Archive for June, 2012

Date Night At Disney

Walt Disney World may be a top destination for kids, but there's plenty of great entertainment for grownups too!  The Downtown Disney area alone has
22 restaurants as well as Cirque du Soleil and House of Blues.  Essentially, you could do dinner and a show there every night throughout your vacation and still have a different experience each time.

My husband and I recently ventured to Downtown Disney for a date night.  We typically grab dinner at one of the resorts and watch the fireworks from outside the parks, but this time we had our sites set on La Nouba at Cirque du Soliel.  La Nouba's giant white tent-like structure was Cirque du Soliel's first permanent freestanding theater and it makes a stunning visual icon.  When arriving to the area, you immediately see it (as well as Bongo's big pineapple) and think, 'this place is going to be fun!'  La Nouba mixes classic circus acts with modern street performances in a non-stop high energy mix of humor, suspense, and breathtaking stunts.  It's almost sensory overload.

After the show, we took a walk and strolled through Pleasure Island looking at artwork in shops and watching street performers on our way to dinner.  With so many restaurant options, it's hard to choose!  We finally decided on The Portobello with a romantic table outside overlooking village lake.  After sunset, it's actually pretty pleasant outside, even now in the summertime.

The Portobello is one of my favorite restaurants as they locally source as many of their ingredients as possible. You'll find Florida peppers, Winter Park honey, and Orlando Brewing Company beers on their menu as well as some of the freshest made-from-scratch pasta in town.  My husband chose the rigatoni with sausage, a light and mild pasta dish perfect for summer!  Based on our server's enthusiastic recommendation, I went with their grilled pork chop and Florida sweet peppers.  I have to say, it was the best and biggest pork chop I've ever tasted.  Seriously, no puny pork chops here!  For dessert, we shared a biramisu, it's a tiramisu made using Orlando Brewing's Blackwater Porter in place of espresso.  The citrus flavored ladyfinger cookies and tang of the sweet beer reduction is a really unique experience.

IF YOU GO

  • La Nouba has showtimes at 6:00pm and 9:00 pm daily.  Tickets range from $87 to $124 depending on seat section and season.  I recommend arriving an hour early to make time for parking as it does get crowded.  If possible, choose seats in the upper bowl area (not down by the stage) for the best overall views.
  • Web: CirqueDuSoleil.com/en/shows/lanouba/
  • Phone:  407-939-7600

 

  • Portobello is one of the best Italian restaurants in Orlando, so I highly recommend making reservations.  They are semi-fancy, but family friendly!  You'll often find a 'stroller parking lot' outside … after all, it is Disney!  Whatever you order, definitely save room for their biramisu dessert.
  • Web:  PortobelloRestaurant.com
  • Phone:  407-934-8888

Continue reading Date Night At Disney »

Photo: Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Walt Disney World

Enjoy wine tastings, international cuisine and more at the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.

Continue reading Photo: Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Walt Disney World »

Indulge in Perfect Weekend Pampering at St. Regis Bal Harbour

I'm a big fan of the Bal Harbour area… the shopping, the restaurants and now the recently opened St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort! Known for providing pure decadence and luxury, the St. Regis is already living up to expectations in this new location as they've been awarded the coveted AAA Five-Diamond Award. The St. Regis Bal Harbour also made Travel + Leisure Magazine's "It List" for best new hotels and was named by Forbes as "one of the top 10 hotels to watch."

As if all the accolades weren't enough, this new must-visit luxury hotel is tempting me to take a road trip down to Miami for some summer pampering with their poolside packages.

For only $100 visitors can purchase an Oasis Day Bed Cabana for two which includes:

  • One Oasis Daybed Cabana & One Oasis Lounge Cabana
  • An Oasis Day Bed Butler
  • Continual Refreshments throughout the Day
  • Hand-Selected Whole Fruit and Bottled Water

However, if you really want to do things up "Miami Luxe" style, then I'd strongly consider the following two options …

The Bespoke Summer Package priced at $350 and available for up to four guests includes:

  • Indoor Villa Lounge fully equipped with a Plasma TV, air conditioning, private shower and restrooms
  • 5 Piece Outdoor Dining Set
  • Oceanfront Villa Day Bed
  • Personal Cabana Butler
  • 2 Luxury Terry Robes and Slippers
  • 2 Reserved Beach Chairs
  • Continual Refreshments throughout the Day
  • Chilled Scented Towels
  • Signature Bloody Mary Teaser
  • Mojito Cart Presentation

Personally, I was sold with the personal cabana boy … eh … uhm … I mean butler.  But if you need more convincing, here's an additional upgrade:

Enhance your experience with the Deluxe Package priced at $550 and additionally receive:

  • A 30-minute Head, Neck and Foot Massage for Two
  • Preference of a Bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label or Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne
  • Hand-Selected Whole Fruit
  • Hampton Sun Luxury Sun Care
  • Stocked Day Villa Mini Fridge with 2 of each: Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Coke Zero, San Pellegrino or Fiji Water, Red Bull, and 2 Mini Evian Sprays

If you're already in the Miami area, you'll be excited to know all this wonderful pampering is available throughout the summer for non-hotel guests as well.

For reservations, simply phone 855-993-0700. Complimentary Valet Parking is additionally offered to Non-Hotel Guests. Visit their website at StRegisBalHarbour.com

Continue reading Indulge in Perfect Weekend Pampering at St. Regis Bal Harbour »

Indulge In Perfect Weekend Pampering At St. Regis Bal Harbor

I'm a big fan of the Bal Harbour area … the shopping, the restaurants, and now the recently opened St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort!  Known for providing pure decadence and luxury, the St. Regis is already living up to it's reputation in this new location as they've been awarded the coveted AAA Five-Diamond Award.  The St. Regis Bal Harbour also made Travel + Leisure Magazine's "It List" for best new hotels and was  named by Forbes as "one of the top 10 hotels to watch."

As if all the accolades weren't enough, this new must-visit luxury hotel is tempting me to take a road trip down to Miami for some summer pampering with their poolside packages.

For only $100 visitors can purchase an Oasis Day Bed Cabana for two which includes:
 

  • One Oasis Daybed Cabana & One Oasis Lounge Cabana
  • An Oasis Day Bed Butler
  • Continual Refreshments throughout the Day
  • Hand-Selected Whole Fruit and Bottled Water


However, if you really want to do things up "Miami Luxe" style, then I'd strongly consider the following two options …

The Bespoke Summer Package priced at $350 and available for up to four guests includes:
 

  • Indoor Villa Lounge fully equipped with a Plasma TV, air conditioning, private shower and restrooms
  • 5 Piece Outdoor Dining Set
  • Oceanfront Villa Day Bed
  • Personal Cabana Butler
  • 2 Luxury Terry Robes and Slippers
  • 2 Reserved Beach Chairs
  • Continual Refreshments throughout the Day
  • Chilled Scented Towels
  • Signature Bloody Mary Teaser
  • Mojito Cart Presentation


Personally, I was sold with the personal cabana boy … eh … uhm … I mean butler.  But if you need more convincing, here's an additional upgrade:

Enhance your experience with the Deluxe Package priced at $550 and additionally receive:

  • A 30-minute Head, Neck and Foot Massage for Two
  • Preference of a Bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label or Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne
  • Hand-Selected Whole Fruit
  • Hampton Sun Luxury Sun Care
  • Stocked Day Villa Mini Fridge with 2 of each: Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Coke Zero, San Pellegrino or Fiji Water, Red Bull, and 2 Mini Evian Sprays


If you're already in the Miami area, you'll be excited to know all this wonderful pampering is available throughout the summer for non-hotel guests as well.

For reservations simply phone (855) 993-0700. Complimentary Valet Parking is additionally offered to Non-Hotel Guests.  Visit their website at StRegisBalHarbour.com

Continue reading Indulge In Perfect Weekend Pampering At St. Regis Bal Harbor »

Summer in Florida Playlist: The Decade Edition

Beaches. Bikinis. Sand. Surf. The more Florida changes, the more summer in the Sunshine State blissfully stays the same. We fly here, we drive here, we live here for fun and frolic and stories both wild and wistful. We come for that first whiff of coconut Coppertone as we step onto a seaside paradise. None of that has changed over the years.

But the music has.

Our summer soundtrack in Florida — the party songs, the sunset songs, the songs that remind us of that one time in Destin, in Miami, in love on St. Pete Beach — has shifted with the times just like the top of pop charts.

So here’s an epic playlist to celebrate not just our state, but our sonic state of mind over the years. Some of these 60 tracks were born in Florida; some were born elsewhere but feel like July in Daytona, in Sarasota, in a spinning teacup at Disney World. Some songs are fun. Some are bawdy. And some always seem to make us cry.

Now let’s hop in the time-traveling jukebox, shall we?   

1950s

  • "Stagger Lee," Lloyd Price: Aw yeah! How GOOD is this? Let’s hit the beach and do the shag, surfer girls and boys!
  • "Tutti-Frutti," Little Richard
  • "Summertime Blues," Eddie Cochran
  • "Sh-Boom," the Chords: Low and slow, everybody.
  • "Sea Cruise," Frankie Ford
  • "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," the Platters
  • "Tequila," the Champs
  • "The Stroll," the Diamonds
  • "Red River Rock," Johnny & the Hurricanes
  • "See You Later Alligator," Bill Haley & the Comets: Come on, you knew this one was coming.

1960s

  • "Follow That Dream," Elvis Presley: Filmed in Citrus, Marion and Levy counties, 1962’s Follow That Dream had a swingin’ title track with a groovy road-trip vibe. Per usual, the King sings the hunka-hunka heck out of it, too.
  • "Beach Blanket Bingo," Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello
  • "Louie Louie," the Kingsmen: Thanks to Animal House, this is a spring-break must, especially if you pledged Delta House. “Seven years of college down the drain.”
  • "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows," Lesley Gore: Fun for the first three listens — then the very definition of madness.
  • "All Day and All of the Night," the Kinks
  • "Brown Eyed Girl," Van Morrison: From the Gainesville college bars to the wine bistros of Palm Beach, this one remains a happy-hour classic.
  • "Under the Boardwalk," the Drifters
  • "Fun, Fun, Fun," the Beach Boys
  • "Twist and Shout," the Beatles
  • "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," Martha Reeves & the Vandellas

1970s

  • "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat," Phil Harris, Scatman Crothers and more: Walt Disney World officially opened on Oct. 1, 1971 — and officially changed everything. So we pick this swingin’ feline jam from 1970 Disney ’toon The Aristocats.
  • "Sunshine on My Shoulders," John Denver: Tissue, please.
  • "Time in a Bottle," Jim Croce: Yikes, this is getting brutal. Let’s pep things up here.
  • "Summer Nights," Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta
  • "I’m Alright," Kenny Loggins
  • "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," Stevie Wonder
  • "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," Jimmy Buffett
  • "Flirtin’ With Disaster," Molly Hatchet: The last time I did a playlist for VISIT FLORIDA, I left off these Jacksonville scruffs and, wow, did I hear about it. So here you go.
  • "Gimme Three Steps," Lynyrd Skynyrd: More Florida boys
  • "American Girl," Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers: There, that enough home cookin’ for you?

1980s

  • "You Shook Me All Night Long," AC/DC: Chances are good that if a beach bar plays this song, a wild night out is not far behind.
  • "Pour Some Sugar on Me," Def Leppard
  • "The Tide Is High," Blondie
  • "Love Shack," the B-52s
  • "It Takes Two," Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock
  • "Jack & Diane," John Mellencamp: Perfect for thinking about all those summers ago… and the one guy or girl that got away.
  • "Watching the Wheels," John Lennon
  • "Girls, Girls, Girls," Motley Crue
  • "Let’s Go Crazy," Prince
  • "Bust a Move," Young MC

1990s

  • "Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)," Backstreet Boys: Gotta represent the Orlando boy-band machine. Or not.
  • "Baby Got Back," Sir Mix-a-Lot
  • "Friends in Low Places," Garth Brooks: Greatest sing-along of all time? Discuss!
  • "Champagne Supernova," Oasis: The line about the “summer” destroys me.
  • "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)," C+C Music Factory
  • "Buddy Holly," Weezer
  • "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," Green Day
  • "Good Vibrations," Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch: Because I used the Beach Boys’ "Good Vibrations" last time, and because, well, there was a LOT of cheeseball music in the ’90s.
  • "The Rockafeller Skank," Fat Boy Slim
  • "Summertime," DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince

The 21st Century

  • "Stick With Me Baby," Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: Here’s what you do: Share an iPod with a paramour. Both of you get an ear bud. And play this duet as you stroll, hand in hand, down the beach.
  • "Summertime," Kenny Chesney
  • "Boys From the South," Pistol Annies
  • "Yeah," Usher: Produced by Lil Jon, and featuring that booty-smack rap by Ludacris, this Usher smash is one of the hottest club-bangers of all time. Gotta have it on here.
  • "Working on a Tan," Brad Paisley
  • "Teenage Dream," Katy Perry
  • "All Night," Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley: This slammin’ reggae goodness is my gift to you. Trust me. Get thee to iTunes.
  • "Vaporize," Broken Bells: This one will sneak up and break your heart.
  • "You’re So Cool," Hans Zimmer
  • "It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere," Alan Jackson & Jimmy Buffett

Here’s to you and another great summer in Florida. Cheers, everybody!

Sean Daly is the pop music critic at the Tampa Bay Times. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Continue reading Summer in Florida Playlist: The Decade Edition »

Photo: New Year’s Eve Wedding, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort

Wedding guests at the Marco Island Marriott celebrate New Year’s Eve 2011, and the marriage of Lauren and Jesse Spinks of North Carolina.

Continue reading Photo: New Year’s Eve Wedding, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort »

When It Comes to Destination Weddings, Many Say 'I Do' To Florida

More than 100 guests, seated in white chairs under an evening sky, looked on as Lauren walked toward her groom, Jesse. He waited under a sparkling arch, the ocean just a romantic stroll away. It was New Year’s Eve 2011 at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, and before the ball dropped at midnight, Lauren and Jesse would become Mr. and Mrs. Spinks.

For family and friends, the news of Lauren and Jesse’s engagement was welcome and exciting, but hearing that the two, who live in North Carolina, planned to wed in Florida… that was special.

“I’ve always wanted to do a destination wedding,” Lauren Spinks said afterward, “and I always wanted a winter wedding, but my husband wanted the beach.”

Voila! Florida was the ideal spot.
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Carrie Darling of CarrieDarlingevents.com, located in Naples, was the Spinks’ wedding planner. Darling estimates that as many as 70 percent of her wedding clients come from out of state. Many of these “destination brides” choose Florida because they took family vacations in the state or have family here.

The Sunshine State is a popular wedding site throughout the year, but particularly between October and May. Wedding guests can sip mojitos under the sun hours before a ceremony, and couples can exchange vows by the ocean or even get married underwater.

Brides and grooms can choose from many sites in Florida including those located in Miami and the rest of South Florida, Naples, Orlando, the Florida Keys or in northwest Florida.

“It’s always been a hot spot, especially for destination weddings,” Lorena Lugo, an event planner of Contempo Linen and Event Rentals, LLC, based in Miami, said of Florida. “When people do call us they’ve already made up their mind. No need to do much convincing.”

In fact, 18 percent of the nation’s destination weddings took place in Florida in 2011, according to a bi-annual wedding survey conducted by TheKnot.com, a top online resource for everything wedding-related, and the WeddingChannel.com. That makes Florida the leading destination-wedding state in the continental United States, according to Kristin Koch, senior editor at TheKnot.com.

“We are seeing destination weddings in general become a bigger trend,” Koch said.

Florida’s tropical beauty and its coastal towns with white-sand beaches appeal to couples looking for ambience, scenery, top-notch services and attractive weather.

Another factor: Planning a wedding involves a string of details and decisions that can be tricky to address off site. Finding a place away from home yet close enough to visit beforehand provides comfort and reassurance to couples eagerly and nervously anticipating their momentous day.

Plus, a destination wedding that doesn’t involve foreign travel make it less of a hassle for guests. Unlike packing up for Costa Rica or the Caribbean, there is no need to dust off the passports, pay high prices for flights or worry about taking time off from work for an extra long weekend.

For some, the trip to Florida is only a drive away. Northwest Florida, for instance, is bordered by Alabama and Georgia and is easily reached from Mississippi and Louisiana.

“Being in (northwest Florida) is closer to a lot of surrounding states,” said Christie Sachse of Yourstrulyweddings.net, a wedding planning business located in Miramar Beach, about halfway between Pensacola and Panama CIty. That proximity means that guests may not need to buy plane tickets.

“Recession hurts a lot of businesses, but people are still getting married,” said Sachse, who expects to plan more than 200 weddings this year.

Conventional wisdom might suggest that the wedding industry is immune to economic hard knocks, but that is not entirely true. With the average wedding budgeted at $27,000, some people do find it necessary to scale back.

“We’re finding the biggest impact on your budget is your guest count,” Koch said. “From 2000 to 2012, there are on average nine fewer guests, which is not significant, but it is telling.”

A beach wedding can be one of the most inexpensive to plan. A wedding permit at Miami Beach costs only $125. Between October 2010 and September 2011, that city approved 270 wedding permits, and it expects just as many during the current fiscal year, according to Raul Gonzalez, a spokesman for Miami Beach’s Tourism and Cultural Development Office.
 
As for post-wedding celebrating, couples can find the version of paradise they imagined, whether they sit by the pool, board a cruise ship for their honeymoon, or head to the Keys to swim with dolphins. 

Luanne Betz and David Thompson did something like that after their not-so-ordinary wedding in 2006. They dove about 70 feet below the water’s surface at Jules Undersea Lodge, an underwater hotel and former research laboratory in Key Largo.

Returning to our New Year's Eve bride, Lauren Spinks lovingly recalls that, as she and Jesse took pictures on the beach before the ceremony, he knelt down and gently took off her shoes.

She was in paradise. Others call it Florida.

Continue reading When It Comes to Destination Weddings, Many Say 'I Do' To Florida »

Photo: Beach wedding, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort

Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, the sunset stage is set for a Florida destination wedding.

Continue reading Photo: Beach wedding, Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort »

Photo: Wedding moment, Marco Island Marriott

Lauren and Jesse Spinks of North Carolina, at their destination wedding at the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort.

Continue reading Photo: Wedding moment, Marco Island Marriott »

Tips for Making an Award-Winning Clam Chowder

Guess where you'll find the world's best tasting clam chowder? It's not New England, but right here in Cedar Key, Fla.! Three-time winner of the Great Chowder Cookoff in Newport, R.I., Chef Eric Jungklaus certainly has some clam-tastic bragging rights for beating out the "big boys" of New England as well as several international contenders in this culinary contest. Inspired by his brother Tony, Chef Eric Jungklaus created the recipe to be a memorable signature dish for their local Cedar Key eatery, Tony's Seafood Restaurant.

He'll be appearing today on WCTV news in the Tallahassee area sharing his tips for making his award-winning chowder.  While he wouldn't give us the exact recipe, he did let us know that he uses a proprietary blend of spices along with butter, cream and bacon. Isn't everything delicious made with butter, cream and bacon?

Here are Chef Jungklaus' recommendations for making the perfect clam chowder:

TONY'S CLAM CHOWDER TIPS

Basic Ingredients for a chowder base:
Flour, Butter, Celery, Onion, Vegetable Stock, Salt & Pepper

Tony’s Tips: 

Substitute CLAM JUICE for vegetable stock.
Sautee celery and onion in separate pan, then add to base.

Basic Ingredients to finish your chowder:
Chopped Clams, Celery, Potatoes, Wine, Bacon, Whole Milk, Carrots, Onions

Tony’s Tips: 

To give a thicker, heartier texture and flavor …
Use red onions & red potatoes.
Try Hardwood Smoked Bacon.
Chop bacon and pan cook until golden brown.
Add some of the bacon pan drippings to your chowder.
Use half-n-half and heavy cream instead of plain milk.
Avoid carrots.

Typical Chowder Seasonings:
Bay leaf, hot sauce, dill weed, black pepper & salt

Tony’s Tips: 

Chopped Garlic will give your chowder a kick.
Butter adds flavor, color and a little sweetness.
Try some dry spice blends: Parsley flakes, black pepper, white pepper, green and red pepper, red pepper flakes
Key: Whisk dry spice blend into half-n-half before adding to chowder.

Cooking Instructions:
Most people heat chowder on a stove in a sauce pan.

Tony’s Tip:

Dust off your crock pot! When your recipe is complete, give the chowder’s flavors an hour or more to all come together.

Continue reading Tips for Making an Award-Winning Clam Chowder »