Set Sail with a 17-Foot Gingerbread Pirate Ship at the Ritz-Carlton

Can you imagine the aroma from a gingerbread creation made from more than 1,200 pounds of sugar and 3,000 eggs? That’s one big cookie.

It’s actually the S.S. Amelia Gingerbread Pirate Ship, and it arrives in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012. This is a free event and all are invited to gawk (or drool) at the display. 

The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island has so many holiday events happening, I can’t even begin to list them all or give details, but to whet your appetite, here are some highlights:

  • Gingerbread Pirate Ship
  • Tree lighting event
  • Santa tuck-ins and Holiday Dinners
  • Storybook teas
  • Beach bonfires
  • Holiday wagon rides down dune-lined paths

They are also having all kinds of dining events from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day Brunch. For all the details and to make reservations, call 800-241-3333 or visit their website.

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First Annual Redland Fish Fry – Come Hungry

If there’s one thing South Florida is known for in the wintertime, it’s great weather. Two more things? Fishing is hot and fruits and vegetables grow like crazy. Put those all together and you get the First Annual Redland Fish Fry at the Fruit and Spice Park.

This two-day event promises to be a great time for all ages. The weather is going to be gorgeous (high temp of 75 degrees) so bring a blanket and plan to stay till closing. Wander the lush grounds, bebop from booth to booth and try fresh seafood, listen to live music and. when the sun goes down, put your head back and do a little star gazing. (The Fruit and Spice Park is away from city lights so the nightly constellation show will leave you mesmerized.)

For the kids, there’ll be pony rides and an interactive fishing zone where they can learn tricks from the pros like knot tying, lure selection, fish identification and casting. And if you’ve wanted to learn more about the sport of kayak fishing, here’s your chance to attend a free workshop. All ages are welcome.

Festival hours:

Saturday, Nov. 10 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Landlubbers will find plenty of munchies, too. Admission is only $8 for adults and free for children ages 11 and under. And, here's a GROUPONl where you can get in for only $4 if you purchase today.

For more info, you can log on to their website Fruit and Spice Park, or call 305-247-5727.

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Photo: Tandem Hang Gliding in Florida

Try tandem hang gliding for an utterly unique view of the Sunshine State.

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Florida's Wildest Adventures

Feeling like a cup of crazy? Want to scream like a little girl? These offbeat adventures are designed to thrill.

Walk on Waves

For an utterly unique experience, grab a flight on the JetLev, a custom-designed, water-propelled jetpack. You'll feel like the childhood superhero of your dreams, weightless and free, suspended in the sky with nothing above or below you. Hover on the water's surface, rocket across it at 30 miles per hour or soar as high as three stories into the air. You can snag a flight at the TradeWinds Island Grand on St. Pete Beach or at Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key.

Ride a Rattler

Zip lining features climbs up dizzyingly high platforms and speedy flights over the treetops; roller coasters feature twists, turns and drops designed to leave your stomach in another county. A combination of the two experiences more than doubles the thrills. "The Rattlesnake," the nation's first zip line rollercoaster, has just slithered into the forest at Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida in St. Cloud. You'll launch from a 65-foot platform and fly at speeds up to 20 mph as you whoop, swoop and dip through 1,000 feet of adrenaline-inducing adventure.

Fly Like an Eagle

Hang gliding lets you experience flying the way a bird does. You feel the air against your face and see the world shrink into a patchwork below you; you shift your weight and ride the currents of the sky. Here in the Sunshine State you get airborne by towing up to the desired altitude behind a powered plane instead of launching from a mountain. You can try tandem hang gliding at Quest Air Hang Gliding in Groveland (west of Orlando), The Florida Ridge between Clewiston and LaBelle, Wallaby Ranch in Davenport and Paradise Hang Gliding in Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

Take a Flying Leap

If you're looking for an extreme scream, try bungee jumping. At the Track Family Recreation Center in Destin, you'll tumble off a 75-foot platform before getting snapped back into space by the elastic cord. You'll spring up and down several times, ending your experience by being lowered into an oversize airbag. Cobra Adventure Park in Panama City Beach offers the Vertical Accelerator Bungee Ride. This 'reverse bungee' rockets you towards the heavens before treating you to a freefall of 160 feet. For the ultimate freefall and glide, opt for SkyCoaster at Fun Spot Amusement Park in Kissimmee. At 300 feet high, it's the world's tallest SkyCoaster.

Jump out of a Perfectly Good Airplane

Skydiving is the very definition of radical. First, you climb into an airplane and fly to heights of more than two miles. Next, you jump out of that perfectly good airplane. You free fall at a cheek-rippling 120 to 130 miles per hour for 60 seconds. Finally, you deploy your chute and float back to terra firma.

With its abundance of open fields, flat terrain and mild winters, Florida is ideal for the sport. You can thrill to this adventure in every corner of the state, including Skydive City in Zephyrhills, Skydive Jacksonville, Skydive Palm Beach in Wellington and the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales.

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Photo: Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales

VISIT FLORIDA Insider Lauren Tjaden skydives with a friend at the Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales.

Continue reading Photo: Florida Skydiving Center in Lake Wales »

Shamu and Santa: SeaWorld’s Christmas Spectacular

If you have yet to experience SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration in Orlando, I would highly recommend adding a visit to your wish list.

One thing I always love is The Sea of Trees – over 100 trees in the lagoon, their sparkling choreographed to music. Another not-to-be-missed area is The Christmas Market, where you can shop for gifts and enjoy sinfully delicious holiday goodies.

More holiday highlights:

Oh Wondrous Night – If you see only one thing while you're here, make it this show. It's the "greatest story never told" with the animals of the manger each telling their story of that wondrous night. It will leave you with goosebumps. The music, the voices, the lighting – it's one heck of a production.

Winter Wonderland on Ice – An amazing ice show with fireworks, fountains and some of the most talented ice skaters on earth.

Clyde and Seamore’s Countdown to Christmas – If you love sea lions, wait till you see how sweet they are in this Christmas comedy, complete with otters and a jolly walrus.

The POLAR EXPRESS – The movie and the book come to life with you playing a starring role. “All aboard” the train and after a thrilling journey, you’ll arrive at the North Pole where you’ll meet Santa Claus himself. See beluga whales and sip hot chocolate.

A Sesame Street Christmas – Celebrate the holidays with all your favorite characters including Big Bird and Elmo. It’s musical fun for all ages.

Santa’s Seaside Fire Chat – Have an unforgettable, all-you-care-to-eat holiday feast with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Take home a souvenir family photo, too.

SeaWorld's Christmas Celebration can be seen on select dates from Nov. 17-Dec. 31, 2012.

Need more info? Just log on to their website.

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Free Fishing Derby for Kids Casts Off at ‘Ding’ Darling on Nov. 17


Originally scheduled for Nov. 17, 2012, the second annual “Ding” Darling Kids Fishing Derby on the Sanibel Causeway has been postponed. For news on the rescheduling, visit or call 239-472-1100 ext. 236.


If your child can hold his or her own fishing pole, then come on out to the Second Annual “Ding” Darling Kids Fishing Derby on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. This free event will be held on the Sanibel Causeway Islands Park (Island A).

Registration begins at 8:30 a.m. on the causeway, lines are in the water starting at 9 a.m. and the finish is at 11 a.m. Kids that are 15 and younger are welcome.

There will be two age groups of winners: 10 to 15, and 9 and younger. Awards will be based on the total inches of fish caught and the refuge will award first, second, and third place prizes. There will also be awards for the largest and smallest fish hooked, in both age categories.

A limited amount of loaner fishing poles will be available so if you have your own, please bring it. Tarpon Bay Explorers will be supplying the bait.

In addition to fishing, volunteers and staff will teach your kids safe and ethical fishing practices and engage them in fun fish crafts.

This free event is brought to you by the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge (DDWS). I hope you can take advantage and go fish.

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Hidden Jewel: Gloria Estefan's Luxury Boutique Hotel in Vero Beach

The sleepy seaside village of Vero Beach has a secret. This Florida beach town, known for its year-round cultural arts scene, is home to another hidden jewel, a place where summer romance sizzles to a Latin beat.

Far from the bright lights of Miami, the luxurious Costa d'Este Beach Resort is nestled halfway between West Palm Beach and Merritt Island. The resort boasts elegant one-bedroom suites, a signature bar known for its mojitos and an infinity-edge swimming pool that disappears into the nearby crashing waves.
While this may be the first time you've heard of the resort, I'm certain you'll be familiar with its famous owners. Vero Beach has long been known for attracting creative types and artists, so it's no wonder superstar recording artist Gloria Estefan chose this seaside village to develop her $50 million luxury boutique resort. The international singer and her husband, Grammy Award-winning producer Emilio Estefan, opened Costa d'Este in 2008 and transformed it into a world-class hotel, worthy of its AAA Four-Diamond distinction.

"We chose to develop a resort here because we wanted to invest in Vero Beach and think it's a quiet beach community and is the perfect distance for a weekend getaway from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Orlando," the singer, who owns a home in Vero Beach, told

The Estefans discovered Vero Beach about 11 years ago and immediately fell in love with the community and the people. "Once we began spending time in our home we came to appreciate the many natural attractions in the area," Estefan said to

Almost 150 miles south in Miami Beach, the couple owns an authentic Cuban restaurant, Larios on the Beach, as well as the sophisticated and art deco-themed Cardozo Hotel on Ocean Drive. Each of their properties, including Costa d'Este, exudes the famous duo's Latin flair and lavish taste.

"The Costa d'Este is one of my favorite places to visit," said Lou Guida, former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and retired Senior Vice President of Merrill Lynch. Guida travels with his family to the resort several times a year.

What does he love most about Costa d'Este? The laid-back atmosphere, personal touches and high level of comfort the resort provides for his entire family, he said.

"The friendly staff anticipates every detail of your vacation," he said. "One of the features everybody appreciates is the perfectly brewed complimentary coffee offered every day."

The resort can accommodate large groups for special events, weddings or corporate meetings. Lou's son, Mark Guida, resides in Vero Beach and planned a family and friends get-together at Costa d'Este.

"We had around 30 people come to the reunion and they had a spectacular time," the younger Guida said. "We enjoyed ourselves so much that many of us extended our stay."

Not only is the resort great for families because of its cozy boutique feel, it's also known for its elegant destination weddings and romantic ambiance. The Queen of Latin Pop designed the resort for guests who desire the perfect combination of tropical days and steamy nights.

With all this in mind, my husband and I set off for a couple's getaway to Costa d'Este. As the Entertainment & Luxury Insider for VISIT FLORIDA, I have had the opportunity to stay in some of the best resorts the Sunshine State has to offer, so I was excited to check out this jewel on Florida's Treasure Coast.

I was immediately impressed with the architecture of the resort – modern and chic with eye-catching geometrical designs and original artwork. It was clear to me the Estefans spared no expense on quality and attention to detail.

The rooms have smooth marble flooring and custom-designed furnishings. The limestone bathrooms are spacious and decked out with one of my favorite luxury amenities – rain showerheads. I easily could have kicked back with a good book in bed all day, pampered by tons of large fluffy pillows and Egyptian-cotton bed linens.

Instead, we pulled up a stool at the poolside bar and enjoyed complementary welcome mojitos, an amenity offered to every resort guest. It's always a good idea to start a relaxing getaway with a cold concoction of lime, sugar, mint and rum, and we found it was easy to get lost in the spectacular ocean view from the pool deck, the center of the resort's activity.

Like the Guida family, I was impressed with the friendliness of the staff. Seven days a week, Manager Ed Riley makes his rounds throughout the resort. He introduces himself to every guest and will stop at nothing to ensure that each detail of your stay exceeds expectations.

"He adds that personal touch that makes you feel welcome and important," Guida said. "If you have a special request tell Ed and he will make it happen."

We asked Ed for dinner recommendations. He suggested The Wave Kitchen and Wine Bar and went out of his way to book our reservation, and hostess Robin Miller seated us at the best table in the house. It was picture-perfect. We sipped wine and listened to live music underneath the light of a full moon.

I'll be honest; I'm not always impressed with hotel food, but this was not your average hotel dining experience. Chef Antonio designed a seasonal menu featuring fresh ceviche, traditional American fare and, of course, Cuban cuisine. After a mouth-watering three-course meal, the chef brought out an incredible trio of desserts on a slab of marble. Every detail of the evening was magical.  

Oh, and did I mention the view? Words cannot describe it, so you'll have to check it out for yourself.

If You Go

What: Costa d'Este Beach Resort
Where: 3244 Ocean Drive, Vero Beach
Phone: 877-562-9919
Cost: Room prices start at $195
Reservations: Book your vacation at Costa d'Este online at or call 877-562-9919.


  • Visit the Vero Beach Museum of Art and view their collection of American and international art. Find them online at or call 772-231-0707.
  • Go shopping at the adorable boutiques in the Beachside Shopping District on Ocean Drive on the east, Florida A1A on the west and along all cross streets, as well as along Beachland Boulevard.
  • Play a round of golf at the Sandridge Golf Club designed by Ron Garl and operated by Indian River County. For more information, visit or call 772-770-5000.
  • For more information about Vero Beach, check out

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Photo: Veterans Day

The National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce chronicles the history of the creation of the Navy Frogmen, which have evolved into today’s Navy SEALS.

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Florida Resident Rate of $129 at Hilton Sandestin Beach

The sand is as white as confectionary sugar along the shores of the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa. It’s really stunning. And the sand is so clean it squeaks when you walk on it. Even if you don’t want sand between your toes, you can just relax on the new pool deck that overlooks the Gulf, or swim at the indoor pool.

If you love fine dining, this resort is home to Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, Destin’s only AAA Four-Diamond restaurant. I took my then 7-year old to Seagar’s and we both loved the open-air kitchen. Other dining options include sushi, a casual deli, and Sandcastles that offers breakfast, lunch, brunch and dinner.

If you’re a Florida resident, you’re in luck. Florida residents can take advantage of the super low rate of $129 a night when booking two nights or more from Nov. 1, 2012 through Feb. 28, 2013.

Folks, this is a bargain. This resort is a gem on Florida’s northwest coast and the onsite amenities are plentiful:

  • Spacious accommodations
  • Full-service spa
  • Fantastic onsite dining and recreational options
  • Access to championship golf courses
  • Game room, ice cream shop and more

For reservations, call 850-267-9500 and mention code “FR.” Visit their website to see just how beautiful this resort is.

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