Local Do: Treat Yourself at The Grand Beauty Spa in Tampa

by Jennifer Thai in ,

I am such a big advocate for self-care - not just the concept of it, but also its execution. Sometimes, I see a lot of people who consider "treating yourself" as an extra drink at happy hour or indulging in a sweet treat on the weekend. But personally, I like to take it a step further with a mani/pedi, an hour-and-a-half massage, and/or a full day of no checking emails. A lot of people will scoff and rhetorically ask about who has time for that - the reality of it is, you always have time. You just have to make yourself a priority in order to be willing to make the time for it.

Last weekend, pH and I had the opportunity to visit The Grand Beauty Spa in Tampa to learn "how to Grand Spa," and the experience really swept us off of our feet. After checking in with the receptionist and being provided hot towels to freshen up with, along with citrus-infused water, we were given our subsequent service forms to fill out and led to the locker areas to change into robes. I took a moment to relish in the steam room and rinse off with cold water, then headed out to the Buddha Garden to meet the owner of The Grand Beauty Spa, Carmen.

Carmen is very much herself an advocate of people taking care of themselves, which is why she offers membership programs at The Grand Beauty Spa - to encourage a consistent beauty regimen and teach members "how to Grand Spa." To put it into perspective - people will typically purchase a gym membership as motivation for getting fit. Because, on the days when you're feeling a lack of motivation and saying you don't have time to work out, the credit card that's paying for your monthly membership reminds you that you do have the time, and is the kick in the butt that you need to get to the gym.

So why don't we think of the spa in the same way? Because the spa is a luxury and we should only treat ourselves once in a blue moon? That's silly. In addition to a guaranteed service per month, you also receive unlimited uses of the spa facility, membership pricing on select spa services, and even more, with a membership.

After speaking with Carmen, my massage therapist, Emalee, led me upstairs to my room and went through my massage preferences. I have scoliosis, and often suffer from lower back pain - Emalee explained that we'd work through some deep-breathing exercises that would assist with the 80-minute massage and greatly impact its effects.

I am thrilled with my massage experience from The Grand Beauty Spa and I will definitely return to see Emalee - she is amazing! I have never had a massage before that had noticeably lasting effects - typically, I simply experience a sense of relaxation, but in this particular case, there was a significant difference in my quality of sleep that evening. No matter what I do, the lower back pain always seems to return. I also left my service with tips from Emalee for reducing my back pain, including using cold to treat it, and not warmth.

pH, on the other hand, was treated to a Grand Spa facial from Rita - knowing that spa time is a bit rare for the typical male, I've asked him to share his experience in his own words:

To be honest, getting a facial wasn't a regular thing in my life. As a man, it never really crossed my mind to go seek out and get one. I figured it was a female thing, and that women enjoyed them in order to look prettier or something. Little did I know, The Grand Beauty Spa would flip my world upside-down and show me it has a lot more to do with a personal feeling of comfort, relaxation and overall cleansing, rather than exclusively for the sake of beauty and vanity.
Rita showed me the amenities and prepared me for the experience after handing me a freshly-brewed coffee. She explained to me that this experience is more about detoxification of both physical and mental states, paired equally to provide a holistically pampered procedure. She asked me to dress to my liking and told me she would enter the room when I was ready.
The music playing was melodically ambient and the decor made for a very serene and nocturnal setting. Relaxing by most standards. I got into the chair which was pre-warmed with a heating blanket and got comfy. She entered and began the facial. I was taken through layers and layers of cleaning procedures which I could only explain as a re-occurring massage to my face. You wouldn't think that would be nice, but given the "way" she was doing it, I could have mistaken the procedure for just that. She always prefaced what she was doing and why she was doing it, as to educate her clients and set their minds at ease. It worked.
The procedure was broken up with little nuances that I could tell were purely for relaxation, like a warm towel nesting my face while she was prepping the next step. She never left me unattended for very long. After the cleansing, she walked me through a series of moisturizing and skin-soothing procedures that I can only explain as a fragrant masking. Everything felt fresh and organic with senses of citrus and sweetness intertwining the experience with feeling and smell.
I have to say it was an experience I will never forget. The misconception I had was totally obliterated, as I was shown at The Grand Beauty Spa that a facial is more about an experience and less about "just looking clean". It totally makes sense now, as to why women do this regularly and I have to say, I may be joining the league of men that partake regularly as well. To any man on the fence about joining their lovely lady at the spa, just do it. Try it once and you'll totally "get it". Trust me. You'll love it enough to tell your guy friend about it.

After our services were complete, we explored the spa's grounds and enjoyed a variety of yummy bites from Pane Rustica for lunch, out in the calm and relaxing Buddha Garden. We winded down even further from this fantastic spa experience with a little bit of bubbly.

Now, it's time to treat yourself at The Grand Beauty Spa - book your appointment online and enter the code TAMPABLOGGER, as well as reference my name, in the comments portion of the appointment details to receive 10% off of your services!

Additionally, you can enter to win a spa day for two, just in time for Mother's Day! Presented by Tampa Bay Parenting, The Grand Beauty Spa is hosting a contest in an effort to help us celebrate our hero moms. For a chance to win a grand spa day for two, nominate your #MYHEROMOM beginning Monday, 4/17 - the contest ends on at 10 p.m. ET on Monday, 5/1. For more information and to enter, click here.

The Grand Beauty Spa is located at 2717 West Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa. The spa is open on Mondays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesdays from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can view the menu of spa services here. To stay updated on the latest happenings at The Grand Beauty Spa, follow along on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

pH and I were each provided with a free service at The Grand Beauty Spa in exchange for social support and a review. Opinions expressed here are out own and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of The Grand Beauty Spa.

Local Bites: Russo's NY Pizzeria in Clearwater

by Jennifer Thai in ,

It's been hard for me to find a favorite local pizza spot in the Tampa Bay area. People have recommended many, and I've tried many, but I just haven't been happy with what I've tasted so far, specifically the texture of the pizza crusts (they're either too thin and soggy or cardboard-like in flavor) and the robustness of the tomato sauces (they're either too sweet and thick or too zesty and runny). 

Recently, I was invited to try Russo's NY Pizzeria in Clearwater - I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to try, both because I didn't want to make the 45-minute drive and end up being disappointed, and because I always hate disappointing a brand/company by saying I didn't feel the food/product was good enough for me to feature. Well, since you're reading said feature, then you already know - it was good

I took my parents on the pizza adventure with me, and they're also kinda hard to please when it comes to pizza, pretty much for the same reasons as me. After being seated on arrival, we were given a basket of herb-dusted pizza crust bites, which were just as amazing in flavor as they were in texture.

While munching on our little snack, we browsed through the quite-large menu, trying to figure out what we all wanted to share. My gluten-free friends will be happy to know that Russo's does offer a 12-inch gluten-free pizza crust, available for all of its specialty pizzas. 

We opted to share a House Salad and a large Mulberry Pizza, and both of the menu items came out looking fantastic - the House Salad was made up of fresh, green and leafy romaine lettuce and the Mulberry Pizza was straight out of the oven - hot, crispy and cheesy.

House Salad: Crisp romaine lettuce, red onion, bell pepper, cucumber, roma tomatoes, red cabbage and olives, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette dressing

Mulberry Pizza: Crumbled spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, beef, and all-natural mozzarella cheese, with our homemade pizza sauce

Mulberry Pizza: Crumbled spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon, beef, and all-natural mozzarella cheese, with our homemade pizza sauce

Overall, we really enjoyed everything that we ate! The salad was tossed in just the right amount of balsamic vinaigrette dressing, and the pizza was perfect in its crust texture and the flavor of its tomato sauce. We did think that the combination of meats on the Mulberry Pizza (spicy Italian sausage, pepperoni, Canadian bacon and beef) was a bit salty, but we plan on returning to try the Margherita Pizza, because we do love ourselves a simple pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes and basil. I would definitely be willing to make the drive to Clearwater to satisfy a pizza craving, especially considering that this is the best pizza spot in the area that I've tried so far.

I'll be giving you a chance to win one of two $25 gift cards to Russo's NY Pizzeria, so you can taste it for yourself! You don't have to reside in the Tampa Bay area, you just have to have a nearby Russo's - you can check here to see if you've got a location near you. Head to my Facebook and Instagram pages and be on the lookout for your chances to win!

Russo's NY Pizzeria in Clearwater is located at 2233 Gulf to Bay Boulevard in Clearwater. The restaurant is open Sundays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. You can view the menu here. To stay updated on the latest happenings at Russo's NY Pizzeria in Clearwater, follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

*Disclosure: The meal featured in this post was provided by Russo's NY Pizzeria for editorial consideration. This post was written on my own accord, and opinions expressed here are my own and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Russo's NY Pizzeria.

Celebrating National Pet Day with Sadie

by Jennifer Thai in

National Pet Day is not only a day to celebrate the love that our pets bring into our lives, but also to raise awareness for the animals who are in need of love and awaiting a forever home, in shelters and rescues all over the world. I don't think I've ever fully told the story of how my little one, Sadie, came into my life, so I'm taking this day to share how rescuing her impacted my life.

It's one of those things that you know is meant to be, the way it worked out. I was a little over one year into my career post-graduation, still living at home with my parents, and experiencing major puppy fever. At the time, I was working at a pet-friendly company, and a handful of my co-workers had just gotten puppies. The truth is, I wasn't really sure I was ready for a pup of my own.

The main, major obstacle was that I was still living at home - my parents didn't want a pet living under their roof, which was understandable. They'd be dealing with the responsibility of cleaning up after her, and watching over her while I was at work (it wasn't like they'd leave her in her kennel if they were at home and I wasn't). Palmer was living at home, too, with two big Labrador retrievers and not enough space for a puppy. But still, the puppy fever was strong, and I kept telling myself I'd move into my own apartment soon, and be able to take a puppy in. 

I really wanted an Australian shepherd or a border collie, but knew they'd be hard breeds to find at a rescue. pH's mom discovered Sadie at just three-ish months on the Polk County Animal Control website - she'd been found on the side of the road and brought back to the shelter, her paperwork noting that she exhibited a depressed behavior. As a pup (and even now), she looked like she might have a little Aussie or border collie in her, so I sent pH to Lakeland to go take a look. He fell in love the moment he met her, and I got to watch it all happen via FaceTime while still at work. He drove back to our office some three/four hours later, and held her out to me like Rafiki did with Simba in The Lion King, and said, "Here's your pup." We adopted Sadie in March of 2015.

*We ended up doing a DNA swab test on Sadie to discover her true breed(s) - turns out, there are no major signs of Australian shepherd or border collie whatsoever. Instead, her major breeds are chow chow, English setter and German shepherd, along with a slew of other mixed breed lineage.

Because I couldn't take her back to my parent's house, pH's mom agreed to foster her until I'd moved into a place of my own. But, my nerves got the best of my plan - I was kind of scared to live on my own. I'd lived with my ex-boyfriend when I was in college, but he took care of the majority of the bills - I wasn't sure I was financially stable, and was also a little too chicken to take the step forward. April went by, then May, then half of June. pH's mom was getting overwhelmed with raising a brand new pup with two full-grown labs already in the picture, and pH had not been helping out at the time (i.e. playing Destiny on Xbox One instead of making sure Sadie wasn't pooping out in the lanai). So, she told him that if he didn't start taking responsibility for Sadie, she was going to let an interested friend meet Sadie and possibly adopt her. It was the kick in the butt that I needed - because, in reality, it wasn't her responsibility or his responsibility. If I wanted her as much as I said I did, then it was mine.

I kicked it into high-gear. I searched and searched for an apartment whose rent was within my means, and moved myself and Sadie into a studio apartment in late June of 2015. 

She's the best thing in my life. If it weren't for her, I don't think I'd be as confidently independent, as responsible or as motivated. And when I come home from a long, tiring day or am ugly crying for whatever reason, she is always there to offer plenty of kisses and just the cuddles I need in order to relax. 

She has an amazing personality, more than I've ever seen in an animal before. She's got a kind of 'I do what I want' mentality and has an independent nature, is way too smart for her own good, and is extremely loveable in all ways, shapes and forms. pH says she fits me - you know how they say pets look like their owners? Apparently, she looks like me, with her brindle fur and my black hair and caramel highlights.

So, anywho, this whole post is to not only rave about how wonderful Sadie is and how lucky I am to have her in my life, but to also encourage you (when it's right for you), to bring an animal who is in need of his/her forever home into your life. If you can't right now, then consider giving back to organizations who help these animals - my favorites are the Polk County Sheriff's Office Animal Control, who offers animal adoption programs and picks up sick and injured animals in the area, and the Animal Coalition of Tampa, who offers spay/neuter programs and affordable vet and vaccination services to pet owners in the area.

With that, I leave you with my favorite memories of Sadie captured on photograph:

Local Do: Taste of South Tampa

by Jennifer Thai in ,

Last weekend, I got to take my mom and dad out on one of my food adventures - they don't get to dine in the South Tampa area very often, so what better way to explore all of the foods, than at the 12th Annual Taste of South Tampa, hosted by the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce?

Considered one of the Chamber's signature events, Taste of South Tampa highlights local restaurants in the South Tampa area, offering both food and drink samples, as well as live music for attendees to enjoy. My parents and I were also able to enjoy VIP status, meaning we had access to the venue's air-conditioned space, additional live music and exclusive food and drink samples.

We didn't get to try everything, since we had to leave a little early for a family function, but we definitely left full and content. Here are some snapshots of the yumminess we did get to nom on:

I had such a fun day out with my parents, and they really enjoyed themselves! I'm looking forward to attending Taste of South Tampa again next year, and you know I'll be rocking my "Good Food, Good Mood" tee again!

Taste of South Tampa is one of the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce's signature annual events, highlighting local food, beverage and entertainment companies in the South Tampa area. You can learn more about Taste of South Tampa on the Chamber's website. To stay up-to-date on the latest Taste of South Tampa happenings, follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I was provided with a pair of VIP tickets in exchange for social support and a post-event review. The third VIP ticket was purchased by myself at full price. Opinions expressed here are my own and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Taste of South Tampa or the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Local Do: Stay at Hyatt Regency Orlando

by Jennifer Thai in ,

When I was younger (in my middle school and high school years), my family and I used to drive to Orlando every other weekend to go shopping at the outlets and eat all the foods. It's been a little while since my last trip to Orlando, and man, have things totally changed. In anticipation of the three-day social media conference at Disney's Yacht Club that I was going to be attending with my boss during the work week, I decided to take the weekend prior to enjoy a little staycation and re-explore the Orlando area.

With a good sense of all the places I wanted to eat at during my time in Orlando, I opted to stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, located on a prime strip of I-Drive, across from the Orange County Convention Center.

pH and I were given a Metropolitan Suite in Tower 2, featuring gorgeous views from both the the living area and the bedroom, the comfiest king bed I've ever slept on and an expansive bathroom with a TV in the mirror.

Upon arrival, we were greeted with a delicious array of chocolates, the perfect treat to start off our staycation with.

After unpacking most of our things and getting settled into this suite we'd call home for the next two days, we took a moment to rest, then got ready for dinner at Urban Tide, one of the many dining options available at the Hyatt Regency Orlando.

Urban Tide features bold coastal flavors, which, if you know me by now, is right up my alley. Although we wanted to order everything off of the menu, we opted for an order of Cheese Biscuits and the Seafood Charcuterie to start. pH decided to also order a Manhattan to drink.

Cheddar Biscuits served with burnt onion jam and pimento spread

Seafood Charcuterie: Salmon Pastrami | Lobster Sausage | Octopus Escabeche | Blue Crab Lollipops

Urban Tide Manhattan: Timber Creek Florida bourbon, Monin blood orange syrup, red vermouth, orange bitters

You cannot go without ordering the Seafood Charcuterie! The board is unlike anything I've ever had before, and was absolutely delicious - my favorites were the Lobster Sausage, especially when paired with a few arugula leaves, and the Salmon Pastrami.

For our main courses, I opted for Scottish Loch Duarte Salmon "Oscar," while pH chose the Spicy Cashew Pork. 

Scottish Loch Duarte Salmon "Oscar": North Atlantic salmon topped with a fried egg, blue crab salad and wilted arugula, over boniato mash, asparagus and blood orange butter

Spicy Cashew Pork: flat-ironed pork with cashew demi, served with sweet potato fries and spring onions 

Our dishes were phenomenal. The salmon was perfectly prepared and still moist on the inside and mild in flavor compared to typical wild-caught salmon. When paired with the blue crab, boniato mash and fried egg, you get a delicious bite filled with a combination of textures that are full of flavor.

pH's pork dish was also delicious, a perfect medium-rare. I love that the sweet potato fries were tossed with spring onions, which gave the crispy fries an extra dose of flavor.

We really enjoyed our meal at Urban Tide, and the best part was that we didn't have to go far to collapse in bed with our food comas.

The following day, we took it easy, ordering in-room dining for breakfast and spending the afternoon lounging by the smaller pool at Tower 1 - it was less-crowded and quieter than the large resort-style pool located at Tower 2.

Since pH had to leave early Sunday evening for a traffic-free drive back to Tampa, we called it an early day - but not before sneaking a peek at all the fun happening at the Tower 1 pool and enjoying a cold treat at Shake Shack, located just down I-Drive.

We had such an amazing stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando, and cannot thank the staff enough for being so friendly and accommodating. It is the perfect place to stay in Orlando, central to all the delicious places to eat down both International Drive and Sand Lake Road. We will most definitely be back for another staycation - there's still much left of Orlando I still need to explore!

Hyatt Regency Orlando is located at 9801 International Drive in Orlando. To plan and book your stay, click here. For the latest updates from Hyatt Regency Orlando, follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

I was provided a media rate for my stay at the Hyatt Regency Orlando in exchange for feature/review. Opinions expressed here are my own and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Hyatt Regency Orlando or the Hyatt Corporation.

Local Bites: Weekend Eats

by Jennifer Thai in ,

If the success of a weekend is based on the food consumed during it, then this past weekend rocked. Take a look for yourself:

Saturday, 1 p.m. - Ichicoro Ramen

On Saturday, I went bridesmaid shopping with my sisters for my older sister's upcoming fall wedding. Post-madness, we headed to Seminole Heights for some ramen. Ichicoro does not disappoint, especially when it comes to karaage - the way it is prepared and fried is perfection, and the spicy garlic mayo dipping sauce the dish comes with is flavorful and delicious! I wasn't feeling at my best Saturday, so opted for a simple shoyu ramen bowl, which was satisfyingly good.

Karaage: Marinated fried chicken, furikake, spicy garlic mayo

Shoyu Ramen: Chicken broth, chasyu asado, ajitama, menma, scallion, nori

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. - Whatever Pops

After ramen, we decided to satisfy our sweet teeth in a refreshing way, by checking out Whatever Pops down the street in Seminole Heights. Guys - this is popsicle heaven, I'm in love! The Earl Grey Lavender Lemonade ice pop was so amazing - you get all the notes of Earl Grey tea paired with aromatic lavender in a zesty, citrus-y ice pop. So good!

Earl Grey Lavender Lemonade Pop - So aromatic and tasty!

Sunday, 11 a.m. - Island Way Grill

On Sunday, my family got together for brunch at Island Way Grill in Clearwater to celebrate my dad's birthday. Island Way Grill is our favorite spot for Sunday brunch - it never ever disappoints! For just $24.95, you get one mimosa, paired with a limitless selection of raw oysters, peel & eat shrimp and crawfish, as well as access to plenty of breakfast and lunch dishes, omelette, sushi and cutting stations, and a dessert room. Note: The price for Sunday brunch increases if it falls near a holiday, i.e. Mother's Day, Easter Sunday, etc.

What do you think, did I have a good weekend, or what? ;) What does your dream foodie weekend look like?