I have had Sedona, Arizona on my bucket list of domestic travels for half of my life for many reasons. It's red-rock buttes, steep canyon walls and pine forests. It’s typical mild climate (although it snowed heavily while we were there) and vibrant arts community. Although to be honest, my highest interest in Sedona would truly be their New Age shops, spas and their vortexes. What is a vortex? They are swirling centers of energy that are conducive to healing, meditation and self-exploration. These are specific places where the earth seems especially alive with energy. Many people state that they feel inspired, recharged or uplifted after visiting a vortex. For a spiritualist like myself, this is THE place to be.
We flew into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and rented a car for our journey. It is roughly a two hour drive from this airport to Sedona but it was is quite the scenic drive, in fact they even named a portion of it the Red Rock Scenic Byway. To be completely transparent, when I found out it was going to be snowing more than normal during our trip, I was slightly disappointed because I was afraid the beauty of the red rock would be covered, but the snow made it that much more angelic.
During our time in Sedona we stayed at the Arabella Hotel Sedona. We selected this quaint hotel for a number of reasons including their beautiful red rock views and their complimentary bicycle rental. The hotel is within walking/biking distance to the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village. It is fashioned after a traditional Mexican village complete with cobblestone streets and stucco walls. Tlaquepaque holds over 50 specialty shops, exclusive art galleries, and fine dining. Unfortunately due to weather we were not able to visit the village but it is now on our list for our next trip.
During our time in Sedona we decided to take book a "Scenic Sedona Tour". We enjoyed driving around with our tour guide seeing all of the different areas of Sedona, and hearing all of the stories he had. Since the weather was still cold and icy we were not able to stop at many of the places we wanted to. One of the places we were not allowed to stop at that day was The Chapel of the Holy Cross, voted one of the “7 man made wonders in Arizona.” It was inspired by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The church was built in 1932 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The chapel is one of several of vortex areas I was interested in visiting but I was glad to get close enough to at least see it with my own eyes. We were able to have sometime outside at the Airport Mesa Overlook. The Overlook gives you a breathtaking view of the area and some even report seeing colorful orbs around them as they reach the vortex, which is said to bring a sense of rejuvenation and aids in creativity and inspiration. I had packed all of my crystals for this trip and laid them out on one of the rocks to charge them in this area. While I did not see any orbs I was certainly grateful for my trip out here which filled my hear with gratitude. It is hard not to feel that way when you are surrounded by so much of Mother natures beauty.
Another great place we spent some time in was Uptown Sedona. It is an area full of galleries, shops, touring companies and world-class restaurants. You can find yourself stopping in trading posts, cowboy stores, New Age shops, and enjoying the view of the red rock that is the backdrop of the area. While we were here we decided to stop in and have lunch at the Cowboy Club. This restaurant (formerly known as the Oak Creek Tavern) has been around for over seventy years. It originally opened in 1946 but during the 1950's and 60's there were over fifty western movies filmed in the area. So after a long day of shooting, big stars like John Wayne, James Stewart, Rock Hudson, and even Elvis were said to frequent the tavern. While having lunch we felt adventurous and tried the DiamondBack Rattlesnake Bites. We always like to try the local food when we travel. We can now say we tried Rattlesnake, and cross it off the list.
We also had a wonderful fine dining experience for dinner at Mariposa Sedona. Perched atop a scenic bluff, floor-to-ceiling windows and an expansive outdoor patio deliver panoramic views of Sedona’s majestic red rocks from every table. They also have two dramatic glass-enclosed wine vaults that house more than 600 bottles of wine, including many South American varieties. The food is delicious, the restaurant is truly stunning and I am sure the view is spectacular during the day. Chef Lisa Dahl has five gems in Sedona that you can dine at throughout the town.
While our Sedona trip was short, it really left a lasting impression on us. We have already booked our next visit out to Sedona in the spring and we are looking forward to visiting some of the places we did not get to see this time around. What I learned during this trip was some of the places I had on that so called "Bucket List Trips" list were not really "Bucket List" at all, they are really "Places I Can't Wait To Visit Again Trips". When you say "Bucket List" it makes you feel as though it is a spot you will only get to visit once in your life and for me, Sedona is not one of those places, I know I will travel there as much as I can.
To learn more about the Sedona area or to book your next vacation, let a Starstuff Travel Planner help you today! Request information by clicking here!
While we could name way more than just five reasons you could visit Universal Orlando Resort this year, we are going to talk about the five reasons you SHOULD be visiting!
1. Volcano Bay water theme park is reopening again on February 27th after being closed for the past few months.
2. Dockside Inn and Suites, Universal Orlando's second Value property, opened it's doors on December 15th, 2020.
3. Mardi Gras 2021: International Flavor of Carnival is now running through March 28th and is included with your park admission.
4. Jurassic World Velocicoaster, Florida's fastest and tallest launch coaster, opens this summer.
5. Universal Orlando's night time Cinematic Celebration is back and better than ever.
While these are just a few suggestions as to why you should book your next vacation at Universal Orlando, we have so much more to share with our clients. So reach out to a Starstuff Travel Planner today by clicking here!
With all of the ever changing guidelines of traveling out of the United States, Scottsdale, Arizona is just the right choice when you need that sun-filled vacation with endless amounts of activities for you and your family, or just need that right spot to relax and recharge with an adults only spa trip, as well as everything in between. It also helps that the Phoenix airport is a quick 15-20 minute ride from Scottsdale making it extremely convenient to get to.
Last month we visited the beautiful destination and although I had all expectations for it to be breathtaking, I really expected it to be a place that you would go for a health and wellness trip, which of course there is no lack of. I had no idea there were so many other things to keep you busy if you wanted a true adventure on your vacation.
Since we were in Scottsdale for work we spent many days touring different resorts in the area , one more beautiful than the next. There is no shortage of amazing hotels here, but there is something for each and every demographic and the resorts do differ. While I won't be touching on each property we toured in this specific blog, you can find all of our property and room tours on our YouTube channel by clicking here.
One of the areas I was most surprised at during our time here was the Old Town district of Scottsdale. By the name alone I just assumed it would cater to an old western type fan clientele. Although there is some of that left which is charming, I found myself getting way more of a Beverley Hills and West Hollywood type vibe in this area. This made me smile because we love visiting California and due to their current state of safety and health precautions we are prevented from visiting right now. From upscale shopping experiences at places that sell Rolex watches, to a wide array of awesome bars, numerous art galleries, and dining in neat historic places like the Old Town Tortilla Factory that is a southwestern restaurant built from an historic 75-year old Scottsdale adobe home you can spend nearly the whole day and evening enjoying Old Town. There are a few really awesome hotels here that make it very convenient to enjoy your time . One being the Hotel Valley Ho and it comes as no surprise that this hotel gives off that West Hollywood feel because it has a large past of celebrities that frequented the hotel. Hotel Valley Ho hosted stars like Marilyn Monroe, Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, and Zsa Zsa Gabor, among others. Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood even celebrated their wedding reception at the hotel! Another great option for the millennial crowd is the brand new Canopy by Hilton which is home to the Outrider Rooftop Lounge with some of the best views in Arizona. Here you can wonder at Cambleback Mountain and even see the Phoenician Resort from the rooftop while sipping on a craft made cocktail or having a swim in their rooftop pool.
While we were visiting Old Town, we enjoyed the Urban Historic Tour with JoyRidesAZ Scottsdale Tours which covers all 6 districts and the city's history as well as learning about many of the local hotspots. I highly recommend this tour even if your going to be staying in Old Town at a local hotel. The tour is conducted in an open air golf cart done by a husband and wife team that are extremely knowledgeable about the area. This way you get the feel for everything Old Town has to offer you while you are visiting. Your Starstuff Planner can help book this tour among many other great ones this company provides.
Another great activity we took part in was an ATV/UTV tour through the Sonoran Desert with Stellar Adventures. This company really takes pride in what they offer and we had a great time with them. There were quite a few of us older women in the group and we all felt comfortable enough to take part in this neat adventure. They really went into great detail explaining exactly what to do, what to look out for, and covered all of the safety precautions with us. After reviewing all of the procedures and doing some practice rides on our ATVs we went deep into the Tonto National Forest and drove around the desert for two hours. Our guide Chad even stopped numerous times along the way to snap our pictures so we did not have to worry about bringing a camera on our adventure. This is another activity your Starstuff Travel Planner can set up for you. Stellar Adventures can even pick you up from your hotel for an additional fee if you do not want to drive to the trail head. They also offer many other neat tours like Stargazing with Night Vision with very knowledgeable guides where you can catch a glimpse of the moon, Venus, Mars, maybe see binary stars and learn about various constellations. But the most mind-blowing part is possibly viewing planets like Saturn, including the planet's rings, and Jupiter through the guides telescope. While they do not guarantee it, it is also a possibility the deserts wildlife may make an appearance at night when the sun goes down.
With all of this running around, you bet we were excited to hit the spas (even if we did not have time to utilize them ourselves) they were still great to learn more about. One of our favorite spas from our many tours was the Well & Being Spa at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, and we are not alone, they have been recognized as one of USA Today's "10 Best" Readers Choice Top 10 Winner Best Hotel Spa. If your feeling adventurous they even have aerial hammock yoga! I have not yet tried it myself, but I have been told even the most novice of yoga fans is capable of participating in this.
We saved the best for last, our sunrise hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders. This truly is a bucket list activity and it may be a bucket list activity I do again and again and again. You do need to rise and shine pretty early to take advantage of this peaceful flight, but it is well worth getting out of bed for. After a brief time in their office where you sign your waivers, they put you in a van and drive you to the location where you will watch them prepare everything before you take off. The guys are all extremely friendly, and if you have any fears or anxiety they squash them for you right away with how warm and funny they are. The balloon ride is absolutely serene and any stress you have melts away for the moment while you just marvel in how beautiful the world actually is. After you land you get to enjoy a champagne toast before heading back to their office where they present you with a flight certificate. This is definitely a "pinch yourself" activity to make sure your not dreaming.
Even though we were visiting Scottsdale for work, it left such an impression on us that we decided to go back in just two months with our own family for a true vacation. The diversity of what Scottsdale has to offer is unlike many other destinations. There is something for every single demographic. If it was not on your list of places to visit before this blog it should be on your list now. The ease of traveling here because you are not leaving the United States is also very helpful in todays world. As a travel professional we have the ability to visit pretty much anywhere we would like to but there is no where we would rather be then in Scottsdale, Arizona.
To learn more about the area or book your next vacation, reach out to a Starstuff Travel Planner by clicking here.
*Thank you to Starstuff Travel Planner Nicole Miller for use of a few of her photos.
Occasionally when you travel you will find yourself somewhere so inviting, so blissful, and so beautiful that it physically pains you to leave when it is time to go. For me, that was The Hermosa Inn, which is situated in the Paradise Valley section of Phoenix Arizona. This gem is a historic luxury boutique hotel that offers 43 rooms/casitas individually decorated in warm, southwestern style. Fireplaces, secluded patios and vaulted ceilings add to the relaxed appeal. But this property offers so much more than just breathtaking grounds and gorgeous casitas, there is a large amount of interesting history that goes along with it.
In 1935 cowboy artist Alonzo Megargee (better known as Lon) purchased 6 acres of land and built his studio of adobe bricks calling his home Los Arcos and later Casa Hermosa, meaning "beautiful house". Guests came from all over to visit and stay with Lon for weeks on end to experience the tranquility of desert life in nature during the day and for the parties well into the evening . Lon was known as a ladies man (being married at least 7 times) and his home was well known as a place for drinking and good times. Rumors suggest that guests used tunnels to escape the police during his late night drinking and gambling parties. These mysterious tunnels were discovered years later near the wine cellar downstairs. Today in the Wine Cellar, they offer a private candlelit dinner that seats up to 12 guests and features 1890's Chicago brick, reclaimed beams, and trusses.
In the midst of a divorce around 1941, Lon was forced to sell his home and everything inside of it (which included most of his art). Different owners throughout the years have added a pool, casitas and villas to the property. One of the many neat things at the Hermosa Inn is that you can do a self guided art walk to view all of the original pieces by the cowboy artist Lon Megargee.
This property is perfect for mother/daughter trips, small weddings, celebration travel, health and wellness retreats, and couples getaways just to name a few options. Although the property is a sprawling 6 acres it still continues to maintain that quant feeling, something like right out of a storybook fairytale.
The Hermosa Inn is home to Lon's Last Drop, one of the best places in the surrounding area to enjoy a craft cocktail or a local Arizona brew. This newly expanded bar patio features five outdoor fireplaces and an all-day menu featuring small plates, sandwiches, salads, and pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven. Their restaurant, Lon's at the Hermosa (occupying the original building), is rated one of Paradise Valley’s top restaurants, which after dining there, comes as no surprise. During chillier nights many enjoy the fire pits that are facing Camelback Mountain for sunset views with a glass of wine. The Hermosa Inn also offers a few spaces for small groups to dine privately.
In the past ten years they have also opened a spa that offers an array of different treatments to choose from. The spa is a great place for those searching for serenity and is housed in an authentic adobe casita, one of the original structures at The Hermosa Inn. The spa features antique furniture, a beehive fireplace, private bathroom and shower and patio.
With the extensive background of Lon Megargee and the art worked inside, history buffs would also delight in a stay here. Below you will find an original portion of the adobe bricks Lon used to build this property. The Inn is also visited by many celebrities and in 1995 was even featured in the movie Waiting to Exhale. Whitney Houston's character celebrates New Year's Eve in Lon's main dining room.
Although there have been a few different owners since Lon had to sell it so many years ago, the Hermosa Inn still retains the historic charm of the original hacienda built by the cowboy. You can watch a quick video of the Deluxe Casita as well as a video of a partial property tour below.
If you would like to learn more about this magnificent property, reach out to a Starstuff Travel Planner by clicking here.
Thank you to Starstuff Travel Planner Nicole Miller for some of her beautiful photos. You can reach Nicole at NMiller@StarstuffTravel.com
We could not be more excited to hear that yesterday Universal Orlando Resort announced their dates for MARDI GRAS 2021: INTERNATIONAL FLAVORS OF CARNAVAL, which will be taking place in Universal Studios Florida between the dates of February 6th through March 28th 2021. Universal Studios Florida always goes all out for their Mardi Gras events and this year will be no different. The park will be completely decked out in that classic Mardi Gras décor and your going to have the first-ever opportunity to get up close with their Mardi Gras floats stationed throughout the theme park (this way no one is missing their normal awesome Mardi Gras parades). Many of our local friends from New Orleans have already expressed their gratitude for the event since there have been cancellations for this years NOLA events, giving them something to look forward too. There will be a Big Easy bash in the streets with energetic dancers and stilt performers in extraordinary costumes, brass band musicians, countless beads and a newly-themed Mardi Gras Tribute Store. One thing Starstuff Travel LOVES is the way they have been utilizing their Tribute Store over the past year. It will be stocked with new merchandise that will give you the perfect look for this epic celebration. But you came here for one thing, and one thing only........THE FOOD! So without further ado lets take a look at the menu Universal Orlando has announced, this is going to get you very excited!
Jerk Chicken - Jerked marinated chicken, rice & peas, scotch bonnet salsa
Jerk Jackfruit - Jerked marinated jack fruit, rice & peas, scotch bonnet salsa
Goombay Smash - Bahamian rum punch
Carib Lager - International pilsner
Belgium Liege Waffles - Sweet liege waffles with strawberries, whipped cream, chocolate
Brussels Frites with Roasted Garlic Veganaise - Crispy seasoned fries with choice of dipping sauce: garlic mayonnaise, andalouse, or joppieaus
Hoegaarden Witbier -Belgian wheat beer
St. Bernardus Abt. 12 -Belgian quadruple, Abbey ale
Lindemans Strawberry Lambic - Fruited sweet and sour ale
Moqueca de Camarao with Rice - Shrimp coconut cream stew, white rice, sweet potato curls
Brigadeiros - Brazilian classic with condensed milk, cocoa powder, chocolate sprinkles, toasted peanuts
Stuffed Coxinha - Crispy pulled chicken tear drop fritters
Pineapple Caipirinha Punch - Cachaça and pineapple flavors
Strawberry Caipirinha Punch - Cachaça and strawberry flavors
Mixed Caipirinha -A blend of pineapple and strawberry caipirinhas
Beef Short Rib Poutine - Crispy fries with short rib, cheese curds, demi glaze
Nutella Canadian Doughnut - Fried sweetened dough, Nutella, sugar, chopped hazelnuts
Maple Canadian Doughnut - Fried sweetened dough, cinnamon sugar, maple syrup
Sugar Shack Springtime Punch - A complex Canadian whiskey punch with a base of pear juice
Labatt Blue - International pilsner
Carnitas Arepas - Corn meal cake pocket filled with avocado, carnitas, mayonnaise, ketchup, culantro
Limonada de Coco - Limeade sweetened with coconut cream
Coco Loco - Limonada de Coco spiked with rum and tequila
Cuban Sandwich - Roasted pork, Serrano ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, pickles on Cuban bread served with plantain chips
Cuban Flan - Baked vanilla custard, dark caramel
Cuba Libre - Choice of Bacardí Light, Bacardí 4 Year or Bacardí 8 Year
Poached Pear Crème Brulee Crepe - Red wine poached pear, vanilla pastry cream, toasted almonds, caramel, crispy sugar topping
Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc - White wine
Notorious Pink - Slightly sweet rosé wine
Vieux Chateau Lamothe Bordeaux Rouge - Red wine
Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Rouge - Red wine
Pork Schnitzel Slider - Fried pork cutlet, spicy mustard, red braised cabbage, gruyere cheese
Vegan Bratwurst with Beer Braised Onions - Vegan bratwurst, beer braised onions, spicy mustard, French quarter baguette
Bavarian Pretzel - Warm pretzel, spicy mustard cheese sauce
Weihenstephaner Kristalweissbier - Clarified wheat beer
Weihenstephaner Vitus - Strong wheat, bock hybrid lager
Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen Rauchbier - Smoked Märzen Oktoberfest-style lager
T Schmitt Riesling Kabinett, Estate - Sweet white wine
Italian Rainbow Cookie - Colorful layers of almond cake sandwiched with raspberry jam and coated in chocolate
Cannoli - Italian pastry shell, chocolate chip cannoli cream, chocolate shavings
Arancini - Fried risotto, wild mushrooms, truffle, parmesan cheese
Affogato - Vanilla gelato served with a double shot of espresso
Fantinel - Prosecco
Vietti Moscato d’Asti - Slightly sparkling sweet white wine
Querceto Chianti - Red wine
Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo - Red wine
Crawfish Boil - Mix bag of crawfish, shrimp, andouille, red bliss, corn on the cobb
Jambalaya - Mixed rice with andouille, shrimp, chicken, peppers, tomatoes
Muffuletta Sandwich - Mortadella, salami, ham, mozzarella cheese, olive relish on a toasted bun
Beignets - Sweet fried pastry with powdered sugar
Andouille Twisted Tater - Stuffed Cajun twisted tater, sausage (Add andouille queso for $)
Twisted Tater - Flavored with Cajun spices
Abita Purple Haze - Raspberry fruited lager
Tropical Storm Punch - A traditional Mardi Gras cocktail incorporating rum, orange and passionfruit flavors
King Cake Milk Punch - A bourbon milk punch using our house-made King Cake syrup
Pernil & Mofongo - Roasted pork, smashed plantains, onion mojo
Picadillo Empanada - Picadillo beef filled fried pastry dough
Quesito - Gauva and cream cheese filled fried pastry
Piña Verde - A twist on the classic piña colada incorporating green chartreuse
Paella Mixta - Saffron yellow rice, chorizo, squid, mussels, shrimp
Charcuterie Plate - A traditional platter of Spanish meats and cheese, olives, grapes, lavosh
Leche Frita - Crispy fried with condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon
Pinord “La Dama” Cava - Sparkling wine
Don Olegurio Albarino - White wine
Hacienda de Arinzano Rosé - Tempranillo-based rosé wine
Hazaña “Viñas Viejas” Rioja - Red wine
Trinidad and Tobago
Pholourie - Deep fried spicy split pea dough with turmeric, curry powder and a side of tamarind chutney or powdered sugar
Pineapple Trini-Chow - Grilled pineapple skewers, spices, micro cilantro
Queen’s Park Swizzle - National cocktail of Trinidad and Tobago; minted dark-rum grog with a light float of Angostura bitters
Carib Lager - International pilsner
*Menu items and pricing are subject to change without notice.
Stay tuned for details and pricing on their Tasting Lanyard which allows guests to try out a number of different food and beverage tasting portions for just one flat price , including a Passholder-exclusive lanyard. As you can see, the menu for Mardi Gras 2021: INTERNATIONAL FLAVORS OF CARNAVAL is off the charts. By now, your mouth should be watering and you should be ready to book your next trip to Universal Orlando Resort. Florida residents can take advantage of an exclusive ticket offer to purchase a 1-Day, 2-Park ticket and receive three extra days free to experience both parks. Guests can also take advantage of a special offer to save up to $200 on 4-day tickets for a family of four, making this family vacation more affordable than ever. Remember, this event is included with your park admission! Reach out to one of our Starstuff Travel Planners for more information by clicking here!
Festival of the Arts has easily grown to become many guests favorite Epcot festival to attend throughout the year. It is easy to love all that the festival celebrates, visual, culinary, and performing arts wise. The festival is in it's fifth year (making it Epcot's newest festival) and this years dates are January 8th through February 22nd, 2021. Most of January and February have lower crowds and the weather is cooler which also makes attending the festival much more pleasant, however, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day, and Presidents’ Day still are still likely to be busy.
The artwork at the festival is so much fun. There are many different styles and many very talented artists. You can even find some of the artists available to autograph the pieces you purchase and many locations throughout the park allow you to watch the creative processes happen live. They also have a giant Paint By Number Mural over in Future World where the former Mouse Gear area was that you can take part in. The sessions for the paint-by-number murals are from 11:00am to 5:00pm daily during the entire festival and it is free to participate. For an extra cost you can also participate in an adorable spin art activity where one guest will pedal the bicycle and the other guest will pour the paint into the bucket by the handle bars to create their very own original art piece. We also found our favorite festival merchandise that features Figment the dragon from the "Imagination" pavilion.
Although there are many great food and beverage choices at Festival of the Arts, we can only eat and drink so much, so this blog is all about our own personal choices during our time there. Some of our choices were hits and some were misses, but when your primary job is focused around trying different items, how can you complain? Our first stop was Masterpiece Kitchen in the Canada Pavilion. Here we tried the Wild Mushroom Risotto served with aged parmesan, truffle shavings and zinfandel Reduction. This was an immediate hit. We loved the flavor and this is also a great vegetarian option. The cost for this plate is $9.25. We also opted for the Vanilla, Rose Water, and Pistachio Panna Cotta. The pictures do not do this dish justice, it is a truly splendid presentation and very reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast. The rose comes with raspberry filling and a pretty sparkly glitter raspberry sauce that you can dip into the pistachio crumbs on your plate. We also considered this dessert a hit, although Panna Cotta does have an odd gelatin like consistency, so some may not love it. This will cost you $8.00.
Our next stop took us over to the Deconstructed Dish in the Showcase Plaza. Here we tried the Deconstructed BLT which consists of crispy pork belly, a soft-poached egg, brioche, watercress espuma and tomato jam, it costs $7.00. The pork belly was flavorful but we wish we had a bigger piece. The egg was a nice touch and we enjoyed the tomato jam so this was a hit. We also went with the Deconstructed Reuben with rye popover, corned beef, Gryuère panna cotta and brined brussels sprouts with broken thousand island dressing, costing you $6.75. Typically we are not fans of the Reuben sandwich however we actually liked this plate so another hit! Lastly, while we were here we decided to grab the Rainboba which is a non-alcoholic fruit bursting boba with sparkling water beverage. To be completely honest, it was nothing special but we loved the keepsake Figment cup so we went with it. The pricing for this is $8.00 and even with the cute cup, we are not sure it is not worth the price.
With so many hits so far, we were bound to have a miss, and we did over at POP Eats. We opted for the Tomato Soup with grilled cheese for $5.00. A few days ago we had originally seen the tomato soup served in an adorable little POP themed paint can and for the importance of a good picture, it was one of the main reasons we ordered it. The soup is no longer being presented in that cute can, it comes to you in a paper cup. It was a chilly day so we were looking forward to a hot cup of soup, sadly it was barely lukewarm and the grill cheese was very bland. But again, how can we complain when this is our day job?
We are always suckers for a pretty drink, so when we saw the Sea Butterfly from the Painted Panda in China we knew we had to stop and try it. It's a Butterfly Pea Flower infused cocktail with Lychee syrup, vodka, light rum, and magic boba pearls. The cost for this beverage is $12.50. It was another miss, we just did not find it as tasty as we hoped it would be. We will say they are heavy with the alcohol they put in it so you do get a good bang for your buck but as far as taste goes, it was just missing something. That being said, what a pretty picture it makes, don't you agree?
We had another hit over in Italy at L'Arte di Mangiare with the L’Aragosta: Lobster ravioli with vanilla-saffron cream sauce and shredded chili peppers. I am not personally a fan of anything spicy so I was skeptical trying something with chili peppers but the spice was so faint I was able to tolerate the dish and found the lobster to be very tasty. We did however find the price of $15.00 for three raviolis to be a little high, but the presentation of the Hidden Mickey made up for it.
Our next stop was over at the Artist's Table in the American Adventure pavilion. Here we selected the Pan-Seared Scallop with chorizo, roasted red pepper coulis, and parmesan crisp. This dish, although very small, was a hit. The scallop was tender and the flavor was spot on. Another great perk is that this option is also Gluten/Wheat friendly and costs $7.00. We also tried the Artist Palette Jumbo Chocolate-Chip Cookie that costs $5.50. Flavorwise this was a total miss, the cookie was super bland, but if you have a young child with you they would probably enjoy painting it with the cute paint brush and frosting they give you. I mean, who says you can't play with your food?
Over at Goshiki in the Japan pavilion it was a no brainer for us to go with the Sushi Donut: Donut-shaped Sushi featuring salmon, tuna, shrimp, cucumber and sesame seed over a decorated plate of Wasabi Aïoli, Sriracha and Eel Sauce. We are huge sushi fans and this was an instant hit! The fish was so fresh, it basically melted in your mouth. The presentation is great too, in the shape of a donut, this is one of the prettier sushi dishes we have seen. This will cost you $8.25 and we feel it is totally worth it.
By the time we got to the Mosaic Canteen in the Morocco pavilion, we were ready to bust, but we knew we had to squeeze in one last bite of something. We went with the Mediterranean Flatbread with Za’atar pesto, artichokes, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes and fennel cream. It is hard to say if this was a hit or a miss, because we were so full. Typically we love everything that is on this flatbread but it just did not pop. Maybe it was because we had eaten so much in such a short time or maybe it was a real miss, we think you should be the judge and try it next time you are visiting during the Festival of the Arts. This dish costs $5.75.
It is also worth mentioning how much we love the character cavalcades that pop up throughout the day in Epcot. Although these are not special to the festival, it does make it that much more fun to see one while enjoying your food and beverage. We are privy to the Princess Promenade Character Cavalcade which travels around the World Showcase in a horse-drawn carriage to greet guests.
If you would like to obtain more information on visiting Epcot during the Festival of the Arts then reach out to a Starstuff Travel Planner by clicking here!
Walt Disney World's Pop Century Resort opened on December 14, 2003 and is the fourth value-priced resort in the complex, following the Disney All Star Resorts that opened in the 1990s. This resort is themed around 20th century American pop culture ranging from the 1950 through the 1990s and the theming is absolutely adorable. Original plans for the resort were to divide the property by the first and second halves of the century "Legendary Years" and the "Classic Years", however, the former section was closed after the September 11th attacks and redeveloped as the fifth valued priced resort, Disney's Art of Animation.
Pop Century has 2,880 rooms in ten separate buildings, three pool areas, and one central building, named "Classic Hall", that houses the front desk, gift shop, arcade, and food court. The lobby is big and bright with tons of popular memorabilia ranging through the 20th century. The Everything Pop shopping and dining area is directly off of the lobby. The food court has different specialty shops; Mom's Kitchen, Grill Shop, Pizza Shop, and the Sandwiches, Soups and Salads Shop. This is the only resort in Walt Disney World that serves the Tie Dyed Cheesecake which is a Pop Century favorite. The food court area is large so it is easier to find a seat. Currently you still have to utilize mobile ordering but it has been very smooth so far. After picking up your mobile order you can have a cast member fill your beverage up since you currently can not do that on your own due to safety and health precautions. The gift shop is gift shop is very large and a lot of fun to shop in.
Each area of Pop Century is themed with a specific decade and giant items related to that decade. It is such a fun property to walk around and look at everything. They also have music playing in each section dedicated to that era. Below you will find each era with the details of what neat items you can find in this area along with some pictures we took while onproperty.
One of the biggest draws of staying here now is the convenience of the Skyliner that takes you over to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. It is located over at the Generation Gap Bridge that attaches both Pop Century and the Art of Animation resorts. Many guests like the option of also being able to utilize the AOA food court, it is well known as one of the best food courts of the value properties and since it is within walking distance it makes it a breeze to get back and forth. Pop Century also offers bus transportation to all of the other parks and Disney Springs.
Below you can view a video of a Standard Room with a king bed in the 1970's area. This specific building (building 6) is not a far walk from the Skyliner which we loved being so close to. Most rooms have a queen bed with a murphy bed that also acts as a table when the bed is placed away giving you extra space for your family when your not utilizing the bed. You can find a video of this type of room under the king bed video. We love the clean fresh look of the rooms here and they also have plenty of storage space with a dresser and some great storage cubbies in the bathroom/dressing area.
As you can see this resort is perfect for those who are on a budget, love over the top theming, and want to be able to utilize the Skyliner. To book your next Pop Century stay, reach out to a Starstuff Travel Planner by clicking here!
It is no surprise that many guests love Disney's Magical Express transportation feature that Walt Disney World has offered for many years, making it easy and affordable to get from the Orlando International Airport to their on property Disney Resorts. It certainly has been a great selling feature of staying onsite since it was offered complimentary. However, today Disney surprised us with an announcement that after this year, they will no longer offer the free shuttle service in 2022. At this time we have no news on what, if anything, will replace this service (such as the high speed train with a station on Disney property possibly coming in 2022) but when we do you will be the first to know! For now, let's all enjoy our time on the Magical Express this year and look forward to many great new things to come!
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it is no secret more and more people are now traveling with food focused driven experiences and what better place to visit than Universal Orlando Resorts for great food and drinks! Now before you say to yourself "Theme park food isn't anything special" take sometime to review our full day Universal Orlando Resort Foodie Guide. We are in love with their dining and snack options and think everyone needs to be well informed on their delicious options! We have broken our full day food guide into two parts, Universal Studios Florida as well as Islands of Adventure. But don't take our word for it, spend the day following our guides so you can find out first hand how great Universal Orlando dining really is. You can thank us later!
Before you start your day make sure to download the Official Universal Orlando Resort App. This can be very helpful for planning out your meals as hours can vary for each restaurant. You can also link your preferred method of payment and use it for placing Mobile Food and Drink Orders from select restaurants. You can even attach your dining plan to the app for the ultimate convenience.
BREAKFAST AT THE LEAKY CAULDRON
What is that saying, "Breakfast is the most important meal of they day?" We agree and that is why we suggest you start the day at The Leaky Cauldron over in Universal Orlando's Diagon Alley. It is based on the small, grubby-looking pub and inn that Harry Potter stayed in for several weeks over the summer before heading off to Hogwarts for his third year. The food and theming here is top notch. If you are a Harry Potter fan you can order up yourself a Traditional English Breakfast just like he would have. The platter is served with fresh scrambled eggs, sausage links, black pudding, English bacon, baked beans, grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and breakfast potatoes. It is currently priced at $17.99 and while this platter is quite fun for many, they do offer a Pancake Breakfast (pictured above) for those who are a little on the finicky side. This platter comes with three fluffy buttermilk pancakes, crisp bacon, and sausage link, with butter croissant and is also priced at $17.99. The quality of the food as well as the quantity given is a win win for everyone.
We recommend trying a warm Butterbeer with your breakfast earlier in the day since Orlando can heat up pretty fast. It is the perfect pairing with your breakfast in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!
After breakfast you can wander around the nooks and crannies of Diagon Alley and maybe even grab some Earl Grey & Lavender ice cream at Florean Fortesecue’s Ice Cream Parlour to enjoy underneath the flames from the fire-breathing dragon atop Gringotts bank. Remember, this is a "Foodie Guide" and you want to make sure you are going out of your comfort zone and trying new and fun things! After spending sometime exploring the area head over to the San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf area of Universal Studios Florida for you next stop.......LUNCH!
LUNCH AT LOMBARDS SEAFOOD GRILL
Can you say "Lobster Roll?" We are from the Jersey Shore so we know good seafood when we see it and Lombards Seafood Grill does not disappoint! While this amazing sandwich usually comes with a Dijon mayonnaise sauce, our agent Victoria Redwine likes to get hers without the mayo and replaces it with butter. The amount of lobster meat and the actual quality of it goes well above what you expect at a decent seafood restaurant let alone a theme park. It also comes with a side of housemade potato chips that are out of this world. Since Lombards is situated on the park’s main lagoon, it has some great views from their private dining rooms upstairs that also offer balconies over looking the park, truly making the dining experience an A+.
DINNER AT MELS DINER
Cruise over to Mels Drive In and prepare to rock around the clock at this 50s drive-in that is inspired by the movie American Graffiti. Decked out with classic juke boxes and shiny vintage cars, this is really just a fun place to eat. This is considered a quick service dining option so you can mobile order and then find yourself a seat. One of the biggest draws of this restaurant is the amount of food you can actually get when your on the Quick Service Dining Plan. Pictured above you see the Cheeseburger Combo Served with fries and a regular shake, plus a water. On the Quick Service Dining Plan this whole entire combo including the water counts as one QS meal, leaving you still with an extra beverage and snack for the rest of the day. The price for this one meal alone without the dining plan is currently $15.99 but for a few dollars more, $27.68, you can actually purchase the QS Dining Plan for the whole entire day. This makes Mels our favorite place to eat when we have the Quick Service plan because of the great value of their meals.
DESSERT AT BIG FIRE GRILL
We never visit Universal Orlando without stopping by to pay homage to the Tableside S'mores at Big Fire Grill over on CityWalk. This is the absolute best way to end a long day in the parks. This devine dessert comes with homemade marshmallows (as well as regular ones), graham crackers, chocolate, and peanut butter cups and allows you to enjoy this camp side activity from the comfort of your own table. Nothing impresses kids and even adults like this neat dessert Big Fire offers. This set up currently costs $16.00 but you can also purchase additional portions for $8 a piece.
SNACK VOODOO DONUT
Chances are your going to have to walk right past Voodoo Donut in order to leave the park, so there is no excuse to not stop and grab one for the road (or even for breakfast in the morning). The shop is funky and so are the donuts. You are not going to find anything run of the mill about their goodies here. They are edgy but also delicious and many times through out the year Universal Orlando will have their own themed donuts to purchase like during Halloween Horror Nights or Annual Pass Appreciation Days.
At Universal Orlando food and drink is an adventure to be experienced and shared just as much as the attractions themselves. Hopefully, you have found some dining inspiration to thrill your inner foodie as you plan for your next vacation at Universal Orlando Resort. When you are ready to book that next adventure, reach out to a Starstuff Travel Planner by clicking here!
Whether you have been planning a lengthy family vacation or just a quick weekend trip, it can be very stressful when things do not go as planned. Our number one tip to clients is to set realistic expectations that leave room for spontaneous magic but also for real life events that can still happen while you are traveling. I was very well reminded of this exact situation when me and my sons were headed to Walt Disney World for a quick weekend trip to regroup and bond. Even having been a travel professional for years, I am still learning we are not in control of how the day unfolds sometimes. You just have to stay positive and learn how to roll with the punches.
The start of the weekend was slated by one of my sons missing the flight which meant he would not be attending our trip. That could have been enough to start on the wrong foot but I was thankful I was going to now have that extra special time with my youngest and we moved on with our day. After arriving to the airport and boarding the plane, we had technical difficulties and sat on the runway for an extra hour that was cutting into our small amount of time we had for a quick weekend trip. I tried to remind myself how thankful I was that they were able to fix the issue and that we were even able to get away for the weekend period. When we arrived to the airport we jumped into a taxi to head to our resort. On the way to the hotel, our taxi broke down on the side of the road where we waited over two hours for another driver to come and pick us up. At that point, I knew it was too late to visit Epcot and I was nervous after such a long day of complete "failures" it was going to be too hard to turn the weekend around into a positive experience. This is where I needed to accept that we are not able to control everything, but there is a lot we can control, such as our thoughts, actions and how we continue with our day. Below are five great Jedi mind trick to make sure you do not self sabotage your special time no matter what happens.
5 Jedi Mind Tricks For Staying Sane
For more great tips and tricks on traveling, make sure to reach out to one of our Starstuff Travel Planners by clicking here!