Highest Point in Alabama: Mount Cheaha

Take a trip to Mount Cheaha, situated in the Talladega Mountains, and visit Alabama’s highest point at 2,407 feet above sea level. Located in Cheaha Resort State Park, the state’s oldest continuous operating state park, this mountaintop destination is the perfect day trip for anyone in Atlanta or Birmingham.

There are several hiking trails around the park, but none take you directly to the summit. If you desire to reach the summit by foot, then I recommend taking the Cheaha Express and cutting across to one of the roads that lead to the summit. If you would prefer to drive, like us, then there is a road that takes you directly to the summit.

The highest point in Alabama is marked with an observation tower named Bunker Tower. This tower was completed in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In fact, the Civilan Conservation Corps statue in front of the tower is the only CCC statue in the state of Alabama. The wing to the right of the main tower is home to the CCC museum. I highly recommend taking a look around, as it is very educational.

Have you ever climbed the highest point in your state?

Checking In: Hotel Finial

This post is brought to you by Hotel Finial. I received a free stay at Hotel Finial in exchange for writing a review on the blog.  Thank you for your support surrounding sponsored posts. 

I have mastered the art of weekend getaways. Whether it is a day trip up to the North Georgia mountains for wine tasting or driving a few hours to check out a nearby city, I am always looking for something to do on the weekends. A few weekends ago, I was provided the opportunity to visit a city I had never really explored before and to stay in one of the city’s historic hotels.

Situated on a hill above downtown Anniston, Hotel Finial is located in a Queen Anne Victorian mansion that was built in 1888. Prior to being a hotel, this manison was home to some of the city’s most prominent families including the McKleroys, Wilsons and Kirbys. Each of these families are honored with suites named after them in the main house.

The hotel features 61 rooms including five suites. Four of these suites are located in the main house, the three mentioned above as well as a Ballroom Suite that is the entire third floor of the main house.

The last suite is the The Cottage, where we stayed.

(Check out this video for a walking tour of The Cottage.)

Every morning, Hotel Finial starts off with a delicious Southern breakfast prepared by Charlene, the hotel’s chef, that you can enjoy in one of the four dining rooms. All the dining rooms are located in the main house and include the original hardwood and firplaces from the 1800s.

My favorite part about the hotel, though, is the details! The intricate firepaces and stained glass really bring character to the main house. And don’t miss Spencer’s Bar located in The Carriage House on the property.

So, whether you are passing through on I-20, traveling on business or looking for a weekend getaway, I highly recommend booking your next Anniston stay with Hotel Finial.

The Model City {Anniston, AL}

At the foohills of the Appalachians lies the sleepy city of Anniston, Alabama. Located just 60 miles from Birmingham, Alabama and 90 miles from Atlanta, Georgia, this city makes the perfect weekend getaway destination for either city. Check out this list of things to see and do during your next visit to The Model City.

Museums

There are two museums located in the city of Anniston: Anniston Museum of Natural History and Berman Museum of World History, which are conveniently located right next door to each other. We opted to explore the Natural History museum since my mom tried to take me as a kid.

The Anniston Museum of Natural History was established in 1930, has seven permanant exhibits and is a proud member of the Smithsonian Affiliate Membership Program. In addition to the 2,000 natural history items on dispaly, there is also a wildlife garden, nature trails, and open-air animal exhibits. This is definitely worth the visit to Anniston alone.

Wall Art Scavenger Hunt

If you are looking to familiarize yourself with the city of Anniston, there is a great walking tour that will take you through historic downtown and show off various wall murals sponsored by local businesses. It is definitely a fun little scavenger hunt, and you get to walk past some cute antique stores along the way.

Oldest Saloon in Alabama

Did you know Anniston is home to the oldest saloon in Alabama? The Peerless was established in 1899 and joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

The Peerless Saloon and Grille is located on the corner of 10th Street and Atlanta Avenue. The Grille is a full-service restaurant that offers some tasty offerings. We highly recommend checking out their Shrimp & Grits and Reuben. Righ next door is the Saloon if you are looking for an evening cocktail and good music. Be sure to take a look at the mirror behind the bar, it has been in the building since 1906.

Mount Cheaha

Mount Cheaha is the highest point in Alabama, and it is only 45 minutes outside of town. It is definitely worth the day trip to say you have been to the top of Alabama.

Hotel Finial

Last, but not least, you will need a place to stay. Be sure to check out historic Hotel Finial.

 

What do you want to see and do during your visit to Anniston?

The Windy City {Chicago, IL}

Chicago is a city that has been on my list to visit for awhile, so when The Tall Man texted me about an opportunity to go for a weekend, my immediate answer was yes!

The Tall Man and I flew in early on a Saturday morning, and we immediately hit the ground running. When you only have a limited number of hours in a city and your one evening is for a work event, you take advantage of every minute! Here are our suggestions of things to see and do when you have a very short amount of time to explore The Windy City.

The Chicago Bean

The Chicago Bean is probably one of the more popular sculptures in the city and is a “must” for most tourists. The Bean creates the perfect opportunity to capture the city’s skyline and get yourself in the picture. Located in Millennium Park, Cloud Gate (the actual name of the sculpture) was created by  British artist Anish Kapoor and completed in May 2006. The sculpture is open 24-7, but it is definitely more crowded on the weekends.  The Bean also overlooks the McCormick Tribune Plaza, which serves as a public ice skating rink in the winter months and dining plaza during the summer.

 

360 Chicago at John Hancock Center

There are several places throughout the city to get glimpses of the skyline, but the two more popular options offer 360-degree views of the city from above. The first is the Skydeck at the Willis Tower and the second is 360 Chicago at John Hancock Center. A lot of people opt for the Skydeck, but after asking around and doing our research we decided to take on 360 Chicago and its Tilt! We ended up having a beautiful clear day to see all of Chicago, and we got a kick out of the Tilt experience. It is definitely worth adding to your list!

Walk the Magnificent Mile

The Magnificient Mile is a 13-block stretch of North Michigan Avenue that runs from the banks of the Chicago River. These blocks encompass over 400 stores and 200 restaurants. It aslo has some incredibly rich architecture, and we definitely want to do an architecture tour on our next visit.

Explore Museums

Chicago has a plethora of museums on a variety of subjects. We opted to take on the Museum of Science and Industry, located in Hyde Park. We only had a few hours to explore, but this is definitely on our must-see list when we return. The three exhibits we saw were: the museum’s first exhibit, Old Ben No. 17; the Mirror Maze; and Toymaker 3000. Some exhibits have an additional charge to your entry ticket, so make sure you check as you plan your visit.

Check out this video of me getting lost in the Mirror Maze.

Food

The Tall Man and I like trying “local” restaurants when we visit new cities. I put it in quotes because they may be a chain restaurant in the area we are visiting, but it is something we can’t get at home. During our visit, we checked out a couple of seriously good restaurants in the city. See below for our list and recommendations.

Park & Grill – Located in the McCormick Tribune Plaza under The Bean, this restaurant was our first taste of Chicago. It is on the pricey side (especially for lunch), but the food was amazing! We recommend the Shaved Prime Rib Sandwich and the House Roasted Turkey Sandwich.

Shula’s Steak House – This steakhouse is located in the Sheraton Grand Chicago (our hotel), and it is where The Tall Man’s work event was hosted. We had a delicious prime rib dinner and enjoyed the company of The Tall Man’s co-workers. If you get the opportunity to get a delicious steak in Chicago, I highly recommend it. It was probably one of the best steaks I have had in a while.

Eggy’s Dinner – For brunch on Sunday, we chose Eggy’s Dinner. I’m so glad we ended up at this place. It was a super small, very cute space and the food was really good too. We recommend the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes and the Eggy’s Crepes.

 

What is the one must-see item for you in Chicago?

Things To Do in Grand Turk

If you ever find yourself in Turks and Caicos then make sure to island hop over to Grand Turk! Grand Turk is the territory’s capital island, and the cutest little island. To make the most of your experience on this piece of Caribbean paradise, check out this list of things to do!

Rent Fun Transportation

Grand Turk is very small (6.95 square miles), so it is very easy to navigate! Rent a car, scooter, golf cart or bicycle and scoot around the island checking out the sites. Keep in mind the island-wide speed limit is 20MPH and they drive on the left side of the road. There are also taxis available, but I think it is so much more fun to go at your own pace. If you do rent an open air vehicle, make sure to wear sunscreen!

Splashdown at Grand Turk

Did you know Grand Turk played a roll in the space age? John Glenn’s Friendship 7 splashed down off the coast of Grand Turk. You can find a replica of the Friendship 7 on display at the entrance to the Grand Turk Island airport. There is also an exhibit dedicated to Grand Turk’s role in the space age inside the Cruise Center.

Grand Turk Lighthouse

The Grand Turk Lighthouse is the only lighthouse on the island, and holds quite a bit of history. Prefabricated in England, the lighthouse was constructed in 1852 to help ward off ships that wrecked off the northern coast. However, it was not very effective since the light was only visible for 15 miles. A visit to this lighthouse provides a little history of this quaint Caribbean island, like how it could be the first place Christopher Columbus landed in the new world, and stunning views of the ocean.

Swim with Stingrays

Ever wanted to swim with stingrays? Then you need to find your way over to Gibbs Cay. This small uninhabitaded island is located about a mile off the shores of Grand Turk. The shallow waters make it the perfect location for stingrays, which come ashore with the boats. There are several tour companies that provide tours out to Gibbs Cay, otherwise known as Stingray City, and several include snorkeling. Be sure to give one a kiss before you leave!

Explore the Reefs

Go under the sea and explore the amazing reefs Grand Turk has to offer. Several of the ancient coral shelves can be accessed from shore, near Cockburn Town Beach and English Point. You can also opt for a boat tour that will take you out further. We opted for this option, and the shelves were stunning! Also, if you visit between January and April you might catch a glimpse of the humpbackwhales as they migrate south.

Stroll Cockburn Town

If strolling the town is more your style, then be sure to stop in Cockburn Town and stroll down Duke and Front Streets. The town provides a wonderful selection of historical buildings, and is definitely worth checking out while you are there. Note: You pass through Cockburn Town on your way from the cruise center or airport to the lighthouse.

For more Caribbean adventures, click here.

What is your favorite thing to do when visiting a new place?

Discover Cueva Ventana

Heading to Puerto Rico anytime soon? Then I highly recommend you add Cueva Ventana to your agenda.

Cueva Ventana translates into “Window Cave”, and one look at the photo above explains why! The Cueva Ventana caves are located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico about an hour and half from San Juan. The trail leading to the caves is unassuming and located next to a gas station. At the top of the trail is a check-in desk to receive your helmet. Then you hit the trail to the caves.

As you meander through the cave, the tour guide points out interesting rock formations, plants, and points out some of the local inhabitants. The guides also discuss the history of the Taino Indians and the importance of these caves for that culture. You can even see some of the Taino petroglyphs.

The best is saved for last—the “Window Cave”! After strolling through caves, seeing bats, the most spectacular stalactites and stalagmites, you reach a fantastic view of the Río Grande de Arecibo valley.


This tour is absolutely worth getting a little muddy!

For more Caribbean adventures, click here.

What is your favorite Puerto Rican attraction?

Sightseeing in St. Thomas

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a very popular tourist stop in the Caribbean.The islands offer a vast variety of character on each island. We had the opportunity to spend the day exploring the views of St. Thomas during one of our port calls on our Christmas cruise.

Due to weather, our day of snorkling and diving was canceled so we opted to take a driving tour around the island to see some of the best sites of “Rock City”, as it is known by many locals.

Beacon Point

Our first stop was to Beacon Point, which is situated on the eastern end of Skyline Drive. This view offers a view of Charlotte Amalie and Magens Bay.

Skyline Drive Overlook

On your way to this overlook from Beacon Point, keep your camera handy because each turn offers a different view. Skyline Driver Overlook offers beautiful panoramic views of Charlotte Amalie, Hassel Island and Water Island.

Mountain Top

Montain Top, our third location, is the highest point on St. Thomas, situated ove 1,500 feet above Magens Bay. This first major tourist attraction on the island offers views (on a clear day) of St. John, St. Croix and the British Virgin Islands, and it is also home to the world famous banana daquiri, so be sure to grab one before you head out on to the deck for outstanding views!

Magens Bay

Our last stop was Magens Bay, one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island as well as a gathering place for locals. This beach is three quarters of a mile long and is stiuated at the head of a deep bay. It is a little slice of paradise.

A couple of suggestions for your next visit to U.S. Virgin Islands:

  • I recommend grabbing a taxi or renting a car and exploring the island. The island is 31 square miles so it’s easy to get around. Note: USVI drives on the left side of the road.
  • We found that a lot of the island closes its doors at 5:00 PM local time. Some of the restaurants stay open late, so make sure you check before you head out at night.
  • U.S. Virgin Islands are expensive, so keep this in mind as you are planning your trip.

For more Caribbean adventures, click here.

What is your favorite location in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

Snorkling in Sosúa, Dominican Republic

Snorkling is one of my favorite activities when it comes to exploring the Caribbean. So when we had the chance to do something a bit different during our port call in the Dominican Republic, we jumped on it! Our adventure of power snorkling  took place in Sosúa, a popular resort town in the Puerto Plata province, which is about a 45 minute drive from the port of Amber Cove.

Once in Sosúa, we boarded a boat and headed out into the bay. For a couple of hours, we “jetted” around the water looking at the reefs and the fishes. Our guides provided us with bread to feed the fish and pineapple with honey to feed us. If you have not tried pineapple with honey, then I recommend it because it is quite the treat!

Power snorkeling was quite the experience, and something I will definitely try again. The scooters helped when we had strong currents and prevented us from getting tired as quickly. I only wish we had a longer amount of time to explore the reefs before we had to head back to port.

vroom vroom

A video posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

For more Caribbean adventures, click here.

What is your favorite place to snorkel?

Cruise 101: What to Pack & What to Leave at Home

When it comes to traveling, I am a big fan of trying to get everything into a carry-on suitcase. I have not always been that way, but the more I travel the less I want to deal with baggage. This is especially true when it comes to cruising. If you have never cruised before, or even if you have, it is very easy to over pack. Especially, since you never know what you are going to face.

In addition to packing your main suitcase, I highly recommend packing a “day pack” for your embarkation day. This bag should include all the essentials you will need until you can gain access to your stateroom later that day. The day pack should include items like passport and curise documents, money (cash and/or credit card), medications, swimwear, change of clothes, and minor toiltries.

Below are a few cruise packing tips to keep in mind on what to pack and what you should leave at home.

What to Pack

  • Power Strip – Most of the rooms only have one or two outlets, so I highly recommend adding a small power strip to your bags so you have a place to charge all your devices.
  • Towel Clips – Boat decks can be very windy making towels unweildy. Purchase a set of towel clips to help keep your towel locked down as you soak up the sun while at sea.
  • Travel Clothing Steamer – Irons and Ironing Boards are not allowed on the ships, in fact, they are not even provided. If you are packing some items that will need to be refreshed, packing a travel clothing steamer will come in handy.
  • A Watch – A watch will help you keep track of the time and make sure you don’t miss your ship from port. You will be operating while at sea on “ship time”, or the time zone of your ship iniatlly left, and sometimes cell phones don’t know your timezone.
  • Lanyards – Ladies, this will be a life saver when it comes to keeping up with your room key. Trust me.
  • Spare Luggage – If you are planning to take advantage of the shopping while on your cruise, you may want to pack an extra piece of luggage in your check bag to bring back your purchases.
  • Deck of Cards/Travel Board Game – Not all days are going to be sunny, so make sure you have something to entertain you and your party when you can’t find something on the day’s itenerary you want to see/do.

What to Leave at Home

  • Towels – Your room will include towels that you can take with you to shore or to the pool, and you can also check them out while on deck.
  • Extra Books – Unless you plan to spend all port time on the ship, then you really won’t need the extra book. Consier swapping books with others in your party or checking out the on-board library. Another alternative is packing an ereader to help cut down on the weight.
  • Hair Dryer – Like hotels, your stateroom will provide one so there is no need to pack one. Or consider doing a heat-free week.

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive a FREE cruise packing list, and check out these first-time cruiser tips. Also, don’t forget to check the packing lists provided by your cruise line to get a sense of dress code.

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2016 Year End Review

Some people have claimed 2016 was a terrible year, but I would have to politely disagree. This year has been pretty fantastic. I really appreciate y’all sharing in the journey (even when I fell off the radar for a bit) and sticking with me! Take a look at what all happened this year, and stay tuned because I’ll be back in 2017 (I promise!).Gold glitter Happy New Year 2017 background. Happy new year glit

January

I rang 2016 sitting on my couch watching Alabama annihilate the Michigan State Spartans in the Cotton Bowl. It was the perfect way to kick-off the new year. The following weekend I headed up to New England to spend some time with The Tall Man in his home state. The Monday night I returned from New Hampshire, Alabama brought home it’s 16th National Championship against the Clemson Tigers. It was a close game, but Alabama was victorious. The rest of the month was pretty quiet. January did bring Atlanta’s first “snow” of the year, which was a light dusting from Winter Storm Jonas. The last weekend brought The Tall Man for his first visit to Atlanta, and we had a great time exploring the city.

another weekend and another city! 🙂

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

February

February was a pretty quiet month. So I binge watched my way through The Newsroom. The Tall Man and I had an impromptu date in Chattanooga thanks to a business trip on his end in Knoxville. A couple of days later I flew up to New Hampshire to spend some QT with my man.

another weekend and another 1000 miles of skymiles. the ONLY perk of long distance. ✈️ #DeltaLoyal

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

March

Busy. That is the single word I would use to describe March. The month kicked off with a work trip … in Atlanta … for a client. Gotta love those local business trips! My big trip for the month was to New York! The Tall Man and I took advantage of a vacation day for a long weekend in the city prior to a work trip. We crammed as much as we could in those three days! I also headed to Birmingham for the last weekend to celebrate my brother’s 25th birthday!

crossed the Brooklyn Bridge off my bucket list … literally.

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

April

Adventures awaited me in the month of April. The month started off with a four-day weekend in Austin with National Geographic. Not only did I have the chance to explore the city a little, but I also participated in another National Geographic Workshop. The Tall Man came for two visits during the month of April. The first weekend was just a quiet weekend at home with a quick visit over to Big Shanty Festival and The Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. The second weekend was to celebrate his birthday, so we headed over to Historic Banning Mills for a fun Saturday and a romantic evening the last weekend of April.

Greetings from Austin! Checked another city off my list this past weekend with #NatGeoExpeditions!

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

May

May started off with a weekend trip to Decatur, Alabama to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mom’s family. It was so good to see my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. It had been too long since I had a chance to see them. The second weekend of May is when we celebrated my mom’s Mother’s Day since my brother couldn’t join us in Decatur. We set up a family portraits session for Saturday evening then enjoyed a delicious dinner in historic Roswell. The third weekend of May I traveled up to New England one last time to see The Tall Man before his big move to Raleigh, North Carolina, and while up there we had state date number nine in Maine.

June

The Tall Man made his big move the first week of June, and I made an impromptu road trip over to Raleigh to see him that weekend. It may be a 6.5ish hour drive, but it’s nice to have him in a bordering state and within driving distance. Yay for no more expensive plane tickets every time we want to see each other! For the second weekend, The Tall Man made the trek back to Atlanta, and we attended my 10-year high school reunion on June 11th. For Father’s Day, the whole fam jam headed over to Birmingham to see my brother and to help him with a few things around his house. My family and I also headed to The Ted for our final game with Braves at Turner Field. It was a lot of fun, albeit hot, and the fireworks were great as always.

July

July started off with a bang! The Tall Man and I traveled back up to New Hampshire to spend the holiday weekend with his family! We had so much fun playing on the lake and attending The Tall Man’s cousin’s wedding. I also drove over to Raleigh to spend some QT with my man. Being 400 miles apart definitely has its advantages to being 1,100 miles apart. We were able to just do life: went to the movies, slept in, built furniture for his apartment, grocery shopped, and made breakfast. It’s the little things that make it work. For the last weekend of July, my brother and his girlfriend drove over from Alabama and The Tall Man drove down from Raleigh, and we all spent the day at Six Flags riding rides and just hanging out.

August

Hello birthday month! This year I celebrated my 28th birthday, and even though there was not a lot of fanfare around it my birthday was just what I wanted! I celebrated with The Tall Man by seeing elephants (my absolute favorite!). The month also kicked off my travel season with work.

September

September started with a trip to the lake to celebrate Labor Day weekend. My family met up with our dear family friends, and we celebrated the weekend by watching football, playing Catch Phrase, eating, and of course playing on the water! The following weekend, The Tall Man came down for a visit before my work craziness began. We had a quiet weekend watching football and hanging out. The majority of the month was spent on the road or getting ready to be on the road for work, so I took an unplanned hiatus from Southern Exhilaration. Work-life balance is challenging at times!

live • love • lake ☀️ reminiscing about our Labor Day weekend at Lake Blackshear, Georgia

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

October

It took a while for October to bring in the cooler temperatures, but they finally arrived in time for a trip to Tuscaloosa to introduce The Tall Man to real Alabama football. There is nothing like experiencing college football in person. The month also included a work trip to Jacksonville, Florida and two trips to Raleigh. The Tall Man and I also celebrated our first anniversary together! (Click here for our long distance relationship advice.)

starting to look a bit like fall in georgia 🍁

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

November

November started off with a little excitement as The Tall Man completed his first Tough Mudder, and he some how talked me into doing it next year! So, let the training begin! The month also consited of seeing my man every weekend. He was a sweetheart to make that drive every weekend to see me. We made visits to Decatur to see my grandmother, another trip to Tuscloosa, and finally a trip to our family farm for Thanksgiving. All is fair in love and war, so it’s only fair that December was my month to drive to him!

i just want to hold hands + watch football with you

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

December

2016 started with Alabama football, and it also ended with Alabama football. My dad and I had the chance to attend the SEC Championship in the Georgia Dome the first weekend of the month. We cheered the Tide on to its 26th SEC Championship! The rest of the month was pretty quiet, and I spent almost every weekend with my Tall Man in Raleigh. To wrap up 2016, my family headed down to the Caribbean to celebrate Christmas and the new year! You’ll have to check back in 2017 to read about those adventures! 😉

my daddy taught me about Jesus & pass interference ❤️🐘🏈 #SECchamp25 #RollTide

A photo posted by Caitlin (@soexhilaration) on

 

What was your favorite part of 2016?

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