South Beach, Miami

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This just goes to show you how long it took to get our food at Larios. After we placed our food order, we actually had time to walk across the street to walk on the beach.

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This was super high on Darcy and Kelsey lists of things to do while in Florida so they actually went and dipped their toes in the water.

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Thanks to Rahima, we managed to experience the beach even for just a few minutes. Darcy and Kelsey were super thrilled to cross this one off the list.

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Group selfie!

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I completed one of my must-do items earlier that day so I was content to take pictures.

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And watch the sun set.

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These next pictures were taken on our way back to the restaurant.

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Ocean Drive is just so vibrant.

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Lots of interesting restaurants and boutique hotels line the street.

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Of course, you already saw pictures from dinner on yesterday’s blog post. These are just some extra pictures I had of South Beach that I wanted to share.

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Our hotel was about an hour away so they hired a party bus to chauffeur us to and from dinner. It was a brilliant idea. I’m not sure most of the people in our group would have had the patience for an hour long drive to dinner if they didn’t have drinks to enjoy on the way. As for me, I couldn’t drink any alcoholic beverages because I was still on antibiotics after recovering from pneumonia. Thankfully, they had soda on the bus. I just drank my Coke and enjoyed the view, which wasn’t as interesting on the drive back because then it was dark. I enjoyed seeing all the high-rise condos and the boats on the way to dinner, though.

At least, dinner was delicious and we got to see the beach and we had good company. That made the long drive to dinner worth it.

Wouldn’t You Like to Work Here?

If you thought that Zumba Home Office was cool, wait until you see this next office I had the opportunity to set foot in while in Florida a couple of weeks ago. It was originally BGT Partners’ award-winning headquarters. It was pretty cool back in 2012 but it’s even way cooler today. Since PwC acquired BGT Partners in 2013, the office is now the PwC Experience Center.

I’ve only visited one other PwC office and the look and feel of the Hallandale office is completely different. I’m thinking it’s the BGT influence. Even though it’s been a couple of years since the acquisition, the essence of BGT is still everywhere which makes sense. Very formal, boring offices don’t exactly foster creativity and innovation.

Anyway, I was completely in awe of their awesome office. I had to take a bunch of pictures, naturally. Enjoy.

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Impromptu Tour of Zumba Home Office

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I was in Florida on a work trip a couple of weeks ago when I happened by the Zumba headquarters completely by chance. We were walking around Gulf Stream Park when I saw this sign on the wall: Zumba Fitness, CORPORATE OFFICE, 2ND FLOOR.

As soon as I saw it, I heard the sound below.



Without even trying, I had stumbled upon the Holy Grail. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Ginger and Darcy went on back to the hotel. I told them to go on without me. I think it was quarter ’til five but I decided to pop in anyway. I mean, how often do you randomly run into the Zumba Home Office on a work trip? Plus, I didn’t know when I’d ever be in the area again. I had to go up and see if I could get a tour.

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I don’t think Monica was super thrilled to see me that late in the day but she was nice enough to humor me. I explained to her that I’m a ZIN (Zumba Instructor Network member) in good standing and I’m only in the area for a couple of days and I didn’t know when I’d be back and I would like to get a tour of Home Office if at all possible. Monica explained that public tours are only available from 2 pm to 4 pm and, any other time, tours are done by appointment only. “This is the only time I have,” I pleaded. “Can you please check to see if there’s anyone available for a quick five minute tour?”

“Let me check,” she said as she started typing away on the computer. I waited patiently in their stylishly decorated lobby with all of my fingers and toes crossed. After what seemed like an eternity, she told me the last thing I wanted to hear. There was no one available. I should have known. Everybody wants to go home. No one will want to stick around and give a random, crazy person a tour that late in the day.

“Are you able to come back tomorrow afternoon?” she asked.

“No,” I told her. “I have a meeting starting at eleven o’clock and will be tied up well into the evening. Can I come back for a tour first thing tomorrow morning?”

Again, Monica informed me that I would need to schedule an appointment. She did me a solid though, and she gave the name and email address of there person in charge, Community Relations Specialist Gina Graziani.

“May I please have her phone number so I can give her a call as well?”

Monica looked in the system and couldn’t find her phone number but, being the resourceful person that I am, I saw some business cards on the desk.

“May I have one of these?” I asked, pointing at the business cards.

“Oh, yes. If you call that number, they should be able to connect you with Gina.”

I called the number as I walked back to the hotel. I’m not sure what the phone number was for but it wasn’t the right number. The man who answered explained that Gina belonged to a different department and I had to hang up and dial a completely different number. Some people would be annoyed but I was overjoyed that he was giving me the correct phone number to call. I eagerly called the second number and was able to get to Gina’s voicemail. I left a very desperate sounding message and told her that I would follow up with an email. As soon as I got to my hotel room, I fired up my laptop, immediately typed up an equally desperate email, and hit send.

And then I waited. And waited.

Obviously, I didn’t hear back because it was the end of the day but I was hopeful. Darcy wanted to go to the beach before our meeting the next day. I told her I would be happy to go with her but it depended on whether or not I could get a tour of the Zumba Home Office. I was now on a mission and I was determined to accomplish it.

Darcy and I met at 8 am the next morning for breakfast. Still no phone call or email response from Gina at this point. After eating breakfast and visiting for an hour, I checked my email again. Still nothing. At this point, we only had a couple of hours before our 11 am meeting so I didn’t think we had time to go to the beach. However, I had a couple of hours to try to squeeze a tour in.

“What are you going to do?” Darcy asked, knowing I didn’t have an appointment.

“I’m going to ask for a tour and I’m not going to take no for an answer,” I said determined. “I’m going to wait in their lobby and I’m not leaving until someone gives me a tour. Someone is bound to take a break at some point. Maybe I could tag along with them while they take their break?” Wishful thinking on my part, I admit. I failed to take into account that, unlike crazy workaholics like myself, people don’t actually want to work on their designated breaks.

When I got back to the office, Monica wasn’t at her desk so I had to wait outside until she came back. When she came back, I waived at her enthusiastically from the glass doors with a look of “Hi, it’s me again! Remember me? Crazy ZIN from yesterday?” on my face. I’m sure she was thinking, “OMG. Not you again!” but she didn’t show it. To my surprise, she actually buzzed me in.

“Do you have an appointment?”

“I called and I emailed but I didn’t hear back,” I told her, “but I called and emailed really late in the day so she might not have gotten to my call and email yet. I only have free time until eleven, though. Could you please try and see if it’s possible for me to get a tour? I fly home tomorrow and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”

We went over the whole tours are by appointment only unless between the hours of two and four in the afternoon again.

“I know but I don’t have any other time. If there’s another tour that’s scheduled and they don’t mind, I’d be happy to tag along on that tour or, if someone could spare five minutes, I will be quick. I promise,” I told her. Monica explained that tours usually take about a half an hour. Even a quick one would take at least 20 minutes.

“Let me see if Gina is available.”

So I waited once again with my fingers and toes crossed. At this point, I was a little bit nervous. On the one hand, I really, really, really wanted a tour. But, on the other hand, I cannot be late for my meeting which is the whole reason that I was in Florida to begin with. The PwC Experience Center was only two minutes away so I was calculating in my head how much longer I could wait before I had to give up and call it quits. It was then when Monica finally called me back up to the desk.

“Gina is on her way.”

Gina wasn’t by herself. She brought security with her so they could escort me off the premises. Just kidding. Gina actually brought one of her team members, Marsha, with her. Gina explained that she was running late for a meeting so she couldn’t give me a tour. Marsha would be giving me the tour instead.

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Here’s a picture of the three of us behind the reception desk. Gina is on the left and Marsha is on the right. Both ladies were super nice and welcoming. They said that they really love it whenever they have ZIN visitors. Although, I’m pretty sure they prefer it if you make an appointment ahead of time. LOL.

Despite the randomness of my visit, they still made me feel special and welcome. And for that, I’m truly grateful.

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Our tour started at the “Zumba Love” conference room. It’s the main conference room used for the weekly meetings with the department heads. Here’s a picture of me at the head of the table.

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“Is this where Beto sits?” I asked Marsha.

I learned that Beto doesn’t actually have a permanent seat. However, he usually sits at the other end by the door so he can make a quick exit when needed. Makes sense.

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This is the “Salsa” conference room where Forum Live! happens. Marsha asked if I’d ever participated in one but I haven’t. It usually happens during the day while I’m working. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to hop on but I haven’t had the pleasure as of yet.

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This is a picture of their break room where Zumba President and COO Alberto Aghion, the third Alberto in the Holy Trinity of Zumba, has lunch everyday. Marsha said that he usually sits at a different table each time and uses the opportunity to chat with employees. He does this everyday.

Aghion is known to employees but, to the general public, he is the lesser known of the three Albertos. He works behind the scenes so not a lot of people know about him. The only reason I know of him is because I’ve been to a few ZINCONs. He’s not as visible as Zumba CEO Alberto Perlman and definitely not as visible as Beto.

I posted a short video clip that I found on YouTube to help you out.

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Perlman and Aghion’s offices are next to one another. The doors were closed so I didn’t get to peek in. I wish I could have, though. I’m curious what their offices look like.

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Here’s a picture of Beto’s door.

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I’m not sure if the door was locked because I didn’t try it. t wish I would have asked Marsha for permission to look into his office. He wasn’t there. I know this because Marsha told me that any time Beto is in his office he always has his music on full blast you can hear it all the way down the hall. This would explain why his office is away from the other two Albertos. LOL.

Anyway, Marsha encouraged me to take pictures of everything except for Finance, HR (also known as People & Culture), Legal, IT, and Zumba wear. Yes, I got to see the new Zumba wear line and pictures of all of the designs yet to come through 2018. I just couldn’t take any pictures.

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This is a picture of the studio where they have free Zumba classes for employees at least three times a week. Armando and Heidy and other zelebs (also known as celebrity Zumba instructors) teach on a regular basis. Now that’s what I call a job perk!

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In this room they have the ZINfolio – every single boxed set and ZIN DVD.

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I believe beyond that door is the sound studio.

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More pictures of the same room.

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I love this room!

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And then I was Gina Grant for two seconds.

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I want one of these life-sized cutouts for my next Zumba party!

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This is the customer service area. Part of it anyway. They outsource the first level of customer service. If I remember correctly the only customer service work they handle at Zumba Home Office is their online/email support.

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Here’s a picture of me with Monica. Note her outfit. They actually encourage people to wear Zumba wear to work everyday.

Besides all of the fun pictures, I also got a some parting gifts: some rubber Zumba wristbands (Marsha gave me a couple), socks (a 2-pack with a pair each in Zumba green and pink) and a pink “Get Funked Up” t-shirt. That’s pretty much my tour of Zumba Home Office. Huge thanks to Marsha Segree, my wonderful tour guide; Monica Lazarus, friendly receptionist who was ever so patient with me; and Gina Graziani, Community Relations Specialist extraordinaire.

Thank you for making this trip to Florida truly memorable!

First Time in St. Louis

I can finally say I’ve been to St. Louis, Mo even though it was just for a few hours. Ginger and I traveled there a couple of weeks ago to meet some folks at Laclede Gas Company (now Spire) and learn from them.

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Been spending a lot of time at airport with Ginger of late. She is the best person to travel with. I’ve never had TSA Pre Check privileges until I these last few trips with her. I love not having to take off my shoes, take out my laptop and toiletries, and going through the short (or non-existent line) at airports. Now that I’ve had a taste of it, I’m almost tempted to pay for it even though I don’t even travel that much usually. I’d say it’s definitely a must for frequent travelers. If I traveled all the time, I would pay the extra for TSA Pre Check every time.

Ginger and I were supposed to have dinner with the rest of our team and the Laclede team at Brew House the night before our meeting but, as luck would have it (or my bad travel truck), our plane was delayed in Dallas. First they just had to change the tire. Then they discovered some kind of mechanical issue that needed to be fixed.

We actually boarded the plane and then were all told we had to get off so the repairs could be completed but were asked not to go too far away from the gate in case we were ready to board again. We were originally scheduled to arrive in St. Louis at 3:00 PM but didn’t land until 5:30 PM. We missed dinner with group obviously, which is the same thing that happened on our last trip together. Ginger and I joked that the rest of team is probably thinking that we’re trying to avoid the dinners on purpose.

Carmine's Steak House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

We still had to eat dinner so we just opted to eat at the steakhouse next to the hotel instead. We didn’t want to wander too far away in case it started raining, which was in the forecast.

Neither of us wanted anything too heavy so we decided to just split an appetizer and an entree and then Ginger had a wedge salad. I probably should have ordered steak but I was quite happy with what I had. The food was pretty good. I really enjoyed the crab meat starter with hunks of jumbo lump crab over a horseradish cream cheese mouse and sweet chili sauce. The picture below doesn’t do the dish justice.

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Here’s a picture of Ginger’s yummy-looking salad.

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Then for dinner we split the jumbo shrimp scampi, which was also delicious. You can never go wrong with shrimp stuffed with crab meat. LOL.

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The best part about dinner is the restaurant is connected to our hotel so you didn’t even have to walk outside. My room was pretty basic but I think it might have been an accessible room because I had tons of space.

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It was an interior room so I didn’t have an outside view.

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I didn’t really mind not having a city view but, being an interior room, made my room tricky to find at first. I didn’t realize that my room (625) was next to the elevator so, when I walked to the end of the hall where the signs were and followed the hallway around and then got down the hall, I was super confused when it jumped from 623 to 627. I almost called the front desk to ask someone to help me find my room but I couldn’t get signal and I eventually found it.

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The Drury at the Arch was okay as hotels go. The location was great because of its proximity to the Laclede office. They also provide daily breakfast and happy hour which was nice. Ginger and I got to enjoy a couple of drinks on the day of our arrival.

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The conference room we spent our day in is located in the corner of the Laclede building facing Busch Stadium. The walls were completely made of of class and the view was fantastic. It was good that it was kind of gloomy outside the day, otherwise it would have been way harder to concentrate.

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We pretty much arrived the night before and then flew home immediately after the meeting. Ginger and I landed in Wichita about 10:30 PM that day. No issues on the trip home, thank heavens!

It was a super short trip. I wish we could have had more time to spend in St. Louis. I would have loved to have had pictures of the Arch and stuff. It seems like a beautiful city. I may just have to return and bring Brian. Perhaps we can plan a nice holiday weekend road trip with the girls.

Staybridge Suites Madison-East

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It doesn’t look like much from the outside but this hotel has probably been the best hotel I’ve stayed at this year in terms of cleanliness, customer service, and value. For perspective, the hotel I’ve stayed at this year include Hampton Inn (Fort Lauderdale, before our cruise), Hyatt Place (my second home in Topeka), Holiday Inn Express (it’s down the street from our training facility in Topeka), and Drury Plaza at the Arch (St. Louis). I may be missing some but these are the hotels I can remember off the top of my head that I’ve stayed at this year.

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Here’s a look at the inside where breakfast and social hour happens. This Staybridge provided breakfast daily and then also social hour, with real food and unlimited drinks, Monday through Wednesday.

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Here’s a picture of what I had for breakfast one day. They would have either pancakes or French toast. They also have a waffle maker so you can make your own waffles in the morning. There’s also, toast, bagels, breakfast pastries, muffins, fruit and cereal — lots of different options basically.

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Here’s a picture of the social calendar for the month that was posted on my fridge. They had a chicken fajita taco bar the night we were there and then soups and sandwiches the day we were leaving. It also appears that they partner with local restaurants to cater food in for the socials on some nights. The chicken fajita tacos looked pretty good. So on those bad weather days or other days that you just don’t feel like going anywhere, you can eat free hotel food and just stay in.

We were supposed to arrive around one o’clock on Monday afternoon but, because our flights were canceled, we didn’t arrive until midnight. The rep at the front desk, Nate, was super nice. Anyway, I think since we arrived so late all of the regular rooms were taken. Ginger and I both got upgraded to two-room suites (more on that in a minute).

Nate recognized me from talking to him to setup an airport shuttle pickup earlier that morning. “Weren’t you supposed to arrive this afternoon? I sent a shuttle to pick you up. What happened?”

I explained that our flights got canceled so we were rebooked on other flights later in the day. “I called back and canceled the shuttle. You were probably off by then. I talked to a woman and she told me there wouldn’t be shuttle service that late but that there would be lots of cabs at the airport. We just took a cab over. No worries.”

“She didn’t offer to pay for your cab?” he asked.

“No she didn’t mention it. That would have been nice though, because there weren’t any cabs waiting when we got outside. On the way here our cab driver was on the radio with home base asking to send cabs at the airport because there was a lobby full of people and no cabs to be found.” The was actually one cab when we got outside but it was already taken. I think the cab driver was going a different direction because she asked us where we were going and then told us that she couldn’t take us and that there would be other cabs coming. A guy who came out after us must have been going the same general direction she was because he was able to get in her cab. It didn’t take long for the other cab to show up. I suppose there are lots of cabs during regular hours or high traffic times but they don’t wait around at the airport until midnight. The airport in Madison is a small regional airport so that makes sense.

“She really should have offered. Next time just ask.”

Nate was very thorough. He made sure that Ginger and I both had our rewards number so we could get our hotel points. He told us about the upgraded rooms and gave us some options: whether we wanted our rooms to be on top of one another or be on the same floor on opposite sides of the building. We opted for same floor.

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I got room 330. I think Ginger either got 310 or 307 on the other side because she also got a two-bedroom and two-bath suite. I was amazed at all the space I had when I first entered my room. I usually hate getting a room with two beds in it because I feel like it’s a waste. Well, guess what. This time I had three beds! And an extra bathroom that I didn’t need. Talk about waste!

I wish I would have known about this option ahead of time. We could have gotten away with reserving three rooms instead of five separate ones. LOL.

Side note, it was clearly opposite day because everything that was happening was opposite of my normal preference. For instance, I ended up getting an exit row seat on our flight to Madison. Most people like exit row seats because they have more leg room. Not me. I don’t like the pressure of having to perform in case of an emergency, which I know isn’t likely but enough to stress me out. I mean, I’m not very strong. What if the door won’t open? Those are the kinds of thoughts that go through my mind.

Anyway, we were told it was a full flight so then I was like, “At least I have an aisle seat. There’s going to be two other people who will take care of the emergency door. I shouldn’t have to worry about it.”

Guess what. The flight wasn’t full after all. The two seats next to me empty!

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I could have crawled into a fetal position and taken a nap since I had so much space but I got engrossed in watching The Great Gatsby (relevant because we’re going to a 20s murder mystery party at the end of the month and I wanted some outfit ideas but also because the movie is quite entertaining). I didn’t really get to take full advantage the situation. Oh, well.

And then I get to the hotel and I have three beds, two more than I really need. It was a freaky Monday indeed. Everything that was happening seemed to opposite what I like.

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My suite consisted of a common living-dining-kitchen combo and two bedrooms with each their own bathrooms. The living room area was actually quite spacious.

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The kitchen was equipped with a full-sized fridge, stove, microwave, sink, coffeemaker, toaster, and dishwasher.

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In the cupboards you had pots, dishes, glasses, utensils, and everything else you could possibly need for a comfortable extended stay.

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Here’s a picture of one of the bedrooms with its own adjoining bathroom.

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I obviously didn’t stay in this one. Here’s the bedroom I slept in. This bedroom had its own adjoining bathroom as well which was exactly like the other one.

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I also took a picture of the breakfast buffet and social hour info.

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Here’s a picture of the taco bar.

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And the drink bar.

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There’s also a really nice apartment complex next to the hotel with a great walking path. It looks like the path goes all the way around the apartment complex. I didn’t follow it all the way around because I didn’t want to creep out the residents.

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I really enjoyed staying Staybridge Suites Madison-East. The location was nice and quiet. They had shuttle service to take you wherever you need to go within a two-mile radius. It was very clean. The hotel staff was nice. The free breakfasts daily and free food and drinks during social hour made for an excellent value. I liked it so much I actually looked online to see if they had a location in Topeka. I would rather stay somewhere like this than at Hyatt Place, specially if I’m going to be there all week.

There’s a Staybridge in Wichita but not one in Topeka. I guess Hyatt Place is going to be stuck with me for a while.

Freaky Monday

Before I go into my Staybridge Suites review, allow me to tell you the story of how we got there. We’re in the planning stages of our Customer Information System (CIS) replacement project at work and one of the tasks we need to do in this stage is benchmark with other utilities so we can learn from their experiences. Alliant Energy in Madison, WI is one of the utilities we identified for a site visit.

Our site visit team consisted of Kim, Jerry, Mike, Ginger, and me. Kim and Jerry are from Topeka and flew out of Kansas City. They had no issues. Mike hates flying and drove. He had no issues getting to Madison as well. Ginger and I (both flying out of Wichita for obvious reasons) had all sorts of issues.

Since Brian’s office is really close to the airport, our plan on Monday morning was for him to drop me off on his way to work. We are super early as usual so I manage to talk him into stopping at Panera for breakfast. While we’re having breakfast I get this crazy idea to install the American Airlines app on my phone. We usually fly Delta so I only had the Delta app prior. Anyway, once I get the app going I get weird alert message saying I’m flying to ORD which I mistakenly read as Orlando. ORD is actually Chicago O’Hare.

Not realizing that there’s anything wrong with my flights, I think to myself “I really need to tell American that their app sucks. I can’t believe it’s broken the very first time I try to use it.” Then it dawns on me that I should check on my flights just to be sure.

“This app says I’m going to Orlando. Can you please call customer service and find out what’s going on?” I asked Brian as I eat my breakfast sandwich while still messing with the app. “It’s asking me to accept the changes but I need to go to Madison, not Orlando! I can’t accept this!”

Brian found out from customer service that my flight has been canceled. They can get me to Madison via Chicago but I wouldn’t get there until the next day. “That’s not going to work. Our meeting starts at eight o’clock!” Brian and I agreed that this will be easier dealt with face to face so I quickly finish my breakfast sandwich and we head to the airport. In the meantime, I receive a text from Ginger confirming what we just found out.

They didn’t give us any specifics about why our flight was canceled other than “airport issues,” which made me wonder if Kim and Jerry had similar problems. Ginger and I debated whether we should still go considering we may not get there until halfway through the meeting. I tried to call Kim but her phone kept going to voicemail. They were already in the air and enroute. Mike, Jerry, and Kim will be there. We had to get there somehow. Ginger worked with the American Airlines rep at the counter and got us both rebooked on flights via United Airlines. Instead of arriving in Madison at 1 PM as planned, we’re arriving at midnight. We’re missing dinner with our hosts but at least we will get there for the meeting the following day, which was really reason for the trip.

Brian’s handy dandy travel packet that he puts together with a list of alternate flights wasn’t useful in this case. All of the alternate flights listed went through Dallas, which was the issue. None of them worked. Our new flights through United had us going through Denver instead. That was a good lesson for putting together the next travel packet. The list of alternate flights Brian had would have worked if the reason for the delay or cancelation was just mechanical issues but, in the rare event of airport issues, it’s helpful to have alternate flights listed that go a different route and even on another airline altogether (because each airline has their respective hubs which is the route that most of their flights take).

So now that we had flights for that evening, there was no reason to stick around at the airport. Brian took me back home (clear across town) before going in to work. I felt really bad because not only was he late for work that day but then he would also have to leave early to take me back to the airport later. Had things gone according to plan, he would have gotten to work on time and not needed to leave early.

Whatever. You just have to roll with the punches sometimes. Back at home, I dock my laptop and start working in the office. I recently got rid of my desktop PC at work so instead of having a laptop and a desktop PC and worrying about the files not syncing (I was having all sorts of issues with One Drive) then I’ll only have the one central repository for my files. Desktop support consolidated all of my desktop PC stuff into my laptop. That morning was the first time I was actually seeing everything together and I was doing some clean up.

Guess what. I managed to permanently delete my entire My Documents folder. It would have been in the recycle bin and could have easily been put back but I’m me. I don’t always screw up but, when I do, I screw up royally. In the process of deleting the folder, there was a pop up alert that appeared that said something like “Some of the file names are too long for the Recycle Bin. Would you like to permanently delete?” Not taking the time to process what I had just read (this would have been my opportunity to say “Oops!” and hit cancel), I clicked OK and plunged myself into the abyss.

To top it off, I somehow managed to jack up my Windows Explorer so I couldn’t even browse the other folders (that I managed to not delete). I chatted with our desktop support guy Seth via Lync. Since he still had my desktop PC, I was wondering if he could just grab the My Documents folder from it and plant into my laptop. No such luck. I think there were too many files for VPN. I really needed my laptop fixed though, since I was going to be away from the office for a few days. I thought I could just go to work and work at my desk the rest of the afternoon until I have to go to the airport. It actually works out better because instead of driving all the way home to get me and take me to the airport then Brian only has to go halfway.

Seth and I agreed to meet at my desk at 1 PM.

In the meantime, I had let the dogs out to go to the bathroom and allow them to enjoy the beautiful weather outside. I didn’t think it would take long to get them back in their crates so I ordered my Uber on my phone and then called them back inside. I was a little bit rushed and frazzled from everything else that had happened that day so I forgot to shut our bedroom door. When Saki came inside, she zipped right past me into the living room. Molly was no problem. I got her bumper collar off her and got her back in crate with no issues. Saki, on the other hand, made me chase her all around the house. I was chasing her around so much I was running out of breath.

I called Brian in a panic, “My Uber is almost here and Saki won’t get in her crate!”

“Leave her,” he said. “I will take care of her when I get home.”

Defeated, I walked back in the bedroom. As I stood there, Saki followed me in. I guess she was wondering why we stopped playing. Anyway, I quickly shut the bedroom door. It’s much easier to catch her within the confines of our bedroom so I took advantage of the opportunity. I managed to get her, get her bumper collar off, and put her in her crate just in the the nick of time. I grabbed my stuff, ran outside, and hit the button to shut the garage door. The car pulled up as the garage door closed.

Whew! What a day! And to think it’s not even over yet.

Back at work, Seth was able to fix my laptop but it took quite a bit of work because I managed to screw it up spectacularly. I really didn’t want to be seen at work because I was in travel attire (leggings and sneakers) and not work-appropriate attire but I did get a lot of work done.

Our United flights to Madison were pretty uneventful. I was a little worried about being stuck in Denver but the rest of the trip went smoothly. We arrived at the hotel around midnight and the front desk rep Nate was super nice.

Speaking of the hotel, I’m going to have to save my Staybridge Suites review for another blog post because this one is super long already. Come back tomorrow for the hotel review and pictures!

Fort Worth — Down and Back

I missed posting pictures of our trip to visit Sheryll and the kids while they were in Fort Worth a couple of weeks ago. It was a really fruitful trip achieving a couple of objectives: (a) seeing Sheryll and the kids who we haven’t seen in a few years, and (b) testing road trip or potential vacation options with the dogs.

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Since we were doing a down and back, we left really early on Saturday morning. Above is a picture of the dogs watching intently as Brian filled Rex up with gas.

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Molly is like, “Where did daddy go?”

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Molly isn’t much of a lap dog at home but, when you’re driving in the car, she definitely wants to be in your lap. She’s a front seat kind of dog.

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Saki, on the other hand, was quite content at the back of the car.

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Here’s Molly keeping an eye on daddy’s driving.

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Saki and mommy selfie time!

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Saki is such a pretty dog.

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Saki’s turn on daddy’s lap.

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Isn’t she just adorable?

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Molly on my lap.

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I know you’re probably sick of seeing dog pictures but it was a long drive and I had nothing better to do.

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Quick pit stop at the first Texas rest area. It was meant to be a short bathroom break for the dogs and the humans, but we had to take a photo at the rock thing because I guess it’s the thing to do at this rest stop. Anyway, we had to stop a few times for potty breaks making the five hour drive take almost seven hours.

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It didn’t matter how comfy we made the back of the car, they both wanted to be with us.

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It didn’t take long before we were in Fort Worth. We went to our hotel but our room wasn’t ready so we ended up going to see Sheryll and the kids first.

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We hung out with them briefly before returning to our hotel to check in and dropping off all of our stuff. I was pleasantly surprised. We had never stayed at a La Quinta Inn before and didn’t really know what to expect.

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Our room, which was clean and spacious, consisted of a bedroom with a separate living room, and bathroom next to the entry way.

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We had the perfect space for the crates in the bedroom area.

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We loved being able to take the dogs with us.

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There was also a nice walking path behind the property, which was a perfect place to walk the dogs to get them to do their business.

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There was also this cute little bridge.

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Later that day we met back up with Sheryll and the kids, her mom, and her mom’s boyfriend. We had dinner at Dickie’s.

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Their Dickie’s is a lot bigger than the Dickie’s we have here.

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After dinner we went back to her mom’s boyfriend’s house to hang out and catch up some more, and also take a few selfies.

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We had a great time visiting with Sheryll and her family.

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We didn’t stay out too late though because we had to get back to our babies.

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I need to give a shout out to La Quinta for the accommodations. They didn’t charge us extra for bringing our two dogs with us. The hotel rate was reasonable as well. I was super pleased with our experience. I’m likely to stay at a La Quinta again next time that we’re travelling with the dogs.

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Saki liked it so much she refused to leave. LOL.

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Sheryll wanted to make breakfast for us so we went back to their house again the next morning before driving back to Wichita. Sheryll made these yummy breakfast burritos. And then we were on our way back home.

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It was a really short trip but very productive. We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with everyone. Also, we’re super glad to have discovered La Quinta. I can’t wait to take the dogs on a real vacation!

My Room with “Boo” at the Haunted Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence, KS

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I hit the jackpot on a recent stay at the Eldridge Hotel in Lawrence, Kansas. I normally don’t request a specific room so, when I checked and they asked me if it’s okay that I got room 506, I was surprised in a good way. I’ve always been curious about this room and have wanted to stay in it, just not enough to specifically request it. I lucked out this time and it got assigned to me by chance.

The hotel, which started as Free State Hotel in 1855, has had a long history of getting torn down and being rebuilt. It became Hotel Eldridge after it was rebuilt in 1865 following an attack from William Clarke Quantrill and his band of raiders. This wasn’t the first time that the hotel was rebuilt and also not the last. The hotel has fallen into disrepair and been rebuilt a few more times since then.

The entire hotel is supposed to be haunted but there’s something eerily special about room 506. Reportedly most of the paranormal activity happens on the fifth floor with 506 being a portal to the spirit world. Guests have claimed to have seen breath marks on recently cleaned mirrors, doors opening and shutting by themselves, and lights turning on and off on their own. It’s all very creepy.

Here’s little video about the hotel that I found on YouTube:

I knew the hotel was haunted but I’m really glad that I didn’t have all of this information before because I would have had an even more difficult time sleeping. As it was, I hardly slept that night without imagining all of this ghostly paranormal activity. I’m highly impressionable so it’s pretty easy to put crazy ideas in my head.

In doing some reading after my stay, I also learned that the hotel was featured in My Ghost Story, a show on A&E’s Biography Channel.

Above is a short preview of that episodes that I found on Facebook. It’s Season 3, Episode 1 of My Ghost Story. You can watch the full episode from Amazon Video.

Here are a few more photos from my stay…

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I had taken a couple of pictures of the view across the street.

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When I talked to Brian that evening, as we do every night when I’m away from home, he was like, “I saw the picture you posted on Facebook. It looked like there’s someone standing behind you.” He thinks he ‘s funny.

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Here’s the layout of the fifth floor.

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Here’s my very nice, un-creepy bed.

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Here’s the lovely bathroom. The creepiest thing about it is that the shower area is kind of dark because the light is outside the shower curtain. There’s not a light directly above you in the shower.

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The weirdest thing that happened to me during my stay is I couldn’t get any hot water to come out. I was actually not very happy about that. I wasn’t upset enough to complain, but it felt like I was showering in the Philippines where your water only has one temperature — cold.

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Here’s a picture of the cute, little sitting area that you see immediately upon entering the room. The room is actually quite spacious and has two TVs that probably rarely get used, if at all. The second TV faces the bed.

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I was smart this time and didn’t turn on the ceiling fan, although it would have been nice when I got hot in the middle of the night. I didn’t turn it on because, the last time I stayed at the Eldridge (granted, I was in a different room), the ceiling fan wobbled and made a clicking sound and kept me up all night.

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I had a hard time sleeping again but I couldn’t blame the ceiling fan this time. I don’t really know what to blame for my insomnia other than I’d been having a rough time at work since one of my mentors and one of my most favorite people in the entire world announced that he’s leaving the company.

But I digress… There was no paranormal activity the night of my stay unfortunately — or fortunately, I suppose. As cool as ghost stories might have been, I’m not sure I could have handled it.

The Trip Home

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The ship looked so empty on debarkation day.

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No more Zumba banners and window clings.

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Even thought Brian and I didn’t have a flight until 3:45 PM that day, we got up early anyway. We had a nice leisurely breakfast and then went down to Café Promenade so I can have one more Creamice Mocha.

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This drink is so delicious. I wish that I would have discovered it sooner than halfway through the cruise.

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Anyway, the valets picked up our bags the night before and we were pretty much all set so we went ahead and got ready to disembark the ship at eight o’clock. We thought it would take a few hours to get off the boat and go through customs. Little did we know that our stateroom attendant hooked us up with these special, VIP tags that worked like magic. There were tags numbered 1 to 45 – the higher the number the later it would be before your bags would be delivered to the baggage claim/staging area. I think we were supposed to be number 15 according to Guest Services. Somehow, we ended up with these “Suites/Pinnacle” tags in our stateroom which we were grateful for because that mean our bags would be ready at the baggage claim area by 8 AM. “Suites/Pinnacle” had priority over all the numbered tags.

You basically had two options, you let the valets take your bags the night before and then they put it in the baggage area for you or you lug your bags with you. The downside of letting them valet your bag is that you’re at the mercy of their schedule, which meant the higher numbers would be ready last. Some people don’t want to wait to they decide to cart their bags with them. Brian and I only had carry-ons but I remembered that the elevators only go down to a certain floor on debarkation day and you have to take the stairs all the way down. I told Brian that I didn’t want to lug my bag around so if he insisted on taking our bags ourselves then he would be carting both carry-ons. Plus, I told him that we should use our ultra-special bag tags.

Brian was really glad that he listened to me as went down the stairs from Deck 3 to Deck 1. Since we went down early, the line moved pretty quickly and we were off the ship in no time. When we got to the place where they line up everyone’s luggage, there were only a dozen bags or so there but we easily spotted our bags. We used our red luggage for this very reason.

Several people got off the ship before us, and I think there were seven other ships disembarking that same day, so the line through customs had already started snaking. After grabbing our bags, we asked one of the port staff where we should go and she told us to stand by the red pole. It just happened to be the end of the long line. There were a handful of people getting in line so we let them get ahead of us and then fell in line behind them. We started to follow the line as it started moving but then the lady walked toward us and asked us to follow her. She then lifted one of the barricades and told us to go through and wait right there right in front of one of the customs officers’ stations. We were called up to next so we effectively bypassed the customs line altogether. I’m convinced we got special treatment because of our special “Suites/Pinnacle” bag tags.

It only took about 30 minutes from the time we got in line for debarkation to get off the ship, completely through customs, and out to the shuttle pick up area. It was amazing. I’d never gotten off a cruise ship that quickly before. And then, as luck would have it, our ride to the airport showed up within a couple of minutes and then we were at the airport by quarter till nine. The crazy part is that our flight wasn’t even until later that afternoon.

Anyway, they’re a lot stricter at the Fort Lauderdale airport than in Wichita. They had this Delta attendant there who did nothing but point people to the security line and/or make them check the size of their carry-on against the metal carry-on measurement stand. Brian’s duffel was just a tad too long. We tried to explain to the lady that we carried both of our bags on during our arrival flights and they fit with no problems but she was not having it. She wanted Brian to take items out of his duffel until the bag would fit. There was no amount of stuff we could take out that would make it work because it was the shape of the bag that was the problem and we didn’t want to hassle with trying. Since we were early, we decided to just go to the desk and pay to check our bags. We figured that while we were doing that we could see if we could get on earlier flights home.

The lady at the Delta desk was a lot more helpful and pleasant than the first woman we encountered. She punched some keys on her computer and broke the news to us.

“If I type fast enough,” she told us, “I can get you on the 9:45 AM flight.” It would cost $50 each to change our flights, plus $25 for each of the bags, so we’d have to play $150 total; and we only had a split second to think about it.

Brian and I looked at each other and were like, “Let’s do it!”

She quickly took our payment, printed our new boarding passes, tagged our bags, and placed them on the conveyor belt behind her. I was a little worried that our bags wouldn’t make it on our new flights since we were cutting it so close but she reassured us that our bags would make it.

At the end of our transaction she was like, “It’s 9:08 now so you better hurry because your flight is boarding.” With that, we quickly said our thanks and skedaddled to security.

Security was long and cumbersome per usual but, lucky for us, our gate was close by. When we got to the gate, they were boarding Zone 2, which just happened to be our zone so we fell in line with everyone and got on the plane. We didn’t have to wait around at the gate, which is just the way I like it.

This plane wasn’t as nice as the plane that we flew in going to Florida. There were no free inflight games but the flight seemed to go fairly quick and we were in Atlanta in no time. I think we were 10 minutes early actually. We had a decent layover length before getting on our flight to Wichita. That flight went smoothly as well. We were either early or right on time. We landed shortly after 2 PM. Our bags safely made it and were one of the first few to hit the baggage claim carousel. Our ride home was already waiting for us so we got in the van and were home by 2:30 PM or so.

Brian and I were completely amazed because our original flights wouldn’t have put us back in Wichita until after 9 PM. We got on the flights that, just the night before, Brian told Missy and Todd they wouldn’t be able to make. Crazy!

Things seemed to be going perfectly our way until we got home and found Molly had been badly hurt. She and Saki got in a fight the day before that resulted in Molly getting staples on her head. I guess the reason why things worked out for us and we were able to get home early is that the universe wanted us to quickly get back so we could take care of our poor baby.

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It wasn’t fun coming home to a $175 vet bill but we were grateful to be back early to be with our beloved dogs.

Cruise Recap Cont’d – Day Five

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On the fifth and final day of our sailing, the ship was booking it back to Fort Lauderdale. You could feel the difference. We were no longer cruising leisurely along. Anyway, true to my craziness, I had yet another 8 AM class. I could not miss this one though, because it’s a masterclass with ZES Loretta Bates and she is amazing. Such an inspiration!

Just listen to her message. Dance to inspire, not to impress. We should all take this to heart and not judge one another and just dance for the sheer joy of it.

I got up early and got a great spot. Not hard considering I think almost everyone was pretty worn out. I was feeling it too. Thus, the need for the massage the day before.

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Do you see Loretta’s head peaking out above the stage? She is so cute.

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Do you see Brian? We were taking pictures of each other, I guess. He wasn’t supposed to be up there, though. That’s the special observation area for ZESes and other Zumba VIPs. He found that out later. They didn’t make him leave. Brian realized it on his own.

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A couple more of Loretta…

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Do you see the guy in the gray and white shirt? Well, that’s J. Perry.

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If you don’t know J. Perry, he sings some of my favorite Zumba tracks: Dekole, Boujé, and Konsey. If you’ve ever been to my class, you’ll recognize the songs when you hear them. The rhythm is soca, which is my favorite beat to dance to. I have no idea what he’s saying most of the time but the songs are so enjoyable.

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This is where we found out that our special guest will be performing while we Zumba to his tunes. Here are a couple more pics…

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Here are some videos from the masterclass…

TI PAM NAN

ENJOY

KONSEY

There were some technical difficulties in that last one but J. Perry and Loretta took it all in stride. Such pros! They make a great team also. This was definitely the highlight of the whole trip for me. I love, love, love J. Perry and I love, love, love Loretta Bates! Having the two of them together just made me want to explode. I could hardly contain myself.

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I got a shameless selfie with J. Perry!

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And another with him and Loretta both. I was totally fan-girling it. I was so giddy! I was on a roll, too. I ran into ZES Ricardo Marmitte in the elevator on my way to my next masterclass and grabbed a quick selfie with him as well. LOL.

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It was real shame that I didn’t get to take Ricardo’s class. I love his African style. Anyway, they canceled his class the first day because they were still installing/constructing stuff and then we were all going to take his make up class on Thursday night at the jogging track but that got canceled too due to weather. Stupid rain!

Missy and I ran into Ricardo later on. They had him peeling the Zumba decals from the store window at the Royal Promenade. I guess they put him to work because he didn’t have to teach his class. When we walked by, Missy whispered something to him and then he made a face and pretended to spray her with Windex.

“What did you say to him?” I asked.

“I told him that he needs to come over to my house when he’s finished because my windows also need to be cleaned.”

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This is Australian ZES Jarrod Tucker. He was my last official masterclass of the cruise. It was my first time taking his class. He was super nice and friendly and absolutely fantastic but the class was held at the helipad, which was my least favorite surface to dance on. The floor was really grippy and it felt like sandpaper under my shoes. Also, it was super duper windy. It was like doing Aqua Zumba but with air as the source of resistance. That made it really interesting.

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Meanwhile, back at the main pool deck this was happening…

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And at the H20 Zone, Richard Gormley was leading an Aqua Zumba masterclass…

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And Brian got a selfie with ZES Erick Santana…

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I heard part of his playlist while I was at the spa the previous day. He has great song choices. We also got to watch Missy dance with him (she was taking his class at the jogging track while we were at the spa) and she was having a blast. She was so focused that she didn’t even see us trying to wave at her on the other side of the window.

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And I got another elevator selfie. This time with ZES Eliza Stone. We ran into her on our way to back to our room. That was the best part about being on a ship. My Zumba idols could not escape me.

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We made the mistake of taking a brief nap and were late to ZES Armando Salcedo’s class in the Alhambra Theater. Yes, every inch of the ship was being used for Zumba classes. Rob, Todd, Heather, and Missy were already there when we arrived. They got their late too so the stage was already at capacity.

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They were only slightly ahead of us.

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I didn’t get to take any classes in Alhambra Theater but that stage floor looked perfect for Zumba. That might have been the best floor to dance on; even better than the Sports Court, which had been my favorite up to that point..

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Armando had some fun routines. I was bummed that I didn’t get to take his class.

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That theater was rockin’! Everyone was dancing, even in the aisles and between the rows. People kept piling in after us and, since the class was full, they were just dancing in place wherever they could find some space.

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Here are some clips from Armando’s masterclass…

This was the pow-wow about debarkation the next morning.

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Always the bearer of bad news, I think this was Brian telling Todd that chances of them making their 9:45 AM flight in the morning were slim. Brian is kind of a downer like that.

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I made them cheese for the picture.

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Obligatory selfie… You know how that goes.

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Group selfie! Groupie?

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This is ZES Michael Marmitte, Ricardo’s older brother. That was a revelation. He told us that he’s actually older. Everyone assumes Ricardo is older because he’s taller but he’s actually the middle brother. Their youngest brother mixes their music.

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I would have taken his masterclass but I had to use the restroom. By the time I got out, they were at capacity and wouldn’t let any more participants in. It was fine though, because I felt tentative about dancing on carpet with carpet gliders. You have to be really careful or you could twist your ankle and seriously hurt yourself.

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It was a super fun class, though. I did a few songs with the class right outside the karaoke bar. In this space…

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Michael’s class was overflowing.

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He needed a much bigger space than the karaoke bar.

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And then, ZES Walter Diaz (Wally) showed up looking for the same ice skating show that we were looking for that apparently wasn’t going on until seven o’clock that evening.

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I love Wally. I took his Salsa and Merengue Mashup workshop at my first Zumba Instructor Conference almost three years ago. He is amazing!

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Group selfie right before our final dinner together. The first one was tricky because I’m much shorter than everyone so they all had to crouch down. We had to have Brian take another, which was better.

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And yet another group selfie when Rob and Heather showed up.

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Don’t ask me about the selfie stick. I brought it with me but I forgot to pack the charger. I had it with me the entire time but we never used it because it was dead.

We all hung out for bit after dinner but Brian and I went to bed early that night because we wanted to be ready for debarkation the next day. We had to finish packing so we could set our luggage outside our door before 11 PM. The funniest part is that Brian and I both set our clothes for the next day and packed all of our clothes including our dirties. Brian had his clothes for the next day laid out and was completely naked (so was I, actually) and then it dawned on me, “Now, how are we going to put our luggage outside?” We both busted up laughing.

Brian put his next day jeans on and then put our bags outside and then took his jeans back off and hopped into bed. We had some great laughs throughout the trip. It was such a blast hanging out with Glynda, Missy, Todd, Rob, and Heather; but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Come back soon for the final installment of our cruise recaps!

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