Archive for August, 2012

The Evolving Identity of Orlando's Little Vietnam

In the 1970s, thousands of Vietnamese war refugees fled their native land, desperately seeking a new beginning, free of political persecution for themselves and their children. Many of those refugees settled just north of downtown Orlando and began opening businesses and revitalizing a fairly lackluster part of the city.

Now, dozens of Asian restaurants, shops and markets line a 10-block stretch of Orlando’s Colonial Drive near Mills Avenue. Though most of the storefronts are decorated with Vietnamese characters, there is no shortage of Chinese, Thai, Korean and other Asian establishments. A stroll through the area also reveals an impressive number of Asian-owned medical and dental offices, nail salons, travel agencies, health food centers, martial arts studios, Boba tea shops and music and video stores. There's even a karaoke bar and a martial arts weapons store.

This area, home to the largest Vietnamese community in the state, once was called “Little Vietnam” by locals and visitors. Recently, however, the neighborhood was rebranded the “Mills 50 District,” as part of the Orlando Main Street Program. The new name reflects the major intersection here – Mills Avenue and Colonial Drive (SR 50) – but it doesn't quite capture the essence of the area.

It is a place that beckons to visitors, a genuine and real-life attraction just a short drive from the nearby theme-park wonderlands.
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The Orlando Main Street Program was designed to spur economic development in and attract new residents to some of Orlando's commercial districts. Mills 50 plans to achieve these goals by helping new and existing businesses resolve permitting and other issues and by promoting those businesses through the use of social media, according to Joanne Grant, executive director of Mills 50 Main Street Co.

Mills 50 also is busily improving the district's visual appeal by commissioning local artists to paint utility boxes at intersections throughout the district. Next on the agenda are murals for the sides of some of the area businesses, Grant says.

While this seems wholly beneficial on the surface, some residents of Little Vietnam are concerned that not enough is being done to highlight the distinctive culture and history of the area.

Tony Nguyen of Tien Hung Jewelry has some concerns. He says that while the rebranding has not directly affected his business, he thinks more could be done to draw attention to the area and bring in tourists interested in experiencing what he considers the only Asian destination in Central Florida.

Nguyen worries that the Asian character of the area has “gotten a little dim” since the rebranding, but he thinks the painted utility boxes and other artistic enhancements are beautiful and give the area a “nice twist compared to other Asian areas around the U.S.”

Grant believes that any improvements to the area make the district more inviting and result in increased car and pedestrian traffic. And she has a point: More traffic means more business for everyone in the district.

But one central concern seems unrelated to any potential loss of business – and more related to potentially lost identity. Little Vietnam represents one of the oldest Vietnamese communities in the United States and is a rare example of a predominantly Asian-American community in Florida. Perhaps more Asian-themed art and community events would ease concerns of the Vietnamese business owners and other local residents.

At least one Asian event organized by the district has been a huge success, according to both Grant and Nguyen. In February 2012, an estimated 3,000 people lined up to watch a dragon-led lunar New Year parade and festival organized by the Mills 50 District and the Chinese American Association of Central Florida. Grant says the district intends to make it an annual event. Also being discussed is an Asian mural to adorn the side of a prominent building at the intersection of Mills and Colonial.

And some visitors say Little Vietnam is impossible to obscure, no matter what changes are made to the area around it.

“It's like a scaled-down version of New York's Chinatown,” says Stephanie Sterrett, a graphic designer and frequent visitor to Little Vietnam. “You can't miss the brightly colored signs and Asian characters, or the delicious smell of Chinese and Vietnamese food as you drive or walk by.”

Sterrett recommends dinner at Little Saigon or Anh Hong and banh mi at Boston Bakery & Cafe. If you want to buy authentic Vietnamese ingredients to make your own dinner, Saigon Market and Phuoc Loc Tho Super Oriental Market have an impressive inventory. Or, head up Mills Avenue and wander inside Dong-A Supermarket for a great selection of Asian foods, including fresh meat, seafood and produce.

Don't forget to peruse Little Vietnam's fashion stores and collectible shops – you won't find more authentic goods at better prices anywhere. Plus, many of the markets carry sake flasks and novelty items that make unique gifts for loved ones. Finish your day with a delicious Boba tea or smoothie from Lollicup Coffee & Tea.

And remember: As is the case with most Chinatowns and other Asian-American areas, many of Little Vietnam's greatest treasures are hidden from the main street. Tien Hung Jewelry, for example, is easy to miss as part of the larger Tien Hung Market on Colonial. So, if you really want to explore the neighborhood, wander the side streets and look inside every building before you leave.

To sample some of Mills 50's other offerings after exploring Little Vietnam, enjoy some live music at Will's Pub on Mills and then visit Bananas Modern American Diner for a tasty late-night milkshake. And while you're there, consider the contrast between what was and what is becoming.

Continue reading The Evolving Identity of Orlando's Little Vietnam »

Baseball on the Big Screen in St. Pete Beach

Calling all Rays fans! Combine America's two favorite past times: baseball and the beach. The TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach invites you to a beachfront cookout and watch party. 

Help cheer the Rays to victory against the New York Yankees on the following two dates:

  • Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 at 7:05 p.m.
  • Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012 at 1:05 p.m. 

Why not make an entire vacation out of it!? The TradeWinds Island Grand and the Guy Harvey Outpost are two beach front properties located on the pristine shoreline of St. Pete Beach. 

Make sure to to book your room and come early in the week to join Guy Harvey as he celebrates the grand opening of Guy Harvey Outpost. This package includes:

  • Two nights in a Courtyard Suite or a Gulf Front Suite at Guy Harvey Outpost
  • 2 tickets to the exclusive Grand Opening Party on Sept. 12th (6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.)
  • Hors d'oeuvres and beer/wine for 2 people at the Grand Opening Party
  • Fireworks display at dusk
  • Nightly Resort Amenity Fee which includes one cushioned beach cabana for two, guest room WiFi, one parking pass per room, paddleboats along the meandering waterway, fitness center and tennis court use, mini golf, beach volleyball and beach games, use of business center, daily newspaper and more!

Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter to get travel tips about entertainment and luxury in Florida.

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Petanque Tournament at Trump International Beach Resort

Get ready for some beach and bubbly this weekend at Bella Beach, the newest dining destination at Trump International Beach Resort. The Veuve Clicquot Pétanque Tournament takes place on Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012 at 2:30 p.m. 

Pétanque – which is pronounced "pay-tonk" and seemingly goes well with a glass of chilled champagne – is the French variation of Italy’s Bocce and involves rolling or tossing several hollow steel balls as close as possible to a small wooden target ball, called "cochonnet.” Participants compete in teams of two and of course, drink bubbly all afternoon at Bella Beach's luxury oceanfront oasis. 

The Pétanque teams who ‘trump’ the rest will be awarded with the following prizes:

  • 1st place Grand Prize winner will receive a two-night stay at Trump International Beach Resort and a Veuve Clicquot amenity
  • 2nd place winner will receive a spa treatment for two at the Resort’s award-winning Aquanox Spa and a gift from Veuve Clicquot
  • 3rd place team will receive dinner for two at Bella Beach and a gift from Veuve Clicquot

If you go: To sign up for the tournament contact Bella Beach at info@bellabeachclub.com or 305-673-3873.

Keep up to date on all the latest entertainment and luxury in Florida by connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter!

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3 Doors Down Rocks with Republicans in Tampa

 

With the Republican National Convention in full swing in Tampa, an impressive list of entertainers will cover the spectrum of music genres – from pop and rock to country and gospel. 

The performance lineup featured an exclusive, worldwide premiere of "One Light," a new single from the Grammy award-winning rock band, 3 Doors Down. The group has sold more than 20 million recordings since its 2000 debut.  

Other performers include Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Oak Ridge Boys, Neal Boyd, Randy Owens, Jack Blades of Night Ranger, Taylor Hicks and BeBe Winans.

Also be sure to check out this to-do list for convention attendees by our VISIT FLORIDA Smart Travel Insider, Dalia Colon.

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Tranquil Tuesday: The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Amelia Island

The Ritz-Carlton Spa on Amelia Island is my pick for this week's Tranquil Tuesday. The staff at the spa created a speciality treatment called Heaven in a Hammock. The benefits of zero-gravity and massage come together in this unique treatment. 

How it works: You’ll lie sideways in the hammock and have your sight removed with a blindfold. A massage therapist will then move behind, beneath and around you in order to massage and stretch every inch of the body. The hammock elongates the spine to deliver a sense of weightless flotation, while giving the body greater flexibility and range of motion.

During the experience, the hammock moves at a rhythmic, rocking tempo that ranges from comforting to energizing. Doesn't that sound heavenly?

Did you know that The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island was recently awarded two prestigious AAA Five Diamond designations? Check out this post by Rachelle Lucas, our VISIT FLORIDA Dining Insider:  The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Receives Two AAA Five Diamond Awards

Be sure to check back next week for my pick for Tranquil Tuesday. In the meantime, get the all the latest Florida travel tips about entertainment and luxury by connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter

Continue reading Tranquil Tuesday: The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Amelia Island »

Tranquil Tuesday: The Ritz-Carlton Spa in Amelia Island

The Ritz-Carlton Spa on Amelia Island is my pick for this week's Tranquil Tuesday. The staff at the spa created a speciality treatment called Heaven in a Hammock. The benefits of zero-gravity and massage come together in this unique treatment. 

How it works: You’ll lie sideways in the hammock and have your sight removed with a blindfold. A massage therapist will then move behind, beneath and around you in order to massage and stretch every inch of the body. The hammock elongates the spine to deliver a sense of weightless flotation, while giving the body greater flexibility and range of motion.

During the experience, the hammock moves at a rhythmic, rocking tempo that ranges from comforting to energizing. Doesn't that sound heavenly?

Did you know that The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island was recently awarded two prestigious AAA Five Diamond designations? Check out this post by Rachelle Lucas, our VISIT FLORIDA Dining Insider:  The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island Receives Two AAA Five Diamond Awards

Be sure to check back next week for my pick for Tranquil Tuesday. In the meantime, get the all the latest Florida travel tips about entertainment and luxury by connecting with me on Facebook and Twitter

Continue reading Tranquil Tuesday: The Ritz-Carlton Spa in Amelia Island »

22nd Annual Sarasota Blues and Music Festival

Get your groove on at the 22nd annual Sarasota Blues and Music Festival, Sept. 29, 2012, featuring two-time Grammy Award winner Delbert McClinton.

Other artists include: 

  • Royal Southern Brotherhood (featuring Devon Allman, Mike Zito and Cyril Neville)
  • Ana Popovic
  • Curtis Salgado
  • Paul Thorn 
  • Pett Crow

Known as Florida’s "Cultural Coast" for its world-renowned artists, Sarasota offers an escape where you can unwind in style in an authentic beach town. Make sure to stay a while to enjoy the sugar-white sands of Siesta Key and nearby islands. 

Where to Stay: 

Buy tickets in advance for $22 per person. VIP tickets are $75 while they last. Ticket purchases help support the All Faiths Food Bank, an organization that distributes food to more than 7,100 people weekly in the community.

Also, be sure to check out my post about DeLuna Fest in Pensacola Beach on Sept. 21-23, 2012.

Have a question about DeLuna Fest or the Sarasota Blues & Music Festival? Leave a comment below. Get all the latest Florida entertainment and luxury travel tips on my Facebook page and on Twitter

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Miami’s Hottest DJ Hosts South Beach Bash

DJ Irie, the Miami Heat's king of entertainment, knows how to throw a good party. He invited some of his closest friends to the SLS Hotel South Beach for an evening of cocktails and a curated menu by the chef du jour from Katsuya. 

Irie's guest list included some of Miami's most notorious movers and shakers: David Grutman, Kenny Burns, Tommy and Michelle Pooch, Amaris Jones, model Britton Hart, Anne Owen, Andi Defield, FOX 7’s Belkys Nerey and CBS 4’s Lisa Petrillo.

A master mixologist from Grey Goose passed around cocktails featuring cherry noir vodka, the brand's newest flavor. The "Cherry Lane" was one of the favorites of this star-studded group. You're in luck – I've got the reciepe for you, just in case you want to try it out at home. 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ parts Grey Goose Cherry Noir 
  • ¾ part Benedictine Liqueur 
  • 1 ½ parts lemon
  • ¾ part simple syrup
  • 1 dash bitters

Preparation: Mix all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake it. Strain into a martini cocktail glass and garnish with cherries on a cocktail pick.

Want more travel tips about entertainment and luxury in Florida? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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Miami’s Hottest DJ Hosts Bash for Socialites in South Beach

DJ Irie, the Miami HEAT's king of entertainment, knows how to throw a good party. He invited some of his closest friends to the SLS Hotel South Beach for an evening of cocktails and a curated menu by the chef du jour from Katsuya. 

His guest list included some of Miami's most notorious movers and shakers: David Grutman, Kenny Burns, Tommy & Michelle Pooch, Amaris Jones, model Britton Hart, Anne Owen, Andi Defield, FOX 7’s Belkys Nerey and CBS 4’s Lisa Petrillo.

A master mixologist from Grey Goose passed around cocktails featuring cherry noir vodka, the brand's newest flavor. The "Cherry Lane" was one of the favorites of this star-studded group. You're in luck – I've got the reciepe for you, just in case you want to try it out at home. 

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ parts Grey Goose Cherry Noir 
  • ¾ part Benedictine Liqueur 
  • 1 ½ parts lemon
  • ¾ part simple syrup
  • 1 dash bitters

Preparation: Mix all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake it. Strain into a martini cocktail glass and garnish with cherries on a cocktail pick.

Want more travel tips about entertainment and luxury in Florida? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Continue reading Miami’s Hottest DJ Hosts Bash for Socialites in South Beach »

Photo: The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery

The Cloisters’ journey from Sacramenia, in the province of Segovia, Spain, to the West Dixie Highway in North Miami Beach took more than 800 years.

Continue reading Photo: The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery »