Miscellaneous Articles

EVENT INSIDER: the flames licked closer to my hair

The flames from the large stand-alone heater flicked closer to my hair with each breezy gust. I have thick, long curly hair. One errant spark and both my hair and the nightmarish trauma witnessed by the guest seated across from me would turn this corporate event from a fun, relaxing tropical party in the hotel gardens, to absolute disaster.

The close call could have been so easily prevented.

If only the party coordinators or hotel wait staff hurriedly removing dirty plates and glasses strewn on linen-topped tables had thought, “Hmmm. I wonder if we should move those patio heaters a tad further from seated diners. The flames seem to be escaping their confines with each wind gust.”

EVENT INSIDER: pandemic slowdown spurs new businesses

A short while back there was a viral-bound joke that if vaccination site managers wanted to have their operations, appointments and follow through go smoothly, they should turn to meeting and event planners. The joke continued that not only would the task be done skillfully and to everyone’s satisfaction, but all those seniors who had endured standing in long lines, (sometimes throughout the night), unsure if they’d even score a shot, would have been served snacks, a drink and maybe even a chair. I was likely among the meetings & event Insiders who didn’t see the surface humor in the proposition. I had discussed that same “duh moment” ad nauseum with industry friends and my husband and wondered why no one in charge hadn’t already figured that out. Who better to strategize all the minutia of appointments, parking, cue lines, qualified staff, and follow up visits to fulfillment, than a planner?


This Florida Time Travel Series captivates the imagination and reveals facts about Florida that likely few know other than historical or geological researchers.

16,500 years BP (Before Present time), a bald stranger wearing tight dark blue pants and turtleneck, black boots and black cape appears suddenly before an ancient Indian chief and his son. Before the stranger from 2338 CE (Common Era) departs in the same gust of cool swirling air, he imparts knowledge of wheels and wagons: practical tools to advance their progress as a people and as the first step in preparing them to counter the lethal invasion of Europeans in 1492. That stranger, whom the natives think of as a god, materializes multiple times in later centuries, each time dispensing knowledge for making tools, and techniques and languages for the betterment of diverse ancient tribes. However, not all time travelers proved to be as magnanimous.

Time travel topics have always tantalized my imagination. These were whimsical what-if stories that begged for suspension of known science; yet armed with a cozy couch and a glass of wine, made for delightful sojourns of the mind.

Then I read the Florida time travel trilogy written by John Charles Miller, a Tampa, FL-based author, groundwater geologist in the United States and Latin America for more than 40 years, and an avid birdwatcher with his wife, Mary.

The three books of alternate history (there’s that what-if premise)– Citrus White Gold, The Gatherers, and Deep Florida, are embedded with rich dialogue, colorful characters, articulated technology, and graphic depiction of how events and Florida’s native population’s history might have plausibly impacted today’s Florida. The stories are absorbing, thought-provoking, stimulating fun.

I am awed by John Charles Miller’s proficiency at dialogue to reflect the locations and timelines. His In-depth descriptions of a place or event compelled me to research their veracity, for no reason than just wanting to know if this detail was fact or fiction. Each instance was a factual pivotal moment of Florida history meticulously woven into the stories’ narrative. So, not only did I spend many hours of enjoyable time reading, but I learned about Central Florida, where I live.

Each book can be read on its own, but I encourage you to read them in succession.


What if you were in the target zone of this shooter?

The headlines have become all too numbingly familiar: mass killings at schools, airports, churches, offices, restaurants, arenas and public streets.

What if fight or flight aren’t your only solutions?

What if you could prepare yourself to spot dangerous behaviors, strategize how you’d narrow the chances of being caught unawares, and might save both yourself and others during unexpected, volatile, life-threatening scenarios?

It’s about understanding behavior patterns and looking at anomalous behavior outside of the normal baseline. It’s about profiling behavior, not people and identifying behavioral indicators consistent to a potential threatening environment.

All of the above are possible according to two experienced lawmen who addressed the Greater Orlando (FL) chapter of Meeting Professionals International (MPI) luncheon held at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.

Director of Education & Life Safety for the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) Mark Herrera’s keynote presentation was aimed at mitigating threats to employees or meeting groups, but the practical information would be as applicable to individuals.


I was threatened today by email. Third time this particular threat has arrived in the past few weeks. Each time the message is roughly the same: send me bitcoins or I will expose you to your friends, family, and all email contacts.
The return addresses are always different. Sometimes the threat is that they have one of my passwords and in good faith, they reveal it. I immediately called my computer guru, Joseph Boy of Your Computer Solutions, who said he gets these messages also. Just delete them. He explained how the hacking trolls obtained that one password, but they haven’t actually wormed their way into my system.
Today’s email heading actually bore one of my own email address, which I didn’t notice until after I began reading the threatening email. That is part of the scare tactic: I can spoof your email and everyone will open this insidious note because they will think I am sending it. I’ve gotten many phone calls that spoofed a business name and even twice our home number said it was us calling, but this email got right to the point of trying to instill fear instead of just scamming me into buying their services.
This troll alleged he had remoted into my webcam and caught me watching porn. Send a $1000 in bitcoin or the world would see my scandalous activities. It was a much more detailed, longer message than ones I’ve gotten before, but still cautioning me against calling the police or trying to track the extortionist.
Sad news for them. I don’t watch porn and I don’t have a webcam.
I haven’t gotten the phone calls about family members in dire straits (send $$ immediately) or that the IRS was after me for not paying taxes and I needed to contact this number immediately or I’d go to jail. I haven’t gotten those calls, but I do personally know people who have.
The scare tactics work on many people. They are more unsettling than some Nigerian Prince has a fortune to leave me, or XYZ company in (usually) China is looking for a representative and even though I do not have any experience with what they’re seeking, I am the chosen recipient of what promises to be great business wealth.
I’m likely older than many of you reading this. I remember when this insistent pursuit of money at the expense of anxious victims-to-be didn’t initiate on the telephone or internet, or on unsuspecting innocents.
I want it to stop.
No one I’ve asked has answers except to delete the messages, hang up the phone, or just don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t recognize. The latter works with our home phone but not my business number because I don’t know from where my next client will emerge.
I don’t get the greed, animosity, mind games, and scare tactics. A couple days ago I discovered a troll had given me a nasty review that appeared on a search site next to my website name (www.ThePsychicLady.com). I’ve never heard of this person, let alone read him. I have other business friends who have had this occur and the unwarranted negative comments nearly ruined their respective businesses. I’ve read that people are paid to write, stalk or troll businesses by a competitor who must not otherwise be able to obtain a steady clientele on their own merits.
I don’t have answers. Just questions on why people go out of their way to do harm. I don’t want to believe this is the new normal, so maybe they are just people with morally-bankrupt souls. Either way. I want it to stop.
We all must want this to stop.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2016 – 2020 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine for the third consecutive year. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.


Sports socks kept my feet fresh smelling.

My feet don’t stink and I don’t think I have ever worn a pair of socks a second day after working out in them the day before, but I was willing to test MP Magic Socks’ latest innovation, the sports sock.
Full disclosure. I do not work for MP Socks, nor was I paid to write this review. In September 2017, the then new company sent me socks and asked if I would review them. The premise of what made these socks “stink-less” was intriguing, so I agreed.
In that article, https://karenkuzsel.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/stinky-sweaty-feet-new-solution-for-old-musty-problem, I let my husband and a teenage boy wear two of the three pairs sent and I wore a pair of anklets to my exercise class. Surprisingly, even the pairs worn by the men remained odor-free. One wore them to football practice. The other for gardening and walking.
Like the aforementioned socks, this new pair is infused with three metals: silver, copper and zinc. The combination of these materials, along with some other undisclosed ingredients, are to make the socks antibacterial, durable, and the mesh structure is supposed to enhance air flow and permeable. Unlike the anklets I tested the first time, this pair of socks extends three inches above my ankle bone.
While I thought this pair more stylish in design, with sporty red and white pinstripes running the length of the black socks, what I absolutely enjoyed has been the sheer comfort. My feet felt padded without the socks being thick and my feet didn’t get sweaty or hot as I went through three strong workout classes over two days and then wore them with a different pair of sneakers to run errands for many more hours.
Best of all, after two full days of wearing these socks, they remain as fresh smelling as when I first donned them.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2018 – 2019 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine for the third consecutive year. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.


Jump into the foam ball pit at Planet Obstacle

What’s a nice safety-obsessive girl who doesn’t like heights and is a natural klutz doing in a place like Planet Obstacle, Lake Mary, Florida’s ode to extreme indoor sports?
Mostly just trying not to let my jaw keep dropping open as I gape at hundreds of kids flying through the air like ninja warriors, or playing dodgeball in a brightly-lit padded court, or bouncing about in a foam ball-filled pit. Above me, a ropes course had human monkeys disguised Read more


Looking for fun ways to incentivize your attendees?

Clue. Candyland. Sorry. Battleship. Monopoly. Trivia Pursuit. The games people play while sitting around a board with one’s friends and family. Games can be competitive or just the catalyst for casual conversation, but they have always been a source for fun social interactions… at least before electronics fit in our pockets and playing an opponent didn’t Read more


Lisa Jennings (L) and I feeding grapes to ring-tailed lemurs.

Ring-tailed lemurs hop from branch to branch before perching on a wooden railing, greedily grabbing the grapes from our hands with their soft paws and plopping the juicy morsels into their eager mouths. The water buffalo who rubbed up against the sides of our open-air canopied safari bus were nearly as gentle, even as their long, wet tongues curled around the offered tootsie roll-shaped treats.
Lemurs and water buffalo are just some of the 450 animals representing 55 species of mostly African and Asian hoof stock that roams the 260 acres of Safari Wilderness Ranch, Read more


My husband Russ and a 15-year-old male relative (whose name I will not use to save him unmitigated embarrassment) have something in common: they both sweat easily and profusely, especially on their feet. The result is that no one wants to be near them when their socks are first removed.
Enter them being my guinea pig subjects for new socks on the market that claim to be the world’s best odorless socks. Full Read more


My vote for worst aiport goes unhesitatingly to KEFLAVÍK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, the largest airport in Iceland, and for worst airline, ICELANDAIR, for its overall poor management and unsocial (or is it untrained, or just incompetent?) gate crew.
I’ll give you my reasons. Please share yours.
Two years ago, my husband Russ and I flew roundtrip to Copenhagen, Denmark on Icelandair, departing and returning to Orlando International Airport in Florida. After the mind-boggling chaos of Keflavík International Airport and the startlingly disorganized manner Read more

Glovax Gloves – a multipurpose, sturdy but flexible utility glove

Glovax Gloves, a new glove on the global market designed to be lightweight, flexible for multipurpose usages.

I rarely review products, but this was sent to me for an unbiased review, and because it is an item I envision myself using, I agreed to check out Glovax Gloves, a brand new product just entered into the global marketplace.
First: what the gloves are purported to do. They are designed for usage indoors and out, from weeding the garden to playing sports where a tight grip would come in handy. They are promoted as being revolutionary because of the multiple ways in which they are useful.
They are to be flexible enough to grasp machinery or even kitchen tools. I cook and bake as well as work in my garden, so having gloves that are light weight and are also supposed to be water proof (the outside coating) would be valuable to me.
What could be better: I don’t know if the company offers a variety of sizes or even other colors, but my neon orange gloves, with a pebbled palm surface to maximize the grip, were a bit large for my hands. I easily had an extra inch of finger space, but the gloves do pull on easily. Although the gloves surfaces are coated and meant to be water proof, after I put the gloves through my gardening test, I rinsed them off with soap and water. The insides were damp, but the dirt slid off easily.

Wish they were longer on my arm, but working in the garden was easy with their lightweight flexibility to deadhead flowers or replant.

I also would love it if the gloves came in different lengths. I am allergic to more items than I could list. Working in the garden is always challenging. If certain plants touch my lower arms, I break out in a rash. In this test, right above my wrists, where the gloves ended, I indeed broke out. I purposely touched a thorny plant stem to see how easily the thorns might penetrate. They did, but not with the full force the thorns might have otherwise done.
What I really like: obviously the fact that the gloves are flexible and wash off easily. I was able to use a trowel, deadhead flowers, and snap off some dead leaves on my herbs, tasks I’ve had difficulty doing with some other gardening or utility gloves. These are light weight, so if it wasn’t for the pebbly rubbery texture, you might not otherwise feel them.
I did a quick test with using a cleaver and had no problem grasping the hilt.
The campaign to market the gloves just launched. Check them out for yourself.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2016 – 2017 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine for the second consecutive year. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.


Russ and me, after our successful hike in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

Russ and me, after our successful hike in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

I’ve been away travelling, hiking up mountains, glaciers and volcanos throughout Patagonia. Until I can focus on telling you the details of that thrilling adventure, here’s a lot of information on which you can chew and plan your vacation or group meeting. There’s a lot of info here, so grab your favorite beverage, plop yourself into a comfy chair, and dream about the possibilities.
Tech-savvy groups won’t want to miss out on the wizardry  The Mira Hong Kong offers along with its unique thematic coffee breaks, nine meeting rooms that can host from 18 to 800 people, and state-of-the-art AV services. Located in Tsim Sha Tsui, China, The Hong Kong prides itself on Asian hospitality, views of Kowloon Park, and that each of the 492 rooms and suites is equipped with a sleek, portable, and complimentary Wi-Fi device for use on-the-go, allowing for 24/7 connectivity and sharing the signal to up to 10 devices. Book this hotel by August 31 and here are just some of the perks you can gain for your group.
8 to 49 rooms: – For every 5 rooms booked, the 6th room booked will be upgraded to the next category, plus additional privileges
50+ rooms: – For every 50 room nights booked, enjoy one complimentary night for your next visit; Complimentary 60-minute cocktail at the open-air lounge bar or at one of the Specialty Suites designed for entertaining; additional privileges
Osthoff Resort cooking school, classes for kids and for adults

Osthoff Resort cooking school, classes for kids and for adults

How come when I vacationed as a youth with my family no one offered kid’s culinary classes like this year’s Summer Pleasures™ at The Osthoff Resort?  The Elkhart Lake, WI AAA Four Diamond resort compounds its “Culinary Kids” cooking classes with junior-sized fishing, Village history treasures hunts, and “Kidz Kraftz” projects for children from four to 10 years old. The summer promotion includes two nights in an elegant guest room and $15 per day towards our Summer Pleasures™ program, which runs May 27 – June 1 and Sunday through Thursday, June 2 – September 30. The Osthoff is one hour north of Milwaukee, less than two hours from Madison and approximately three hours from Chicago.  The resort contains 38,000 sf of state-of-the-art function space, four restaurants, a 20,000 sf Aspira Spa and a classic cooking school.
I’ll for any opportunity to dance. Throw in a luxurious lodging package and the chance to watch celebrity performances during the 28th annual Vail International Dance Festival, July 30 – August 13, and it sounds like a mountain-high grand idea. The Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail Village, CO thinks a package that includes 15% off all spa services, $18 reduced price valet parking and complimentary basic WiFi might be a great incentive for arts patrons. The hotel’s mix of alpine adventure and timeless European elegance are the perfect backdrop to a festival that features Isabella Boylston as Artist-in-Residence, Company-in-Residence BalletX, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dorrance Dance, and Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance. There will be a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Festival’s Artistic Director, former New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel and at least 10 world premieres of dances.
www.sonnenalp.com; (866) 284-4411; www.vaildance.org
PSST! The secret password to get a special 20% discount on room rates for the newly-opened The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel is GRAND. The rate is available for travel through December 2016. The upscale boutique chain, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, has located their latest property in the first six floors of the historic R.J. Reynolds Building in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. The April 26 opening earmarks Kimpton’s first foray into the Carolinas. I’ve stayed at a number of Kimpton hotels. Each has been eclectically styled and elegant. The Kimpton Cardinal has 174 luxe guestrooms, including 15 suites, each blending the tradition of monograms and tartan fabrics with modern furnishings and playful artwork. Each element tells a story, from the emerald green accents in each bathroom – an ode to the state’s official gemstone – to the oversized portraits of luminaries R.J. Reynolds and Colonel Winston woven into the detailed carpets of the boardroom and mezzanine. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the building remains an architectural showcase of original gold leaf, rich marble and burnished brass. Common areas include the welcoming Living Room on the lobby level dressed in Carolina-inspired artwork with pops of fuchsia and monograms and a nearly 2,000-sf Rec Room with a basketball court, bowling alley and adult-sized twisty slide. The Katharine, a traditional French brasserie that draws fresh inspiration from classic Southern cooking and overseen by Executive Chef Ed Witt, sits adjacent to The Kimpton Cardinal. The hotel has more than 6,300 sf of function space, including two ballrooms with room for up to 400 guests on the mezzanine level. The 20th-floor office spaces of R. J. Reynolds have been transformed into three meeting rooms, offering views of downtown Winston-Salem and the mountains to the west. Upon arrival, guests of The Kimpton Cardinal will be greeted with a Winston-Salem tradition of Moravian cookies and sweet tea in the Living Room. Other unique local amenities and experiences include an Art-o-Mat® in the hotel’s Rec Room, a traditional cigarette machine repurposed to distribute small pieces of artwork, and the option to utilize the hotel’s yoga mats and bikes for a quick ride and yoga session at nearby Bailey Park. Also tying into its local cycling community, the hotel will be developing specific packages and amenities for cycling enthusiasts. The Kimpton Cardinal takes pet friendly to a new level. Four-legged guests are provided a VIP (Very Important Pet) amenity, pet bowl and pet bed… at no extra charge.
www.thecardinalhotel.com; www.kimptonhotels.com.
Blast off your summer by joining MeliáRewards and get a 15% off the brand new Me Miami, by Meliá Hotels International. You must book before June 30 and stay by that date to take advantage of the offer. The Miami, FL property has 14,000 sf of function space and is in the heart in the heart of downtown, nearby to Adrienne Arsht Center, American Airlines Arena, Perez Art Museum and the new epicenter of the city, Miami Worldcenter.
Springmaid Beach Resort's Southern Tide Bar & Grille. A new beginning on the Springmaid Pier.

Springmaid Beach Resort’s Southern Tide Bar & Grille. A new beginning on the Springmaid Pier.

Just in time for a summertime trek to the popular Myrtle Beach, SC, the 30-acre oceanfront Springmaid Beach Resort has completed the first round of its major renovation project. All 452 waterfront guest rooms and the Springmaid Pier restaurant, renamed Southern Tide Bar & Grille, have been fully renovated and redesigned. To celebrate its rebrand as the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton, Myrtle Beach Oceanfront, you can receive a special 15% off introductory savings on all accommodations, F&B, and gift shop purchases, for travel through September 30. You must book by April 30.
Located in the resort’s Live Oak and Palmetto Towers, the redesigned guest rooms feature 40” HD TVs, DoubleTree’s signature Sweet Dreams® bedding, mini-refrigerator, microwave and private balcony with outdoor seating. Outfitted with new ebony wood furnishings, the rooms are dressed in a fresh palette of ocean blues and cool grey, creating a contemporary coastal design. The newly-named Southern Tide Bar & Grille features driftwood finishes, sand and surf hues and a wall of windows overlooking the historic Springmaid Pier. By the end of summer, renovations will also include an all new Main Building and waterfront focal point for the resort with guest registration; the Ocean Blue Restaurant & Lounge with waterfront outdoor seating and private dining room; lobby bar; The Market grab & go snack area; Ocean Terrace and Ocean Boardroom. Additionally, the resort’s 35,000 sf feet of flexible event space and largest ocean-view conference center in Myrtle Beach is receiving an upgrade.
www. SpringmaidBeach.com; (866) 764-8501
You can save up to 45% with this offer by The Wyndham Reef Resort in Grand Cayman. Yes, you read that correctly. 45%. Travel by June 17, book by May 12. No minimum night stay. The secluded 150-room Wyndham Reef Resort is the only full-service, all beachfront resort in the Cayman Islands with all-inclusive packages. Every room features spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea, and all one and two-bedroom suites include a full kitchen and dining area. The resort is also minutes from George Town, Seven Mile Beach, Stingray City and other popular island locations.
www.WyndhamCayman.com; (888) 232-0541.
A new coat of exterior paint and a redo for Pelican’s dockside restaurant and Sheraton Bay Point Resort will be ready to take the spotlight by Memorial Day Weekend. The Panama City Beach, FL resort has 320 rooms, including 60 golf villa suites, 60,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space, two 18-hole golf courses, including the only Nicklaus Design Course in NW Florida; and the 12,000 sf luxury Serenity Spa.
www. www.BayPointResorts.com
The Mall of America (MOA) opens two new projects this month: the new Parkview Meeting + Event Center and its newest attraction, FlyOver America.  The Saint Paul, MN projects were completed by Krech, O’Brien, Mueller & Associates, Inc. (KOMA), from Inver Grove Heights. FlyOver America is a flight simulation ride that takes guests on a breathtaking, aerial tour of some of the greatest landmarks and regions throughout the United States using virtual flight technology. The ride is adjacent to the new Parkview space in the southwest corner of Nickelodeon Universe and spans from 10 feet below the park up to 55 feet in the air. KOMA was tasked with coordinating a pre-designed three-level ride and screen structure within a newly designed building enclosure within the park. The building is comprised of pre-show exhibits, a 45-foot high theater space, retail areas, box office and administrative spaces and a renovated park plaza. The event center is a marriage of creativity and functional design, evoking an indoor-outdoor feeling overlooking Nickelodeon Universe. Soundproofing was an essential element. The 4,000 sf of private event space has a 700 sf balcony overlooking Nickelodeon Universe. KOMA’s design incorporates perimeter programmable LED lighting and SageGlass LightZoneTM glass in order to give the space a luminescent glow. Customers will be able to control the opacity of the windows overlooking the park.  The space also features a scalloped ceiling, custom carpeting, custom large-scale digital wallcoverings, floor-to-ceiling upholstered banquettes and rich walnut accents. There’s full A/V capabilities, private restrooms, and can accommodate up to 400 guests.
The work is underway on the renovation of the 1000,000 sf Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. The multi-million-dollar renovation includes significant structural, design and technological upgrades to the interior and exterior of the building.  Key design elements are to create more open, flexible meeting space and pay tribute to Winston-Salem’s historic arts, tobacco and textile roots.  The plans also include expanding the front facade to provide more practical, pre-function space.  More windows and skylights will give the venue a contemporary, open and inviting aesthetic.  The center remains operational during the renovation and is expected to be finalized May 2017.
Code green is Caesars’ multi-year strategy to identify, measure, manage and reduce their material impacts on the environment. No better time to display their efforts than at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center in Atlantic City, NJ when the entertainment company hosts MPI’s World Education Congress, June 11 – 14. Caesars will showcase some of the elements that has won them a silver IMEX Green Supplier Award and Green Key Eco-Rating, such as paperless online event menus, meeting guide, BEOs and billing. All China, flatware and linen are offered in lieu of disposables and water is present only on request.
CaesarsMeansBusiness.com; 855-MEET-CET; Meet@Caesars.com; www.mpiweb.org/Events
As an experienced traveler, I am aware that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to fly and that Tuesdays can be the best day to buy airline tickets. Not everyone possesses the knowledge I do, and for those of you who don’t, check out this information by David Weliver, a nationally cited authority on Millennials and money, and other tips he offers on his Money Under 30 site.
If only the fellow travelers on my recent trip to Patagonia knew about this handy accessory they wouldn’t have been struggling with schlepping their camera gear. Tenba’s BYOB Camera Insert converts any existing bag into a camera bag. This new accessory also fits inside their Packlite Travel Bags, the world’s first packable, self-stowing camera bag.
OK, while this admittedly is not technology, I do think it “smart” of Gaylord Hotels to declare what the season’s trendy colors are. The Marriott International brand provides appropriate set designs as visuals for the color schemes. The company says this year’s colors are Rose Quartz and Serenity (promotes happiness and fluidity), Snorkel blue for a nautical theme, Buttercup to create a sunny and cheerful atmosphere, Fiesta (deep reds), and Green Flash for a splash of Spring.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI and is now serving on the 2015 – 2016 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

Six Wines, Three Flatbreads and an Afternoon of Tasting

We’re very fortunate living in the Orlando, FL area. While the rest of the country is still experiencing the bluster of March, we’re enjoying blue skies, low 80’s and gentle breezes. It was perfect weather for sitting on the back porch of Seasons 52 overlooking the lake, sipping on slights of wine and munching on flatbreads.
Seasons 52 is a Darden Restaurant original brand that specializes in fresh, locally sourced foods, with meals, appetizers and mini-desserts typically weighing in at no more than 500 calories, including the aforementioned flatbreads. The menu changes seasonally, and the wines offered on their stellar program called Flights & Flatbreads changes frequently. Each wine comes with tasting notes. The program is available daily up to 6 pm.
For $15, you can have a choice of whites or reds (roughly 3 ounces each) and one flatbread. For $20, their Acclaimed red wines are rated at 90+ points. According to Seasons 52, the Acclaimed wines are rated by Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast Read more

HOLY C.O.W! (The Wines of California, Oregon and Washington)

We doubled the pleasure at Wente Wineries in Livermore Valley. L to R: Karen and Gabrielle. photo by Russ Wagner

We doubled the pleasure at Wente Wineries in Livermore Valley. L to R: Karen and Gabrielle. photo by Russ Wagner

Before Napa Valley became the viticultural Eden that it is, there was Livermore Valley. What! You’ve never heard of Livermore?
Neither had we until our recent summer trek to California,  Oregon and Washington to see friends, family, and do a whole lot of wine tasting.
Livermore wasn’t our first stop, but it became an agenda on my planner husband’s activity list when he discovered that’s where Wente Winery is located. Though somewhat familiar with Wente wines, we knew that 80% of all wines produced in California never leave the state, so what higher-end gems were Wente keeping secreted away that only their club members or locals would know?
Livermore Valley, CA
Getting to Livermore was an easy 40-minute car trip from my daughter Gabrielle’s house Read more


L to R: Natasha, The Psychic Lady and Melanie LaJoie ply their

L to R: Natasha, The Psychic Lady and Melanie LaJoie ply their “fortune telling” skills at the mystics tent.

Empire-waist dresses, ballooning poet sleeves, puffed vests, monks’ robes, and flower garland crowns gilded young damsels and lords, countrymen and artisans as they passed through the village. Elizabethan history breathed life through the halls of the 500 building of the Winter Park 9th Grade Center as hundreds of English class students dressed in period finery passed from room to room, each representing a craft, skill or facet of life in a Renaissance village.
Trumpeters, flautists, and other musicians entertained. Jesters juggled. Artists painted. Weavers peddled their looms, apothecary shopkeepers displayed their potions and herbs. The King’s Banquet Room laid out tables of fruits, sandwiches, shepherd’s pie, bread pudding, pies, cookies and other foods suitable for feasting. Faces were painted and a milliner’s store offered hats, hair jewels and hair braiding. There were games of chance, games of physical challenge, and next to the mystics tent a Read more


Mount Rushmore handcrafted in solid milk chocolate at the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe'. photo by Karen Kuzsel.

Mount Rushmore handcrafted in solid milk chocolate at the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe’. photo by Karen Kuzsel.

Russell Crowe’s movie, “Noah” has me seeing things in pairs.
I first noticed that the small strip mall near my house contains three sets of restaurants: Chinese, barbeque, and Italian. I thought it odd that a second restaurant would come into the same plaza with a similar menu, but then noticed venues recreating in the same manner.
As an active member of both the Orlando area chapters of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and ISES (International Special Events Society), I attend meetings at many newly-opened venues that cater to corporate and leisure groups. The latest pairs are upscale bowling alleys, museums about chocolate, and the unfolding of Diagon Alley, the famed street favored by wizards, witches and now muggles.
I was frankly curious how an upscale bowling alley would differ from the ones I used to frequent. And what exactly does one do at a museum about chocolate other than dream of mouth-melting morsels sans calories? Will the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley be as skillfully-replicated as its Hogsmeade counterpart at Universal Orlando Resorts’ Islands of Adventure?
So here’s what I’ve discovered.
Both Chocolate Kingdom and The World of Chocolate Museum & Café are surrounded by the trappings of Orlando’s famed tourism districts. Both museums offer amusing and educational guided tours of how chocolate went from being a drink only the wealthy could afford to the favorite reason to crash a diet, including the ever-popular “It’s dark chocolate so its oxidants are healthy for you” excuse. Both museums offer limited chocolate samples along the roughly 45-minute interactive tour, have event space, and each has a convenient gift store. That’s where the similarities end. Here’s what makes each of them stand out. Read more


Sweet treats from Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at the goampi Meeting Planner All Stars program. photo by Lauralee Shapiro CMP

Sweet treats from Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at the goampi Meeting Planner All Stars program. photo by Lauralee Shapiro CMP

What does a meeting planner want?
That question is as enigmatic as a clueless husband wondering what more could his wife could want after his birthday surprise of a new vacuum cleaner didn’t go over quite as expected.
The answer to what a meeting planner wants varies as much as who may be asking. Is the person pondering the hotel coordinator who’s servicing a group’s meeting or trying to solicit that business, or is it the AV tech/florist/caterer/transportation or furniture décor rep? Is the planner working for a corporation, association, or independent?
The simple answer to what a meeting planner wants is a smoothly-run event, surrounded by attentive and reliable vendors in a fantastic venue that was generous with incentives, and to have the client’s attendees wowed by the entire experience.
Easy peasy to pull off, right?
Or not, which is why an audience of about 85 were so intently focused on the questions and responses given by a panel of six Meeting Planner All Stars at the January luncheon meeting of the Greater Read more


Hoo has personality!

Hoo has personality! photo by Karen Kuzsel

If wishes were dreams that come true, being able to take culinary classes in high school would have been near the top of my list. As easy as it would be for me to be envious of the 193 students who participated in the competition segments of the Orange County (FL) Public School’s 4th Annual Hospitality and Culinary Competition, I am instead grateful to have once again witnessed the incredible creative and skilled talent they exhibited.
The December competition held annually at the Orlando World Center Marriott broadens the number of categories and participating schools and tech centers each year who offer culinary and/or hospitality training. Competition categories include: gourmet meals, desserts, knife skills, decorative centerpieces, edible centerpieces, and waiter’s relay. The hospitality portion, which I didn’t see, includes room inspection, case study analysis and project presentation.
This was my fourth year of judging. The first time I agreed to sample desserts in the early morning. As lovely as some of those sweets were that crossed my lips and went straight to my hips, I have happily judged the presentation of edible centerpieces for the past three years if for no other reason than to stand in awe of what these students craft in an hour.
penguin holiday

penguin holiday. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The Marriott prepared an amazing buffet in multiple stations for the judges and students and then awards are presented for the top places in each category. After smelling the aromas of gourmet meals and desserts being prepared tableside across the cavernous ballroom for a few hours, you can understand why there’s a mad rush for the buffet tables when given the OK signal.
Before I name the participating schools, tech centers and winners, I encourage anyone who would like to witness or impact future generations of hospitality and culinary stars to contact Patricia Breeding for next year’s team of volunteers. 407-317-3200,ext 2690 or  Patricia.breeding@ocps.net.
Don’t take just my word that this program is beneficial. Dave Robitaille, MS, MT (ASCP) and Program Specialist and Administrator for the Health Science Career and Technical Education at OCPS says, “The data overwhelmingly shows that students enrolled in CTE programs have a greater chance of completing high school and going to college than non-CTE students. So, CTE programs should not be looked at as an alternative for students not bound for college. On the contrary, if parents want their children to go to college, they should encourage them to enroll in a CTE program.”
The high schools who participated are: Colonial, Cypress Creek, Freedom, Wekiva, Winter Park, Oak Ridge, Gateway School, and Dr Phillips. Tech centers include  Mid Florida Tech, Westside Tech, and Orlando Tech. Sponsors included the Marriott, Keiser University, Johnson and Wales University, and the CFHLA.
The edible Christmas tree and friends. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The edible Christmas tree and friends. photo by Karen Kuzsel


School Home School Student Name
Non – Edible Centerpiece      
First place Cypress Creek HS   Riani Pokipala
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Cassidy Brown
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Sofia Fernandez
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Madison Fitch
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Tia Humphries
Edible Centerpiece      
First place Mid Florida Tech University HS Christine Hernandez
Second place Mid Florida Tech Edgewater HS Kristopher Davis
Third place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek Jamie Pena
Dessert High School      
First place Gateway School   Heriberto Lopez
First place Gateway School   Josue Cabrales
Second place Cypress Creek HS   Grant Baldinger
Second place Cypress Creek HS   Jessica Butler
Third place Winter Park HS   Daniella Sauri
Third place Winter Park HS   Raham Elsayed
DessertTech Center      
First place Westside Tech Wekiva HS Zakoya Hall
First place Westside Tech Evans HS Devante McDonald
Second place Westside Tech West Orange HS Kristi Caruana
Second place Westside Tech West Orange HS Lauren Harms
Gourmet Meal      
First place Winter Park HS   Melissa Morales
First place Winter Park HS   Antonio Cepero
First place Winter Park HS   Angelique Allison
Second place Winter Park HS   Joey Goldberg
Second place Winter Park HS   Laura Johnson
Second place Winter Park HS   Foley Flood
Third place Winter Park HS   Caleb Johnson
Third place Winter Park HS   Julie Phicien
Third place Winter Park HS   Amber Negron
Gourmet MealTech Center      
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Angela Cippilone
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Brandon Santiago
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Abby Johnson
Second place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek Emmanuel Arboleda
Second place Mid Florida Tech University HS Raquel Amador
Second place Mid Florida Tech University HS Desiree Perez
Knife Skills      
First place Orlando Tech Winter Park HS Yafreicy Rodriguez
Second place Mid Florida Tech Dr Phillips HS Fransheska Whittington
Third place Westside Tech Wekiva HS Latasha Morris


Waiter’s Relay      
First place Freedom HS   Luis Alvarado
First place Freedom HS   Ysenia Palomino
First place Freedom HS   Lourdes Sanchez
Second place Colonial HS   Christine Ortiz Hernandez
Second place Colonial HS   Nathaniel Morales
Second place Colonial HS   Angel Dones
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Jessica Rivera
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Gabrielle Tursi
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Adrianna Colon


A cantelope tiki hut shields birds of a feather. photo by Karen Kuzsel

A cantelope tiki hut shields birds of a feather. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Hospitality Competition Winners

Event School Home School Student Name
Hospitality Competition      
First place – Overall Dr Phillips HS   Tia Humphries
First place Dr Phillips HS   Cassidy Brown
First place Dr Phillips HS   Madison Fitch
First place Dr Phillips HS   Sofia Fernandez
Second place- Overall Colonial HS   Yarissa Pena
Second place Colonial HS   Meagan Ojeda
Second place Colonial HS   Noe Hernandez
Second place Colonial HS   Lesly Lopez
Third place – Overall Mid Florida Tech Lake Nona HS Angie Grunskyte
Third place Mid Florida Tech West Orange HS Jadia Johnson
Third place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek HS Sasha Gatti
Third place Mid Florida Tech Wekiva HS Deja Miller

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com. @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

Castle Hotel Dresses Up For Corporate Business

Castle Hotel shimmers with royal attitude

Castle Hotel shimmers with royal attitude

There have been two stately Castles in Orlando. Both at one time have been pink, but unlike Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the Castle Hotel on International Drive encourages overnight stays. In fact, after the Castle Hotel became the 9th Kessler Collection  boutique hotel to become part of the Marriott Autograph Collection on October 17, those overnights have gotten cozier.
Two of the 216 guestrooms have magically morphed into the three-treatment room Poseidon Spa and Garden Bistro. The remaining 214 threw off their mantle of yore and are now dressed in modern European furniture and soothing colors. The Castle didn’t shed its spires, turrets or twin rooftop balconies (some of the best viewing of area theme park fireworks and the perfect size for a reception for 120 max), but inside it now more closely resembles an upscale hunting lodge adorned in fine art work. Many pieces—such as the gorgeous chandelier hanging in the Palace Ballroom, came from Chairman and CEO Richard C. Kessler’s private collection.
Upon my visit to the grand re-launch of The Castle as the only Marriott Autograph Collection hotel on International Drive, I couldn’t stop drooling over the two rhinestone-encrusted black-and-white curved chairs enhancing the lobby. I have costumes (for my alter ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady) that aren’t this bejeweled.
As with all 10 Kessler Collection properties in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina, this one features local, regional, world-renowned and Kessler Signature artists. The $6.5 million, months-long renovation has repositioned The Castle from a luxury leisure property to one focused on attracting corporate business. There is now more than 9,000 sf in meeting and event space. The new Palace Ballroom can seat 180 in rounds. There is also the Read more

Orlando’s Food Scene Outlined in Ricky Ly’s Guide

Food Lovers' Guide to Orlando  I am not sure if Orlando has ever had a food guide before Ricky Ly took on the task. I had heard about Ricky Ly before meeting him at two food events where we were both invited as food critics. Ly is a food blogger who can be found at @tastychomps or on FaceBook at tastychomps. His book is the Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings.
Like Ly’s day job as an engineer, he tackled this food guide with meticulous organization and verve at getting the project done in a timely manner. Unfortunately, as with a guide of any kind, the listings start to become outdated by the time the guide is published. I noticed that with several of the restaurants mentioned here that are no longer in business.
Nonetheless, for someone looking for descriptions of a restaurant’s cuisine, a bit of background, and where it’s geographically located within the metro Orlando area (which is divided in food zones), this book is a winner. He articulates Orlando into downtown, central, north, west, east and south areas, as well as breaking down further into Universal/International Drive, Restaurant Row/Sand Lake Road, and Disney/Lake Buena Vista. The surprise is a separate listing for Winter Park and for food trucks. He told me he had visited all 300 restaurants listed here. I wish I could more plainly see the evidence of that. I like when he mentions dishes he personally favors at these restaurants. There just should have been more of that.  Instead, many of the restaurants are relegated to general information about what style of cuisine is prepared; information that could be found elsewhere.
I can see this guide as very useful for someone unfamiliar with Orlando restaurants, or someone just looking to try something new when out of their usual vicinity for dining out. Restaurants are delineated as to their price, type of attire (dressy or casual), and which are hid favorites. Specialty markets and stores are also categorized.
The book sells for $14.95 and can be found on Amazon or you can just contact Ly on his Facebook page or twitter name to get updates on where it can be purchased. Tell him you heard about the book in my blog.
Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com. @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando


Musicians played. Actors orated. The audience listens. Shakespeare Lives!

Musicians played. Actors orated. The audience listens. Shakespeare Lives!

When I was met at the door by a woman wearing a bedazzled plum Renaissance dress and circlet headpiece and the gym I was stepping into resembled market day in King Henry the VIII’s Court, I knew my expectations of Winter Park High School’s 9th Grade Center’s annual Shakespeare Festival had already been exceeded. What magic is this at a public school that so captures students’ imagination by thrusting them headlong into an immersive celebration of Shakespeare and the times in which he lived and created?
Weaving is a time-honored craft

Weaving is a time-honored craft

What better way to end the school year than by following up the required study of Romeo and Juliet than by having students attired in Elizabethan period costuming listening attentively to others who had to audition for the chance to orate prettily in sonorous tones?  What matter of mayhem hath the English department wrought that for 25 years, the annual Shakespeare Festival now crowds a gym with pennant-and-cloth draped booths in rich colors, artisans weaving on a loom or molding clay into a pot? There’s henna, caricaturists, calligraphers, and of course, majestic King Henry VII (Orlando actor Michael Marzella) robed in puffed cloak and furred crown presiding over the day’s events.
Natasha, The Psychic Lady reveals the mysteries in palms

Natasha, The Psychic Lady reveals the mysteries in palms

The band plays, someone gets locked up in the stockade, and pirate hatted men bow as they pass. There are fairies and queens, hand-servants dressing the tables laden with donated food.
The day begins in the wee hours of morn, but the organization begins anew for the next year. Each year the festival has grown in its offerings, thanks to the voluminous hours and money donated by students and parents. The Orlando Shakespeare Theater lends costumes. Teachers and administrative staff are costumed. Students are required to dress up and a collection of donated costumes are available for those in need. Each designated English class hour, that class attends the festival. They drink in the words and music of Shakespeare’s days. They revel in the pomp of the festivities.
I was hired as Natasha, The Psychic Lady to amuse, entertain and awe with my readings. Instead, I was the one who was entertained and awed by this splendid array of trappings and high spirits. My own booth bore signs hand-crafted by students. My gratitude goes to English teachers Sondra Dunlap and Stacy Julian, co-organizers of the event, for hiring me.
a student created my sign

a student created my sign

King Henry VIII says, "Huzzah"

King Henry VIII says, “Huzzah”

With so much negativity surrounding schools and the people we entrust with our most precious asset—our children, I couldn’t have been more inspired to witness the powerful impact of dedication, imagination, and community action that is still possible. I wish all the naysayers and budget-cutters could see first-hand what a difference the arts and engaging our young people’s minds can render.
Spinning a pot

Spinning a pot

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com


Karen Kuzsel

Karen Kuzsel

The prognosis that one small area of my hip had crossed the border into osteoporosis has landed me in the sticker shock hell of questionable medicine and its cost. What price are you willing to pay for your health when it’s not a matter of life and death?I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so my recent experiences have made me question whether I am being treated this way because I have “women issues” or are these concerns generated from society’s reluctance to adhere to anything other than conventional Western medicine Read more

Hollywood The Band, A Tale of Sex, Drugs, And Rock And Roll

hollywood the band coverThere’s a relic of an ironic joke that if you can remember the 60’s, you weren’t really there. The drugs were psychedelic and mind-expanding, the clothes worn as a defiant costume of flowers, paisleys and neon colors, and the arrogance of youth permeated the atmosphere like a clashing haze of ideas and ideals that rose upward and outward from a center core of music that can still be heard on any classic oldies station. The same could be said for the early 70s. Bands that etched their genius onto the landscape like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, The Beach Boys, Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Seger, Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Simon & Garfinkle, The Buffalo Springfield, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Santana, and Rare Earth were just some of the names that regularly vied for #1 on music play lists.
On none of those lists would you have found the band, Hollywood, a ragtag group of wanna-be rock ‘n roll stars who fought through their drug-induced sex haze long enough to let their creative musicality and stumbling managers guide them to their dream. You wouldn’t have found Hollywood listed because author Steven Jordan Brooks hadn’t yet imagined them on paper. But the band lives as surely as any fictional character representing a time, a place, and an era. “Hollywood The Band, A Tale of Sex, Drugs, And Rock And Roll” is a story of that band’s journey to secure a record deal. To get there, they had to survive the issues of the day: politics, music maneuverings, unlimited designer drugs, unbridled sex, homosexual awareness, the Viet Nam war, and racial tensions.
Brooks is a classically trained musician who transitioned from rock ‘n roll performer to management and production. Those years before he eventually morphed into an English and drama teacher became the research of his saga. He uses Hollywood, The Band, as the catalyst for telling a story of the 70’s, name dropping real bands and real-life situations into the fictional mix. While the story rings true and is likely a composite of characters Brooks lived and partied with, Read more

Film Festival Favors Global Themes & International Filmmakers


Pui Chan, the documentary, won Best Documentary and Audience Favorite

Ron Howard and his Oscar nominated daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard, were at the Central Florida Film Festival (CENFLO) over Labor Day Weekend. OK, so maybe they weren’t physically there, but the movie he executive produced and she directed, When You Find Me, was not only there, but later won for Best Short Film.

Over the course of the Friday-Sunday festival, more than 80 features, shorts and documentaries from 14 states and eight foreign countries were shown to more than 2,000 film fans and movie industry folks. Held each Labor Day weekend for the past eight years, this was the third time it was sponsored by the City of Ocoee’s Community Redevelopment Agency (administered by my husband, Russ Wagner) and held at the newly-expanded West Orange Cinemas (WOC) in Ocoee.

MovieMaker Magazine recently named CENFLO in the “Top 25 Film Festivals worth Read more

Raising the Platform: SOCIAL MEDIA takes users to communication heights never before reached

 This story was published in the December-January 2012 issue of Facility Manager magazine, an official publication of The International Association of Venue Managers, Inc.  It is reprinted with permission from Editor RV Baugus.
Face it. When it comes to using social media to get traffic through your doors, the concern now is how to use it more effectively than should you be using it at all. In a world where software changes more quickly than a teenager’s moods, the successful arena manager begins by pondering  these questions.
Which social media platforms work best for my audience?

  1. How do I build brand trust and loyalty?
  2. What incentives should I offer to engage and hold their attention?
  3. What’s next?

Deciding which social media platforms work
If Facebook and Twitter aren’t your new best friends, they should be.  “Facebook currently has 800 million active users, who in turn each have about 130 friends they actively share information with on a daily basis,” says Ryan Sheehy, Advertising & PR instructor for the Nicholson School of Communication for the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
What does that mean to you?
“Facebook allows you to directly connect with folks invested in your product.  Research shows that those connected to Facebook are more likely to purchase your product,” she noted during a session on Building A Social Media Strategy for Every Type of Facility at the 22nd annual Area Management Conference in Orlando.
For the 18,000-capacity Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, social media has been a gift for reaching an audience beyond their regional area. Social media collects personal information from users that “allowing us to customize what we’re sending,” says General Manager Michael Marion. “Email is being replaced by social media sites as the preferred Read more

Vibrate into the New Age!

I love when certain words slide off my tongue as easily as dipping aforementioned tongue into a delectable Carvel soft chocolate ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Take synergistic, for example, a word that has been rolling around in my head for the past hour, just begging to be released. Synergy to me is when at least two diverse entities converge and the result is more powerful and wonderful than either part individually. Today my past and my present and my future all collided. When I was very young, I had a favorite uncle who was both a widely-respected newspaper editor and a prodigious national book reviewer. When I’d go to visit him, the walls were literally lined with books he’d reviewed. With each visit, he’d stimulate my thirst for knowledge with gifts of these treasures and encourage me to write about what I knew, what I saw, and what I wanted to be in this world. Never did I dream that one day I’d be on publicists’ lists to review their authors’ efforts, Read more

From My Lips To Your Eyes: A short synopsis of what you need to know

It’s like squeezing into a too-tight dress when it’s the only one that will work for the event you’re headed to tonight. There’s just too much to cram into one small space and too little time to do anything more about it. That’s how I think of all the information I’m privy to about hotel and destinations promotions, event announcements, software that sweetens success, and people of distinction in the hospitality/meetings & events/entertainment industries. I know you’d like to know what I know, but the collection of knowledge doesn’t fit into the formats of publications and organizations for whom I already write.
Here’s where you come in.
I will give a $25 check to the person who comes up with a title for a new blog I feel compelled to create. Whoever dishes up the best Read more

To Wine or Not to Wine is Never the Question!

             Wine is like fine art. Can’t explain why I like it. Just do, or don’t. I studiously strive to understand the complexities, savor the nose, taste the underlying notes, or chew each velvety drop to assay whether it is fruit forward. I know what I like, which usually tends to be bold, brassy reds like cabs, merlots, zins and syrahs from California or Australia. My palette was recently tested during a tasting tour through Oregon, Napa and Sonoma Valley wineries.

Through these handcarved doors lies Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards' wine cave. Photo by Russ Wagner

            Every couple years, my husband Russ and I visit my daughter, Gabrielle, and her husband, Steve, in the San Francisco area. As they are the ones who ultimately converted us to bolder wines, we inevitably make tasting treks to Sonoma County wineries they frequent. Occasionally Russ and I plan routes to wine regions with which we want to become much better acquainted. This trip we revisited some favorites, checked out some Napa Valley area wineries recommended highly by our friends, Julienne and Ross, and discovered gems in Oregon’s central coast. You already know I’m a foodie, so no surprise that our road trip likewise involved uncovering mouthwatering culinary delights.
            Grab a snack. Sip some wine. Read more

5 Stars for Ravella's Food & Spa

Ravella at Las Lake Vegas

You know that old adage: which comes first, the chicken or the egg? For my recent journalists’ junket to Ravella at Lake Las Vegas, it was more like: the cuisine or the spa? Both were divinely delicious with a strong propensity towards nurturing health and wellness of mind, body and spirit by infusing the senses with an organic aromatherapeutic remedy.
In the interest of being the equal opportunity purveyor of opinions, I’ll lay out the facts. You decide.
My involvement as an entertainer and as a journalist for the meetings & events, entertainment and hospitality industries garners lots of opportunities to sample tasty treats from chefs of diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, and reputation. I certainly wasn’t expecting foodie nirvana at a tucked-away resort on the outskirts of Vegas.
Actually, to be truthful, I wasn’t expecting to wind up at a literal oasis in the desert, minus any maurauding nomads or sandstorm-swept flies in my face. Read more

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Side of Orlando Events

 I attended events at two Orlando venues I’d not visited before and one I have. They were all better than just good. In fact, if you remember the old Tony the Tiger commercial signature line, they were “Grrrrrreat!.”
So, I see you already scratching your head and wondering, then where does the bad or the ugly come in? Read on. I’ll get there.
I’m pretty fortunate. In my multitasking roles as Natasha, The Psychic Lady (a corporate and social performer), an active  member with both Meeting Professionals International’s Orlando chapter and the Orlando chapter of the International Special Events Society, as well as my always-interesting role as Contributing Editor for Prevue Magazine (a meetings & events industry publication), I get invited to a lot of functions.
Saturday evening I dined at Todd English’s bluezoo at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista. To say our food selections were impeccably done would be an understatement. I knew bluezoo creates its own infused adult beverages, such as the Bazooka Joe, which allegedly tastes just like the bubble gum. I also know they customize cocktails to fit a corporate client’s logo colors or the function’s theme, so I was eager to see their unusual concoctions. Read more