Where to Stay In The Tennessee Smoky Mountains: Westgate Resort Spa & Water Park

Tennessee was never really thought of as a vacation place for me but I had never been to Gatlinburg before either. Gatlinburg is a family city set up in the Smoky Mountains and is full of things to do. You could do a different thing every day and still not see everything in a two weeks time span. And while you’re in Tennessee enjoying all the things to do you need a place to stay. Why not stay at The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort Spa and Water Park?

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I had an amazing view from my room. I could see the mountains and noticed how smoky they were. I never realized they got their name by the clouds that just rest against them like smoke. Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa sits on approximately 255 acres, with 55 acres developed, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the largest national park East of the Rockies.

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We had a tour of all the room options and it’s quite impressive how many of the rooms connect. Not all rooms connect but you can have quite a large group as even one room can sleep up to eight and then think of all those people you could add to your room by combining rooms. Plus they are nice rooms. I turned on the fireplace and enjoyed my Jacuzzi bathtub that I somehow didn’t get a photo of.

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This photo is of one of the rooms we toured. This room has a smaller bathtub than my room had. My room had a bathtub and a separate shower and my shower had like three different places that water came out of. As you can see in this tub there are two. It’s fun taking a shower with water coming out of different directions. Plus the water pressure is amazing. That’s important to me when I travel, I really love it when I have water pressure.

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Westgate’s Wild Bear Falls is the latest expansion to Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This mountain-themed world-class family indoor water park features a state-of-the-art retractable roof, taking Mother Nature out of the equation! It’s really large and made for families. I wish I had my kids with me on this trip they would have had a blast at the water park every day.

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Even if my kids spent the whole day in the lazy river or going around under the water dump structures they would have had a blast. I think they might have even found of of the smaller slides to ride on with dad.

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The room is warm as the water is kept warm and the roof is retractable to let in a little air.

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And I did visit the spa too but let’s just say that deserves a post of it’s own. Overall it’s a great place to stay. You can get 3 days and 2 nights starting at $149. One thing that Westgate specializes in is events. Book an event with them and your stay is included in the price of the event. It’s a fantastic deal. You don’t have to be an owner to book an event just visit Westgate Events and or Westgate Resorts for your stay!

B&O Railroad Museum to Edgar Allan Poe’s

The Poe House, A National Landmark where Poe once lived from 1833-1835 with his aunt, grandmother and two cousins, will be re-opening to the general public on Saturdays and Sundays, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., May 24 through December 28, 2014. statue

Visitors will experience the re-installed exhibits that share Edgar Allan Poe’s life and death story in Baltimore. During the self-guided tour, visitors will also stumble upon significant artifacts including china and glassware that Poe used when living with the Allan family in Richmond, Virginia and also Poe’s portable writing desk, chair and telescope. telescope

 

Admission for adults is $5 and $4 for seniors, active military and students (ages 13-21). Children 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult. Tickets are available at the door or can be purchased in advance by the following link:  http://reservations.baltimore.org/6691_attraction-tickets_a1385.html.

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For more information on the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum, visit www.poeinbaltimore.org

From Nashville to Gatlinburg In The Toyota Tacoma #LetsGoPlaces @Toyota

My good friend Kas from SouthernBellasWays received a Toyota Tacoma for the week to review and we drove it up to Gatlinburg from Nashville and back. On the way there we had a chance to catch up and just enjoy the ride. The Toyota Tacoma was the first time I’ve been inside a truck in a long time. I forget how high up they are. WP_20140427_17_01_02_Pro

For the ride I found the Tacoma to be quite comfortable. I was riding while Kas was driving and then all the sudden I just fell asleep. I had a good nap in my passenger seat. The Toyota Tacoma is the ultimate performer whether it’s hauling or towing. With an available 6500-lb. max towing capacity, Tacoma helps you complete feats of strength with a 4.0L V6 engine that’s more than meets the eye

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We had no issues making it up the mountain side. In most cars you have to shift down to low speed. I did see Kas messing with the speed but I never noticed the Toyota Tacoma struggle at all. Tacoma meets the most demanding situations head on. With 4WDemand, you can go from 2WD drive to 4WD high and back while Tacoma’s in motion, automatically locking the front hubs at speeds up to 62 mph. A turn and push of a dial and 4WD drive is engaged. Tacoma is one truck that doesn’t need a break to get the job done. Whether it’s Tacoma’s 5-speed manual transmission, available 6-speed manual transmission, or available 4- or 5-speed Electronically Controlled automatic Transmission with intelligence (ECT-i), the one thing you can know for sure is you’ll have the power you need on tap right when you need it.

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We had a pretty basic model with no backup camera, special seat material, or heated seats. When I buy a vehicle I have to have the heated seats and love having a backup camera. I’m not sure I could go back to not having that. One of the other bonus features is the steering wheel controls. Steer more than just Tacoma with an available tilt/telescoping steering wheel with built-in controls. Keeping your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road, it’s easy to adjust the audio channels and volume, climate, Bluetooth® 9 hands-free phone and voice-command controls.

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We had a great time on the road trip together

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On the way back we drove in a downpour of rain. It was raining so hard at time we couldn’t see a thing. So it was nice being up so hight off the ground and the traction was really good. I wasn’t scared at all, well I was a tad bit afraid that a tornado would just come down the highway and get us but that had nothing to do with the safety of the car. Winking smile

Go Further with Ford Fusion Energi Up The 101 Redwood Coastal Highway #GoFurther @Ford

We spent our Spring Break this year going up and down the West coast of the US. Starting near Seattle we started our trek in our Ford Fusion Energi and headed down to LA for a visit to Disneyland. The Ford Fusion Energi is more than your typical hybrid vehicle. This car also has a battery that gives us up to 20 miles of electricity and the fun part is when you’re coasting down the mountain side we were able to rack up to 4 extra miles of electricity with the regenerative breaking system. It was AWESOME. We saved quite a bit of money on gas with this road trip car. DSC00138

After our visit in LA at Disneyland we decided to drive over to San Francisco and then from there take Highway 101 up the coast through the redwood forest and then all the way back up to Washington. The roads are quite windy a not many passing lanes but our car had no issues passing anyone and staying within the lines. In fact with the lane assistance and cruise control on together this car practically drives itself. The car also likes to let you know when it thinks you are not driving up to snuff by saying you should stop for a coffee break. Then if you continue to drive poorly it will make lots of red noises at you and the warning goes from yellow to red. DSC00142

The Ford Fusion Energi is amazing on the beach. And the kids were so excited to see sand they stopped right outside my son’s door and just started playing in the sand. They had so much fun, we all had so much fun. DSC00139

The only negative is that there isn’t a lot of trunk space for a road trip but our roof rack provided us with all the space we needed.

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Enjoy The High Life With a Hot Air Balloon Ride

Hot air balloon

All travel consideration provided by Experience Kissimmee.

On the last morning of my Florida trip, we had a very special activity planned as our grand finale: A hot air balloon ride! I’d never been on a hot air balloon before, so this was yet another first for me and something I was very excited about. Hot air balloon rides are very dependent on weather, so we crossed our fingers all week that we would be able to go. Luck was on our side and the conditions were right, so we left at 5:30 in the morning to watch the sun rise from a balloon!

Orlando at dusk

We arrived at Orlando Balloon Rides and went outside to watch the process of setting up and inflating the balloons while we waited to board. A few volunteers, including Melissa, helped hold the balloon in place while it inflated!

Melissa helps inflate the balloon

Balloon inflating

Me standing in front of the balloon as it inflates

Hot air balloon inflating

Once the balloon was inflated, it was time to climb in the basket and take off!

Inside the hot air balloon

Our hot air balloon pilot

Watching the sun rise from a balloon is simply gorgeous. We took off with two other balloons, and the captains would yell jokes at each other sometimes while we were in the air!

Hot air balloon at sunrise

Look at the spectacular views we were treated to during our ride:

Hot air balloon flies over trees

View of the ground and another balloon

Hot air balloon reflection in water

I’ve mentioned several times during my trip recaps that I have a healthy fear of heights. It was a little unnerving to me when we first launched because it takes a minute to adjust to being so far off the ground with just a basket between you and the sky. But I quickly acclimated! I did get some great shots with my Garmin VIRB camera, holding it with a death grip and pointing it down over the side of the balloon basket where my eyes didn’t dare to look (Or couldn’t see). I got a kick out of seeing the footage for the first time when I got home – my stomach lurches looking at this view!

The ride was smooth and simply lovely, with simply incredible sights. From this high up, Epcot Center looks like a marble!

Sun rising in the sky

The ground below

Two balloons

Beeb on the hot air balloon

I was coming down with a bad cold & had only gotten 2 hours of sleep when this was taken, so I’m not at my most photogenic, but you can see that I was there! Thanks Melissa for the photo!

Houses below us

Fog

Flying over water

Balloon coasting over water

Trees reflecting in the water

Sun shining down

Hot air balloon gliding along

Sun reflecting off water

The ride lasts for about an hour, and make a slow and gradual descent to the ground. Right before landing, you’re instructed to sit on the bottom of the basket and hold on to the handles in front of you – I was a little nervous about this part, but the land was completely effortless – you barely even felt it!

Getting out of basket

Once we landed and had the OK from our pilot, we climbed out of the basket. We landed in a field on a farm, and began the fascinating process of packing the balloon up.

Walking over the balloon

First, the pilot invited anyone who wanted to help to walk over the deflated balloon to flatten it! This was really interesting – at one point, the top of the balloon started falling back on us and we were cracking up!

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Me kicking the balloon – photo courtesy Melissa.

Next, the pilot gathered the balloon up, and asked us to kick the sides of it so he could grab it more easily. What the photo above doesn’t show is that while I was doing this, I accidentally kicked the pilot. I’m so sorry!!

Holding the hot air balloon bag

Then, a group of volunteers held a large bag while the pilot and another group picked up the balloon and put it inside.

Putting the balloon in its bag

Once the balloon was in its bag, everyone leaned on it to help cram it in, just like it was an overstuffed suitcase!

U-Pick Citrus

Once the balloon was put away and loaded into its truck, we drove on the back roads from the farmland to a U-Pick Citrus grove right by the nearest major road. Here, we had a mimosa toast to our flight and looked around the storefront for a few minutes before driving back to Orlando Balloon Rides headquarters, where a breakfast buffet was waiting for us. We had to catch our flights home, so unfortunately we couldn’t stay, but I did have time to grab a piece of bacon and a Florida orange before driving straight to the airport to fly home!

Group photo with our hot air balloon pilot

With our hot air balloon pilot – photo courtesy
Experience Kissimmee.

Check out my video of the whole flight, from inflation to packing up the balloon:

I can’t think of a more phenomenal end to my unforgettable vacation than this hot air balloon ride – it was simply amazing, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

For More Information:

Orlando Balloon Rides
1-800-586-1884
Price: $185 per person for adults, $95 each for children.
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Riding in Style With Southern Elegance Limousines

Southern Elegance Limousines

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.


All travel and transportation provided by Experience Kissimmee.

During my trip to Florida, I was driven to each activity by Southern Elegance Limousines – and I do mean every activity. Our chauffeur, Miguel, would arrive impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, then drive our huge stretch limo into quite literally “The middle of nowhere” for an airboat ride. But the most hilarious adventure that occurred was when we needed to make a quick stop at a Walmart for supplies on our way home from Medieval Times.

So our stretch limo pulled up in this parking lot of a Walmart in Florida, and we got out still wearing our Medieval Times crowns. People were staring at us – when you’re the one getting stared at in a Florida Walmart, you’ve really outdone yourself.

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Kristy and I sitting in the limo as we depart. I’m sure you’ll see us on “People of Walmart” any day now.

But the adventure didn’t end there. When we arrived back at our vacation home from Walmart, the entire street was blocked off by police cars with flashing lights. As it turned out, a home on a neighboring street from a different vacation rental company had experience a gas leak, so everyone in the surrounding area was evacuated for safety. Since we were denied entry and weren’t sure when we would be allowed back in, our fabulous chauffeur simply parked our car and, staying after his shift had ended, waited until we were cleared to go back – about 30 minutes. This all occurred on the same day that I sat on an alligator, rode a zip line and held snakes – talk about an exciting, hilarious day! I find that when I travel, it’s these kind of unexpected adventures that make the experience so enriching and memorable.

Limo interior

Besides the splendid adventures, a limo is just a nice way to travel. Obviously, there’s a lot more space, along with handy features like an ice cooler full of water bottles, a good stereo and fun Disco-style lights on the ceiling that illuminate at night. Miguel was wonderful and took great pains to make our trips smooth, pleasant and accommodate every need, from transporting us to gator wrestling matches to last-minute Walmart trips. He even agreed to get in a group photo with us!

Striking a pose with Miguel

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

If you will be in the Orlando area and want to book a chauffeur, I highly recommend Miguel at Southern Elegance Limousines!

For More Information:

Southern Elegance Limousines
Miguel Hernandez
Phone: 1-866-654-1700
Quotes are available here.
Website | Facebook

Kissing an Alligator, Feeding a Lemur & Other “Wild” Experiences!

Blowing kisses to an alligator

Blowing kisses to an alligator!


Travel & related consideration provided by Experience Kissimmee; cuddles provided by Mr. Alligator!

In addition to offering airboat tours, Wild Florida is also home to an extensive Wildlife Park. After we finished our ride, we made our way to the park to check out the animals!

Wildlife and Nature Park

One of the first things you notice in the park is the fabulous birds running around!

Peacock

Perched peacock

Parrot

I loved getting a chance to see more of Florida’s natural beauty up close. The Hawk Swamp boardwalk winds through trees growing out of the swampy water below – it was so stunning in the morning light, and very different from any other forest I’ve observed in real life before.

Sun shining through the trees

Beautiful trees

Trees growing in the swamp

Swamp

As you make your way into the park, you can take part in a hands-on alligator demonstration. The staff introduce you to a small gator and give a little Q&A session about gator facts; this was the second time on my trip to Florida that an alligator handler said, “If you need to get away from an alligator, run straight or trip the person next to you.” ;) Contrary to popular myths, running zig-zag won’t help – it was advised that you should try to find a tree to climb. Fortunately, I didn’t have to climb any trees to get away from my new buddy!

Beeb with a little gator

But first, let me take a gator selfie:

Gator selfie!

And the gator fun doesn’t stop there – they also have an area where you can actually feed alligators with pellets!

Hungry gators

Here’s a video of me feeding a gator!

I think I crossed off every possible activity with gators on this trip. I held an alligator, sat on an alligator, rode a zip line over alligators, fed an alligator, and, yes, ate an alligator. And before my trip, I said to Jai, “I hope I get to touch a gator when I’m in Florida.” My hopes were exceeded!

But if gators aren’t your thing, maybe you’d like to a feed a lemur instead? Wild Florida offers a special enclosure where patrons can go in small groups to feed and play with lemurs. I sat down on a bench while lemurs darted around and above me, climbing all over the place – our guide recommended leaving cameras behind, as lemurs are very curious and will grab things from you and run away! No way was I going to risk my DSLR with a group of cheeky lemurs. ;) However, I had my Garmin VIRB with me, which is specifically designed to withstand being bumped and dropped, so I brought that along and got a video of the experience:

These guys have the softest little hands – they’re so light as they hop all over you! Getting to pet and feed a lemur grapes was a fantastic experience and I’m thrilled I got to do it!

Meeting a sloth

I also got to enter an enclosure and stand right next to a sloth – how cool is that?! Kristen Bell would’ve had a nervous breakdown here.

Toucan

The sloth enclosure was also home to beautiful birds that we got up close and personal with!

Stacey makes a new friend!

Stacey makes a new friend!

Outside, we were looking at photos on Kristy’s phone and laughing when we heard a loud voice start laughing behind us. It was this guy:

Cockatoo

We had a fun “Conversation” with this Cockatoo!

Tortoise

Wild Florida is also home to a tortoise exhibit.

Zorse & Zedonk

Finally, we also saw a Zorse, which is the offspring of a horse and a zebra, and a Zedonk, which is the child of a zebra and a donkey!

Wild Florida group photo

With our tour guide at the Wild Florida Wildlife Park!

Between the airboat ride, the great nature and animal exhibits, and the opportunities to interact and feed so many amazing creatures, Wild Florida was a true treat for me.

For More Information:

Wild Florida
Phone: (407) 901-2563
3301 Lake Cypress Road
Kenansville, Florida 34739
Wildlife Park Admission: $18 for adults and $15 for children; admission is included if you purchase an airboat tour ticket. More information on price options available here.

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Off To Spend Next Weekend in Tennessee With Westgate #WGLorettaLynn #WGEvents

I haven’t been to Tennessee since I was in college. My roommate in college and her best friend quickly became my best friends and for one of our Spring break vacations we went off to Tennessee. Of course we did the Memphis stuff but her grandmother lived in the Smokey Mountains and it was so beautiful I can’t wait to get back there. I’ll tell you a huge secret (THERE IS NOTHING LIKE SOUTHERN FOOD)

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Through some new friendships I’m part of 6 bloggers headed to Smokey Mountains and Gatlinburg for a fun Westgate Event. From April 25-27 we will be staying at the Beautiful Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa . This is just one of the properties owned by Westgate and look at how amazing it looks. I can’t wait to get there!

imageWestgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa is an incredibly themed mountainside resort with world class accommodations and amenities. Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa sits on approximately 255 acres, with 55 acres developed, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the largest national park East of the Rockies.

I don’t know much about the itinerary yet I’m just so excited to be hanging out with friends, learning about the location location in Tennessee. Our contributor Ashley stayed at the Westgate Vacation Villas in Florida a year ago. Westgate is really good at also providing you with entertainment options and we’re going to be seeing the iconic American country music singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn perform. So good food, a great place to stay, and entertainment. I’m so there!

Follow along:

@WestgateEvents on twitter# with hashtags WGLorettaLynn #WGEvents

Facebook: facebook.com/WestgateEvents

Instagram: #WGLorettaLynn #WestgateResorts.

Wild Florida: Airboat Tours to Remember

Wild Florida airboat tour

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

As a first-time visitor to Florida, I was particularly excited to take an airboat tour with Wild Florida. Getting to see local habitat in such a classic way seemed like something that would be a very memorable and fun experience!

Approaching Wild Florida airboats

Airboat

Our group climbed onto one large airboat with our guide, and off we went! Ear protection is provided, and while not required, recommended because of how loud the engine is. You might want to turn your speakers down a little before playing this video from my airboat tour:

The tour was fabulous – riding an airboat is so enjoyable, and it was so much fun coasting over the swamps as we passed alligators, birds, and cows. Yes, cows will wade out into the marsh and calmly chew on grass while gators lurk in the water nearby. I wasn’t expecting to see cows out there and it made me laugh!

Can you spot the gator?

It’s neat observing alligators in their natural habitat and seeing with your own eyes how they blend seamlessly into the background. It was hard to spot many of the alligators that our guide pointed out, as I found myself frequently mistaking sticks and logs for gators and gators for logs!

Riding the airboat

Catching a wave

Our guide would stop anytime he spotted something interesting and point out alligators and birds to us. He told us all kinds of cool factoids and answered questions; one of our group said, “What would happen if one of us fell in?” to which another one joked that the gators would say, “Mmm, dinner!”. Our guide replied, “No, the gators would swim away from you because they don’t want to be dinner!” Although alligators are very dangerous animals, they are also scared of humans and not quite so vicious as, say, crocodiles. Our guide told us that most of the incidents in recent years with humans getting bitten were the result of people feeding wild alligators (!!). It was interesting to learn more about gators and explains how I was able to step inside a pen with Chester and not get immediately devoured. ;) (Don’t try this at home, etc. etc)

He also told us about the alligator hunting tours he offers – it never even occurred to me, but gator hunting is permitted and quite popular in Florida. Hunters buy a special permit and may kill up to 2 alligators per year. Our guide offers hunting tours because the cost for non-locals to buy a hunting permit is much higher – not to mention that it probably isn’t the best idea to go chasing alligators with a harpoon by yourself…

Our group asked him about some of the reality shows they’ve seen featuring alligator hunting, such as Swamp People, and our tour guide told us that most of the hunting techniques for gators that are legal in Louisiana are illegal in Florida, so they conduct their hunts a bit differently. Who knew!

Alligator sunning himself

We got a good view of this guy sunning himself!

Beeb on the airboat

Here I am on the airboat with the gator behind me! Thanks to Melissa for the photo.

As a bird lover, I also enjoyed seeing the wide variety of native birds, including the Northern Crested Caracara and a Bald Eagle nest.

There is a Bald Eagle nest tucked into the top of the center tree.

There is a Bald Eagle nest tucked into the top of the center tree.

Bird perched on sign

Touring the Central Florida Everglades

I truly enjoyed exploring the Central Florida Everglades in such a fun and memorable way! Check out this video compilation of some of the highlights of my tour:

We saw this little gator as we exited the dock!

We saw this little gator as we exited the dock!

In addition to airboat tours, Wild Florida also offers a full wildlife park, which I’ll be showing you in my next article. This place truly has so much to offer and I’m so happy I had a chance to visit!

For More Information:

Wild Florida
3301 Lake Cypress Road
Kenansville, Florida 34739
Phone: (407) 901-2563
Tickets: 1/2 hour tour is $25 per person for adults and $22 per person for children aged 3-12; price also includes admission to the Wildlife Park and a hands-on alligator demonstration. Other price points available for longer, private and nighttime tours – price list available here.

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Savor the Flavors of Spring at Arcade Lights Tasting Festival at Pike Place Market #ArcadeLights

arcade lights pike place market

Pike Place Market is famous for its veritable feast of restaurants, bakeries and takeout counters. But on Friday, April 25, 2014, the Arcade Lights tasting festival will nearly double the culinary offerings of the Market with local and regional vendors of artisan sweet and savory foods, craft beer and wine.

Arcade Lights, an annual one-night, after-hours event, features more than 60 local purveyors – from one of Seattle’s most popular breweries, to the newest food artisan selling their handcrafted bites exclusively at farmers markets. As a longtime starting ground for small, local businesses with big ideas, including Starbucks, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Mt. Townsend Creamery and Delve Kitchen, Arcade Lights gathers the best and the brightest purveyors under one roof for one night only. The challenge is what to taste first!

Here’s more information about this delectable event:

What:

Arcade Lights, a one-night celebration of local food and drink

When:

Friday, April 25, 7 to 10 p.m.
(6:30 p.m. for advance ticketholders)

Where:

Pike Place Market’s North Arcade
Pike Place at Pine Street

Tickets:

$33 advance, $40 at the door: arcadelights.com/brownpapertickets.com

Details:

More than 60 local food and drink artisans will be showcased at Arcade Lights, including Whidbey Island Winery, 7 Seas Brewing Company, Fremont Brewing Company, Hood Canal Brewery, Simple & Crisp, Seductive Specialty Foods and Sunset Café.

Each ticketholder will receive 10 tokens redeemable for food and drinks (additional tokens are available for purchase), as well as a keepsake glass. To stay up to date on social media, post or search the #ArcadeLights hashtag.

Proceeds from Arcade Lights benefit the Pike Place Market Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the following human service agencies at the Pike Place Market: Pike Market Child Care and Preschool, Pike Market Medical Clinic, Pike Market Senior Center and Downtown Food Bank. For more information, visit: www.pikeplacemarketfoundation.org.