Disney Springs

Disney Springs has opened the Lime parking garage and the town center since our last visit. We enjoyed strolling around the new shopping area and eating lunch at the burger place.

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Lots of other new restaurants have yet to open. I’m eager for the Floridian one. The Edison looks like it has a long way to go, and so does the remodel of the old Planet Hollywood restaurant. Our kids liked the cupcake ATM at Sprinkles.

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We saw Independence Day: Resurgence at the theater here. The movie was fun but predictable. It got us out of the heat for a few hours.

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Dinner that night was at Cooper’s Hawk, a popular restaurant on International Drive and Sand Lake Road just east of I-4. I ate braised beef short ribs, very tender meat, and had leftovers to take home.

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Disney Springs is a fun destination with free parking, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. It gets livelier in afternoons and evenings, so if you want a quiet stroll, come early.

 

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Weekend Fun

A break from work is needed once in a while, and this past weekend I was fortunate to enjoy several new experiences. A getaway was especially welcome considering we’d been stuck in the house for weeks now while our bathroom renovation is getting done.

On Saturday, I attended a meeting of the Florida Chapter Mystery Writers of America. Author Judi Ciance offered advice on how to display books at festivals and signing events. She doesn’t just lay them out flat on a table. Instead, she prepares an attractive display with fun items related to her book covers, a dish of candy to tempt passersby, bookends that are conversation starters, and a huge poster saying “Meet the Author.” I hope I get to put her tips into practice.

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Sunday found us attending the Beauty and the Beast show at Broward Center for Performing Arts. It had been years since we’d been to a performance here. Our orchestra location was ideal for seeing the stage, but the seats were crammed in so tightly that you barely had room for your legs. Kiosks in the lobby sell souvenirs and snacks, and I believe you can pay extra to sit in a lounge. The show was great although not quite as spectacular as Lion King. “Be our Guest” is still my favorite production number.

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From here, we drove over to 15th Street Fisheries where we hung around until our dinner reservation. Casual dining downstairs and the bar area were mobbed. You could sit outside under cover but good luck if you didn’t have a reservation.

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Since it was Father’s Day, I’d reserved a table in the fancier (and pricier), upstairs dining room. We liked the raspberry salad with candied walnuts. My Florida snapper came with coconut and mango rice. Richard had Ahi tuna.

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The food was good, and so was the service, but our view out the window at the Intracoastal was the best part. I’ll leave you with this video so you can imagine yourself on a boat in a balmy breeze.

 

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Orlando Showtime

Mother’s Day morning found us picking blueberries at the Beck Brothers farm in Windermere. Their berries stay fresh longer than any store-bought varieties. They’re a bit tart this early in the season but are great on cereal or in pancakes.

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Since we were attending a show (Beautiful: The Carole King Story) at the new Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando, we chose to dine nearby at The Boheme Restaurant in the Grand Bohemian Hotel. The elegant red décor matched the elevated prices but we felt the service wasn’t comparable to other upscale places, in our opinion. But you might think otherwise, and it is a mere few steps away from the theater. The food was very good.

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The dazzling Dr. Phillips Center was built in a contemporary/modern style. I felt like I was on a cruise ship during show time. Seats at the orchestra level far back had a good view of the stage. There looked to be four floors maybe, with cafés on each one. Anyway, you could grab a substantial snack here if you’re hungry. You can bring drinks into the theater but not food, and seats have drink holders. We enjoyed the lively show and the music from an earlier era. Now this has made me want to see what’s playing in the theaters at home.

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Yellow Dog Dining Experience

Our daughter, a foodie like us, knows the trendy dining establishments in Orlando. She took us to Yellow Dog Eats, an eclectic restaurant in Gotha, a sleepy suburb southwest of Orlando proper.

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This eaterie is situated in a historic home built in 1910.

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Inside, you order your food from an extensive menu, take a number, and find a table. The waiter brings your order. You can sit indoors or outside at a back patio. It’s a lively scene with music on weekend evenings.

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Hippie-era signs decorate the property.

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Nearby is an old church and a classic hair salon in a typical old Florida-style house with a sloped roof and wraparound porch. Spanish moss hangs from the tree limbs, and a sense of serenity pervades the locale. Stop by if you’re in the area and enjoy the rustic ambiance.

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Dining Out Orlando

September is Magical Dining Month in Orlando. You can visit myriad fancy restaurants for a fixed-price three course meal at $33.00 per person. It’s a fun way to try new places that might normally be too expensive.

Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse

This two-story restaurant on International Drive has been open for a few weeks. The décor is contemporary, with most patrons seated in a cavernous room overlooking the parking lot. A few separate sections are available for private dining. Wine bottles in wall-sized racks add to the décor. An open kitchen is behind a barrier so you can’t see much. The atmosphere is lively but it lacks the cozy intimacy of other steakhouses.

We requested the Magical Dining Month menu. The Caesar salad was tangy and came in a generous portion. The loaf of bread served with butter was soft but unremarkable. The filet mignon at 8 oz was melt-in-your-mouth tender with a good flavor. This was the best part of the meal. The mashed potatoes and thin green beans—not so good. We ordered sautéed mushrooms on the side. These appeared to be Portobello mushrooms with pearl onions. As we’re not fans of green beans, we also got a side order of asparagus with sliced almonds. My companions liked the warm banana bread pudding with whipped cream for dessert. I had the chocolate mousse that came in a chocolate cup with raspberry sauce. The mousse itself was like a light pudding. It didn’t have the froth or airiness of similar dishes I’ve had elsewhere. Out of my entire meal, I’d say the beef was worth the ticket but the rest was fair.

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Service was attentive. Our water glasses were always refilled. However, we waited a long time for the check. When it arrived, we’d been charged full price for one of the meals plus a separate charge for a salad, rather than the fixed price meal. This would have come to $39.50 for the filet plus $9.50 for the salad, or $49 instead of $33. This error didn’t please us, nor did the food enough to pay that much at normal pricing. Would we return? It’s doubtful. My favorite steakhouse is still The Capital Grille, or for a less expensive meal, the Outback.

Hemingway’s at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress

I liked the casual but upscale ambiance with an open kitchen, ceiling fans, floor to ceiling windows overlooking lushly landscaped grounds, wood tables, and potted plants. We had to ask for the Magical Dining Month menu. I ordered the Key Wester salad with greens, avocado, bacon, fresh red bell pepper and blue cheese dressing. Crusty puffs of bread like popovers were served with butter.

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The butterflied shrimp scampi was very tasty, served with some kind of pasta roll and fried green tomatoes. Crab cakes were another choice. The Key lime tart for dessert was lip-smacking good.

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Despite the delicious meal and the pleasant ambiance, service was poor. Our waiter ran between several tables and rarely stopped by. Another server refilled our water glasses, and she was efficient. We had an unusually long wait for the check. Then as we were waiting out front of the main hotel lobby for the valet (your ticket is validated at the restaurant), our waiter ran out to meet us because he had failed to scan our credit card, believing us to be hotel guests. He took our card and walked all the way back to the restaurant—down a long hotel corridor and outside along a boardwalk to a separate building. After fifteen minutes when he didn’t return, my husband had to retrace our steps to the restaurant to retrieve his credit card. This soured our entire experience. So this place has good food and a nice ambiance but the service needs improvement. Would we return? The normal food prices are reasonable and I enjoyed the meal, but after the credit card shuffle, my husband put this restaurant on the no return list. And note the expensive bottle of wine he ordered, we found online later at Total Wine for about twenty bucks.

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Greater Orlando

Winter Park

On Sunday morning, we strolled down Park Avenue in Winter Park. This broad street is lined with shops and restaurants on one side and Central Park on the other side. We chose Paris Bistro at 216 N. Park Avenue for lunch. This gem is hidden in an alcove off the main street. It’s near the Briar Patch, if you’re familiar with that bustling diner-type restaurant. Paris Bistro is a cozy little place that has a European ambiance. The Sunday brunch menu was great, $12.95 for an entrée and dessert, or you could order a la carte. I had a delicious avocado and shrimp salad. This would be an intimate romantic restaurant for dinner, but be aware the acoustics leave something to be desired. Namely, the noise level can overwhelm your conversation.

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Morse Museum

This jewel of a museum is located in a modernistic building in downtown Winter Park. You’d never guess the Morse Museum was so large from its modest exterior. Inside, various rooms wind around and around, showcasing works by Louis Comfort Tiffany and other American artists. Stained glass windows, lamps, pottery, art glass, jewelry, vases, paintings and more are displayed here. The most impressive site is a chapel that’s as beautiful as it is unexpected in this setting. A couple of hours are needed to do this museum justice. Handy printed guidebooks in every room describe each labeled item.

East End Market

The East End Market is a long interior space devoted to several bars/shops/cafes. You won’t find Farmer’s Market style vegetables for sale here. We decided to have a snack at Txokos Kitchen. Located at 3201 Corrine Drive, this restaurant is a trendy or “hipster” place to dine. Drinks were cheap but the food adds up. I had a cheese platter with fig bread for $15.00 and an olive plate for $6.00. My orange juice mimosa was only $2.00 and a Bloody Mary was $3.00. Chorizo corn muffins costs $6.00, and a bowl of gazpacho soup costs $7.00. It’s a pleasant place to come for appetizers and drinks or a full meal.

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Now I’m back home and trying to lose the weight I gained from all this dining out!

 

Dining at Disney

Downtown Disney is undergoing a transformation into Disney Springs. One of the new parking garages is open, and driving through this cavernous place is an experience in itself. Numbers lit-up at the start of each row tell you how many parking spaces are available. Then as you drive down the row, a green light overhead marks the empty spots. You don’t have to go searching like in other garages. The aisles are clearly marked and escalators take you to the crosswalk level.

I’ve read that Disney Quest will be replaced by a basketball-themed attraction, but we walked in the opposite direction. Construction is evident everywhere, no more so than the former Pleasure Island. This is long overdue, as family restaurants and shops will attract more crowds than an exclusive evening nightclub venue. After walking all around the Marketplace end, we settled for lunch at the cool new Boatyard restaurant. Guests can rent amphibious vehicles here for a short ride around the lake. These look like something out of a James Bond movie.

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The restaurant is decorated in nautical motif. We had a pleasant lunch. The menu has many choices and isn’t unreasonably priced. A couple of indoor bars hosted a lively crowd. This is definitely worth a return visit.

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Coming soon is a themed restaurant next door shaped like an airplane hangar.

Polynesian Resort
Last Saturday evening, we headed over to Disney’s Polynesian Resort. We’d hoped to get into the new themed lounge called Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, but there was an hour and a half wait. We sat outside on their patio instead overlooking a lake and ordered tropical drinks. Mine came with a straw long enough for a giraffe.

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We passed on the fixed price menu at Ohana to eat dinner at Kona Café. This casual, family-oriented eaterie has reasonable prices, but we didn’t think the food was that great, and the menu choices are limited. We would not dine here again.

 

Marco Island Revisited

We spent a pleasant three days on Marco Island in the southwest portion of the state. Just south of Naples, this island has a tranquil atmosphere. From uncluttered beaches to gourmet restaurants, you can relax and unwind amid this tropical oasis.

Dinners

The first night, we ate at Marek’s amid its historical ambiance in an old house. Our meal began with Duck and Vegetable Egg Rolls followed by a Caesar salad. The entrée that we shared was fresh grilled grouper topped with rum banana puree and lemon butter drizzle. This was deliciously done. It came with rice and vegetables. The lively bar attracts a crowd.

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At Snook Inn, we ordered Shrimp DeJoghne which were coated in bread crumbs and sautéed in a garlic butter sauce. This came with a salad bar, soft bread, and a choice of potato. It was a tasty meal at great value with a water view of the Marco River. This place is popular with families.

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We ate our final meal at Café de Marco. I like the elegant atmosphere here with its white clothed tables and candlelight. We began with seafood stuffed mushrooms then progressed to house salads. We shared mahi mahi de Marco in a signature mushroom garlic sauce. It came with potatoes au gratin and plain green beans. The latter were chewy and not appealing. Broccoli would have been a better choice. But I still like the romantic ambiance in this place next to the historic Olde Marco Inn.

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Next time, we’d like to try Bistro Soleil attached to the inn. The hotel itself was built in the late 1800’s and is inspirational for a mystery or romantic suspense story.

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Hotel

As in the past, we stayed at the Hilton on Marco Island. It’s a good thing as the Marriott is closed for extensive renovations. I really like the Hilton though. From spacious rooms with a gulf view to comfortable beds and pillows, this hotel has nice amenities. There’s even a shower mat in the bathroom, handle bars so you don’t slip, and plentiful toiletries. Our room came with slippers and robes but that may be because we are Hilton Honors members. As far as dining, the  lounge opens at 5:00 pm. That’s one complaint. I wish they opened one hour earlier. And the Starbucks coffee bar in the lobby opens early in the morning but closes shortly after noon. So there’s nowhere to get an afternoon cup of coffee. Rooms do come with coffeemakers but you only get enough packs for the morning.

The hotel has two restaurants, a formal one called Sandpiper and an informal overlooking the beach called Paradise Café. We like to eat breakfast in the latter but be prepared for a $40 bill. In contrast, other days we ate breakfast at Ne Ne’s Kitchen not far along at 297 N. Collier Blvd. I had their cornflake crusted French Toast with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Or try Susie’s Diner in Marco Town Center. Dinner is also nice at Paradise Café.

The pool area is attractive. Chairs are free here and at the beach but umbrellas cost money. There’s a catamaran that leaves directly from the beach if you want a boat ride and tour to a private island for swimming and shelling. The water is clear with no seaweed or other debris. The powdery white sand is good for walking, and schools of fish might keep you company in the water. During our stay, the Gulf was very calm. I could sit in it like a bathtub and didn’t even have any swells come by.

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Besides dining and beach activities, there’s little else to do here. You can visit the shops in one afternoon. Sunshine Booksellers has the monopoly on bookstores. Or just laze at the beach or by the pool.

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See all photos on my Facebook page. Look for the Marco Island July 2015 Album and please Like my page while there.

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Venice Book Fair

On Friday, we took a ride over to Venice, Florida in preparation for the big Book Fair the next day. This charming seaside resort is on Florida’s Gulf coast just a bit below Sarasota. After checking in at our hotel, we drove to the fishing pier for lunch at Sharkey’s. This highly popular restaurant also has an upper level, but we chose to dine downstairs with a lovely view of the beach. The New England clam chowder was thick and creamy, just the way I like it. But the coconut shrimp didn’t compare to the ones at Bahama Breeze. These tasted greasy fried and the sauce had no flavor. I recommend you avoid this dish here. The stuffed mushrooms were good. These two appetizers and the soup were enough for lunch. From here, we strolled down the fishing pier but not to the far end as storm clouds were moving in. By the time we drove to downtown, it was pouring.

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Nonetheless, we gamely took out our umbrellas to stroll up and down the street lined with outdoor cafés and gift shops and bordered by majestic date palms.

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The deluge kept us in our hotel room for the rest of the afternoon until we met some of our gang at Left Coast Seafood, recommended by FMWA member Nancy Gazo. Nancy and her husband joined us along with Alison McMahan and her spouse. This restaurant is hugely popular and the food was worth the wait. I had grilled salmon with hush puppies and a vegetable medley. It was cooked just right.

The next morning found us all at Centennial Park for the Book Fair. While Nancy went to set up our exhibit booth, Alison and I met another FMWA member, Randy Rawls, who was our panel moderator. We were joined by thriller author Leo J. Maloney, whose experience as a black ops agent had us enthralled. Our panel went well and we proceeded outside to man the booth.

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Aside from a strong breeze, it was a lovely day to be outdoors with cooler temperatures and sunshine. We represented our Florida Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, gave out brochures, and acquainted passersby with our books. All too soon, it became time to leave. Many thanks to Nancy Gazo for organizing these events for us. See you at the next one!

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Back home, we took advantage of the cool weather the next day to take a walk at Tree Tops Park. Little did we realize when we entered the path for the Pine Island Ridge section that we’d be in danger of getting lost! The trail wound around with no maps to tell us where we were. It seemed to go on for miles. Finally, we turned back and asked other walkers which way would take us into Tree Tops again. How scary to be lost with only a cell phone for communication with the outside world. What if there wasn’t cell service? Should we have marked the trail so we’d know the way back? I can just imagine Marla and Dalton getting lost with a killer on their tail.

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Okay, back to reality. Murder by Manicure (Bad Hair Day Mystery #3) is now available in a Print edition as well as for Kindle, Nook, Kobo and iBooks (See previous post for links).

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Fort Lauderdale Beach

Yesterday I took a break from work to relax at Fort Lauderdale Beach. On Saturday, I’d attended a meeting of Florida Romance Writers, and Sunday I spoke at a benefit for the Palm Beach School of Autism. Fellow panelists were Elaine Viets, Joy Fielding, and Michael Haskins. Some very talented members made paper sculptures out of books. The table decorations were inspired as well. We spoke a bit about our work and then fielded questions from the audience.

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Monday I decided that I deserved a day off, so I suggested to my husband we head to the beach for a walk and lunch. We drove down Las Olas and parked at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park across from Bahia Mar resort. It’s cheaper than one of those flat-rate lots. After paying our money via the meter and placing the sticker on our dashboard, we walked alongside the low wave-shaped white wall that borders the beach. Fort Lauderdale officials had the foresight to ban condos here so there’s an unbroken view of the water. Across the street are souvenir shops and cafés bustling with customers.

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We passed the cruise-ship shaped Ritz-Carlton hotel and went as far as the Casablanca Café, a popular restaurant on Route A1A. Then we turned back and went to lunch at Coconuts Bahama Café on the Intracoastal. The breeze was pleasant as we sat outside under an umbrella. I had a Caesar salad with grilled shrimp and we split a Key lime pie for dessert. Tourist boats and yachts plied the water while pelicans groomed themselves on the adjacent boat dock.

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Satisfied after our meal, we took our beach chairs from the car and found a shady spot on the sand. Here we sat for an hour or so until we were ready to leave. The ocean looked pretty clear down by the shore and I listened to the waves crest and recede. It was fun to people watch. Young girls wearing bikinis strode past while their male counterparts played on a basketball court or used the outdoor gym apparatus near the picnic tables. When I closed my eyes, I heard the ocean surf, seagulls squawking, people chatting, the thump of the ball on the court, the roar of a motorcycle, the drone of prop airplanes overhead dragging banners.

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And so a sense of peace descended upon me until I returned home. And now it’s back to work.

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