Fall has dropped in the United States. I heard that in Denver, CO the temperature on the weekend was 101 and by three days later was to plunge to the 30s and snow. Where I am based, we are still dealing with the sauna bath known as Florida summer that sometimes seems like that last 10 pounds on a diet—nothing you do can make it disappear! For some reason, my husband keeps saying “It’s Fall… things should be cooling down from the humidity-soaking 100+ degrees we still face daily.” I remind him that I have worked Halloween gigs (as my alter ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady) wearing sleeveless blouses because temperatures have barely taken a dip into the low 90s.
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
When I was very young, taking a vacation nearly always involved a road trip. With my Dad in the Air Force and subject to frequent transfers, we found ourselves packed tightly into our car of the moment, traversing the country from one base to another. It wasn’t much different when we took a vacation. In the years before my brother arrived on the scene, my sister and I would either share the back seat with piles of boxes and luggage that rose like a wobbly tower from the floorboard, or we’d find ourselves nestled snugly in the back of the station wagon, sitting on blankets and playing board games to pass the time… at least when I wasn’t suffering from motion sickness and forced to just meditate to sleep. (And yes, I know kids sitting sans seat belts are no longer a viable option.) Vacations weren’t luxury resort destinations. They were sightseeing glimpses of the state or country we were in or near at that time. Each journey created indelible images of ethnic cuisine (which my Mom would later strive to duplicate), unusual architecture, or the cultural stamp of the local populace.
Even now, when I travel for work or pleasure, those memorable Read more
The weather may be putting much of North America in a deep freeze, but across the globe, hotels opening or in transition are heating up the environment. There are so many hotels changing owners or under construction that it’s difficult for me to keep track of property names, but as folks often check out my blog before doing site visits, booking groups, or even booking their own vacations, here are some of the latest of my discoveries.
HOTELS ARE DEFINITELY HAPPENING!
Finally, the long-awaited Epicurean Hotel opened in Tampa in December. The 137-room boutique hotel, with a focus on fine foods and fine arts, is located across from the renowned Bern’s Steakhouse. The new hotel’s 80-seat restaurant, Elevage, is joined by Chocolate Pi (a patisserie, or for those who don’t speak French… a bakery), a Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits shop on the first floor, and the Epicurean Theatre, a culinary classroom I hope to find myself dicing and splicing in very soon in the future. The Grand Awakening Weekend is coming up January 17-19 and stars the hotel’s Chef, Chad Johnson, and celebrity chefs such as Norman Van Aken. Developed by Mainsail Lodging & Development in collaboration with the legendary Bern’s Steak House, Epicurean Hotel is the first newly-constructed property in the United States to join the prestigious Autograph Collection® of Marriott International, Inc.www.EpicureanHotel.com; (855) 829-
Two new Tampa hotels are slated to open this year. What do you call a former Mercantile Bank building when it’s been converted into a 130-room boutique hotel situated along Tampa’s famed Riverwalk? You get Aloft Tampa Downtown. It’ll feature a terrace pool deck overlooking the Hillsborough River, the picturesque University of Tampa minarets, and downtown Tampa. Aloft won’t be the only boutique hotel to emerge from an historic property. Once a 108-year-old Federal Courthouse building, Le Meridien Hotel gains new life as a 130-room hotel with 4,800 sf of meeting space, including a 2,200-sf ballroom set in the old courtroom with 18-foot ceilings, two breakout rooms, and a board room that seats 12.
There’s a “No Strings Attached” policy being offered by The Langham Huntington Pasadena, located nine miles north of Los Angeles for groups who book before March 31 and arrive through December 31 of 2015. The historic property can accommodate up to 350-person conferences. Lots of indoor and outdoor space, a resort style setting, no resort fees, no attrition and no F&B minimums. Industry specific offers are available for Pharmaceutical, Financial, Insurance, and Associations. www.alhi.com/LanghamHuntington
Omni Hotels & Resorts just bought its 6th property from KSL Capital Partners, LLC, a leading private equity firm. The reflagging of the Montelucia Resort & Spa as theOmni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia extends the Omni’s Read more
September in Florida (where I’m based) is hot, sticky, humid, rainy and for those of us in the hospitality, meetings & events, and entertainment industries—it’s a time of hanging on til convention season reappears. September also means Magical Dining comes to Orlando for the entire month, whereby upscale restaurants host a three-course prix fixee’ meal for $33 and my husband and I celebrate our anniversary by enjoying as many of these meals as we can. Visit Orlando and the participating restaurants partner to both highlight their cuisine to locals during this corporate and leisure shoulder season and to raise money ($1 from each meal) for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
I know most of you aren’t in Orlando, but for those of you who are, I’ll talk about these restaurants later in this blog. Last year I covered them after the month ended and by then it was too late for you to personally check them out.
So, with food ever-present on my mind, I think I’ll just jump into news about a hotel whose opening I’ve been eagerly awaiting, with dreams of spending a bit of time there.
The hotel is called Epicurean and it officially opens in December in Tampa, FL. As you may expect by the name, food will be a central theme of the 137-room boutique hotel. There’ll be cooking classes in the Epicurean Theatre, wine tastings, craft cocktail courses and celebrity appearances. The food-centric Epicurean Hotel, the first newly constructed property in the United States to join the Autograph Collection®, is in collaboration with Bern’s Steak House, a Tampa gastronomic icon since 1956. Epicurean Hotel’s website has launched and is taking reservations for stays, booking meetings or social events in the 2,000 sf Grand Cru Ballroom, the Epicurean Theatre or the second Read more