making garden gates, stair banisters, balconies, and fences. Years later, Peter Simmons left him with a legacy and trade that would last Philip Simmons a lifetime.

Blacksmith Craftsmanship

The craftsmanship of a blacksmith dates back many centuries in history. Blacksmiths construct pieces of iron into objects by hammering the piece on an anvil. The metal is heated until it blazes with a burnt reddish shade of fire; then, the blacksmith welds the objects into shapes of his inspiration. The craftsmanship of a blacksmith can be a long, detailed process; nevertheless for Philip Simmons, the skill of blacksmithing is more than a job, or obligation. Blacksmithing is a part of his character, revealing the heart and soul of his personality. Working with irons, metals, hammers, tools, and fires reveals a visual portrait of the man he is. Excitement burns in his eyes, while his tall, lean muscular stature exemplifies the strapping sense of pride he has about the art form.

Simmons scribbles the inspiration for his designs on pieces of paper, or anything he can get his hands on when the ideas occur. Much of Simmons work reflects nature, because “I love to be outdoors,” he says with a grin. “Sometimes I look outside and see a bird, a leaf, a fish, or something close to nature, and I draw it on paper. I just love nature.”

Simmons Became a Family Man

During the 1930’s, Simmons lost his wife at a young age, leaving him with three small children. Fortunately, he found the strength to raise the children. “I didn’t find it too difficult. I had the good Lord watching over us, and I had two grown sisters who helped me with the children, chores, and myself.”

Living in a time of his life when most senior citizens are enjoying retirement, Simmons is still active at his shop. “I keep the shop open for the tourists, tour busses that drop by and for my cousin, Joseph Pringle,” he said. “Sometimes I go to teach blacksmithing with the South Carolina Blacksmith Association. Just a few weeks ago I went to Columbia to teach a class. I keep the shop open, and in some sense, I am still active. I no longer do the hard work of blacksmithing, but I do most of the drawings myself.”

International Fame

Philip Simmons is internationally known for his blacksmith talents. Charleston residents, the Historic Charleston Foundation, and South Carolina State Museum, located in Columbia are only a few of the commissioned ornamental works by Philip Simmons. In 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Simmons the National Heritage Fellowship. In 1994 he was recognized by the State of South Carolina, inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach, SC. The Smithsonian Museum has some of his work, along with an ornamental gazebo located at Charleston International Airport. In 1996, Simmons created a wrought iron gate for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Years back I did not do anything to distinguish my signature, but later, I used a stamp, putting my name and signature on the pieces,” he whispers.

Deeply religious, Simmons takes little credit for his accomplishments, preferring to give all the recognition to “the Lord, customers, and the children.”

Simmons is still active in the City of Charleston. “I’m a member of the YMCA, Boys Club and active in my church. I like being involved with kids, and I do all I can to provide deserving students a chance.”

Simmons lives on the East side of Charleston because he wants to preserve the site and his shop for future generations. “This place has four generations of blacksmiths here, starting with Peter Simmons, Guy Simmons, myself, and my cousin, Joseph Pringle. I hope this site is preserved. I lived a long time here,” he said with a smile.

When tourists arrive to see his shop and samples of his ornamental iron art work, he welcomes them. “They just want to meet a man who still does blacksmith work. They probably heard about me somewhere and just want to see the blacksmith shop.”

Walking in his shop, works of iron are remembrances of earlier times in America. “Some old ways were the best ways,” he grins. “I’ve been blessed by the good Lord,” he says, “So, I provide deserving kids a chance by teaching them how to blacksmith and to help them get an education. I tell them to work hard. I talk to the kids, deserving kids, and I do all I can to help them. When they come by to thank me, I am rewarded. Almost every day some kid will stop by to thank me for what I did, and that is my reward.”

Although Philip Simmons is a bit modest, stating that all he wanted to pursue in blacksmithing was a job; now, he has become an icon to the City of Charleston and the history and preservation of blacksmith artistry.

“Sometimes the old methods still work. I have to give all the credit to the Lord. I had to work hard to please the customers, because if you don’t have customers, you don’t have work. And if you don’t have work, you don’t have food on the table. I built things on quality, not quantity, respecting others while I worked. I’ve been blessed, so I try to bless others.”
With a passionate twinkle in his eyes, Philip Simmons, his name, artistry, and his love for blacksmith creations will remain as a hallmark to all who admire the works of a blacksmith. Hammering his way to preserve the tools of a trade no longer in demand as it was in the past, Philip Simmons is honored to be the Charleston Gatekeeper.

HIT THE ROAD — Beaumont to Port Arthur, Texas – Cajun Texas at Its Best

Texas is a proud, lone star state where Southern hospitality and opportunities abound. Beaumont and Port Arthur Texas are known for oil, The Neches River, Cajun cuisine, and Texas style fun. Surprising to many, the two cities serve as natural gems filled with history, Zydeco music, and culture galore. Located within a 24-mile driving range along US-287, there is so much to do at Beaumont and Port Arthur; you’ll have to juggle time to make your selections.


Described as “Texas with a little something extra,” Beaumont is a booming city where the economy is strong and the city has more to offer than oil, music, shopping, and Cajun cuisine. Interstate 10 serves as a major highway for the area, but if you exit, you will discover Beaumont is the proud home to many famous country music celebrities, including George Jones, Tracy Byrd, and Mark Chesnutt. Sports enthusiasts might catch a glimpse of Duriel L. Harris of the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys fame at Rao’s Bakery. Cajun culture and cuisine is everywhere. Start your morning off by stopping by one of the five locations of Rao’s Bakery where you are certain to meet locals and celebrities enjoying a great cup of coffee, fellowship, and fresh desserts. Established in 1941, Rao’s Bakery prides itself in cakes, especially the infamous King Cake. Cakes are baked on site, and shipped internationally. My favorite delicacy was the Red Velvet Crumb Cake. In the summer Rao’s Bakery offers a Kid’s Bakery Camp. This is the perfect opportunity for children to step into the kitchen to bake cookies or decorate a cake.

Downtown Beaumont provides city sidewalks where you can enjoy a variety of activities, including the Fire Museum of Texas, located on Walnut Street, where you can see (and photograph) the world’s largest Dalmatian spotted fire hydrant. Standing 24 feet tall, the hydrant leads to the entrance of the Fire Museum of Texas. The building was formerly the Beaumont Fire Department Headquarters and it has an amazing collection of fire engines and equipment.

If arts and history are something you love, visit the Jefferson Theatre while walking around the renovated downtown district. The Jefferson Theatre is located on Fannin Street and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It opened in 1927 and for decades served as the stunning showplace for entertainment in the community. Built with Old Spanish architecture with sculptures, rich fabrics and eloquence, the setting was romantic. The theatre included a stunning Robert Morton Wonder Organ, complete with 778 pipes, built on a platform that rose from the orchestra pit to stage level. In 1972, the theater closed. Today, the restored Jefferson Theatre serves as a cultural and performing arts center, providing opportunities for artists to perform on a graceful, preserved professional stage that surpasses modern concert halls.

When Spindletop gushes 120 feet into the air, it is a sight not to be missed. Spindletop contains authentic clapboard buildings and artifacts. Located at Highway 69 at University Drive, Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum and the Texas Energy Museum enlighten everyone to the amazing world of petroleum, energy, and science, and discoveries made in the beginning of the twentieth century. Texas Energy Museum is located on Main Street, 4.7 miles from Spindletop. Beaumont is known as “The Museum Capital of Texas,” including the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, State Fire Museum of Texas, The Edison Museum, and Texas Energy Museum.

The Art Museum of Southeast Texas has an interesting exhibit of the Voodoo Man of Beaumont. Felix Fox Harris created totem pole artwork, collecting junk and sculpting it into his expressions of art. An amazing man who communicated best by ‘making something out of nothing,’ he created inspirations from life, fashioned from the ideas in his mind. His sculptures speak volumes about the creativity of self-expression. Described as a ‘visionary’ Felix Fox Harris is considered a legend in Beaumont.

If gourmet or Cajun cuisine is more your style, Texas is famous for barbeque and Beaumont has Fat Mac’s Smokehouse. Located on Calder Avenue, this award winning barbecue is slow cooked and melts in your mouth. If fine dining is more your style, Suga’s is located downtown in a historic and renovated building with fine dining ambience, culinary cuisine at its finest, atmosphere galore, and a jazz bar. Suga’s is a great place to unwind after a busy day. If dancing and mouth watering Cajun cuisine tempts your taste buds, you’ve got to shake your booty at Larry’s French Market located on Atlantic Highway.


Described as a city where ‘oil and water mix beautifully,’ Port Arthur is filled with family attractions and festivals galore. Museum of the Gulf Coast is located on Procter Street and offers something for everyone. If you are interested in learning about Zydeco music, sports, and the culture of the Gulf Coast, you might spend the entire day. A great way to get a taste of the flavors in Port Arthur is to visit Golden Triangle Veterans Memorial Park, Queen of Peace Shrine, Buu Mon Buddhist Temple, Pleasure Island, Gator Country. Port Arthur has an abundance of restaurants including Cajun, Mexican, Vietnamese, Chinese, family and home style cafeterias. Regardless what you are looking for, Beaumont and Port Arthur Texas define Cajun Texas, at its best.

Fire in Georgetown, SC–History-up-in-flames

I awoke to the morning news — breaking news about a fire in Downtown Georgetown, SC, along Front Street. Reportedly, several buildings are completely destroyed. Many of these buildings were historical, some dating back to the early Twentieth Century. There is a historical clock standing, The Clock Tower, and reportedly, it is still standing. Every time I have toured Georgetown, I always look for this tower. It is a great landmark, making for interesting photography and a few good memories.

Details of the fire are a bit sketchy now but I thought my readers might like to know my thoughts about Georgetown, SC.

I toured Georgetown for the first time after marrying my husband. Walking along the sidewalks of downtown, I inhaled a strange odor – a combination of odors so strong I could not describe. When I asked about the odor, my husband laughed. “Oh, that’s the Georgetown Steel Mill and the Paper Mill. Smells great, doesn’t it.”

“Hardly. It stinks!”

Continuing our walk, I found Georgetown to be unique with wide sidewalks, but not much business, at that time. Holding hands and laughing, my husband shared a few memories of his childhood in Georgetown. As a writer, I’ve written about Georgetown numerous times and I have toured the area, falling in love with the waterfront, the quaint, quirky downtown area, especially the many local shops offering unique items. One particular area I love is the Strand Theater on Front Street and there are many restaurants around. Georgetown is a nice little place to make a day trip to, especially if you are within Myrtle Beach or Charleston; however, after hearing about the fire, it might not be a good idea to visit downtown Georgetown at the moment [September 25, 2013].

I will keep you posted about the fire in Georgetown. My thoughts and prayers are with the many merchants, and the locals within Georgetown. My husband has family that live nearby, so I am hoping they are fine. For now, let us pray for safety for the firefighters, merchants, residents, and all within the sweet little town that some people describe as a smelly town. Years ago, it did have a significant odor, due to pollution from the factories, but now, the smell isn’t as pungent.

I suppose I will have to make a day trip — to Georgetown real soon — just to take photographs and reminisce about this quaint little sea-side town with smells, foods, and residents that love Georgetown. Today, history is being made – along with much of the history that is destroyed from the fires. It is such a shame that during an important time of revitalization, a fire is quickly destroying the history of this sweet little fishing community known as Georgetown, SC.

Let us hope the fire will not destroy the revitalization and charm of Georgetown, a city reminiscent and charming, filled with Southern hospitality and most of the time, a pleasant scent.