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!

Beeb kicking the balloon

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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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.

Website | YouTube | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

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.

A Bears Visit To The LA Zoo #DisneynatureBears #MeetTheCubs @LAZoo

Last month I went to LA to visit with Disneynature and watch their new movie Bears. Which is a really cute story about a momma bear and her two cubs. It’s her job to help them survive their first year in life out in the wild as they journey to find the Salmon. You’ll love it and it should inspire you to visit your local zoo.

Did you know, the Disneynature movie Bears is coming out on Friday, this Friday? And if the movie doesn’t inspire you to go to the zoo maybe this will…IMG_1183

I had an opportunity to visit the LA Zoo in honor of the movie. The zoo gave us a tour that I took my Disneynature Bears plush on with me. We had an adventure together.

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The Disney Store will contribute $1 to the NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION for every BEARS plush purchased between now and 5/11/14. Get yours at http://www.disneystore.com/disneynature-bears-plush-amber-medium-16/mp/1352895/1000267/ and http://www.disneystore.com/disneynature-bears-plush-scout-medium-16/mp/1352793/1000267/.

We saw the otter:

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And he was a little bit afraid of the Rhino

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My buddy bear wanted to know what does the fox say? No really?

The Fox says

We braved the Carrousel.

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Oh he really wanted to say hi to his kin, but I was afraid

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We were very hungry and @MommyIsBusy (Andrew) caught a photo of us begging for Churros

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It was a very quick visit to the LA Zoo but we were still tired and took a nap on the way back to our hotel.

 

Don’t forget to get your paws on one of the adorable plush Amber or Scout bears! In fact, The Disney Store will contribute $1 to the NATIONAL PARK FOUNDATION for every BEARS plush purchased between now and 5/11/14.

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Bears opens Friday 4/18
Follow hashtags #DisneynatureBears and #MeetTheCubs

 

For More Info On The LA Zoo:

LA ZOO

https://www.facebook.com/LosAngelesZoo

https://twitter.com/lazoo (#LAZoo)

http://www.youtube.com/user/TheLosAngelesZoo

http://www.pinterest.com/losangeleszoo/

http://www.lazoo.org/

4 Cities You’ll Pay a Bundle to Visit

This post is brought to you by Annie Davis.

It’s hardly breaking news that New York City is the most expensive place to visit in the United States. TripAdvisor even ranked it fourth in the world for the most expensive night out. While American tourists know what they’re getting into when they visit the Big Apple, there are other cities around the country that can also cost travelers a bundle. Here are a few.

Orlando, Fla.

Two words: Disney tickets. Single park admission for adults is slowly creeping toward $100, meaning a family of four pays almost $400 just to get into one park. That doesn’t include food, souvenirs, water, and other miscellaneous park purchases. Even if a family decides to skip the happiest place on earth in favor of Universal Studios or SeaWorld, tickets will still cost them hundreds of dollars. The flights and hotels might be decently priced, but once families arrive their wallets are in pain. 

Nashville, Tenn.

Nashville is considered heaven on Earth for country music lovers, but the music rarely comes cheap. Attending concerts throughout your vacation can quickly add up. For some visitors, standing a few feet from their country music idol is worth every penny, but it’s just going to take a lot of pennies to get there.

In order to spend responsibly when traveling, consider buying VIP tickets to one show while looking for discounts and staying further back at others. All the concerts will be great, but you’ll have one that sticks in your memory forever. 

New Orleans, La.

While this city might not be costly all year long, there’s a certain week in the spring where prices skyrocket. Visitors will pay considerably more for flights and hotels during Mardi Gras than during the rest of the year because of the increased demand.

Plus, the costs don’t stop once travelers reach their destination, because that’s when the drinking begins. After a few mixed drinks, it’s easy to forget how much you’ve spent – and that’s usually when you start buying entire rounds. Only the wise can travel to New Orleans without going over budget.

Monterey, Calif.

If you’re looking to skip the bustle of San Francisco or Los Angeles, you might consider finding an Alamo rental car near you and taking a road trip down coast. The Pacific Coast Highway is regularly named one of the top road trips in the United States, and with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, it’s not hard to see why.

However, the journey to Monterey is paved with expenses. California is one of the most expensive states to visit, no matter where you are, and taking a road trip with current gas prices will slowly siphon dollars out of your pocket. Make sure your rental car gets good gas mileage before you hit the road.

Just because a city is expensive doesn’t mean travelers should avoid it. It just means they need to be realistic about their budgets before they leave. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure, and that pound of cure translates into cold, hard cash.

Shop ‘Til You Drop at Orlando Premium Outlets

Shopping at Orlando Premium Outlets

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.


All travel consideration provided by Experience Kissimmee.

Almost every vacation involves a little shopping, so during last week’s visit to Florida we took a trip to Orlando Premium Outlets to pick up some deals and souvenirs!

When we arrived, we received little goodie bags with coupons (You know I’m all over that!). I was in need of a pick-me-up after an exciting afternoon wrestling alligators – more on that later! – so I made a beeline for Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory to pick up an English Toffee Apple and some water to get my blood sugar up and rehydrate while I scoped out the map of the mall and looked over the coupons.

English Toffee Apple

Orlando Premium Outlets is a huge shopping center, so I knew they would be nowhere near enough time to scratch the surface of what was there. I decided to prioritize by peeking my head into Coach (Love the bags, but didn’t see anything big enough to replace my current massive purse!), and then headed to the Disney’s Character Warehouse. I found a really fun little Vinylmations keychain to give to a friend of mine as a birthday gift – SSSHH, don’t tell her! ;) Here’s a peek at what I bought along with some goodies from my bag provided by other stores In the outlet that I didn’t have time to make it to:

Premium Outlets Bag & Goodies

Orlando Premium Outlets is home to 160 stores, including Prada, Steve Madden, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th, Armani Outlet, and many, many more! Learn more by visiting them online at PremiumOutlets.com.

For More Information:

Orlando Premium Outlets – Vineland Avenue
Phone: 407-238-7787
8200 Vineland Avenue
Orlando, Florida 32821
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram

Tour of The Seahawks CenturyLink Field With The Nokia Icon #VZWBuzz #LetsGoPlaces

A few weeks ago I was invited to a media event sponsored by Toyota. There I meat with the execs and talked about how their review program works and they also gave us a tour of the CenturyLink Field home to the Seattle Sounders and the Seattle Seahawks.

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During this tour, I used my new phone that Verizon gave me to review: The Nokia Icon and it’s known for it’s amazing photos and operating speed. It’s a super fast fully integrated WIndows Phone and what I mean by that is that I can now do all of my social media needs for work on a Windows Phone. The apps I need are there, the only one missing is Candy Crush and guess what? That just increased my productivity.

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The Tour of CenturyLink field reminded me of marching band in high school. There is something really amazing about walking down that same path that the football team uses when they enter the field before the game starts. We saw the press booth, which by the way Seattle has the best press booth out of all the stadiums. The Press Box is on the same level as all of the VIP booths and you get free food and drinks and free admission. I was told that Seattle’s press box is the only free press box in the NFL. I haven’t verified that fact.

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WP_20140325_20_20_00_ProWe were also allowed to walk through the locker room of the Seahawks. I took a photo of quite a few different lockers, but I had to share that even in the off season Marshawn Lynch’s locker is full of skittles.

The candy brand announced on Tuesday January 28th a formal deal with the Seattle Seahawks running back, whose relationship with the product dates to when his mother started giving him what she called "power pellets" in his Pop Warner playing days.

There is even now a Seattle Skittles package:

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I had my picture taken as if I was a victor from the field and was being interviewed by the press.

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I’m really amazed though at the quality this camera has with night shots. I love how the light was reflected in this photo of CenturyLink Field from the VIP level.

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This is a picture of a 12th man flag that has been signed and is used as good luck before each game. The players tap the 12th man flag as they are walking down the hallway to enter the field for the game.

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I had a great time learning more about my local football team. I will cherish the photos that were taken on my Nokia Icon for quite a while thanks to the automatic upload to my skydrive account, I can go ahead and let my husband have my Icon. He’s been drooling over it since Verizon sent it to me to review.