Friday, July 22, 2016

Staycation at the Sheraton: A Review

For those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you know that I just returned home from an amazing staycation right here in Minneapolis. This staycation came at the perfect time, as I am well into my job search of finding the perfect position and company, and Nick and I will be moving in a few weeks (more on that later!). Nick and I stayed at The Sheraton in Bloomington, which was ideal because it was far enough from home (15 minutes) where it was a true vacation, and close enough that we didn't have to worry about any of the hassles of traveling! Without further ado, here is some more information on our weekend!

Relaxing in our amazing suite!
This amazing stay started before I even walked into the hotel. As Lily was joining us for the weekend, Nick parked the car and was waiting for me to check in. As I approached the front door, one of the valets gave me a huge smile and gave me a warm greeting, setting the tone for a weekend filled with impeccable customer service. And this was before I even walked in the door! Once I made it inside, the staff quickly greeted me, processed my check in, and sent me on my way wishing me a terrific stay. After checking in, I headed out to the car to grab Nick, Lily, and our bags, and it was off to the room we went!

As we made our way into the hotel, I began actually checking things out. I was immediately impressed, as this Sheraton did not look like any other Sheraton I had stayed in. I quickly learned that Sheraton is undergoing a massive rebrand, with every Sheraton location being remodeled by 2020. This specific location recently underwent a $15 million renovation, and is one of the flagship locations of which every other Sheraton will be modeled after. Needless to say, the renovations were stunning!

Couldn't get Lily to sit still for a second - she was so excited!
 As we entered our room, I was immediately impressed and surprised with how open and spacious it was. As a bonus, I discovered we were staying in a suite and had a separate room for lounging and relaxing, our bedroom, and one and a half bathrooms! Once I stepped inside the room, I immediately saw that the staff had taken care of Lily as well. Lily was all set up with bowls for food and water, two treats, a bag holder, and her very own bed! Previously when I have visited hotels with Lily, she has never received this level of service. I was very impressed with this, and it just added another element to the staycation! How nice to not have to worry about packing dog bowls and a dog bed, and to know that Lily will be taken care of!

Lela - so peaceful, and I loved the wine glass decorations!
My favorite part of any vacation is the first moment when you are able to sit down and enjoy a sip of your favorite cocktail. After dropping off Lily and our bags, Nick and I immediately headed to Lela for some happy hour and dinner. Lela is located adjacent to the Sheraton, and features a fantastic menu with steaks, pasta, and more; all created by one of Minneapolis' best chefs, Stewart Woodman. Nick and I started our evening off with a glass of wine apiece and an assortment of the happy hour menu.

Happy hour at Lela!
After enjoying a delicious meal, we decided to retire to our room in true staycation style and soak in the luxurious bathtub. Now, I don't know about you, but I love a good soak - especially when it is in a bathtub that could fit about five people! Because this staycation was all about relaxation, after a soak it was off to an early bedtime.

garden oasis right on the property
In the morning, Nick and I took Lily for a walk along the property. My favorite spot was a little garden oasis. While seated there, I certainly didn't feel like I was just minutes from downtown Minneapolis and the hustle and bustle of city life! Once our walk was completed, Nick and I headed off for a day of shopping at the Galleria (again, just minutes from the Sheraton).

On Saturday evening, we opted to take it easy again and simply relax in our room. Between work and moving, we wanted this weekend to be a true vacation with no stress or worries. As such, relaxing it was! This was our first true staycation, and it came at the absolute perfect time and place. Not only was the Sheraton a beautiful place to stay, but Nick, Lily and myself were pampered by the staff. Every detail at the hotel was thought of, from fresh flowers everywhere to complimentary newspapers and bright natural lighting. In addition, we had close proximity to anything we would want to do, and being able to grab a delicious bite to eat and drink right in the hotel was an added bonus. For anyone looking to take a staycation, I would highly recommend the Sheraton as your go-to!

Neither Lily nor I were ready to leave when it was time on Sunday morning!
drool-worthy treats to enjoy in our room!

**Disclosure: This review was facilitated thanks to Sheraton, Lela, and participating businesses at the Galleria. As always, this had no impact on my review and all opinions remain my own. **

Monday, July 11, 2016

How To Take Great Travel Pictures

Over the last year, I have learned a lot about how to take beautiful pictures while traveling. Of course, I'm certainly far from an expert - however, I have picked up a few tips and tricks to take better travel pictures. A lot of this has come from trial and error, but if you want to take stunning travel pictures these tips are sure to help you!

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1. Look for inspiration on social media sites such as Instagram! Personally, I love Instagram, and am always scrolling through both my feed and interesting profiles. Whenever I see a picture that seems unique and I enjoy, first I take a screenshot of that photo for future inspiration. After that, I also tend to go and scroll through that individual person's feed to further look for great photo ideas. Some of my best shots have come from looking at other people's travel pictures and later modifying them to fit myself!

taking better pictures while traveling
This picture was clearly meant to capture the business and popularity of the beach
2. Before visiting a destination, plan! Spend some time looking at exactly where you might want to take photos and the best times to do so. For example, some places may simply have terrible light at a specific time of day. Plan ahead when and where you will be visiting a place in order to give yourself the best lighting - and the best shot - of a location! Beyond the lighting, another thing to consider is other tourists and the image you want to portray. For example, I've seen beautiful pictures of beaches that are heavily populated with tourists and it appears that there is not a single inch of space that hasn't been claimed. These pictures portray the busyness and popularity of a beach. Conversely, there are also pictures of beaches in which there is not a soul on the entire stretch of the beach and gives off a serene feel. Pick what you want your picture to say and go for that!

3. Take lots, and LOTS, of pictures. Along with the previous sentiment, it is better to have one too many pictures than wish you had taken an extra photo. Most cameras and memory cards now seem to have nearly unlimited memory - so just snap away and give yourself tons of options!

My red cardigan contrasts very nicely and adds a nice pop of color to this picture
4. When possible, consider your outfit and how it can improve upon or benefit a photo. Does adding a pop of color add to the photograph or take away? Is the focus of the picture on yourself, or on the landscape? For example, in the above picture I specifically chose to wear my red cardigan with a tribal pattern because it would match well with the feel of the picture I was going for. In the below picture, I purchased the hat with the Norway flag in order to help communicate exactly where I was. Your choice of clothing can certainly contribute to a better (and hopefully not worse!) picture!

The Norwegian flag on my hat was planned!
great travel photos
Find a natural frame, such as the cactus, to lend focus to your pictures
5. Pay attention to your surroundings. This can help you to determine how your surroundings can fit into the picture and help you to take a better photo of your attraction. Is there a natural 'frame' you can use to draw the viewers attention to exactly what you want? Can you tilt your camera up or down in order to capture a more interesting view? In the above picture, I loved the look of the cliff and the ocean. However, that is a view that has been captured thousands - if not millions - of times around the world. By adding a natural frame of the cactus, I was able to make this picture even more special and interesting.

The Rule of Thirds in action
6. Use the rule of thirds. This is one of the most basic photography rules, and it is for a reason. Divide your frame both vertically and horizontally into thirds, and try place your subject along one of those lines. In this picture, you can see that the focus of the subject is myself, with a secondary focus of the pool, beach, and palm trees behind me. If you were to place a grid of thirds across the picture, my body is on the leftmost vertical third line, and then the divider between the pools and the back edge of the pools and chairs are the horizontal third lines.

I over edited this picture, which detracts from its natural beauty
7. Don't over edit your photos. I've been guilty of this in the past, and even have been tempted to delete many of my previous pictures shared on this blog and various social media sites. For example, see the above photo. This is a shot I captured while on a fjord tour in Norway, but by overediting the picture and adjusting the brightness too much, I lose a lot of detail in the clouds.With a basic understanding of quality photography, a person would be turned off simply because the clouds are TOO white and over processed. In my opinion, less is often more!

Using leading lines can help contribute to a better picture
8. Use leading lines to draw the viewer's attention. In the above picture, a viewer will naturally place themselves in the picture. Their attention is drawn to the lines of the boardwalk and where the boardwalk leads. This is an excellent tool to help suck a viewer in!

A calm, serene day on a private beach
A much less calm day
A picture I've taken recently that really demonstrates most of these points is seen above. I first saw a similar picture on Instagram, and showed it to Nick saying "Hey, I really liked this and want to take a similar one when we go to Miami next week!". I carefully selected ahead of time my outfit - this specific suit was perfect to have nice detail in the photo. Obviously, I knew exactly where the beach was but I wanted to find a less populated space so we strolled up and down the beach for a bit. When it was go time, Nick snapped about 20 different shots. Ultimately, as I was looking and deciding the feel I wanted, I went for the calm and serene look (no waves) versus a more turbulent feel with waves crashing at my feet. This simple decision totally changes the feel of the picture! I am in an identical pose, with the same clothing, looking in the same direction - but the one second difference between the waves just crashing down and the ocean receding changes the feel of the picture.

As you can see with all of the above pictures and tips, there are many ways you can set yourself up for success to take great pictures while traveling. Planning ahead, down to your outfit and the location, as well as basic photography rules such as the rule of third can contribute to more stunning pictures. So, are there any essential tips that I missed?!
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