Rating The New Stuff At The Big Parks

Summer months mean the huge influx of family vacationers to Orlando’s big vacation destinations.  For many Floridians the arrival of grandchildren means that despite the heat, humidity, and thunderstorms also means a trip to the parks.

If it has been an entire year since you visited Walt Disney World or Universal or other parks, you might want to know what’s new or changed and whether it is worth the time and money.

HERE are the important summer 2018 stories:

Toy Story Will Open at Disney Hollywood Studios June 30

 As a Disney stockholder, I find it embarrassing that WDW is charging people full admission to this park with the entire back area torn down and The Movie Ride closed. They even terminated some of the better counter service food stops as attendance declined.

FLORIDATRAVELER toy-story-land

Little Kids Will Love It

Toy Story will be worthwhile if you have kids under ten years, but it is not enough to motivate teenagers or adults unless you have a multi-park pass.   Toy Story will not add any outstanding full service restaurants.  The food spots look like counter service comfort food.

Alien Swirling Saucers is a three minute “Mad Tea Party ride” in elevation hosted by Toy Story’s vending machine aliens.  The rise motion will be so slow that children under 32″ will be able to walk on with parents.  It will take Fastpass at least until the Star Wars area opens in another year.

Slinky Dog Dash is a three minute outdoor roller coaster that resembles a giant Lego and Erector construction by Andy of Toy Story.  It will have no fast curves and large drops since it is believed kids over 36″ will be accepted.  Fastpass might be needed for the ride looks like the biggest thing in the new area.

The Incredibles Headline Tomorrowland’s Expo

 Call it a big movie promo, but Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland will have a Incredible Tomorrowland Expo with a stage performance with Mr. and Mrs. Incredible, Frozone, and even Edna Mode.  There will be a character meet and greet.

FLORIDA TRAVELER the incredibles

Little kids will like it, but until the ride Tron opens to the left of Space Mountain, Tomorrowland is getting to look like Past-Land.  The show will continue until September 3.

Guardians of the Galaxy Land at American Adventure

 The theater in front of Epcot’s American Adventure has been taken over by another movie and future ride promotion.  The Guardians of the Galaxy  group led by Star-Lord, Gamora, and a video performance of Little Groot make conflict with a musical group from Xandar almost every hour from 1:30 to 8 pm until August 19.

FLORIDATRAVELER guardians of galaxy

The actual Guardians of the Galaxy ride being built in Future World is more than a year away.   The Xandarians are eventually convinced to play American 1970’s and 1980’s rock music.  In Florida’s heat and humidity to wear those outfits requires out of this world motivation.

The actual ride now open in California has much better script writing than the dumb story line of this stage show.  At least those Xandarians can rock!

All The New Disney Spring Restaurants Are Open!

 After much delay the new complex of restaurants and nightclubs on the waterfront of Disney Springs are open.  All of them have wonderfully themed structures; the food does not rate as highly in all places.

FLORIDATRAVELER the edison

The Edison Has Unreal Machine Era Theming

Enzio’s Hideaway Tunnel Bar is a clever rum-running tunnel of rooms celebrating the 1920’s speakeasies and decent Italian and Sicilian food and some American dishes. The place is really a series of bars and small rooms.

Maria and Enzo’s Ristorante is a three story 1950’s air terminal of fantastic design.  The menu is expensive, but we found the Sicilian and Italian food to be more enjoyable than the more promoted Edison.  Try the ribeye or the swordfish.

Floridatraveler maria and enzio Dining Room BEST PIC

Maria and Enzo’s Stunning Airport Terminal Theme

The Edison is a huge vacant warehouse with all the machinery intact and converted into a 1920’s nightclub.  The restaurant has received the most publicity for at 10 pm it turns into a nightclub with flappers, an aerial act, a band, and DJs.  There are bars all over the place with some wild and costly signature drinks.

The new American menu is very original, but that means you may find the selections weird, expensive, and not too tasty.  I enjoyed the Edison Burger and the aged prime rib.  If you like parties, this is the adult night spot at Disney Springs.

Universal

Universal’s Volcano Bay Water Park Is Best In Florida

 Ready for its first full summer feast is Universal’s Volcano Bay, a water park that will cause updates at Disney’s two water parks.  Volcano uses more high tech to make your visit easier.  The TapuTapu wearable bracelets let you book places in the lines and not spend your hours melting in the Florida sun.

FLORIDATRAVELER-Universals-Volcano-Bay

There is a Universal Express Plus one park pass for just $19.99 that allows a person to ignore all the lines and just pounce to the rides one after another.  There are too many rides to mention, but they resemble the rides at the Disney and Sea World and Busch Garden sites, but newer and more elaborate.

One element that stands out is the diversity of food choices at Volcano Bay.  Universal has a big advantage over Disney since its resort hotels are mostly a walk away.  The Kohola Reef Restaurant and Social Club and Whakawaiwai Eats look like restaurants that belong in the Asian themed resorts.

Universal’s Adventura Hotel Opens in August

 Universal’s sixth and perhaps last on-site resort Adventura Hotel will open in August and is a towering South Miami style tri-wall of curved glass. There will be no table service restaurants, just unique food court places, but there will be a rooftop bar and grille.

FLORIDATRAVELER_Universals-Aventura-Hotel

The regular rooms are small: 314 square feet standard and 395 square feet deluxe and will compete with the Disney All-Star hotels, which are much older.   The most notable thing is the 575 square foot Family Suites, which fit five and undercut Disney by almost $200.  Weak point for place: just one bathroom versus Disney’s two.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, dining, disney, disney springs, florida history, Florida parks, florida vacations, mcbobleonard, music, Recreational Experiences, Restaurants, travel, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, wdw | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

My Favorite Seafood Spots In Southeast Florida

My New England heritage might be why I enjoy visiting seafood restaurants across Florida and with the longest coastline of any state other than Alaska there’s a lot of waterfront for restaurants to locate.

Here are some great places for seafood lovers along the Florida Gold Coast (Southeast Florida) and the wonderful Florida Keys.  Rates are lower during the summer and the traffic is better for a trip down the coast.

Oceans 234  – Deerfield Beach

 Right on the waterfront at 234 North Ocean Boulevard in Deerfield Beach, Oceans 234 has a gorgeous ocean view.  This is a moderately priced restaurant that doesn’t bury the natural flavor of the fish with a pile of dominant ingredients.  I appreciate that factor.

FLORIDATRAVELER oceans232

Redesigned To Show A Great View of the Pier and Beach

Danielle Rosse bought the place from her mother in law and added some  upscale items to the local favorites.  There is a lot of sushi and items for land-lovers.  Oceans 234 does some wild things with lobster tail such as putting a half-pound lobster tail in their lobster mac-n-cheese dish.   The sautéed shrimp linguini is excellent.

Seawatch On The Ocean – Fort Lauderdale by the Sea

I have loved this Caribbean-style ocean-side seafood restaurant for years and my only complaint is the sea grass has grown so high it is blocking much of the view of the Atlantic Ocean.  At first it looks like a Bahamian fishing lodge placed on a large sand dune.  Windows dominate the exterior.

FLORIDATRAVELER seawatch

The ocean is a good walk at SeaWatch

There is a nice full bar for those who come without reservations, you might have a long wait.  This place has the best bouillabaisse in South Florida and there is wonderful seafood pasta.  Seawatch does try some exotic dishes which I avoided such as triggerfish schnitzel and New Zealand style orange roughy.

Joes Stone Crab  –  Miami Beach

It is quite expensive and is packed during stone crab season.  Most visitors may wonder why I mention this restaurant for it isn’t stone crab season.  Guess what? I don’t even like stone crab and this famous place open since 1913 has a huge seafood menu.  If you think a meat eater isn’t welcomed – you are wrong.  You can order a 20 oz ribeye and Australian lamb chops.

FLORIDATRAVELER Joes_Stone_Crab

A Lunch at Joes Stone Crab Is Casual

Not me.  These people know seafood which is why it has been among the most profitable non-chain restaurants in the entire world.  Their salmon and Maine lobster dishes are excellent.  They know how to present those non-shell Florida creatures called grouper and snapper.  The service is super-professional.

Now that we go urban sophisticated, let’s go down to the Florida Keys where fresh seafood and casual eating go fork and knife together.

The Square Grouper Bar & Grill – Cudjoe Key

 The Lynn Bell family came to the Keys and loved the seafood so much, they bought this quaint restaurant at 22658 Overseas Highway.  Don’t ask what a square grouper is unless you want a room full of laughter directed at you.   A square grouper is a carton of marijuana dropped from a low flying plane from Central America or Columbia.

FLORIDATRAVELER squaregrouper

Like Most Seafood Spots In the Keys Square Grouper Is Simple

Just drive into the menu.  There are some burgers and veggie dishes, but seafood is the show.  The fish are on one side of the menu and the ways they will fix those fish fill the rest of the menu.  I’m not just talking about fried and boiled. Would you like a grouper BLT or a grouper reuben or a grouper taco?

Green Turtle Inn – Islamorada

 In 1947 Sid and Roxie Siderious obtained the rundown 1928 Rustic Inn, one of the only structures that survived the Great Hurricane and started a restaurant.  It became a popular local hangout.  When magician Henry “Bastille” Rosenthal obtained the Green Turtle, it became the party place for the island.

Don’t be scared that they serve the endangered green turtles – the only turtles on the menu are farm raised freshwater turtles.  This place serves from breakfast until late evening so start your fishing trip with a lobster benedict.

Key West has some famous hotel restaurants but locals have their seafood favorites.

Blue Heaven – Key West

People line up for breakfast and they line up for dinner.  There are no reservations in this famous moderate restaurant where Ernest Hemingway refereed boxing matches.  The only fights today are to find a parking space. The locals don’t seem to bother for they come on bike or on foot.

FLORIDATRAVELER blue heaven

The Entrance To Blue Heaven Tells It All

The place is special at dinner when people dine under the stars.  Some people make a meal just of the huge appetizer list.  There are meat dishes but when Florida spiny lobster is in season, that is the top choice.  One added suggestion: don’t feed the chickens even if they seem to like you.

Louie’s Backyard – Key West

 The chickens are replaced with a view of the ocean at the backyard of Louis and Frances Signorelli at was once the home of wrecker James R. Adams.  Their small place became the hangout for Thomas McGuane and Jimmy Buffet.   It closed for a short time but has been redeveloped by Pat and Phil Tenney.

FLORIDATRAVELER louie-s-backyard

What A View From Louie’s Backyard

The much photographed patio, however, is mostly used for cocktails and socializing.  The inside menu is about as upscale as you will find in Key West. with dishes like snapper seviche with avocado salsa and sauted local snapper on onion rolls.  But I think their Bahamian conch chowder matches any other seafood spot on the island.

If you find the price tag at dinner too expensive, Louie’s has a delightful café with some interesting food selections besides the drinks.  There is a lunch menu (OK) and a Sunday brunch which is worth the amount.

 

 

 

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West Volusia: The Other Side of Daytona Beach

When you mention Volusia County to tourists and even most Florida residents, their first images are of the hard packed sands of Daytona Beach and the Daytona 500 Speedway.   If you ask “What else is in Volusia?” – some will add Ormond Beach or New Smyrna Beach, both Atlantic vacation spots.

There is another Volusia on the west side of the county that is often overlooked as a travel destination.  West Volusia actually contains the county seat (DeLand) and the largest Volusia city (Deltona).

I wrote an article mainly about the steamboat towns north of Volusia off US17 and several people asked for more information so I thought I would expand my comments and locations.

People who boat and fish in Florida, however, know about West Volusia.  The entire western side of the county is freshwater with two of Florida’s largest lakes: Lake George in the north and Lake Monroe in the south.  The two lakes are connected by Florida’s longest river: the 273 mile St. Johns River.

FLORIDATRAVELER shady oaks rest on st johns

Boating Along St. Johns and Rivcerfront Restaurant

In the summer the fish camps and houseboat rental places are still active, particularly north of DeLand.   There are also three state parks with a water recreational orientation.

Blue Spring State Park has the largest spring on the St. Johns and while the manatees are gone in the summer that means people can use the clear 73 degree water for swimming, snorkeling, and boating.

FLORIDATRAVELER Blue-Spring-State-Park

Blue Spring Waters With One Manatee

Hontoon Island State Park is connected by ferry service to preserve its Indian heritage and boating facilities.   My favorite Volusia park is DeLeon Springs State Park on the lovely Spanish Garden River.   You should come early to make your own pancakes at the famous Sugar Mill Restaurant.

DeLand on the St. Johns River was founded in 1876 by New York baking soda king Henry Addison DeLand, whose home is a museum also featuring a tribute to Lue Gim Gong, the Chinese-American citrus horticulturalist.  DeLand thought steamboat tourism and orange cultivation would boom the St. Johns Valley.

FLORIDATRAVELER deland _Athens_Theatre

A series of freezes would undermine the orange industry but tourism continued.  Deland also started Florida’s first private college and later got friend Philadelphia’s John B. Stetson of hat fame to develop “Stetson University.”  Next to the beautiful campus is the 1886 Stetson Mansion and there are three other museums at the school that founded Florida’s first law school.

FLORIDATRAVELER Stetson Mansion deland

The Stetson Mansion Is The Oldest of Florida’s Big Houses

The DeLand house is just one of several historic buildings and museums that dot the town and getting a map here for a driving tour is beneficial.

FLORIDATRAVELER cassadega houses

Welcome Believers to Cassadega

At the southern end of  US17 before it reaches I-10 is the river town of DeBary with its great DeBary Mansion, featured in an earlier article.  But let we mention Volusia’s weirdest travel destination.

FLORIDATRAVELER Cassadaga hotel

Off the Lake Helen exit of I-10 is Cassadega, the famed winter home of the American Spiritualist Society.  The Church, the old hotel with restaurant, the Victorian houses, and Spirit Lake are a real experience.  It is such a peaceful place that out of curiosity, I went to Zillow to see what these old houses sold for and discovered there were NO HOUSES on sale that week in the village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US 19: On The Nature Coast Trail

When you hug the Gulf Coast going north from Saint Petersburg toward Tallahassee, you take US19 into the Nature Coast.  I used to go that route when I drove to Florida State University as a graduate student and back then it was a lot of miles and a lot of trees and few towns.

Even today few people will select Perry or Cross City for vacation spots, but further south the region has wonderful clear spring rivers and good experiences into more of Old Florida.  Don’t expect to find any beaches or unless you boat out to one of the small Gulf islands.

The Nature Coast is about boating, kayaking, and exploring Mother Nature with capital letters.  Urban civilization starts to vanish when you drive north into Hernando County.  When there is a hurricane the swampy, river country to the west of US19 must be evaculated so it doesn’t have the development on the coast found to the South.

FLORIDATRAVELER monkey island homossassa sps

You take a Boat From US19 to Homosassa Springs

Fifty miles north of Saint Petersburg is Homosassa Springs with the State of Florida operating the scenic Homosassa Springs State Park where Ivan Tors used to house some of his TV stars like Gentle Ben.  The boat ride past Monkey Island and the underwater theater with its abundant blend of fresh water and saltwater fish is fantastic.

FLORIDATRAVELER Homosassa Riverside Resorts

The word “Riverside” Means That On The Nature Coast

If you are into boating and fishing and looking for manatees, a place to stay is rustic Riverside Resorts where boating and fishing are the features.   They have a program to swim with the manatees in the refreshing 72 degrees F waters.

FLORIDATRAVELER plantation-on-crystal-river

The Plantation Inn Is As Upscale As You Will Get

The town of Crystal River has a huge bay famous springs attracting dozens of manatees in the cold months.  The Plantation Inn resembles an Old Florida resort with golf, fishing, and nature trips.   There is the largest selection of motels along US19 here. Nearby is the ruins of the Yulee Sugar Mill, owned by Florida’s first U.S. Senator.

FLORIDATRAVELER crystal river smiling-manatee

The Crystal River Natives Are Friendly But Leave Them Alone

The favorite weekend spot of a lot of University of Florida students is Cedar Key with its historic downtown and its funky waterfront of somewhat touristy seafood restaurants and gift shops.  You can stay in motels, RV parks, b&bs, but I love the 1859 Island Inn for his history and its nice restaurant.

My Son at Cedar Key Lighthouse

The Funky Cedar Key Waterfront

Cedar Key was once the third largest port on the Gulf of Mexico and its railroad extended eastward to Jacksonville.  The end of the lumber industry meant the village would survive as a fishing port.  Out in the Gulf of Mexico are small islands (one with lighthouse) with nice beaches.

Floridatraveler cedar key island hotel

The 1859 Hotel Is Old Cedar Key

North of Cedar Key on the beautiful Withlachoochee River is very quaint Yankeetown, started in 1923 by some “Indiana Yankees.”  The historic Izack Walton Lodge (Riverside Inn) burnt down in a 1999 fire and was rebuilt without upstairs rooms.  You can still rent boats there for fishing in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

FLORIDATRAVELER isaac walton inn riverside inn yankeetown

The Rebuilt Izack Walton Inn in Yankeetown

Yankeetown was the site of the Elvis Presley movie Follow That Dream (1961) and you’d still recognize the streets and buildings after all these years.

There are two more fishing villages off US19:  tiny Horseshoe Beach in Dixie County and Steinhatchee in Taylor County.  The latter has some condo units and more odern facilities for boating and fishing.

When you reach Perry, Florida civilization and I-10 is just minutes away.

 

 

 

 

Posted in adventure vacation, attractions, dining, diving, environment, extreme sports, Florida Food, florida history, Florida parks, Florida sports, florida vacations, Historic Buildings, Historic Hotels & Inns, keys, mcbobleonard, Recreational Experiences, Restaurants, small towns, travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

LOW KEY FLORIDA SUMMER BEACH VACATIONS

There are no longer slow and busy tourist seasons for the entire State of Florida.  Each of the four quarters gets about one-quarter of the tourist trade.

But the visitors destinations and mode of transportation vary.  Right now Southeast Florida and the Keys have less visitors and offers a bargain for big city vacationing. This is the big vacation time for the Panhandle and Northeast Florida. The kids are out of school and Orlando is packed.  The summer visitors come more by automobile, are more likely full families, and spend less money per person per day.

But don’t expect Florida’s overcrowded highways to be less jam-packed. Besides having the third most populated state and less room to house the crowds than California and Texas, Floridians themselves are on the road for their vacations.  In recent years, more and more Floridians are staying at Florida beaches rather than heading to the mountains.

If you are looking for some places than are less crowded and yet close enough to visit popular attraction, here are some of my favorite hideaways.

Palm Island Resort, Englewood

 FLORIDATRAVELER PALM ISLAND MAP

The Northside of a private island is all your vacation spot.

Want to vacation on the Gulf of Mexico but want real privacy?  Palm Island Resort,south of Englewood and Sarasota, is an island which you reach only by resort boat and then use bicycles and golf carts for local travel.  There are beach villas, dockside bay villas, condo-style cottages, even private rental homes for rent.

FLORIDATRAVELER palm island resort sirview

Lots of places to fish, boat, kayak, or do nothing.

A concierge can set you up for fishing, boating, kayaking, and more. There seems to be pools all over the resort.  In the summer, you might find the beaches nearly empty. Yet it is an easy drive to attractions in Fort Myers or Sarasota.

Flagler Beach

FLORIDATRAVELER Flagler-Beach

If you like to visit Saint Augustine with all its history and Dayton Beach with all its action, you could rent a cottage or a room in a beachside bed and breakfast in Flagler Beach, an old Florida hamlet between the two popular destinations.  Tiny Flagler has produced as many famous surfers as Cocoa Beach and yes, it has a rustic pier.

FLORIDATRAVELER FLAGLER BEACH restaurant

Restauranting in Flagler Beach Is Dog Friendly

Most of the fancy hotels are fifteen minutes away in booming Palm Coast, but the beach has a Hilton, Holiday Inn, and Hampton.  I hope Flagler County limits growth in this gem of a community. Everything is small town beach here: Beach Belly Bob’s, Turtle Shack Café, Flagler Beachfront Winery.

Lauderdale By The Sea

 Hotel prices are definitely lower along the beach towns of Florida’s Gold Coast but even in summer there is little laid back in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Pompano Beach.  Between the latter two cities is a favorite place of mine: Lauderdale-by-the Sea. It is within thirty minutes of all the attractions of Broward County, but once you park your automobile, you feel a small town vibe.

FLORIDATRAVELER LUADERDALE BY THE SEA

You Can Walk To Everything from Shops to Beach to Clubs

The beachside hotels and rental condos are smaller and mainly family owned in this community.   The entire waterfront area is neatly condensed so you can walk to the fishing pier, the beachside nightspots, and shop along most of main street.

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My Annual Walt Disney World Restaurant Awards

The summer family vacation season is soon arriving and that means the largest percentages of newcomers to Walt Disney World.  Most writers like to give awards at the end of the year but in the Florida food game a lot of new restaurants open near the end of the year to capture the bigger paying winter crowds.

I divide up the restaurants into arenas since some visitors just visit certain theme parks while others spend more time indoors shopping at Disney Springs.  And things do change in the Disney restaurant business.

Magic Kingdom

 I’m afraid the best news at the Kingdom is the number of restaurants serving beer, wine and a so-called specialty cocktail is up to seven as Crystal Palace and the Plaza Restaurant join the drink crowd.  Unfortunately, MK is still the land of fast food and mixed reviews.

floridatraveler LIBERTY TREE TAVERN

Seems wierd to pick Thanksgiving diner as the best MK place.

Despite its wonderful atmosphere, particularly at dinner, the MK’s “must-see” Be Our Guest” slides down my list to third. Its food is up and down.  Liberty Tree Tavern with its traditional American menu and calming atmosphere has the food and service that wins the day.  Moving into second for being dangerously original with their menu items is the relatively new and often missed Skipper Canteen (Jungle Navigation Company) tucked away in Adventureland.

Epcot

 The sensational Space Restaurant will be built between Test Track and the Space Travel pavilion and will be the an amazing dining experience even if the food isn’t “out of this world.”  Unfortunately Disney has no time table for the place.

floridatraveler MONSIEUR PAUL

Enter and Go Upstairs To Epcot’s Top Restaurant

Epcot is the food place for adults with at least eight restaurants surpassing anything at MK.  The finest restaurant but also one of the most expensive is Monsieur Paul in the totally renovating second floor of the Paris pavilion.  Believe me when I say casual clothing is acceptable.  If you have a bunch of kids and less of a budget I pick Via Napoli Ristorante with the pizza over the Italian dishes.

Hollywood Studios

 The new restaurants at Toy Story coming this summer will be appreciated mainly by small kids.  Hollywood Brown Derby has no real competition at HS until the Star Wars restaurants open.   If you don’t like their prices, see what good food items are being served at their outdoor lounge and grill.   If you have kids the 50’s Prime Time Café has a fun atmosphere and service, but you’ll pay prime prices for typical home foods.

floridatraveler HOLLYWOOD BROWN DERBY

No Reservations at Brown Derby?  Try the patio.

Animal Kingdom

 Here is a park where some of the fast food services score higher than the restaurants. The Satu’ki Canteen in Pandora at Avatar has the wildest and healthiest menu at the parks. Your kids will go ape (sorry about that pun) over the cheeseburger pods. The delightful Flame Tree BBQ scores second if you can find a cool spot under the trees by the river.

floridatraveler SATULI CANTEEN

It is Another Planet to See a WDW Menu Like This One…

I give a special third place to Tusker House, for a creative buffet and a character meal that is casual and as much fun for adults as it is the kids.

Restaurant in a Disney Hotel

 The big chef news the past few years is the fact that California Grill, with its wonderful Magic Kingdom fireworks views, stole the head chef from Jiko at Animal Kingdom. That is like the Red Sox losing their star player to the Yankees.  Now the food at CG is making diners forget to look up from their plates.

floridatraveler CALIFORNIA GRILL fireworks

California Grill Has The View, The Chef, and the Food.

Animal Kingdom still can’t complain.  They still have the top lineup of food spots on Disney property with Boma the best buffet at WDW.  If you have an automobile, it is worth visiting AK, the best theme resort at WDW with four good food choices.  I also give high marks for Ohana at the Polynesian and Narcoossee‘s at the Grand Floridian.

Restaurant in a Non-Disney Hotel on Disney Property

 My wife and I often stay at the Dolphin for all the Starwoods points and a deluxe room for less than Disney’s luxury resorts.  You can take a quick boat to Epcot and Hollywood Studios. The best restaurant food, however, is over at its partner the Swan at El Mulino New York Trattoria.

floridatraveler IL MULINO at swan

A Good Choice For A Quiet Evening For A Couple

Disney Springs

 The lineup of restaurants at Disney Springs is so excellent it should be embarrassing to park guests without good transportation to this gigantic mall.  Homecomin’ gets my vote for the best food, even though it is a Florida-oriented menu.  Morimoto and The Boathouse score more for atmosphere than food, but both are fun spots.  If the breeze is on the lake, outdoor dining at the later is enjoyable.

floridatraveler HOMECOMIN stuff the kids will eat

Homecomin’ Has The Menu For the Kids and the Adults

Disney Springs has upped the entertainment value with the new Edison, although the food is not my taste.  If you have older kids Raglan Road has the menu and the fun evening atmosphere.

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Restaurants That Really Represent The Best of Florida

One of the favorite pasttimes of both Florida residents and visitors is going out to a restaurant.  Rather than visit the chain spots – many of which got their start inb the Sunshine State – I suggest looking for places that reflect Florida in menu and style.

Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ – Disney Springs, Orlando

 North Florida native Art Smith and national cooking celebrity has teamed up with Walt Disney to create a down home Florida restaurant featuring classic Florida style Southern cooking.  Everything in the building is from Florida – the wooden structure, the decorations, and the menu.  It looks like a fish camp building landed in the middle of the Disney empire.

FLORIDATRAVELER Chef-Arts-Home Comin

You better get reservations for this restaurant, for it not only is booming in popularity with tourists, a lot of Orange County locals choose this outing whenever people visit.  Don’t be shocked if Art Smith, a television chef, shows up at your table, for he takes his reputation very seriously and spends time in his nameplace.

 The menu adds and subtracts neat specials but the fried chicken, sugar doughnuts, Florida grouper, and shrimp and grits never leave the selections, nor does the church lady deviled eggs and thigh high chicken biscuits.  Don’t start your diet until AFTER you eat here.   Remember that Florida country farmers burn a lot more calories than we city-slickers.

 Ulele Restaurant – Tampa Heights

You can take a water taxi up the Hillsborough River from some downtown Tampa hotels or the Straz Center or Convention Center to a restaurant that features very unique approaches to Florida food.   The restaurant is next to the Old Tampa Water Works and is part of the growing Riverwalk from downtown.

FLORIDATRAVELER ulele

Richard Gonzmart, fourth generation member of the Ybor City family that owns the oldest and largest Florida restaurant The Columbia, was inspired by Florida history and dishes.  I love the seafood traditionals like Gouda Grouper and Florida Pompano, but you can try the Crab Mac N Cheese and the Alligator Hash Puppies.

FLORIDATRAVELER ulele 2

The Ulele Indian princess statue at the entrance reminds you this is a Florida based menu with some additions from around the world.  Just think something as basic as ice cream for desert and when you see Valrhona Chocolate and Uganda Vanilla Bean tell you everything on the menu is special.

The Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle – DeLeon Springs State Park

 DeLeon Springs State Park north of Orlando is a great family outing for boating and swimming and exploring the wildlife of Central Florida.  It is also a neat place to have a late breakfast or bunch.  It was a restaurant in the replica of one of Florida’s old Spanish mills.

FLORIDATRAVELER old sp mill food

This is not a traditional restaurant.  Each table has a huge griddle n the center and you can make all the pancakes you want.  Throw in some Florida strawberries or blueberries and add some bacon and ham.  Try some Florida orange juice before attacking the river waterland outside the restaurant.

More state parks should add a breakfast place or two.

PLNTHOUSE – Miami Beach

 I may be accused of being a transplanted Yankee historian who loves old seafood places so I decided to include a good example of the new international, urban Florida.  Here is a crisp oceanfront vegan café open for breakfast and lunch and a large bar right in the heart of the Miami Beach action at 2341 Collins Avenue.   Filled with plants and clean in its design.

FLORIDATRAVELER PLNTHOUSE miami beach

Planthouse is the creation of noted plant-based author and chef Mathew Kenny. The menu has a huge list of wraps and salads and items like green herb tacos and beet and mushroom burgers and hearts of palm salad.

Just The Cook Off the Hook – Panama City

When you talk about going out to eat in Florida waterfront restaurants serving Florida seafood is a good possibility.  Not many people would expect the seafood and burger spot to look like Panhandle restaurant Just The Cook – it is a small floating boat in a crowded yacht basin.

FLORIDATRAVELER Just The Cook panama city restaurant1

FLORIDATRAVELER Just the Cook 2 panama city

There is barely enough room for a table in the restaurant so most people elect to take their food to their boat rather than use the picnic tables on the far-side of the dock.  The fact that this tiny place has all the needed ingredients to be successful – online food reviews and photographs of food selection, this is a neat spot that fits the Florida lifestyle as the fancy sit-down spots.

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