Safari Wilderness in Lakeland, FL offers customized tours and facilities for private events.

FOR YOUR EYES ONLY—MEETING PLANNERS & TRAVEL SPECIALISTS

How many of London’s spectacular palaces have you visited or hosted an event in? One of the most unexpectedly incredible venues I’ve ever been to is the Banqueting Hall. I kept imagining myself in a Renaissance dress and hair garland of flowers dining at the long table under massive wooden chandeliers and low-lit wall sconces while the musicians played lilting melodies. This place is truly fit for a luxurious dining event. The Banqueting Hall and other sites such as Kensington Palace and the Hillsborough Castles are all included in the special edition of Historic Royal Palaces, a guidebook of venues and special offers only available to Meeting Planners and Travel Specialists. The book is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

groupsandtraveltrade@hrp.org.uk.

ONE OF FODOR’S “TOP 10 SAFARIS IN THE U.S.” LIES IN THE HEART OF CENTRAL FLORIDA????

When I first learned about the 260-acre Safari Wilderness located halfway between Tampa and Orlando, my reaction was Read the rest of this entry »

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Gaylord Palms snow tubing

WINTER’S COMING BUT THESE DEALS AREN’T COOLING OFF!

Save up to 20% when you book a holiday package at the Gaylord Palms (Kissimmee, FL), for stays between November 21 – January 7, 2018. Here are some of the perks included with this offer. ICE! featuring Christmas Around the World; breakfast with Charlie Brown™ & Friends; Build-A-Bear Workshop® Scavenger Hunt; snow Read the rest of this entry »

HOSPITALITY GROUPS STEP UP THEIR CHARITABLE GIVING AFTER NUMEROUS NATURAL DISASTERS

Journey Mexico is “dying” to take your group on a Day of the Dead cultural tour.

Here’s a unique way of aiding victims of the devastating earthquakes in Mexico while also enriching your personal knowledge of the country’s rich cultural history. Book the last two places available on Journey Mexico’s Escorted Group Day of the Dead Tour in Oaxaca and the travel company will donate 50% of the $4,377 trip fee (per person) to relief efforts in the Isthmus. The 14-member tour group trip is set for October 28 to November 4.

www.journeymexico.com

LEGOLAND® Florida Resort is donating 18,000 theme park tickets to the UNICEF Kid Power Schools program and 2,000 tickets to Citrus Center Boys & Girls Clubs in Winter Haven, Haines City and Lake Wales.  “As a resort built for kids, Read the rest of this entry »

Villa Casa Del Mar, a new private property for rent by Journey Mexico

HOT DEALS!

Seabourn celebrates its 30th anniversary and you get the gift of special luxury-cruising offers. Book select voyages by November 14th, and are some of the incentives that may be included: Three Veranda Suite Category Upgrade; Veranda for Ocean View Category Upgrade; 300-Minute Internet Package per Person; $300USD per Person Air Credit; $300USD per Suite Shipboard Credit; 50% Reduced Deposit; and up to 30% Savings on Select Combination Cruises. There are also special offers for Penthouse and Premium Suites bookings.

www.seabourn.com; (800) 929-9391

Book and stay at the contemporary new INNSIDE New York NoMad, the first of its brand in the United States, by December 31, 2017 and get 15% off. The Melia property is located in Chelsea and convenient to the Garment District, Greenwich Village and Union Square. The hotel has two meeting rooms with capacity for up to 70, a fitness center, and outdoor terrace. Within walking distance to the Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, Flatiron Building, Madison Square Park, and Times Square. Read the rest of this entry »

My husband Russ and a 15-year-old male relative (whose name I will not use to save him unmitigated embarrassment) have something in common: they both sweat easily and profusely, especially on their feet. The result is that no one wants to be near them when their socks are first removed.

Enter them being my guinea pig subjects for new socks on the market that claim to be the world’s best odorless socks. Full Read the rest of this entry »

PART 5: OSLO, A CULTURAL METROPOLIS FOR MUSEUMS, ARTS, FABULOUS FOOD, THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE, AND SO MUCH MORE!

Polar ship Fram

In PART 4: THE TROLL’S DAUGHTER DANCES, WATERFALLS PLUNGE, AND THERE’S SALMON… LOTS AND LOTS OF SALMON! We have left behind the jutting mountains, roaring waterfalls, and orchards planted on sloping hills like grapevines for the country’s largest city.

OSLO translates to Field of the Gods. It is a city undergoing vast urban revitalization.

Where we stayed:

Travellers of all shapes find their way to Thon Hotel Opera

Thon Hotel Opera is a convenient location that will become even more advantageous when the Oslo Opera House opens half a block away in 2019. Right now, the 480-room hotel is ideal for its location to shopping, restaurants and attractions, but what is particularly ideal is its Read the rest of this entry »

 

PART 4: THE TROLL’S DAUGHTER DANCES, WATERFALLS PLUNGE, AND THERE’S SALMON… LOTS AND LOTS OF SALMON!

In PART 3: STEPPING INTO THE FAIRY TALE WORLD THAT IS NORWAY–GOAT FARMS, SKI RESORTS, FJORDS AND WHITE-KNUCKLE MOUNTAIN ROADS, we visited one of Norway’s most dramatic fjords, dined at a goat farm, and mellowed to the music of Composer Edvard Grieg.

The pastoral elegance of Lofthus

We leave Bergen, the second largest city in Norway, for the serene pastoral elegance of Lofthus, a city in Norway’s Fjord District. Small farms and villages tuck onto mountainsides. Slopes embrace sparkling fjords. Wild flowers grow haphazardly, creating a landscape of emotionally-charged blues, whites, greens, yellows and pinks. This is the Norway of picture postcards, of a place where time has paused to let one breathe crisp clean air and soak in the relentless natural beauty.

Lofthus

Where we stayed:

Over the bridge and to the water-surrounded decking at Hotel Ullensvang

Hotel Ullensvang may be one of the most beautiful resorts at which my husband Russ and I have ever stayed. From the moment we enter the Read the rest of this entry »

PART 3: STEPPING INTO THE FAIRY TALE WORLD THAT IS NORWAY–GOAT FARMS, SKI RESORTS, FJORDS AND WHITE-KNUCKLE MOUNTAIN ROADS

a private wedding and event center, in Oslofjord

In PART 2: DANISH ROYALTY– FROM THE QUEEN’S RESIDENCE TO HAMLET’S CASTLE TO KAREN BLIXEN’S SANCTUARY, reminders of Denmark’s history thrive today in castles, heroic citizens and the Arts.

We stepped onto the Pearl Seaways, an 1800-passenger cruise liner that masquerades as a ferry, in Copenhagen, Denmark and stepped off in Oslo, Norway. If our Odysseys Unlimited tour group of 24 had been awake during the overnight journey, we’d have seen some of the islands and landmarks along Norway’s 1,100-mile coastline.

Over the next 10 days Tour Director Karin Hansen led us by bus on hairpin mountain roads to gaze Read the rest of this entry »

PART 2: DANISH ROYALTY– FROM THE QUEEN’S RESIDENCE TO HAMLET’S CASTLE TO KAREN BLIXEN’S SANCTUARY.

a classic building in Copenhagen

In PART 1: VIKINGS DID NOT HAVE HORNS ON THEIR HELMETS, we began our three week trip by spending a week in Denmark, with a brief foray into Germany, with friends.

Copenhagen is a worldly metropolis without pretensions, much like the royal family who are called by their first names, or the 50% of the population who daily commute by bicycle and think nothing of leaning them unlocked against a building wall.

Fashion styles are typically in muted colors and casually sophisticated. Furniture has smooth, clean lines. People are friendly, direct, no-nonsense and unfailingly obey traffic lights. Healthcare for citizens is free, but the taxes are among the highest in the world. Open-faced sandwiches, herring, and Vienna Read the rest of this entry »

The Viking Museum in Roskilde

PART 1: VIKINGS DID NOT HAVE HORNS ON THEIR HELMETS

Plunging waterfalls descending from steep rocky mountain walls and glacial gray splashing water into deep shimmery fjords of Norway are not photo-shopped by travel magazines.

Danish pastries are actually called Vienna bread in Denmark, and contrary to belief, they are not one of the country’s better known exports. Bacon is.

Pretty much everyone in Denmark and Norway speaks better English than many Americans.

Scandinavian countries take great care to preserve their heritage, architecture, and cultural norms.

Those are just some of the truisms my husband and I learned during our week’s stay in Denmark Read the rest of this entry »

HOT DEALS!

River Terrace Inn living room in Napa City, CA

I’ve written about the Napa Valley Wine Train throughout many years. I’ve had the pleasure to ride this turn-of-the-century train, munch on gourmet appetizers and sip on wines from local vineyards. I’ve also been fortunate enough to dine during a media tour at The River Terrace Inn in Napa City, an eclectically designed boutique hotel with gorgeous garden and a prime spot on the Napa River. These two very special places have combined their unique assets to offer stay-and-ride promotions. From stopping points along the train route at name vineyards such as Charles Krug, to dining riverside at The Read the rest of this entry »

My vote for worst aiport goes unhesitatingly to KEFLAVÍK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, the largest airport in Iceland, and for worst airline, ICELANDAIR, for its overall poor management and unsocial (or is it untrained, or just incompetent?) gate crew.

I’ll give you my reasons. Please share yours.

Two years ago, my husband Russ and I flew roundtrip to Copenhagen, Denmark on Icelandair, departing and returning to Orlando International Airport in Florida. After the mind-boggling chaos of Keflavík International Airport and the startlingly disorganized manner Read the rest of this entry »

MADRID, BARCELONA AND TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS

In Part 3, Churches were once Mosques and Synagogues, Novelists pay homage to Spain’s bullfighters and castles, Tapas tantalizes and Flamenco fiery passions ignite.

Spain rolls out the welcome mat

Madrid was the last stop of our guided Odyssey Tour. For five of the 10 couples, our next stop was Barcelona, a three-day tour extension. Odyssey arranged our transportation to the airport from Madrid to Barcelona and had a local guide waiting to escort us to our final hotel. Transportation was also arranged to take us to the airport for our journey home.

Downtown Spain, where many buildings have sculptures decorating the skylines.

Where we stayed: Wellington Hotel, an old-world property near some of Spain’s luxury shopping. Many of the stores were brands popular in the United States, such as Tiffany or Benetton.

What we saw: Plaza Mayor, located in the heart of the city, and Palacio Real, a 2,800 room residence that was home to Bourbon kings from Charles III to Alfonso XIII. The palace today Read the rest of this entry »

OLIVE OIL, HEMINGWAY, FLAMENCO DANCE, AND TAPAS

In Part 2, Roman ruins, mountain-top castles, gypsy offerings, history rich from battles and architectural ingenuity

Parador de Ronda in the background while restaurants, hotels and homes sit precariously on the edge of the El Tajo Gorge

There are more than 300 million olive trees planted across Spain. Don’t tell Italy, but we were informed that much of Italy’s olive oils derive from Spanish olives. That was just a glimpse into the world’s largest producers of olive oil. On the road from Carmona to Ronda, our Odyssey Tour group stopped for a few hours at Basilippo Calidad Gourmet Olive Oil company in El Viso del Alcor, Seville, Spain for a hands-on experience of picking olives from the trees. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the only time we had Read the rest of this entry »

SPAIN FURTHER AWAKENS OUR SENSE OF HISTORY, FROM CASTLES TO ICONIC CHURCHES

In Part 1, our tour of Portugal took us on a trip through Lisbon, Monsarez and Évora. The journey continues into Spain.

Roman Amphitheatre in Mérida

Mérida was a much too-short visit to one of the most fascinating attractions of our tour thus far. At least for my husband Russ and me. We’ve never been to Rome, so have never been to the remnants of the Roman Colosseum; therefore, the exploration of the Roman Amphitheatre and the Roman Theatre in Mérida was like being on the set of “Gladiator,” without having to watch the blood, gore and thumbs-down kill signs hoisted by a rabid audience.

While at the UNESCO World Heritage archeological site with our Odyssey Tour group, schools of Read the rest of this entry »

Belem Tower, Lisbon, Portugal,

PART 1: PORTUGAL

We travelled back to 13th century Portugal and Spain without having to step foot in a time machine or imbibing in mind-altering drugs. The trip began simply enough with an overnight stay at the Corinthia Hotel Lisbon, the first stop in our two-week trip with Odysseys Unlimited’s tour of historic lodging and architecture.

The tour is billed as Paradores & Pousadas, which means luxury accommodations resurrected from ancient monasteries, castles or city halls by governments eager to restore iconic structures reflective of Read the rest of this entry »

Hotel Unique in São Paulo, Brazil is offering a promotional rate for groups

HOT DEALS!

There’s strong evidence that Hotel Unique in São Paulo, Brazil is appropriately named. Where else have you a hotel that resembles a half watermelon sitting on a food stand? The 94-room property has green-weathered copper stretching across the façade works to contain the unusual shape of the building. Curved walls and expansive spaces allow for internationally-amassed statement pieces and contemporary art. The rooftop terrace includes a crimson infinity pool and bar. The location is in the upscale residential area of Jardins. There are 10 meeting rooms, one extra room with a lobby view, and it can accommodate up to 1,000 people for reception. Book an event for up to 50 people and get a secial rate which includes room hire, in-room service, A/V equipment, lunch and two coffee breaks.

res@designhotels.com

Last minute summer getaway plans for yourself or your group? Gaylord Hotels has an enticing offer, even if you can only book three to seven days in advance, as longs as the stays are by August 31. The deal varies by the hotel. Save up to 15% when you book Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville, TN at least a week in advance. Book either the Gaylord Palms Resort (Kissimmee, FL) or the Gaylord Texan Resort (Dallas/Ft Worth, TX) at least 14 days in advance and receive 15% off. You can earn 20% in savings by booking Gaylord National Resort in Washington DC just three days out. Make sure you provide the promotional code: ADP.

www.marriott.com

Book at least 15 rooms per night at Shula’s Hotel & Golf Club in Miami Lakes, FL by September 30 and receive a $109 room rate with a $60 per person complete meeting package including breakfast, lunch, AM & PM breaks. You’ll also receive a $100 Spa credit or Tee Times for four at Shula’s 18-hole Read the rest of this entry »

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

I rarely review products, but this was sent to me for an unbiased review, and because it is an item I envision myself using, I agreed to check out Glovax Gloves, a brand new product just entered into the global marketplace.

First: what the gloves are purported to do. They are designed for usage indoors and out, from weeding the garden to playing sports where a tight grip would come in handy. They are promoted as being revolutionary because of the multiple ways in which they are useful.

They are to be flexible enough to grasp machinery or even kitchen tools. I cook and bake as well as work in my garden, so having gloves that are light weight and are also supposed to be water proof (the outside coating) would be valuable to me.

What could be better: I don’t know if the company offers a variety of sizes or even other colors, but my neon orange gloves, with a pebbled palm surface to maximize the grip, were a bit large for my hands. I easily had an extra inch of finger space, but the gloves do pull on easily. Although the gloves surfaces are coated and meant to be water proof, after I put the gloves through my gardening test, I rinsed them off with soap and water. The insides were damp, but the dirt slid off easily.

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

I also would love it if the gloves came in different lengths. I am allergic to more items than I could list. Working in the garden is always challenging. If certain plants touch my lower arms, I break out in a rash. In this test, right above my wrists, where the gloves ended, I indeed broke out. I purposely touched a thorny plant stem to see how easily the thorns might penetrate. They did, but not with the full force the thorns might have otherwise done.

What I really like: obviously the fact that the gloves are flexible and wash off easily. I was able to use a trowel, deadhead flowers, and snap off some dead leaves on my herbs, tasks I’ve had difficulty doing with some other gardening or utility gloves. These are light weight, so if it wasn’t for the pebbly rubbery texture, you might not otherwise feel them.

I did a quick test with using a cleaver and had no problem grasping the hilt.

The campaign to market the gloves just launched. Check them out for yourself.

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/glovax-a-revolutionary-adventure-glove/x/16458430#/

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries. She is an active member of ILEA and MPI and is now serving on the 2016 – 2017 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine for the second consecutive year. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

Journey Mexico is “dying” to take your group on a Day of the Dead cultural tour.

ADVENTURES FOR VIP CLIENTS GOES SOUTH!

This is one incentive trip that your VIP clients may be dying to do! Journey Mexico offers a group tour for up to 14 guests to discover the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) in Oaxaca, Mexico, October 28 – November 4.  The tour combines education, historical knowledge, and an exploration of the UNESCP World Heritage city of Oaxaca as the community prepares to welcome their loved one’s spirits back to earth. Highlights include visits to exhibition, festivals and cemeteries to understand the significance of Day of the Dead elements, such as the cempasuchil flower and the objects that adorn the alter, or to visit the tombs populating the ceremonial sites. Guests will experience the art of Mezcal production and taste the “Pan de Muertos” a special bread only made during the season of Día de los Muertos.

info@journeymexico.com

Chopping cilantro and garlic with Chef Enrique Silva at Huerta Los Tamarindos. I was there with a press group.

Several years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of not just visiting Los Tamarindos, an Organic Farm & Restaurant located just one mile away from the Sea of Cortez and San Jose Del Cabos’ estuary, but I was one of the journalists cooking alongside the chef for an intimate cooking class. We toured the 17-acre farm with its organic fields and the recently renovated historic Farm House built originally in 1888 as part of our coverage of Los Cabos. The Farm, the first to grow and export organic produce, offers orchard tours, cooking classes and a vine-topped outdoor venue for events and meetings for up to 400 guests. An excellent teambuilding event, Read the rest of this entry »

The Whitby, a stylish new hotel in midtown Manhattan, NY

HOT DEALS!

Time is running out to book a stay at Gran Meliá Nacional Rio de Janeiro and receive both a 20% discount with MeliáRewards, plus $200 in resort credit. Stay by August 31 at this beautiful São Conrado beach location.

www.melia.com ; 1-(844) 425-9969.

Whimsically-colorful, cozy and being within walking distance to Central Park and Broadway, are just a few factors that make The Whitby, a new hotel and one of the latest additions to Design Hotels’ Collection, a charming treasure for small groups. It’s one of the few midtown Manhattan hotels with numerous balconies, several private event rooms, and its own and a 130-seat state-of-the-art cinema. The Whitby has 86 rooms and suites spanning 16 floors. The rooms range from 330 to 1,845-sf. Contemporary interior design is by Kit Kemp. The Whitby is the second New York property owned by Firmdale Hotels. Book now Read the rest of this entry »

HOT DEALS!

Governor of the Picuris Pueblo blesses meal at Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa

Governor of the Picuris Pueblo blesses meal at Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa

Planners: The longer you stay, the more rewards your group merits at the historic Hotel Santa Fe-Hacienda and Spa in downtown Santa Fe, NM. I have visited this Hotel. Its beauty is more than furniture and décor: there’s a spiritual energy that blesses the compound. And now if you book your event by April 15 your rewards increase with the number of room nights. Options include activities such as a Mexican Fiesta, Native Blessing and Flute Player or a seminar on the Southwest. You also receive 15% discount on all AV equipment and a meeting room rental waiver.

http://hotelsantafe.com/group-rewards; sales@hotelsantafe.com; (855) 825.9876

Planners: earn Hilton Honors Gold Status when you book a meeting at Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, the largest full-service beachfront resort hotel on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, by May 31. This “Golden Days” promotion is available for stays between October 1, 2017 and March 9, 2018 (new business only). Perks with the Hilton Honors Gold Status include getting a fifth night free on standard room reward stays of five nights or more. Other perks may include a discounted, changeable and refundable rate, digital check-in, complimentary internet access, quick reservations and check-ins, late and Read the rest of this entry »

Crew Café in Canada offers dedicated co-working space for rent

Crew Café in Canada offers dedicated co-working space for rent

Whether you reside in the United States or anywhere else in the world where there are newspapers, magazines, radio, television and access to social media, you are likely aware of the turmoil that has beset America since the 2016 presidential election. As an active participant in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings and events, and yes, even in the world of journalism, the discussions have been pervasive as to the ramifications on travel, meetings, and tourism.

I know how recent upsets affect me personally. I find myself more assertively political, whereas before I sat back on the sidelines and strove to be merely objective as I covered events. As an entertainer, I am concerned events will be smaller, less frequent, or hosted last minute while planners survey how visas will be honored or rejected for international attendees or whether the unstable nature of business will create havoc on budgets and extraneous expenditures. I live in the Orlando area, so tourism and conferences are huge to the area’s bottom line. I’m near the bottom of that trickledown effect, but nonetheless, personally impacted.

I want to know about you. Are you impacted? How? How do you see our future industries evolving to cope with current and future Read the rest of this entry »

Hotel Zoo Berlin has been redesigned and is offering 15% off for bookings.

Hotel Zoo Berlin has been redesigned and is offering 15% off for bookings.

I don’t make resolutions at the start of each year. I know for many people that’s a ritual, a way of motivating themselves to work out more, be more accessible, lose weight, shop less, be more loving. I don’t have to motivate myself to do those things because they are a daily inspiration. Note I didn’t say goal. Goal would imply I am trying to reach a point. I simply do. What I do realize though, is that no matter how great the intentions, some days one simply cannot be all things to all people or accomplish all that one expects. Some days one simply has To Be. My wish in this New Year is for you to decide who you want to be, even if that Read the rest of this entry »

Northern Lights are visible during the Southern Iceland Tour, led by Big Chill Adventures

Northern Lights are visible during the Southern Iceland Tour, led by Big Chill Adventures

Some of the most interesting gigs I’ve had as my alter-ego personality, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, have come without forewarning. Don’t laugh. I know the irony of not predicting the phone calls. I may not have used my tea leaf reading or tarot card abilities to see into those future bookings, but I actually asked the Universe/higher power… whatever name is used when one puts out call for an exciting opportunity, for both of the situations that popped up within a few days of my “Hello, it’s me and I’d like…” call outs.

Natasha, The Psychic Lady when I was the dancer for the Eastern Gypsy Band, Tzighantzi, at EPCOT

Natasha, The Psychic Lady when I was the dancer for the Eastern Gypsy Band, Tzighantzi, at EPCOT

The first memorable time was me asking to be a featured performer in a Disney World spectacle. I particularly wanted to dance. Mind you, at that moment I was already working as a psychic for the Disney theme parks and corporate events and had been belly dancing for Morocco promotional events even before the Morocco pavilion was erected at EPCOT, but no dance or big show opportunities loomed in the horizon. Within a few days of my thoughts transmitted to the universe, I received a call asking if I’d like to be the dancer for a new Eastern gypsy band forming at EPCOT. Would I? For the months that followed, I was the dancer for Tzighantzi. Looking like and dancing like the embodiment of Esmerelda (at least all the girls holding their Esmerelda dolls and watching me thought so). I also was backup musician/singer/and co-emcee. Six shows a day, rain or hot summer sun. Loved it!

Most recently, I pondered that several of my entertainment friends had been getting TV and press coverage and it had been a while since that happened to me. I wasn’t jealous of their largesse. It just pointed out that my life had transitioned from a higher profile to one less noteworthy of media attention. Less than 24 hours later, I got a call asking if I was available to be on a TV program, analyzing handwriting of the news team’s anchors. Did I mention it would be early the next morning or that this would be live? I also needed to be available to work during the Pen & Inc Fair that the Channel 35 Good Day Orlando’s show was promoting for Sam Flax’ art store that Read the rest of this entry »

Capture the holiday with a Belvedere Pomegranate Royale at Conrad Miami's Jack Frost Happy Hour

Capture the holiday with a Belvedere Pomegranate Royale at Conrad Miami’s Jack Frost Happy Hour

IT’S ALL ABOUT A NEW EXPERIENCE

With the holidays approaching as rapidly as I could pop the cork on a bottle of champagne (and if you know how badly I open any bottle of alcohol you’d be laughing at this vision), may I be the first to toast you the happiest of days ahead? If I was enjoying a corporate reception at the Conrad Miami (FL) during its Jack Frost Happy Hour, I’d likely be raising one of their special drink options—the Belvedere Pomegranate Royale to my lips. For an extra treat, the resident mixologist offers an exclusive group mixology class. After happy hour, smaller groups can reserve the intimate Wine Room at Atrio restaurant next door for one of Executive Chef Virgile Brandel’s Mediterranean-inspired gourmet meals. Throughout December, the Conrad Miami’s sky high Bar at LvL 25 also opens its Jack Frost Happy Hour December 1-30 to hotel guests and locals. Experience “snowfalls” over the bar every 30 minutes. Sample the menu, Read the rest of this entry »

Halloween approaches and the call came for Natasha, The Psychic Lady to get her spook on!

Halloween approaches and the call came for Natasha, The Psychic Lady to get her spook on!

You know how Christmas trees, wrapping, and twinkling lights crash land in stores these days by August, bypassing all the other approaching holiday celebrations? That’s how I’ve looked at Halloween parties that have already been in full swing in September. For you readers who live in countries that don’t celebrate Halloween, you won’t understand the frenzy of costume parties that has increasingly attracted adults to attire themselves as characters from favorite books, TV or movies, or to parody trending political figures. Halloween used to be about youths dressing up as pirates, princesses, and super heroes one night a year to amass all the candy they could carry from neighbors doling out sweet treats. Halloween has morphed into one of the biggest expensed holidays in the world.
I mention Halloween because many of you who don’t know me personally have asked about the part of my bio that says I am also Natasha, The Psychic Lady. Yes, this is not a joke or just an act. Come October, I am put to the sleep-deprived test of having more work entertaining at corporate and social parties than I can possibly do. I constantly have wished some of this work would spread out to other months, and this year, it appears that wish has been granted. By the end of September, I have already worked several Halloween-flavored parties. At this rate, it won’t be long before I’ll be dressing for an assortment of themed Halloween events in August. Here’s just one of my looks for the “darker, witchier” themes that seem to be trending.
Now, on to the reason you regularly read this column: what exotic destinations are offering discounted deals, events to amuse or educate, and where you can travel either leisurely or with a group.
HOT DEALS FOR INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS
Design Hotels offers exceptional international destinations with unique venues and great promotional discounts. Here are just a few of current offerings. Save up to 20% for a stay til December 31 at the 101-room Avalon Hotel (Gothenburg, Sweden). The deal includes Read the rest of this entry »

Anchor Bar, original creators of Buffalo wings, is crammed with memorabilia.

Anchor Bar, original creators of Buffalo wings, is crammed with memorabilia.

In Part 1, Architectural Icons Were Examined

Before I met my husband Russ, I would have looked at ornately-designed buildings or décor and thought, “How pretty” and likely that would have been the end of it. Married to someone who has taken me travelling internationally and domestically just to admire fine, sleek lines or fanciful carved motifs or intricately-patterned ceilings and has made a career from his knowledge and creative building skills, has turned my passing admiration into deeper appreciation for the art, skills and craftsmanship necessary to erect these structures. That so many cities have managed to preserve, restore and renovate buildings that could never again be (cost-effective) to be built in our lifetime is worthy of recognition. Buffalo is one such city.

Of course, having walked and gawked all day, one must eat to refuel energy. Just as architects and patrons of the arts have left their imprint on Buffalo, so have culinary artists who have created legendary dishes, such as Buffalo wings, that are (likely) known across the globe.

RESTAURANTS WE RECOMMEND

Panorama on Seven in the Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter was one of three places A Chamber of Commerce woman suggested we’d find the best Beef on Weck sandwiches in the area. What separates these three, including Schwabl’s and Bar-Bill Tavern, from others is that the seasoned meat is slow-cooked for hours, contrary to places that import frozen beef and then reheat at the last minute. For those of you not from Buffalo, Beef on Weck is a signature sandwich. Mounds of thin-sliced roast beef are piled onto a Kümmelweck bun, which is salted and caraway-seeded. The Panorama’s were served on sliders. Russ enjoyed the sliders and was eager to try the sandwich at Schwabl’s.

Schwabl’s began serving German-styled cuisine and Beef on Weck sandwiches 1837. Their current West Seneca restaurant is a step back in time. The waitresses might call you honey, the tables are close together, and you watch the chef slicing the meat on a counter, after Read the rest of this entry »

Buffalo City Hall, one of the finest examples of art deco in the world

Buffalo City Hall, one of the finest examples of art deco in the world

“You came to Buffalo for vacation?” was said with undisguised bewilderment each time my husband Russ and I were asked where we were from and why we were visiting Buffalo, NY.

Obviously, even the locals were oblivious to Buffalo being touted by travel publications as booming with resurgent pride. The primary attraction for us was the vast numbers of renovated and recycled historically-preserved architectural masterpieces. Second was the tour guide-worthy acclaim of what to see and especially what to eat, by well-travelled former Buffalo residents (Bob and Dianna Duffy and Mark and Laura Cosgrove) whose opinions we respect. Third, and quite important to Russ, was to tour the Darwin Martin House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and to this day is being slowly and carefully restored to its original design.

Getting around downtown Buffalo is easy. A trolley that runs about every 15 minutes is free from Canalside on the harbor to Fountain Plaza in the center of downtown. Go past that stop and the fee is $2 unless you opt for a city pass. We took the clean, comfy trolley several times, but mostly walked.

Our hotel’s location next to the harbor and across the street from parks and attractions made getting around easy, especially because we had splendid weather all the while.

You enter the Buffalo Marriott Harborcenter on the seventh floor of the building, where registration, lobby and their restaurant/bar Panorama on Seven is located. The restaurant’s floor to ceiling windows overlook Lake Erie and harbor, parks, and decommissioned Navy vessels, now used as museums. For the seven nights of our stay, the bar area was always buzzing with activity.

http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/bufbd-buffalo-downtown-marriott/

Before telling you about all the famous original Buffalo dishes we tried (in Part 2), here’s an overview of why we travelled to Buffalo and to report our expectations were not just met, they were exceeded.

Frank Llloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House, his most iconic prairie -styled home.

Frank Llloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, his most iconic prairie -styled home.

LACK OF MONEY PREVENTED ARCHITECTURAL JEWELS FROM BEING DESTROYED AND MONEY RESTORED THEM TO LIFE!

Many tour possibilities exist to view the six-structure complex of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House.  We reserved the hour tour, which ended up being an intriguing two-hour guided examination of what is considered to be one of Wright’s most iconic Prairie-style homes, finished in 1905. A nine-minute film preceded the tour, illuminating the historic significance of Martin hiring Wright for such a prestigious commission after the architect’s success at designing the Larkin (Soap) Building, where Martin worked. Like the Martin house, The Larkin Building (designed 1903, completed in 1906 and demolished in 1950) contained innovations. The five-story office building had air conditioning, stained glass windows, built-in desk furniture, and suspended toilet bowls. The Martin House is a masterpiece of quality materials. The philosophy for the house was to bring the outside in through design elements. Signature stained glass windows have five distinct patterns, some distinctly flower-like. A porch is glass lined. Exterior staircase entrances are hidden behind decorative walls. Bookshelves Read the rest of this entry »

2016 Holiday Memories at Disney's Coronado Spring Resort-Decor

2016 Holiday Memories at Disney’s Coronado Spring Resort-Decor

Travelling to new destinations, and tasting many new wines along the way, has occupied much of my summer. For those of you who have asked where my August edition of Hotel Happenings and Program Promotions is, well…. This is it. So, stop whining. Will do my best to inform you of the latest deals and entertain you with mountains of information.

WHAT COULD BE BETTER THAN FREE MEETING PLANNING SERVICES IN A FLORIDA RESORT DESTINATION?

You read that correctly. The Bradenton Area CVB is offering free meeting planning services, whether you need help with site selection, itineraries for entertainment, or help with over-flow hotel availability or citywide event planning. The CVB offers complimentary welcome bags (one per room night plus 10 per group), can they can arrange visits to local attractions. They even have a first-time incentive program, but you’ll need to contact them directly about that (and tell them you heard about it in my blog, please!)

http://www.Bradenton Gulf Islands email@ebradentongulfislands.com

RENOVATE, REJEUVENTATE AND CONSTRUCTION OF NEW VENUES

Work continues on the $30 million facelift for the Sheraton Bay Point Resort in the Read the rest of this entry »

It's always a happy holiday with a Christmas tree of Dunham Cellars wine bottles

It’s always a happy holiday with a Christmas tree of Dunham Cellars wine bottles

In Part 1, Yakima Valley Wineries were discussed

All photos by Russell Wagner

Two of the biggest decisions we faced when deciding to visit both Yakima Valley and Walla Walla wineries were where to stay for the easiest travel after a day of exploration and sipping, and which of the many wineries to visit of those we knew or had been recommended to us. There were far more wineries on our list than we could reasonably expect to actually drop into. Where to stay turned out to be Kennewick, because it sits roughly an hour’s drive between the two wine regions along accessible highways.

Next time we go (and after this visit it’s not an if, but definite), we may stay at the historic Marcus Whitman Hotel, a luxury lodging in downtown Walla Walla, built originally in 1927. All of us—Russ, his brother Randy and our sister-in-law Cher, relish historically preserved and revered architecture. This 133-room hotel, restored and reopened in 2001 represents the essence of elegance, sophistication and beauty from an earlier era. We did dine at The Marc Restaurant, named “Restaurant of the Year” by the Washington State Wine Commission, which I will happily rave about at the end of this blog.

With the question of where to stay on our current journey resolved, the next was where to do our tastings. Russ and I have been drinking wines from Walla Walla more frequently, discovering them at various tastings at home in Central Florida. Walla Walla has been recognized as an AVA (American Viticultural Area) since 1984. Two-thirds of the AVA is in Read the rest of this entry »

Map of Yakima Valley, WA. photo by Russ Wagner

Map of Yakima Valley, WA. photo by Russ Wagner

This latest visit to Washington wineries confirms what my husband Russ and I had already determined: we prefer bold and brash merlots, cabernet sauvignons, zinfandels, malbecs and syrahs.

Of course, there are other varietals and blends we are happy to wrap our tongues around (so to speak), which includes some crisp and clean whites and rosés, but give me a jammy red that fills my mouth with flavor and I am in my happy place. Which is why Yakima Valley and Walla Walla wineries jumped to the head of our “wine labels to explore” list.

Yakima Valley appellations – which include Yakima, Zillah, Prosser and the Red Mountain & Vicinity AVAs– is an 80-mile stretch of rural countryside. We focused our time in Red Read the rest of this entry »

Laser light shows light up the St. Louis Union Station Hotel every evening. photo by Russ Wagner

Laser light shows light up the St. Louis Union Station Hotel every evening. photo by Russ Wagner

Vintage train travel evokes an atmosphere of retro sophistication, the clacking of wheels rolling over tracks, elegant club cars with linen-covered tables and plush chairs, and where the ultimate goal is less about the destination than the journey. That ode to yesteryear has emerged as one of the most comforting trends in alternative event venues.

One of the most recent to capitalize on that nostalgic environment is the St. Louis Union Station’s nine retrofitted train cars, housed under an open—air steel beam canopy soon to be transformed into an attractions park featuring food outlets, a 200” high observation wheel, light and fire shows, a fountain and an outdoor plaza. Already onsite is a Landry’s seafood restaurant and Hard Rock St. Louis.

On a recent trip to St. Louis with my train-fascinated husband, Russ, we were given a private tour of the four trains Read the rest of this entry »

The Silver Chalet Dome at St. Louis Union Station wants to be your group party venue

The Silver Chalet Dome at St. Louis Union Station wants to be your group party venue

In this issue: Vintage Trains roll on in St. Louis and Napa Valley
Making Moonshine: the new teambuilding event guaranteed to bring smiles
Exotic destinations and discount offers
HOT DEALS!!!!!
Exotic getaways that offer discounts or incentives is always exciting, but Design Hotels, has cranked up their summer offerings. Take for instance, the chance to enjoy a three-course set menu dinner in The Dining Room, a trendy new restaurant at Blakes Hotel in London, UK. The South Kensington couture hotel designed by former Bond girl, Anouska Hempel, features individually-styled boutique furnishings in each guestroom. No minimum stay requirements. At the Nakar Hotel in Palma De Mallorca, Spain you will have to book at least three nights, but you get great rates, free breakfast and WiFi, and the chance to be on Avinguda Jaume III, one of the area’s liveliest shopping streets. The 57-room hotel is fashioned from local materials and the onsite restaurant serves authentic “urban Majorquine” cuisine. Of course, if you’re looking for a relaxing, food-driven stay without all the

C-hotel, Lake Como, Italy

C-hotel, Lake Como, Italy

glamorous décor, check out C-Hotel & Spa in Cassago Brianza, Lake Como, Italy. You can smell the rich chocolate notes of freshly ground coffee the moment you step in to the stone-clad lobby that emanates from the family-owned 18-room hotel’s Italian bar and confectionary shop. Incentives include breakfast and those tantalizing dishes made from locally-sourced products.
http://www.DesignHotels.com
Omni Hotels & Resorts knows you work hard and wants to reward your efforts by using your work travel as a vacation opportunity when staying at one of their luxury hotels. Group guests (at participating Omni properties) can extend their stay by two days either before or after the original stay dates at an exclusive rate. Simply apply the promo code EXTENDG for 15 percent* off the best bar rate. Omni will also send a “reminder” email two days after a room reservation to notify the guest that the reservation is eligible for the exclusive rate extension. The offer only applies to reservations that are originally less than six nights. There are other restrictions but you can check Read the rest of this entry »

Close up of The Masif under a brilliant sunrise. photo by Russ Wagner

Close up of The Masif under a brilliant sunrise. photo by Russ Wagner

April 1. April Fool’s Day and the biggest joke of the day was our group thinking our early morning LAN flight to Santiago, Chile would leave on time. We were at the Puerto Montt Airport by 8 am for a 10:15 flight. Technically, our airplane was there but it was somewhere above us circling above the dense fog that rendered anything beyond the glass windows just an opaque smoky haze.

The arduous pace our group has kept has taken its toll. Some are sick. Most of us are exhausted. The hours of fog-induced delay have pushed our schedule back. The plan to tour Santiago before our night’s activity became an hour stroll among crowded streets and an even more crowded plaza (watch out for the pickpockets!!). We spent little time in Santiago but my initial impressions are of a tattered-appearing city, overcrowded and ill-adept or disinclined to preserve their historical architecture. After a quick shower and change of clothes, we met inside the lobby of Hotel Atton Vitacura to find out which home we’d each be visiting for dinner with a local host.

Statue in plaza in Santiago, Chile. photo by Russ Wagner

Statue in plaza in Santiago, Chile. photo by Russ Wagner

As this was Russ and my first group tour, we didn’t quite understand what dinner with a local host meant. In this case, volunteers who are part of the Smithsonian community agree to host a home cooked meal for a designated number of people. As we came to understand, the host is provided requested provisions. Our group of four couples was assigned to Andrea, a well-travelled woman in her 30s who spoke fluent English. A driver picked each group up and delivered us to the respective front door. In our case, Andrea and her five-year-old (total cutie) son Read the rest of this entry »

Close up of The Masif under a brilliant sunrise. photo by Russ Wagner

Close up of The Masif under a brilliant sunrise. photo by Russ Wagner

Our lake thinks it’s an ocean with a tropical storm pushing its waves into foamy peaks before it slams onto the shore. The lake is just across the street from the picture window of our room in the Gran Hotel Colonos del Sur in Puerto Varas, Chile.

It’s day 12 of our 18-day expedition to Patagonia with Smithsonian Journeys. Getting to Puerto Varas was tedious. Our group of 20 travelers from across the United States and Switzerland, as well as our illustrious Tour Director, Nick Tozer, left the iconic mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, drove three hours by coach to the Puerto Arenas Airport, flew two hours and then drove another half hour by comfy coach to our fifth hotel. Each hotel becomes progressively more modern, more beautiful.

View from our room at Gran Hotel Colonos del Sur, Puerto Varas. photo by Russ Wagner

View from our room at Gran Hotel Colonos del Sur, Puerto Varas. photo by Russ Wagner

Our travel was delayed yet again by a late LAN flight. So far they’re batting 100%. No flight has left on time.

We don’t arrive until 11 pm, still the dinner hour for many Latin Americans. Though we are a tired party, none of us turn down welcoming gestures of the bartender’s freshly made pisco sours and the chef’s homemade miniature empanadas. As if the delectable bites weren’t a treat, our room bears another plate of tasty bites: cheeses, nuts and slices of lunch meats. We nibbled, put the rest in the fridge, and decide this room, rich in creams and brown tones, was comfortably cozy. Maybe because the 98-room contemporary hotel is now a part of the Radisson Hotel family, we can flush toilet paper in the toilet! (If you don’t get my exhalation of joy, read Read the rest of this entry »

The beauty of Patagonia outside our hotel window in Torres del Paine National Park

The beauty of Patagonia outside our hotel window in Torres del Paine National Park

Google Patagonia, Chile and the iconic picture that pops up is likely of The Masif. Photos of the 10,000 foot high giant rarely do it justice, especially when you’re staring at its snow-bald cap under a startling blue sky streaked with puffy white clouds. Few get to see The Masif preening in all its glory. Mostly the base is visible under a heavy blanket of fog or grey rain. Once again, the weather gods were kind to our intrepid group.

We’d seen the Masif in the distance, but our six-hour bus ride from Punta Arenas (where we’d disembarked from our ship, the Stella Australis) brought us up close and personal. For the next few days, the rustic 95-room Hotel Rio Serrano, located near the entrance of Torres del Paine National Park, would be our home. Our

An early morning rainbow bursts from the mountain in Torres del Paine area, just outside of our hotel. photo by Russ Wagner

An early morning rainbow bursts from the mountain in Torres del Paine area, just outside of our hotel. photo by Russ Wagner

Smithsonian Journeys-arranged lodging backed up to a horse farm, green and gold grasses, glaciers glinting in the sunrise orange sky and a rainbow bursting from the cracks of steep craggy Read the rest of this entry »

The beauty of Patagonia outside our hotel window in Torres del Paine National Park

The beauty of Patagonia outside our hotel window in Torres del Paine National Park. photo by Russ Wagner

Thousands of shipwrecked sailors’ bones are forever entombed in the turbulent sea crashing against Cape Horn, the 1,400-foot high promontory soundlessly monitoring the endless savage confrontation of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Gusty winds and roiling seas batter the tiny isle of Cape Horn, of which the fabled promontory is like a jutting chin facing down the world’s most treacherous waters. Naturalist Charles Darwin tried unsuccessfully in the 1820’s to do what our intrepid group of adventurous tourists accomplished; we landed and hiked on Cape Horn (National Park), the northern boundary of the Drake passage and the last spit of land before one reaches Antarctica.

We reached Cape Horn aboard the Stella Australis, a sleek white Expedition ship. But before our afternoon boarding of the elegant lady, our Smithsonian Journey’s Patagonian Expedition group of 20 spent two days in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city.

Usushaia, Argentina

There are many reasons why Patagonian adventures begin in Usushaia. It’s where our ship would launch.

It’s an easy ride to Tierra del Fuego National Park, a 155,676-acre nature preserve created Read the rest of this entry »

The beauty of Patagonia outside our hotel window in Torres del Paine National Park

The beauty of Patagonia outside our hotel window in Torres del Paine National Park. All photos by Russ Wagner

Russ retched up to the moment we gingerly stepped into the zodiac that bounced in the rolling sea. If the Captain of the Stella Australis didn’t call us back due to a rapid gusting wind or sudden stormy skies, we would be among the few tourists this season to land at dawn on the legendary (Island of) Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos), the last bit of land before reaching Antarctica.

But that historic (for us) landing was many days after our group of 20 international travelers began our 18-day Patagonia Expedition with Smithsonian Journeys. It was not an adventure I would have chosen, but it fulfilled my husband’s dream to travel to the ends of the earth to visit one of the most recognized beautiful and relatively primitive destinations left on earth. This was not a laid-back vacation, but an adventure for even seasoned travelers.

Like all journeys, this one began with travel. Over the course of the next 18 days, Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

I’ve been away travelling, hiking up mountains, glaciers and volcanos throughout Patagonia. Until I can focus on telling you the details of that thrilling adventure, here’s a lot of information on which you can chew and plan your vacation or group meeting. There’s a lot of info here, so grab your favorite beverage, plop yourself into a comfy chair, and dream about the possibilities.

HOT DEAL!

Tech-savvy groups won’t want to miss out on the wizardry  The Mira Hong Kong offers along with its unique thematic coffee breaks, nine meeting rooms that can host from 18 to 800 people, and state-of-the-art AV services. Located in Tsim Sha Tsui, China, The Hong Kong prides itself on Asian hospitality, views of Kowloon Park, and that each of the 492 rooms and suites is equipped with a sleek, portable, and complimentary Wi-Fi device for use on-the-go, allowing for 24/7 connectivity and sharing the signal to up to 10 devices. Book this hotel by August 31 and here are just some of the perks you can gain for your group.

8 to 49 rooms: – For every 5 rooms booked, the 6th room booked will be upgraded to the next category, plus additional privileges

50+ rooms: – For every 50 room nights booked, enjoy one complimentary night for your next visit; Complimentary 60-minute cocktail at the open-air lounge bar or at one of the Specialty Suites designed for entertaining; additional privileges

https://www.designhotels.com/hotels/china/hong-kong/the-mira-hong-kong?utm_source=8800001&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_content=the-mira-hong-kong&utm_campaign=1604

Osthoff Resort cooking school, classes for kids and for adults

Osthoff Resort cooking school, classes for kids and for adults

How come when I vacationed as a youth with my family no one offered kid’s culinary classes like this year’s Summer Pleasures™ at The Osthoff Resort?  The Elkhart Lake, WI AAA Four Diamond resort compounds its “Culinary Kids” cooking classes with junior-sized fishing, Village history treasures hunts, and “Kidz Kraftz” projects for children from four to 10 years old. The summer promotion includes two nights in an elegant guest room and $15 per day towards our Summer Pleasures™ program, which runs May 27 – June 1 and Sunday through Thursday, June 2 – September 30. The Osthoff is one hour north of Milwaukee, less than two hours from Madison and approximately three hours from Chicago.  The resort contains 38,000 sf of state-of-the-art function space, four restaurants, a 20,000 sf Aspira Spa and a classic cooking school.

www.osthoff.com

I’ll for any opportunity to dance. Throw in a luxurious lodging package and the chance to watch celebrity performances during the 28th annual Vail International Dance Festival, July 30 – August 13, and it sounds like a mountain-high grand idea. The Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail Village, CO thinks a package that includes 15% off all spa services, $18 reduced price valet parking and complimentary basic WiFi might be a great incentive for arts patrons. The hotel’s mix of alpine adventure and timeless European elegance are the perfect backdrop to a festival that features Isabella Boylston as Artist-in-Residence, Company-in-Residence BalletX, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Dorrance Dance, and Paul Taylor’s American Modern Dance. There will be a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Festival’s Artistic Director, former New York City Ballet star Damian Woetzel and at least 10 world premieres of dances.

www.sonnenalp.com; (866) 284-4411; www.vaildance.org

PSST! The secret password to get a special 20% discount on room rates for the newly-opened The Kimpton Cardinal Hotel is GRAND. The rate is available for travel through December 2016. The upscale boutique chain, Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, has located their latest property in the first six floors of the historic R.J. Reynolds Building in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. The April 26 opening earmarks Kimpton’s first foray into the Carolinas. I’ve stayed at a number of Kimpton hotels. Each has been eclectically styled and elegant. The Kimpton Cardinal has 174 luxe guestrooms, including 15 suites, each blending the tradition of monograms and tartan fabrics with modern furnishings and playful artwork. Each element tells a story, from the emerald green accents in each bathroom – an ode to the state’s official gemstone – to the oversized portraits of luminaries R.J. Reynolds and Colonel Winston woven into the detailed carpets of the boardroom and mezzanine. Named to the National Register of Historic Places, the building remains an architectural showcase of original gold leaf, rich marble and burnished brass. Common areas include the welcoming Living Room on the lobby level dressed in Carolina-inspired artwork with pops of fuchsia and monograms and a nearly 2,000-sf Rec Room with a basketball court, bowling alley and adult-sized twisty slide. The Katharine, a traditional French brasserie that draws fresh inspiration from classic Southern cooking and overseen by Executive Chef Ed Witt, sits adjacent to The Kimpton Cardinal. The hotel has more than 6,300 sf of function space, including two ballrooms with room for up to 400 guests on the mezzanine level. The 20th-floor office spaces of R. J. Reynolds have been transformed into three meeting rooms, offering views of downtown Winston-Salem and the mountains to the west. Upon arrival, guests of The Kimpton Cardinal will be greeted with a Winston-Salem tradition of Moravian cookies and sweet tea in the Living Room. Other unique local amenities and experiences include an Art-o-Mat® in the hotel’s Rec Room, a traditional cigarette machine repurposed to distribute small pieces of artwork, and the option to utilize the hotel’s yoga mats and bikes for a quick ride and yoga session at nearby Bailey Park. Also tying into its local cycling community, the hotel will be developing specific packages and amenities for cycling enthusiasts. The Kimpton Cardinal takes pet friendly to a new level. Four-legged guests are provided a VIP (Very Important Pet) amenity, pet bowl and pet bed… at no extra charge.

www.thecardinalhotel.com; www.kimptonhotels.com.

Blast off your summer by joining MeliáRewards and get a 15% off the brand new Me Miami, by Meliá Hotels International. You must book before June 30 and stay by that date to take advantage of the offer. The Miami, FL property has 14,000 sf of function space and is in the heart in the heart of downtown, nearby to Adrienne Arsht Center, American Airlines Arena, Perez Art Museum and the new epicenter of the city, Miami Worldcenter.

http://www.melia.com/en/hotels/united-states/florida/me-miami/index.html?

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

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

Just in time for a summertime trek to the popular Myrtle Beach, SC, the 30-acre oceanfront Springmaid Beach Resort has completed the first round of its major renovation project. All 452 waterfront guest rooms and the Springmaid Pier restaurant, renamed Southern Tide Bar & Grille, have been fully renovated and redesigned. To celebrate its rebrand as the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton, Myrtle Beach Oceanfront, you can receive a special 15% off introductory savings on all accommodations, F&B, and gift shop purchases, for travel through September 30. You must book by April 30.

Located in the resort’s Live Oak and Palmetto Towers, the redesigned guest rooms feature 40” HD TVs, DoubleTree’s signature Sweet Dreams® bedding, mini-refrigerator, microwave and private balcony with outdoor seating. Outfitted with new ebony wood furnishings, the rooms are dressed in a fresh palette of ocean blues and cool grey, creating a contemporary coastal design. The newly-named Southern Tide Bar & Grille features driftwood finishes, sand and surf hues and a wall of windows overlooking the historic Springmaid Pier. By the end of summer, renovations will also include an all new Main Building and waterfront focal point for the resort with guest registration; the Ocean Blue Restaurant & Lounge with waterfront outdoor seating and private dining room; lobby bar; The Market grab & go snack area; Ocean Terrace and Ocean Boardroom. Additionally, the resort’s 35,000 sf feet of flexible event space and largest ocean-view conference center in Myrtle Beach is receiving an upgrade.

www. SpringmaidBeach.com; (866) 764-8501

You can save up to 45% with this offer by The Wyndham Reef Resort in Grand Cayman. Yes, you read that correctly. 45%. Travel by June 17, book by May 12. No minimum night stay. The secluded 150-room Wyndham Reef Resort is the only full-service, all beachfront resort in the Cayman Islands with all-inclusive packages. Every room features spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea, and all one and two-bedroom suites include a full kitchen and dining area. The resort is also minutes from George Town, Seven Mile Beach, Stingray City and other popular island locations.

www.WyndhamCayman.com; (888) 232-0541.

LOOK WHO’S GETTING A FACELIFT!

A new coat of exterior paint and a redo for Pelican’s dockside restaurant and Sheraton Bay Point Resort will be ready to take the spotlight by Memorial Day Weekend. The Panama City Beach, FL resort has 320 rooms, including 60 golf villa suites, 60,000 sf of indoor/outdoor meeting space, two 18-hole golf courses, including the only Nicklaus Design Course in NW Florida; and the 12,000 sf luxury Serenity Spa.

www. www.BayPointResorts.com

The Mall of America (MOA) opens two new projects this month: the new Parkview Meeting + Event Center and its newest attraction, FlyOver America.  The Saint Paul, MN projects were completed by Krech, O’Brien, Mueller & Associates, Inc. (KOMA), from Inver Grove Heights. FlyOver America is a flight simulation ride that takes guests on a breathtaking, aerial tour of some of the greatest landmarks and regions throughout the United States using virtual flight technology. The ride is adjacent to the new Parkview space in the southwest corner of Nickelodeon Universe and spans from 10 feet below the park up to 55 feet in the air. KOMA was tasked with coordinating a pre-designed three-level ride and screen structure within a newly designed building enclosure within the park. The building is comprised of pre-show exhibits, a 45-foot high theater space, retail areas, box office and administrative spaces and a renovated park plaza. The event center is a marriage of creativity and functional design, evoking an indoor-outdoor feeling overlooking Nickelodeon Universe. Soundproofing was an essential element. The 4,000 sf of private event space has a 700 sf balcony overlooking Nickelodeon Universe. KOMA’s design incorporates perimeter programmable LED lighting and SageGlass LightZoneTM glass in order to give the space a luminescent glow. Customers will be able to control the opacity of the windows overlooking the park.  The space also features a scalloped ceiling, custom carpeting, custom large-scale digital wallcoverings, floor-to-ceiling upholstered banquettes and rich walnut accents. There’s full A/V capabilities, private restrooms, and can accommodate up to 400 guests.

www.komainc.com

The work is underway on the renovation of the 1000,000 sf Benton Convention Center in downtown Winston-Salem, NC. The multi-million-dollar renovation includes significant structural, design and technological upgrades to the interior and exterior of the building.  Key design elements are to create more open, flexible meeting space and pay tribute to Winston-Salem’s historic arts, tobacco and textile roots.  The plans also include expanding the front facade to provide more practical, pre-function space.  More windows and skylights will give the venue a contemporary, open and inviting aesthetic.  The center remains operational during the renovation and is expected to be finalized May 2017.

http://visitwinstonsalem.com/images/BentonFloorPlan.pdf

CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT GOES CODE GREEN WHEN IT HOSTS THIS YEAR’S MEETING PROFESSIONALS INTERNATIONAL (MPI) MPI WORLD EDUCATION CONGRESS (WEC)

Code green is Caesars’ multi-year strategy to identify, measure, manage and reduce their material impacts on the environment. No better time to display their efforts than at Harrah’s Waterfront Conference Center in Atlantic City, NJ when the entertainment company hosts MPI’s World Education Congress, June 11 – 14. Caesars will showcase some of the elements that has won them a silver IMEX Green Supplier Award and Green Key Eco-Rating, such as paperless online event menus, meeting guide, BEOs and billing. All China, flatware and linen are offered in lieu of disposables and water is present only on request.

CaesarsMeansBusiness.com; 855-MEET-CET; Meet@Caesars.com; http://www.mpiweb.org/Events

TECHNOLOGY TIPS TO SAVE MONEY AND STRESS

As an experienced traveler, I am aware that Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are the best days to fly and that Tuesdays can be the best day to buy airline tickets. Not everyone possesses the knowledge I do, and for those of you who don’t, check out this information by David Weliver, a nationally cited authority on Millennials and money, and other tips he offers on his Money Under 30 site.

http://www.moneyunder30.com/best-time-to-book-a-flight.

If only the fellow travelers on my recent trip to Patagonia knew about this handy accessory they wouldn’t have been struggling with schlepping their camera gear. Tenba’s BYOB Camera Insert converts any existing bag into a camera bag. This new accessory also fits inside their Packlite Travel Bags, the world’s first packable, self-stowing camera bag.

www.Tenba.com

OK, while this admittedly is not technology, I do think it “smart” of Gaylord Hotels to declare what the season’s trendy colors are. The Marriott International brand provides appropriate set designs as visuals for the color schemes. The company says this year’s colors are Rose Quartz and Serenity (promotes happiness and fluidity), Snorkel blue for a nautical theme, Buttercup to create a sunny and cheerful atmosphere, Fiesta (deep reds), and Green Flash for a splash of Spring.

http://www.meetingsimagined.com/tips-trends/ring-spring-pantone-s-2016-palette?scid=d17cf187-f30a-4e69-9de4-25c0d85a9916&elq_mid=3417&elq_cid=1625917&CH=GH041216_MeetingsNews

Karen Kuzsel is a writer-editor based in the Orlando area who specializes in the hospitality, entertainment, meetings & events industries.  She is a Contributing Editor-Writer for Prevue Magazine and is an active member of ISES and MPI and is now serving on the 2015 – 2016 MPI Global Advisory Board for The Meeting Professional Magazine. Karen writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, she has owned magazines, written for newspapers, trade publications, radio and TV. As her alter-ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady, she is a featured entertainer for corporate and social events. karenkuzsel@earthlink.net; www.ThePsychicLady.com; @karenkuzsel; @thepsychiclady.

 

Battery Wharf Hotel lobby in Boston is offering great booking deals

Battery Wharf Hotel lobby in Boston is offering great booking deals

PUTTING ON A NEW FACE!
When’s the last time you chartered a boat for up to 45 of your closest friends or business guests? Never? Then now’s the time if you are bringing said-friends or guests to South Florida and want to introduce them to a slice of Florida’s natural heaven. The 80′ Solstice, a private yacht for up to 45 people, has been retrofitted with modern amenities and swank décor. The Solstice now has an iPad-controlled sound-system throughout. Guestrooms have been freshened, a full service bar sits on the refurnished Flybridge. Teak loungers on the top deck, an oversized sun bed and additional seating on the bow provide great views of dolphins frequently swimming alongside.
http://www.waterfantaseas.com; (305) 531-1480; info@waterfantaseas.com
Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront’s Oregon Ballroom got a new “face” and meeting and event Read the rest of this entry »

Russ and me and the rainbow at Gullfoss Falls, Iceland

Russ and me and the rainbow at Gullfoss Falls, Iceland

The opportunity to visit Copenhagen, Denmark began when a bright, red-headed newly-arrived exchange student from Denmark walked into the Merritt Island High School newspaper office and announced in perfect English that she wanted to participate. Little did I know then that my position as Editor and Else’s as Proof Reader (with her grammatically correct English) would form a bond that has endured more years than I wish to publicize.

It was her Facebook search, many exchanged emails catching up those years, and later a visit by her, her charming husband Erik, and their group of witty and affable golfing buddies visiting the Orlando, FL area, that culminated in my husband, Russ, and I selecting Copenhagen the next year as our next big adventure. Coincidentally, Else and Erik celebrated their wedding anniversary while here and we would be celebrating ours while there.

Once Russ began his meticulous research into Copenhagen and took the advice of our Danish friends to fly Icelandair, he received a package offer from the airline that was too tantalizing to ignore. If we stayed two nights in Iceland, a necessary layover between Orlando International Airport and Copenhagen, we would receive a reduced rate for the overall visit.

canal rides at Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. photo by Karen

canal rides at Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark. photo by Karen

Russ reserved rooms in Copenhagen and in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik and then we told Else we were coming, hoping that for at least one of those days or nights, we’d be able to connect with them and our other new friends. We were overjoyed and overwhelmed by the generous invitations and detailed agenda plans Else sent, indicating that each day she and Erik would guide us through Russ’ assembled list of places to visit. Else included places that are insider’s treasures. She noted places and events for us to visit on our own and Read the rest of this entry »

We’re very fortunate living in the Orlando, FL area. While the rest of the country is still experiencing the bluster of March, we’re enjoying blue skies, low 80’s and gentle breezes. It was perfect weather for sitting on the back porch of Seasons 52 overlooking the lake, sipping on slights of wine and munching on flatbreads.

Seasons 52 is a Darden Restaurant original brand that specializes in fresh, locally sourced foods, with meals, appetizers and mini-desserts typically weighing in at no more than 500 calories, including the aforementioned flatbreads. The menu changes seasonally, and the wines offered on their stellar program called Flights & Flatbreads changes frequently. Each wine comes with tasting notes. The program is available daily up to 6 pm.

For $15, you can have a choice of whites or reds (roughly 3 ounces each) and one flatbread. For $20, their Acclaimed red wines are rated at 90+ points. According to Seasons 52, the Acclaimed wines are rated by Wine Spectator, The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast Read the rest of this entry »

Diving off Andros Island, home to the largest number of blue holes in the world.

Diving off Andros Island, home to the largest number of blue holes in the world.

I’ve swum with the dolphins, but in The Exumas islands of the Bahamas, you can swim with pigs.

That was just one of many facts I recently discovered about the Bahamas at a press function sponsored by the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism Office and Diamond PR, and which was held at the award-winning Winter Park, FL restaurant, Ravenous Pig (any relatives in The Exumas?). Frankly, I’ve cruised to the Bahamas, shopped at the famous Straw Market in Nassau and have stayed at the Atlantis Resort on neighboring Paradise Island, so in my until-now uneducated mind, I thought I “knew” the Bahamas and what it was about.

How wrong I was.

shrimp&grits at Ravenous Pig

Key West pink shrimp, Anson Mills Grits, green tomato chutney, chorizo oil and this Shrimp & Grits dish at Ravenous Pig tingled my taste buds. photo by Karen Kuzsel

I had no idea there are actually 700 islands, though just 30 of them are populated. I didn’t realize the 21-mile long New Providence, whose capital is Nassau, contains more than 60% of the population. I know the Bahamas are an easy trip from Florida, whether by ship or air, but was surprised to learn that 85% of their visitors are from the United States, many of whom are from colder climates seeking the more moderate temperatures of the islands. In fact, from September through May, Read the rest of this entry »

The Basilica at Notre Dame, just one of six churches used for venue space in Montréal, Canada

The Basilica at Notre Dame, just one of six churches used for venue space in Montréal, Canada

For the several years that I worked on the radio for three different stations as Natasha, The Psychic Lady, I remember one of the co-hosts regularly signing off with “Remember that it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.” That singular phrase sums up why I feel so concerned about what’s going on in the world, what’s happening in America with our election season mudslinging, and why I strive to provide the care and attention to how I treat others, even when stressed by circumstances beyond my control.

I’m an avid newspaper reader and watch a national evening news broadcast when possible. Lately I find myself shuddering with the same head-turning reaction I would give at watching a movie where murder and mayhem run rampant, wondering how can people abuse and misuse others so wilfully and destructively. I don’t understand politicians making a case for their presidency by how aggressively they slam and lie about one another instead of stating what they can (or would like to) accomplish (knowing full well that even the best of intentions cannot politically be achieved without the endorsement of people on both sides of the aisle.) I don’t understand the sheer stupidity of supporting candidates just because they spew vitriolic hate. As a newspaper/magazine writer raised on seeking the truth and not what I’d like the end result to be (a novel approach these days, isn’t it?), I find it appalling how many people accept blindly what they’re told and never bother to question or research (think of the plethora of hateful or deceptive emails you receive and wish you didn’t).

Thank goodness when I am working events as Natasha, I am lauded for my positive messages and the hope, comfort, laughter and friendliness I share. My measure of the event’s success isn’t just by the dollars I earned, but did I make an impactful connection with someone and what lingering peace do I feel from having made that connection.

My wish for you today, and tomorrow onward, is to take as your mantra that “it’s more important to be nice.”

 Ka Maka Landing, a popular Waikolohe Valley water play area at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii

Ka Maka Landing, a popular Waikolohe Valley water play area at Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii

HOT DEALS

It’s not too early to think about a relaxing Spring Vacation at Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa in Read the rest of this entry »

BOG Hotel in Bogota, Columbia... just one of the deals offered by Design Hotels

BOG Hotel in Bogota, Columbia… just one of the deals offered by Design Hotels

In this issue: meeting package deals you will want to book

Florida Culinary Students win French education trip

NEW ONE-STOP MEETING WEBSITE FOR LOS ANGELES

meetLA.com is the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board’s new website designed for meeting professionals seeking to book business in that famed city. Critical tools include:

Find a Venue – Users can discover L.A.’s robust portfolio of venues Read the rest of this entry »

T

The glass garden at (Dale) Chihuly’s Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle, WA. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

The glass garden at (Dale) Chihuly’s Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle, WA. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

The best of intentions can go awry.

Maybe that’s why restaurants over-complicate recipes or hotels focus on the décor and not on guest services. I had the best of intentions to immediately follow up my blog story HOLY C.O.W! (The Wines of California, Oregon and Washington), published in September, with reviews of where to go, where to eat, and where to stay in those same states. Time slipped past like the shadow of an eclipsing moon. So, come into the light with me as I finally shine a spotlight on what places and activities are worth doing, and which ones you may want to forego.

Here’s the itinerary we followed. Russ and I began our trip in Seattle, WA, then moved on to Portland, OR before connecting with friends and family in Bend OR, Jacksonville OR, and then Oakland CA.

SEATTLE, WA

Renaissance Hotel downtown Seattle: Great location. Easy walking distance to many of the city’s main attractions. First impressions: dreary dark colors of burnt orange and muddy brown, especially for a lobby that had just been refurbished. We stayed in room 2308. Musty odor. Called for maintenance to get the AC running or to at least get the air in the room circulating to eliminate the stuffiness. Bottle water in room part of amenity. We had just travelled many hours and needed that water, but there wasn’t any. Both times calls to housekeeping brought prompt service but it wasn’t an Read the rest of this entry »

Omni King Edward Hotel gets a $40 million facelift

Omni King Edward Hotel gets a $40 million facelift

In this issue: Free French breads. Line up soon

Money talks and Resorts reap the benefits

Europe’s hands get cleaner

RENOVATE, RETROFIT AND REDO

It isn’t every day that a hotel receives a $40 million facelift, even an iconic beauty like The Omni King Edward Hotel, built in 1903 as Toronto’s first luxury property. The Canadian luxury hotel, originally including 400 rooms and 300 baths, was designed by Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb and Toronto architect E.J. Lennox. Restoration to its original glory while delivering modern amenities has been an ongoing project since 2013 when first acquired by Omni Hotels & Resorts. All 301 guestrooms, meeting space, and restaurants have been updated while maintaining its historic elegance. New ingredients include the exclusive Royal Club: 29 guestrooms and suites, access to the VIP Royal Club Lounge, breakfast, light bites in the afternoon, evening hors d’oeuvres, and on-site guest services including the business center, complimentary use of boardrooms and car service. The 22,000 sf of small to mid-sized meeting spaces, the lobby, and three ballrooms were updated, including four large teardrop crystal chandeliers added to the Sovereign Ballroom. While Executive Chef Daniel Schick and his team have updated the dining menus to include locally-produced seasonal Read the rest of this entry »

Italian cheesecake, berries and mascarpone. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

Italian cheesecake, berries and mascarpone. All photos by Karen Kuzsel

Third in a Series

Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month is over for another year, but I have one more restaurant meal to describe because if next year’s selections were as wonderful as this year’s, Il Mulino New York Trattoria at the Walt Disney World Swan will bump up to our “must do” list.

Honestly, the quality of the meal, presentation and the above-excellent service by a team of servers came as a surprise. We went because we’d never eaten Read the rest of this entry »

2nd in a series

Grilled chicken with herbed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Grilled chicken with herbed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. photo by Karen Kuzsel

There have been a few misses during the years Russ and I have indulged in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month experiences, but none as sharply disappointing as the meal at Ravello, in the Four Seasons Resort. It’s not that our meals were bad; they were just so mediocre and unmemorable. Vastly different from our expectations.

This was our first time to the Four Seasons, so we arrived early to walk around the property. Gorgeous, especially the lobby entrance. Flanking both sides of an impressive curving staircase are tall black vases filled with flowers. Hanging over the staircase are an array of multi-dimensional Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

Before Napa Valley became the viticultural Eden that it is, there was Livermore Valley. What! You’ve never heard of Livermore?

Neither had we until our recent summer trek to California,  Oregon and Washington to see friends, family, and do a whole lot of wine tasting.

Livermore wasn’t our first stop, but it became an agenda on my planner husband’s activity list when he discovered that’s where Wente Winery is located. Though somewhat familiar with Wente wines, we knew that 80% of all wines produced in California never leave the state, so what higher-end gems were Wente keeping secreted away that only their club members or locals would know?

Livermore Valley, CA

Getting to Livermore was an easy 40-minute car trip from my daughter Gabrielle’s house Read the rest of this entry »

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