I am seriously still pinching myself to make sure this past weekend was real–it felt like a dream!!!

My fiancé planned out a surprise weekend in Tampa for us, and it was COMPLETELY AMAZING.  I still can’t get over it.  I wanted to share what we did not only because I am still so excited about it, but also because I thought it might give some people ideas about what to do for their next date weekend!

We arrived in Tampa on Saturday and it was our first time ever visiting this city, and it was beautiful!  Almost everywhere we drove we could see the water, which I loved.  We checked into the hotel, got all ready, and that is when the fun began!  We headed to dinner at the Capital Grille and had one of the best dinners, I highly recommend the lobster mac ‘n’ cheese!  Then, I was told we had an event to get to!  When we arrived at the Straz Center, I knew what was happening.  I was here to see AC2!!!!  I had been dying to see this event ever since I first heard about it way back in February.  To say I am a big fan of Andy Cohen is an understatement.  I have watched his shows and all of the shows that he produces for years and they are some of my absolute favorites.  From “Watch What Happens Live” to “Flipping Out” to “The Real Housewives of Everywhere” to “Love Connection”, Andy Cohen is a TV genius.  Not only do I think he makes amazing television, I have always thought he seemed hilarious, genuine, and kind.  Plus, we are both from St. Louis!  As much as I am all about Andy, I also think that Anderson Cooper is an amazing human.  His stories of loss (his brother’s suicide and his father’s passing when he was young) and how that shaped him are inspiring.  He is dedicated and incredibly passionate about his job, and he is also Andy’s best friend for over 20 years!  So basically, seeing them both in an event was all I could ask for.

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Cheers to an amazing evening!

As for the event itself, I won’t say too much other than if you have the chance to see it, DO IT.  I don’t think I stopped laughing once.  Both Andy and Anderson asked the audience to please not post anything about the event or the stories about their lives or other celebrities that they shared; it truly was a night of them talking to the audience like we were all old friends.  I learned so much about both of them and I kept wishing it wouldn’t end!

Now we get to the BEST PART EVER.  The show ends and we get VIP passes to go backstage and get autographs and pictures with Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper.  I. Am. Freaking. Out.  As soon as I get in line, I realize that standing right in front of us is Kate Chastain from Below Deck!  As I mentioned before, Bravo is my favorite channel, so I love all of the shows and I immediately motion to my fiancé—Look who it is!!!  She was super nice and took a picture with me, this night is just on a roll.

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Standing in line with Kate Chastain–Chief Stewardess on Below Deck!

When I get up to meet Andy and Anderson I am full blown shaking with excitement!  They asked me my name, shook my hand and gave me a hug, they asked me about my wedding, and we took pictures!  It was insane.  They were even nicer than I thought they would be.  I remember Anderson introducing himself, “Hey! I’m Anderson, what’s your name?” and I’m like YOU’RE ANDERSON COOPER YOU DON’T HAVE TO INTRODUCE YOURSELF OMG!  But that is just the type of person he is, extremely humble and kind.  After pictures I was handed autographed copies of both of their books, and I couldn’t believe what had just happened!  What a night.  It is safe to say that I did not sleep on Saturday.

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Totally fan-girling about getting to meet Andy Cohen and Anderson Cooper!
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My face when Andy asked me about coming to my wedding!

We get up on Sunday and my face is pretty much frozen in a smile.  We head out for the next surprise and I have no idea what to expect.  We arrive at the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary  to go on a tour and I am so excited!!!  I am a crazy cat lady, so that includes cats of all sizes of course.  If you get the chance to come here, do the Keeper Tour!  You will not regret it!  You get to make toys and treats for the cats and go with the Keeper as she gives them out and teaches you about the species.  The key part of this tour is that the cats know that the Keeper gives them the good stuff, so they come right up to her!  You get to see tigers, lions, bobcats, servals, and more right in front of you.  She even works with them on commands and you get to watch the whole thing.

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This sanctuary is pretty amazing.  They are completely non-profit, and the keepers are all volunteers.  The money from your tour buys a meal for the cats, as does anything from the gift shop.  They work so hard to rescue and provide care for these cats, most of which were horribly mistreated and it makes your blood boil just thinking about it.  At the end of the tour, our keeper informed us of the best way that we can help these animals, and I encourage you to check it out as well.  She explained that they have a bill they are trying to get passed called the Big Cat Public Safety Act.  If passed, this will restrict anyone from breeding or possessing exotic wildlife species.  It will also make amendments that will enhance the quality of life for big cats if someone does currently own one.  Currently, the minimum requirements for a cage for a big cat barely allows them to move.  They could stay in this cage for their entire life.  This bill aims to make new requirements that ensure they are properly cared for.  She handed out cards to us that will help get this law in place, and I am happy to share it!

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You would think that the surprises would stop there–how much more can my heart handle!?  We ended the trip with a surprise lunch at….drum roll please…Portillo’s!!! If anyone has had an original Portillo’s Chicago dog in Chicago and then searched for them other places, you would know that they are not all created equal.  I had no idea that they had a location in Tampa, so I was pumped!  It was the perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

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What is a “Chicago Dog” you ask?  An all-beef hot dog with mustard, relish, celery salt, onion, tomatoes, a pickle, and peppers all on a poppy seed bun.  Just try it.

All in all, it was a weekend I will never forget!!!  Please let me know in the comments what other Tampa things I need to check out next time I’m there!

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