#ToyotaTop10

When I think of Corolla, I think of dependability, reliability, steadfastness - a vehicle you could drive well over 200,000 miles and it still drive like a champ. See, I've owned a couple of Corollas in my day. My first car was a 1985 Corolla, handed down by my mother who bought it new. Growing up, my older brother owned a slammed 1979 Corolla with crushed-velvet interior. Hey, low riders were the thing in 1990! I remember feeling so cool carrying his pull-out stereo around after we parked it. Oh, the good ole' days! I also owned a 1996 Corolla with all the bells & whistles that I just adored. So as you can imagine the Corolla was already a household name. And when I was invited to take part in Southeast Toyota's #ToyotaTop10 Campaign, I thought I knew this car before they even delivered it. Boy, I was wrong.

 

Top level of the Amalie Arena parking garage

Top level of the Amalie Arena parking garage

The Corolla has grown up over the years. See, this isn't my mom's cute little car from 1985, this is the 2017 Toyota Corolla; the 50th anniversary of the Toyota Corolla. That's right, this car has been a household name for 50 years and running.

Up & close and personal with the 2017 Corolla / Murals by Chad Mize

Up & close and personal with the 2017 Corolla / Murals by Chad Mize

My Black Sand Pearl Corolla XSE was delivered on a Friday afternoon - plenty of time to get familiar with it before the campaign officially kicked off. Southeast Toyota staff was awesome, I signed the necessary waivers and reminded me the car was mine for the next 10 days. Doing my first initial walk-around as it sat in my driveway, it was love at first sight. The aggressive styling would be perfectly suitable on a stealth fighter jet, especially with that redesigned edgy front fascia and fog lights. I just new this car was going to turn a lot of heads.

Light painting / Mural by Pantónio

Light painting / Mural by Pantónio

And turn heads it did. In fact, it turned my head on many occasions - "Look back at it" was a common theme every time after parking this thing. 

Mural by Arlin

Mural by Arlin

After admiring every minute detail on the exterior, and snapping a few pics of course, it was time to climb inside the cockpit and give this thing a test drive. Mine was delivered with 32 miles on it, and been hardly broken in. I gave the push button ignition a press and the car came to life. The 7-in. high-resolution touch-screen display provided a perfect view behind me as I backed out of my driveway; an option I am truly missing since transitioning back to my daily driver. The 1.8L 4-Cylinder 132hp engine was surprisingly capable, especially in the optional Sport Mode. This car was just plain fun inside and out.

 

St. Pete alleyways

St. Pete alleyways

If I had one word to describe this car, it's "FUN"! And after driving it for a week, it was an easy reminder as to why the Corolla has the reputation it does. Toyota has been perfecting it for 50 years and it shows - this is one solid ride!

Quick picture before dinner at the Colombia Restaurant - won 1sr place in the Chart Topper category and donated $1000 to the charity of my choice - Pet Pal!

Quick picture before dinner at the Colombia Restaurant - won 1sr place in the Chart Topper category and donated $1000 to the charity of my choice - Pet Pal!

#48HrsofSunshine

We really do have something special here in the Sunshine State. And after a 48 hour weekend of sunshine, it's more evident than ever to me. This Instagram community is second to none, and there's no doubt we #LoveFL with all our hearts!

To explain why I'm beaming with love right now, let me elaborate a little more on what was more like #48HrsofEPICNESS over this past weekend!

Share a Little Sunshine, the amazing peeps responsible for the #LoveFL community, kicked off a weekend long Instameet that spanned the entire State of Florida - #48HrsofSunshine. Think Instagram's Worldwide Instameet, but just here in the Sunshine State. 14 Instameets to be exact! Meets from the panhandle to Miami. I was blessed to be asked to host Kissimmee courtesy of my new friends at Experience Kissimmee, along with my love, Max Garcia. See, Kissimmee is the vacation home capital of the world. We didn't know that little fun-fact going into this, but let me tell you, they sure live up to their name. Kissimmee knows how to roll out a red carpet and have you feeling like royalty. The meet would be held at Jeeves Florida Rentals, an 8-bedroom mansion with hidden Mickeys integrated throughout the design. So of course a scavenger hunt would be in order. And what's a Mickey Mansion without a treehouse room, pirate ship room, and of course a Frozen room?! We were treated to our very own interactive culinary experience by Elemental Chef (who were phenomenal by the way), where we learned to roll sushi, and a mixology class to polish our Sangria mixing skills. And all this to the sweet sound of live reggae music. We'd end the night with a dip in the most inviting pool & jacuzzi ever, and delicious s'mores around the fire pit. It was literally one of the most unique Instameets I've attended to date; it was a taste of the vacation of my dreams. And I have a feeling I'll be back very soon to make that dream come true.

We'd meet up with Visit Tampa Bay and the Instagramers Tampa crew the following day, where we'd be treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Florida Aquarium. I honestly can't say enough about that place. If you've never been, it's far more than just an aquarium. They go above and beyond to care for sick and injured wildlife, and do a ton of conservation work to make Florida a better place. After the grand tour of the Florida Aquarium, and with Tropical Storm Colin on the horizon, we'd take in some breathtaking views of Downtown Tampa from the Hillsborough River aboard the Pirate Water Taxi, then go onto ūlëlē for a final feast to finish off the epic weekend. 

Injured barn owl that is now a Florida Aquarium resident and ambassador of his species

Injured barn owl that is now a Florida Aquarium resident and ambassador of his species

It wasn't all sunshine thanks to Tropical Storm Colin - views from the Pirate Water Taxi

It wasn't all sunshine thanks to Tropical Storm Colin - views from the Pirate Water Taxi

#caughtgramming Photo by: Nikki Hunter

#caughtgramming Photo by: Nikki Hunter

Clown fish and sea anemone 

Clown fish and sea anemone 

Leafy sea dragon - Florida Aquarium

Leafy sea dragon - Florida Aquarium

All in all, it was one epic weekend that I'll never forget. This state has my heart; I manage to fall more in love with every new adventure. We really do have something special here.

Universal Orlando Instameet

Have you ever dreamed of having an empty theme park all to yourself? Yeah, me too. Universal Studios, along with my friends over at Instagramers Orlando, made it happen for a few lucky Instagrammers; and all in time for Instagram's 13th Worldwide Instameet. How did I get the invite you ask? Well, if they know me like I think they know me, then they know I know my way around Orlando theme parks. 

It started off as a beautiful sunny afternoon as we all checked in, greeted one another, and shared Instagram handles. There were quite a few familiar faces which made me feel at ease. Meeting new people doesn't always come easy for me. All of us were given an exclusive t-shirt and wristband to wear for the meet, to distinguish us from the guests they were clearing out of the parks. Universal staff passed out ponchos knowing that rain was in the forecast, and I was periodically checking my weather app to keep myself updated; the storms were definitely on the way. It was just a matter of how severe these storms would be. And it didn't look good.

After a few light sprinkles, I quickly fumbled to put on my poncho; mainly to guard my camera equipment. After doing this dance several times hoping the rain had passed each time, it was now time to set off into the park and capture the shots of my dreams. After being split up into two groups, we set out our opposite ways into uncertainty as thunder rumbled close by. The sprinkles quickly graduated to a downpour in a matter of minutes, and to my surprise our trusty guide pushed on. As we made our way through Jurassic Park, the last remaining guests were now screaming and sprinting their way to the park exit. It was almost as if a dinosaur had escaped its paddock and was roaming the park looking for its next meal. This is no exaggeration. It was literally like a scene plucked from the movie. Our guide continued to press on.

After making a beeline towards a small hut to take a break from the downpour, I think the guide saw it in my eyes that I was not going any further. And I was hoping everyone else in the group had the same desperate look on their face as I did. We were all so soaked. To my surprise, he let us catch our breath and of course a few of us took the time to Snapchat.

The rain finally let up enough to continue our trek to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and to the many other worlds of Universal Orlando. With the absence of guests, it was easy to immerse yourself in the different storylines. And there were many times I was left behind by the group, determined to get my shot. There wasn't any time to admire the views. And with twilight fast approaching, it became even more challenging to get my shots. Good thing I brought my tripod!

All in all it was an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience. I have to say Harry Potter World was by far my favorite to get lost in. By the end of the night, we were all so beat. Even the final group shot was a challenge to organize because of how exhausted we were. But it was all so worth it. I made some awesome connections with people who are just as passionate about this little hobby as I am, and just as passionate about this area and everything Orlando offers. Universal Orlando absolutely blew me away and will probably be investing in annual passes very soon due to this experience. Looking forward to enjoying the rides on my next visit!

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St. Petersburg Grand Prix 2016

It was the second year in a row being invited to cover the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, courtesy of my friends over at Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. I was especially looking forward to covering the race weekend with more experience under my belt. With a year's-worth of DSLR experience, topped with last year's experience, I felt more qualified going into those gates that first morning. And it felt pretty good knowing what to expect.

I would go on to cover all three days of the race weekend as to not miss any of the action. And action-packed it was! But by Sunday's end, I was so beat I could hardly walk up the steps to my apartment. My iPhone clocked me at walking over 22 miles for the entire weekend! But it was well worth the blisters, the sunburn, and the lingering fumes of gasoline and burnt rubber.

It was a super-fun weekend of documenting what has become one of my favorite events of the year. My mind is still blown that Indy Car stops here in little sunny St. Pete as part of their worldwide circuit. Of all places, right? And the City of St. Pete, along with Indy Car, did another kickass job at putting everything together. It's things like this that remind me how lucky I am to call this place home.

Hope you enjoy some of my favorite shots from that weekend!

Finding my groove with the pan technique

Finding my groove with the pan technique

My favorite view - turn 11

My favorite view - turn 11

Inside the paddock - Nissan GTR

Inside the paddock - Nissan GTR

Look at this photo and NOT make racer noises!

Look at this photo and NOT make racer noises!

Team Avasis Porche during a practice session

Team Avasis Porche during a practice session

My view from atop Al Lang Stadium - Will Power #12

My view from atop Al Lang Stadium - Will Power #12

The Stadium SUPER trucks were a lot of fun to watch!

The Stadium SUPER trucks were a lot of fun to watch!

Indy practice - Day 1

Indy practice - Day 1

Catching air on turn #12

Catching air on turn #12

Juan Pablo Montoya exiting pit road during a practice session

Juan Pablo Montoya exiting pit road during a practice session

Juan Pablo Montoya's #2 car sits on pit road awaiting the main event

Juan Pablo Montoya's #2 car sits on pit road awaiting the main event

Will Power applies the Pole Position sticker to his car after breaking his own track record twice, but would forfeit his position before the main event having been too sick to drive

Will Power applies the Pole Position sticker to his car after breaking his own track record twice, but would forfeit his position before the main event having been too sick to drive

Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his 2nd consecutive win at the St. Pete Grand Prix

Race winner Juan Pablo Montoya celebrates his 2nd consecutive win at the St. Pete Grand Prix

Champagne showers in Winner's Circle

Champagne showers in Winner's Circle