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.


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


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 »

This is the first in a series.

Tender filet medallions with a red wine reduction, Chateau potatoes, and Haricot Verts. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Tender filet medallions with a red wine reduction, Chateau potatoes, and Haricot Verts. photo by Karen Kuzsel

My husband and I love Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month each September. This year the “month” expanded so that it began August 24. All the better to luxuriously dine for $33 for a three-course meal and celebrate birthdays, our anniversary, getting together with friends, or just having an elegant evening out.

Such was our latter raison d’etre for selecting Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House of Orlando. The International Drive location just blocks from the Orange County Convention Center, has only been opened since mid-August, so wondered if it would still be experiencing growing pains. If this is how Del Frisco’s does business after two weeks, I can’t imagine how much better it will be in a couple months. The only negative I could say is that it was raining and there was no undercover protection to get out of one’s car for the complimentary valet service. The newly-built restaurant is contemporary in design, beautiful in taupe tones, and with dimmed lighting that exudes warmth. The staff were first class. There wasn’t one who passed by who didn’t greet us in their own way, all sounding as if they meant it. There are a number of private and large dining room spaces, as well as an extensive lounge area when you first enter. We thought the extended lit faux fireplace we passed enroute to the dining room added an atmosphere of drama. I can hear you saying, “But what about the food”?

My Midwestern-raised meat-and-potatoes husband said it doesn’t get better than this, both in the quality of the juicy, tender steak and in the preparation. A loaf of warm bread and butter was brought out immediately while we pondered the extensive wine list. We both ordered the classic Caesar salad. I had thought about the day’s soup, but mushroom bisque is not a favorite. The salad was crisp, plentiful, with just the right amount of tang from the lemon married to the anchovy salt. The croutons were handmade. I rarely order steak and if this hadn’t been a top-rated steak house, I likely would have chosen the pan-roasted chicken or the pan-seared salmon. As it was, Russ selected the 8-oz filet mignon and I took the (6 oz) filet medallions served with a red wine reduction. They both were cooked exactly as ordered, and a server asked us to cut it open to verify that before leaving our table, and were plated with Chateau potatoes (dense mashed potatoes) and thin sautéed Haricot Verts (green beans). Dessert was a tougher choice. We wanted all three, even though I was full by then and really just wanted to take my generous portion of warm banana bread pudding (chosen over the chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce) home to enjoy. It was served with a large mound of vanilla ice cream and lightly lined with caramel sauce. Russ ate the ice cream, I took a couple bites of the gooey banana concoction and took the rest home. He chose the cheesecake with butterscotch sauce, not a combo one generally sees on menus. The cheesecake was double the size usually given and twice as light and creamy. We took half of it home as well.

Meeting Planners, club and party hosts: this is for you. As I said, there are many dining room group options. The Eagle’s Nest, up to 10; The Executive, up to 28; the Barrel Room (half cellar), up to 45; and the Oak Room (half cellar), up to 35. The Grand Cru (full cellar) can accommodate up to 80 for sit down and 110 for reception. Presentation A/V available, as are flat screen TVs, and WiFi access. www.delfriscos.com

This is the first of our Magical Dining Month experiences for 2015. I’ll be writing about each of the ones we try.

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.

Rivers of Light at Disney's Animal Kingdom Expected to open next spring. (Disney Parks)

Rivers of Light at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Expected to open next spring. (Disney Parks)

IN THIS ISSUE: Star Wars, Pandora, Toy Story and Soarin’—just what is Disney up to?

Hot deals for international resorts keep bookings alive


Time’s running out to book Meliá Hotels International Caribbean beach hotels and be able to scoop up on their 25% off promotion. Book by August 31st and stay through December 22, 2015, with certain restrictions and blackout dates applicable.


It’s not too late for Meeting Planners to take advantage of Hollywood Beach Marriott’s “Meet and Beach” summer group offer. In fact, you have until September 30 to book and use this Florida destination, just six miles from the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. The advantages include nine meeting rooms, the largest of which can hold up to 500 attendees. Planners can manage the meeting’s needs (climate, coffee, chairs etc) via the Marriott’s new Red Coat Direct Meeting App. Included in this hot deal are Double Marriott Rewards® points; Complimentary 1-hour reception right on the Broadwalk overlooking Read the rest of this entry »

Surrounded yourself with art of the ages at Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China

Surrounded yourself with art of the ages at Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai, China

In this issue: Exotic resort stays will cost you less while new hotels will vie for your dollars.


Summer’s reached the halfway point and Fall is just around the corner, but you have until Dec. 30, 2015 to enjoy a stay at the Gaylord National in Washington DC and receive a $100 per night resort credit. Receive a $50 per night credit for a stay at any of the other three Gaylord properties: Gaylord Opryland (Nashville, TN), Gaylord Palms (Orlando/Kissimmee area), or Gaylord Texan (Dallas/Ft. Worth area). Must request promotional code ZJL.

1-800-GAYLORD in the US.  Outside the US, http://www.marriott.com/help/global-phone-reservation-numbers.mi

Experience the historic Wine Train and explore Napa Valley wineries in style

Experience the historic Wine Train and explore Napa Valley wineries in style

This one is for all of you who love wine and wish you could explore Napa Valley but who’d rather not try to drive while gazing at a map. Take the Wine Train. Better yet, take one of the Wine Train packages being offered this summer. I’ve taken this train, a restored and preserved beauty. Most of the cars were built in 1915 by the Pullman Standard Company as first­ class coaches for the Northern Pacific Railway. Just sitting in the dining car with original lighting and wooden bar sets the mood for an elegant Read the rest of this entry »

Meritage vineyards & The Crusher Statue, Napa, CA

Meritage vineyards & The Crusher Statue, Napa, CA

IN THIS ISSUE: sizzling summer savings and CSR is the gift you give


Summer deals are sizzling at Wyndham Bay Point Golf Resort & Spa on the Emerald Coast of Florida. Their summer promotion is call Sun-Sational Perks and depending on how many are in your group (50-100, 101-150), you have the choice of two or three of the perks, which can range from complimentary continental breakfast to custom gobo to a Sundae Bar. For bookings up to 200 room nights, the perks can also include an one-hour reception or a 3% credit to the master account on sleeping rooms. The bookings must be new. For full details:

www.baypointresorts.com; (850) 236-6033); sales@baypointresorts.com

The ballroom at Brocket Hall, UK

The ballroom at Brocket Hall, UK

Fancy a cup of tea from your traditional English butler or playing on two championship standard golf courses set among 543 acres of private land just 22 miles from Central London? If you think these amenities sound perfect for your group of at least 20 who need a two day getaway, then Brockett Hall in a 5-star standard Regency stately home has a Two-for-One deal you should give consideration. The promo runs through Read the rest of this entry »

The rooftop bar opens July 9, 2015 and has 360 views

The rooftop bar opens July 9, 2015 and has 360 views

The Hotel Zamora Castile Restaurant

The Hotel Zamora Castile Restaurant

Full disclosure: I have not actually been to The Hotel Zamora, but was introduced to its amenities and styling modeled after Zamora, Spain, at a press lunch held at Kasa Restaurant and Bar in Orlando, FL. While this review is to introduce you to the recently built The Hotel Zamora on St. Petersburg Beach, FL, I must also recommend you try Kasa Restaurant’s fare.

Think of The Hotel Zamora as a gangly teen struggling to keep up with his/her unprecedented growth spurt. Though open only since July, 2014 and the first new hotel to be built in St. Petersburg in decades,  The Hotel Zamora’s 72-room Mediterranean styling and Read the rest of this entry »

L to R: Natasha, The Psychic Lady and Melanie LaJoie ply their

L to R: Natasha, The Psychic Lady and Melanie LaJoie ply their “fortune telling” skills at the mystics tent.

Empire-waist dresses, ballooning poet sleeves, puffed vests, monks’ robes, and flower garland crowns gilded young damsels and lords, countrymen and artisans as they passed through the village. Elizabethan history breathed life through the halls of the 500 building of the Winter Park 9th Grade Center as hundreds of English class students dressed in period finery passed from room to room, each representing a craft, skill or facet of life in a Renaissance village.

Trumpeters, flautists, and other musicians entertained. Jesters juggled. Artists painted. Weavers peddled their looms, apothecary shopkeepers displayed their potions and herbs. The King’s Banquet Room laid out tables of fruits, sandwiches, shepherd’s pie, bread pudding, pies, cookies and other foods suitable for feasting. Faces were painted and a milliner’s store offered hats, hair jewels and hair braiding. There were games of chance, games of physical challenge, and next to the mystics tent a Read the rest of this entry »

local produce and fresh herbs picked from the organic garden at Colony Cove

local produce and fresh herbs picked from the organic garden at Colony Club

Frankly, until I attended a press luncheon sponsored by Elegant Hotels and co-hosted by Diamond PR, I knew nothing about Barbados. Lucky you. I’m paying forward my newfound enlightenment.

For instance, do you know that this sovereign British Commonwealth in the Lesser Antilles is only 21 miles in length and 14 miles wide, yet has one of the highest literacy rates in the world or has 1500 rum shops within its borders? It’s true.

In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) acknowledged Barbados’ literacy rate at 99.7%. If you’re a fan of Mount Gay Rum, did you know the company is a sponsor of the Food, Wine & Rum Festival every November?

I didn’t know that the populace refer to themselves as Bajan, or that signature culinary dishes include macaroni pie (cheddar cheesier than typical mac & cheese and usually has unexpected ingredients such as ketchup and mustard), cou-cou and flying fish, coconut sugar cakes (made with those two ingredients) and salt bread, described as akin to an Irish soda bread.

I learned that the best time to travel there (if watching your dollars) is June through September Read the rest of this entry »

Relax in the new Serenity by the sea Spa atThe Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in South Walton, FL

Relax in the new Serenity by the sea Spa atThe Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in South Walton, FL

In this issue: Hot deals across the globe; Two cities party through the summer


Seventy-two percent of American business travelers extend their executive trips with a leisure component, which is why the AAA Four Diamond Shores Resort & Spa in Daytona Beach, FL has created “Benefits of Bleisure*” for meeting travelers during select dates, beginning April 27 through September 10. The Shores Resort took the survey responses conducted by BridgeStreet Global Hospitality to heart, which also indicates that six out of 10 are more likely to take bleisure trips today than they did five years ago. With the Shores Resort program, rates will start at $109 and extend over weekend days for leisure stays. Bleisure benefits will include ocean view rooms, a $5.00 rebate per paid and consumed guest room, complimentary parking, waived resort fee, three upgrades to the property’s all-new Cabana Suites, one upgrade to a Presidential Suite, as well as complimentary use of the Ocean Terrace or Atlantic Room for meal functions.  The Bleisure Benefits are available for new groups with a minimum of 50 room nights. Contracts must be received by May 31. The beachside resort has more than 20,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space, 212 guestrooms and suites offering water views of the Atlantic Ocean or Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway. It recently completed a property-wide renovation.

sales@shoresresort.com; www.ShoresResort.com; (386) 322-7262

Book three nights at Elbow Beach Bermuda and receive the fourth night free. Stay required by September 5. Use promotion code QUEST when booking.

www.elbowbeachbermuda.com; (800) 223-7435

Summer hasn’t officially landed in North America and already there are fall promotions for fall, Read the rest of this entry »

Can you spot the BBQ Shrimp & Grits in this dish? Neither could I. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Can you spot the BBQ Shrimp & Grits in this dish? Neither could I. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Forgive me, Harry Connick Jr, but I was not jazzed up by my recent visit to New Orleans. Matter of fact, if I never return, it’ll be fine by me. Of course, my husband and I loved the beignets at Café du Monde, the Bloody Mary and Margarita at 801 Royal, and the two bands we enjoyed enough at 21st Amendment to return to each twice, but unsure most of the French Quarter was worth the aggravation, sour smells of rotting garbage, urine and vomit; streets clogged by construction and blaring horns; or having to tread very, very carefully with eyes looking down on broken sidewalks. Looking down isn’t advised in a city where we had multiple people intentionally bumping into us (hoping to pick our pockets?) or aggressively thrusting us toward their club, but after several stumbles, I decided looking down was the only way I could safely navigate.

Full disclosure here: I have only been to New Orleans one other time. I was honeymooning with a now-deceased husband and we got food poisoning our first day. We left the next day without really seeing much. I’ve always wondered what I missed.

This trip decades later was my husband Russ’ idea. When we travel, we focus on interesting architecture—usually historic in nature, local cuisine, and people watching. He eats very little seafood and gets sick from any shellfish. I like some Creole and Cajun cooking, but it does not rank high on my list of must-haves. I positively do not like enormous platters of heavy fried food, Read the rest of this entry »

BOG Hotel in Bogota, Columbia... just one of the Shopaholic Holiday hotels on sale by Design Hotels

BOG Hotel in Bogota, Columbia… just one of the Shopaholic Holiday hotels on sale by Design Hotels


If you ever thought a Hawaiian vacation was unaffordable, think again. With this tropically enticing offer from Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, the longer you stay, the more you save… up to 30% for booking five or more consecutive nights. You must book by April 30, but the offer is good for stays through June 15.

(866) 443-4763 or call your travel agent with promo code 1734B ; www.aulani.com

Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa adds a Traditional Native American Blessing by the Governor of the Picuris Pueblo to a 5% discount for any group meeting that spends at least $12,000 and is held by June 30. Additionally, for a $12,000+ booking, the group also receives a private wine reception at this famed Santa Fe luxurious resort. If the booking is between $6,000 and $12,000, you still receive 5% off the master bill, but must choose between the blessing and the wine reception.


Hawaii blesses the Aulani pool at night with tropical warmth

Hawaii blesses the Aulani pool at night with tropical warmth

Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club takes a swing at the meetings competition with group rates difficult to beat. Book a minimum of 10 rooms per night at this newly renovated property in the heart of Miami Lakes, FL and receive rates of $109 for single/double occupancy and $65 per person for a complete meeting package. With a minimum of 25 rooms per nights, many concessions are optional, from complimentary room for Planner or a round of golf or spa treatment to no resort fees, a complimentary drink for each guest on arrival, or discounted golf rates at The Senator Course at Shula’s Golf Club. Many more options.

Maria Pellitero (305) 820-8053; maria.pellitero@donshulahotel.com

Omni Hotels & Resorts Summer of Music offers are so sweet you may find yourself singing out loud. Planners who book and complete a qualified group meeting by Sept. 27, with a minimum room spend of $15,000 and who successfully complete the Omni Meetings University course will receive one of the following and be entered into a grand prize drawings. Clients who spend $15,000 minimum in F&B are eligible for the same benefits. The Summer of Music grand prize includes the choice of $1,000 cash or two tickets to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 22 – 24, 2016. It includes two round-trip airline tickets to New Orleans and a two-night stay at the Omni Royal Orleans.

  • A GoPro HERO4 Black Edition Camera
  • Master Account credit of $500
  • Charitable donation of $500

Business travel accounts that increase spending by $15,000 from April 16th – September 27th, over the same period in 2014 will also receive their choice of a GoPro HERO4 or a $500 charitable donation, a $500.00 rebate and will be entered into the grand prize drawing. Just in case you need an added incentive, consider this. Any group meeting the qualifying criteria can also claim Select Rewards and a second entry into the grand prize drawing when booking at one of following 14 select hotels or resorts: Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa, Omni Dallas Hotel at Park West, Omni Fort Worth Hotel, Omni Jacksonville Hotel, Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, Omni Los Angeles Hotel, Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort & Spa, Omni Riverfront Hotel, Omni Royal Crescent Hotel, Omni San Antonio  Hotel at the Colonnade, Omni Severin Hotel, Omni Shoreham Hotel, and the Omni Tucson National Resort.

www.omnihotels.com/meetings; (800) 788-OMNI.

Book and stay at least a one-night at any of four Gaylord Hotels by September 14 and receive an instant resort credit per night. $100 per night at Gaylord National. $50 resort credit per night at Gaylord Palms, Gaylord Opryland and Gaylord Texan with a max of $100 per stay.

(800) GAYLORD. Ask for promotional code ZJL.

Save up to 40% off on Meliá Hotels International beach front destinations. Book by April 17 and travel between June 1 and August 20. Restrictions apply. Two kids up to 10 years old stay for free with two adults. Resort credit can be used for and enjoy a few days in paradise with Kids stay free.  MeliáRewards Resort Credit can be used for room upgrades, YHI Spa services, premium dining reservations, vintage wines and exclusive resort experiences.

www.Meliá.com; (800) 336-3542

If the world renowned festivals don’t lure you to Montréal this summer, the Canadian city has some sizzling discount offers that may seal the deal. Book at least a two-night stay by April 30 on hotels that begin at $99 per night and receive 50% off the second night. You also receive a coupon booklet worth up to $455 to Montréal’s top attractions and activities. There are at least 25 hotels participating. For a full list of properties and prices, http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/Offers/spring. Here are just some of the city’s famed summer festivals.

Digital Spring (March 21 to June 22) -150+ events, ranging from installations to projections to electronic music showcase a daring and innovative digital arts scene, guided by this year’s theme of light.

The Chromatic Festival (May 17 to 23) – multidisciplinary program of visual, audio and interactive experiences high atop Mount Royal and at the Satosphere.

Festival Transamériques (May 21 to June 4) – offers events appealing to fans of contemporary dance and theatre

C2-MTL (May 26 to 28) – a mash-up of business and creativity on the cutting-edge of the next best thing out there. A-list guest speakers include Kevin Spacey, Chelsea Clinton, Andre Agassi, Carolyn Everson (Facebook), Phyllis Lambert and many other luminaries.

MUTEK (May 27 to 31) – mix of music, technology and digital creativity and live performances

MURAL (June 4 to 14) – Montréal’s urban art festival

Festival International de jazz de Montréal (June 26 to July 5) in the city centre.

Osheaga (July 31 to August 2) – rocks out another indie-music spectacular in Parc Jean-Drapeau MONTRÉAL COMPLÈTEMENT CiRQUE (July 2 to 12) – reunites the zany, brave and boundary-pushing entertainers, acrobats and aerialists of the circus arts world.

Just for Laughs Festival (July 11 to 25) – street and venue comedy performances

Ten perfect off can buy you lots of souvenirs in many countries, especially if you’re taking advantage of Design Hotels latest offerings. Plan a trip to cities such as Vienna, Istanbul, Hamburg, Stockholm, and Gurgaon in India to Bogota in Colombia to get your shopping on. Most of the properties offer free buffets, free WiFi and an assortment of other benefits if you stay by August 2 and stay at least two nights.


I toast to your travelsKaren 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. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen 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

Widowmaker: a killer pizza from Prato in Winter Park. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Widowmaker: a killer pizza from Prato in Winter Park. photo by Karen Kuzsel

If food tours were people, they’d be my new besties.

What’s not to like? On the tours I’ve taken, you make stops at locally known restaurants and stores to sample a dish and/or an adult beverage the hosts hope entices your return. More than just a walking tour through a neighborhood catering to a particular ethnicity or style of food, I enjoy the running commentary by amiable tour guides about iconic architecture and historic anecdotes that are typically included. My recent Sunday afternoon strolling along sunny Park Avenue in the upscale neighborhood of Winter Park, FL with my husband Russ and our friends, Sandy and Dom Pizzarusso, for the three-hour jaunt with Orlando Food Tours was one of our best food tours to date.

There are several reasons why this particular tour looked to be a winner even before we hooked up with our guide, Marshall, and the other eight folks on our tour. (The groups are usually no more than a dozen anywhere to facilitate conversation and easier serving for the various venues.)

One, Orlando Food Tours is a fairly new company so we were eager to jump on a LivingSocial coupon that discounted the price a tad. Everyone loves a bargain, right? Having that discount pushed us to try this unknown company’s offering. Second, even a fussy eater like my husband (a meat and potatoes Iowa man who can’t eat shellfish) would be able to indulge in each of the offerings. And that brings up another reason. Most tours don’t tell you exactly where you’re going or what types of food you’ll sample. This tour gives you the rundown upfront, with the stipulation that there could be last minute substitutions. On our registration form, we were even asked if we Read the rest of this entry »

The elegance of Das Stue in Berlin, Germany, one of DesignHotels.com properties

The elegance of Das Stue in Berlin, Germany, one of DesignHotels.com properties

In Orlando, we’ve skipped Spring and jumped straight into 88-degrees of Summer. In Boston, their renowned St. Patrick’s Day Parade had to be cancelled due to impending snow atop already record-breaking blankets of white that have created mountains where once concrete ruled the pavement. No matter where you are and no matter what your weather, escape can be a car, train, boat or plane ride away.
DesignHotels.com is one of my favorite websites to ponder when I’m dreaming the dream of exotic travel. Now, instead of having to scroll through each country’s options, Design Hotels has compiled their latest 279 handpicked exotic hotels locations among 178 worldwide destinations into one 500+ page guide that you can peruse at leisure, earmarking the must-dos for your next getaway. There are glorious photographs and behind-the-scenes stories of the Original hoteliers who created them. Pre-order this edition of The Design Hotels™ Book 2015 by March 31, 2015 and you become eligible to win a two-night stay at one of five great Design Hotels™ properties in Stockholm, Berlin, London, Hong Kong, or Read the rest of this entry »

hotel sezz paris, in the Design Hotels collection

hotel sezz paris, in the Design Hotels collection

In this issue: New shows at Disneyland ignite meetings

Emeril Lagasse highlights Florida’s culinary scene

Design Hotels discounts 15% on luxury hotels


New technology and immersive special effects are adding more pomp to the circumstance of meetings held at Disneyland Resort. The three nighttime sky spectacles—“Paint the Night” and “Disneyland Forever” at the Disneyland Park and “World of Color” at Disney California Adventure Park begin May 22 as part of Disneyland’s (60th) Diamond Celebration. Walt Disney opened Disneyland July 17, 1955. More than 1.5 million individually controlled lights illuminate the new “Paint the Night” parade, the first all-LED parade at the resort. “Disneyland Forever” sets a new standard for theme park fireworks. An oversized projection mapping technology will create vivid story scenes onto park icons, such as the Matterhorn. Mickey Mouse narrates “World of Color,” which tells the story of Walt Disney and the Happiest Place on Earth through fountains, film, animation, and a stirring musical score. Private viewing locations for “World of Color” make the show ideal for receptions and dessert parties of up to 9,000 people. The show is available for buy-outs and can be customized Read the rest of this entry »

Exploration Tower's ode to the ocean hanging sculpture. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Exploration Tower’s ode to the ocean hanging sculpture. photo by Karen Kuzsel

This begins my new “column” called Florida Fun. I realized when I was on this overnight getaway to Melbourne and Port Canaveral that I have written about many wonderful day trips, events, restaurants, adventures and venues, without drawing attention to them as tourist and group destinations within Florida and without including theme parks in the same breath.

Not that I don’t write about theme parks elsewhere in my blog or for magazines. I love theme parks. I consider myself a theme park-aholic without being obsessive, but I also realized how many Florida places I visit that perhaps others would enjoy knowing. So, here it is, the premiere of Florida Fun.

My husband and my recent 30-hour adventure began when he booked us into the Residence Inn Melbourne, located near Read the rest of this entry »

Sink your teeth into the delectable Tuna Tartar at Bistro CloClo. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Sink your teeth into the delectable Tuna Tartar at Bistro CloClo. photo by Karen Kuzsel

In This Issue: Visit Florida Grant Applications yours for the asking

CSR: What has your company done lately?

Hot Luxury Hotel Deals

I heard on one of those end-the-year news wrap up programs that the word “foodie” was as hot as a skiable mountain during the polar vortex. I am as deeply muddled by that pronouncement as I am worried that snow will bury my Florida home during the summer.

I am a foodie. I say that while aromas of warm cookies, spicy sauces, and savory meats ingested during the recent holidays still linger affectionately in my memory. I’m not snobby about being a foodie, nor would I ever want to challenge Andrew Zimmerman for “who can eat the nastiest morsel.” I simply enjoy well-prepared cuisine that’s sits prettily on the plate and is packed with flavour. I also enjoy sharing some of my favourite meals or restaurants with others, which is why I’m telling you about my husband and my latest go-to restaurant, Bistro CloClo in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando.

You may surmise from the name, it is French in its exquisite renditions of duck a la orange or my hubby’s new fave, steak frites. I actually salivate just thinking about their tuna tartar appetizer, a hefty mound of minced fresh tuna Read the rest of this entry »

Two little apple lovebirds sitting in a  watermelon of love. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Two little apple lovebirds sitting in a watermelon of love. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Chef demo of making a Christmas tree completely of chocolate, including the glittery balls. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Chef demo of making a Christmas tree completely of chocolate, including the glittery balls. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Sea life centerpiece. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Sea life centerpiece. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Oh, and while you’re at it, do it within a specified time limit under the watchful eyes of judging chefs and other culinary world volunteers who are making sure you’re following the guidelines set forth in the Orange County Public Schools Annual Hospitality and Culinary Competition. After all, with 220 competitors registered for the hospitality or culinary portion of this 5th annual competition, each student will want to showcase his or her specialized skills for the maximum benefit.

As one of the judges who has watched this competition grow each year, I am in awe of the talent and training our future hospitality and culinary staff are receiving. Sure, they’re competing for trophies and awards that honor their school program as well as their own abilities, but what’s at stake could also be scholarships to college programs. The first year I judged, I tasted about 20 desserts beginning at 10 am. Let’s just say I was happily shifted, and where I’ve remained each year, to judging the final presentation of edible centerpieces. I watch them carve fruits, craft shapes and create vignettes from apples Read the rest of this entry »

My idea of luxury camping. Loimugi House at Serara Camp, Kenya.

My idea of luxury camping. Loimugi House at Serara Camp, Kenya.

In this issue: Hot Deals Will Warm Up Your Winter Chill

Team Building Activities in Montréal Can Run Hot & Cold


When you want to save up to £2,000 per day * and are willing to travel to the UK to do it, who are you going to call? Brocket Hall, a 5-star standard Regency stately home that can be your group’s exclusively if you book any time before the end of January 2015 and fulfill the commitment anytime between January and April. The savings include an array of amenities that may make this an offer too good to refuse. Check this out. Traditional English Butler service, complimentary WiFi, meeting capacity for 150 (theater style). The luxurious property boasts 46 en-suite rooms and there are two championship standard golf courses and Palmerston Golf Academy set amongst 543 acres of private land, located just 22 miles Read the rest of this entry »

Skiing just got more exciting at Squaw Valley Mountain Resort in Olympic Valley, California. photo by Trevor Clark.

Skiing just got more exciting at Squaw Valley Mountain Resort in Olympic Valley, California. photo by Trevor Clark.

In this issue: Omni helps planners Escape Their Way”

From snow-capped mountain skiing to tropical Hawaiian island stays

If you could have any wish granted before the New Year’s Ball drops in New York City’s Times Square, what would it be? Would it be to find true love, or to have the money to buy a house or travel first class? Would it be for world peace or to find peace within your heart? Would it be for a job that enables you to safeguard your family’s future or would it be to have a career that suits your personality and capabilities?

I really would like to hear your wish. I’ll even publish it if you respond. Most of all, I want to know how others see the world or see themselves.

I’ll start it off. My wish is to matter… to make a positive difference in someone’s life. My blog posts are just one of the ways I strive to touch someone’s life. If I provide you data on a destination, event, restaurant or resort that guides you on an adventure you might not have otherwise known about, then I feel I have made a contribution to someone’s quality of life. It’s why I enjoy writing this blog. It allows me to connect with you Read the rest of this entry »

Bob Hope is honored with his own room at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL

Bob Hope is honored with his own room at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL

With real estate, it’s location, location, location.

With travel destinations, it’s experience, experience, experience, especially ones not likely duplicated in your hometown. On a recent press trip to North Florida, I expected to see sand, sun and surf. What I got instead were experiences in unique venues that amped the good-times value meter.

 Shanks for the Memories, Bob Hope

I don’t golf. I’ve had a few lessons, have wiggled my hips in my cute golf skirt trying to place my feet properly, and in my college days, flirted famously with the young pro so I could get a better physical education grade. And though I do know the stellar reputations or tidbits of salacious gossip about celebrity golfers, the game has never held my attention. So why was I standing in the Shanks for the Memories room of the World Golf Hall of Fame (WGHOF) in St. Augustine, riveted in place by a flood of memories?

Surrounding me were images of Bob Hope, a man whose movies I have watched repeatedly throughout my life and who I thought heroic Read the rest of this entry »

Historic. Arty. Modern. It's the H15 Boutique Hotel in Warsaw, Poland

Historic. Arty. Modern. It’s the H15 Boutique Hotel in Warsaw, Poland

IN THIS ISSUE: Richard Petty Driving Experience races you to the finish line.

The London Symphony Orchestra rings in Christmas Holidays with music, dancing and dance.

Hot Deals If I had unlimited funds, I’d travel, travel, travel. At each location, I’d take cooking classes, shop farmer markets (the ones with more than produce), drink lots of locally-produced wines, and luxuriate in all the sensational hotels I see advertised. I get that urge to check out hotels every time I browse the DesignHotels.Com site. The photos of these hotels are meant to entice and intrigue. They’re categorized by country, but also by their individual niche appeal. Is it perfect for a romantic getaway or is the attraction the historical heritage of its architecture and décor? Is the hotel serene or colourfully vibrant? Is it perched atop a mountain or lazily kissing the endless sea? In all cases, it seems that what initially perks my interest are the enticements of incentives. Take for instance, the H15 Boutique in Warsaw, Poland. The 19th century building, originally constructed as a private residence, is located in central Warsaw. Descriptions of the 46-room hotel include that it once hosted secret meetings for Polish independence prior to WWI, was home to a Soviet embassy, and once held the headquarters for the Nazi party. Of course, that’s before the completion of its down-to-the-studs five year renovation that now marries its past through art works with its contemporary image. Best of all, book Read the rest of this entry »

The soaring wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, actually can move up and down. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The soaring wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, actually can move up and down. photo by Karen Kuzsel

in this issue: Hot deals save you hotel fees in luxury properties across globe.

Wine Train celebrates 25 years.

My husband and I were in Milwaukee, WI last week. If you’re like me, going on a mini-vacation to Milwaukee was not on my favored lists of places to see.
It was, however, quite high on his, mostly because he has long wanted to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Johnson Wax Museum structure. The cherry atop the sundae was that not only did he manage to snag the last two open spots (in what is typically a months-long wait) for a free two-hour guided tour of the Johnson Wax building, but two other buildings were just recently included in the tour. I have to admit, I was impressed with both the complex and the detailed history behind SC Johnson and Wright. Just as important, Russ and I were booked into the historic Pfister Hotel, a gem of a classic beauty of architecture. Everything about the hotel, the five-star service and staff, and the culinary delights we ate at its Café were first-class. The hotel’s walkable proximity to famed architect Santiago Calatrava’s soaring addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum was like adding a layer of hot fudge sauce to a banana split.
The moral of my trip recap is that travelling to unknown sites, exotic of domestic, may exceed any expectations and result in memories forged from the surprise of discovery. My wish for you is to discover new destinations in my blog, maybe save some dollars going there by taking advantage of the Hot Deals offered, and to let all of know how it worked out.
Happy travels!

Governor of the Picuris Pueblo blessed our breakfast at Santa Fe Hotel

Governor of the Picuris Pueblo blessed our breakfast at Santa Fe Hotel. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Hotel Santa Fe The Hacienda & Spa, Santa Fe, NM –  There is simply no other place in Santa Fe, NM where the Governor of the Picuris Pueblo can bless your meeting, you can sup next to an authentic Pueblo tepee, or walk among treasured Indian artifacts and handcrafted furniture. When you consider that if you book your meeting through May 31, 2015, you will not only have the possibility of all that, but you could choose a complimentary morning or afternoon break or even a one-hour welcome reception. I’ve been to this hotel. I’ve been blessed by the Governor. I’ve dined by the tepee and walked the halls. The hotel emanates a spiritually peaceful atmosphere. Be sure to check out Read the rest of this entry »

This issue: Earn CEUs while learning ROI Methodology and Innovative Golf Games to Encourage Group Camraderie

South Place Hotel in London still has availability for Fashion Week

South Place Hotel in London still has availability for Fashion Week


I’m a diehard fan of Project Runway in all its incarnations. Maybe that’s why when I saw the enticing promo from Design Hotels that Fashion Week is coming to New York, London and Paris and that hotels were sprucing up their discounts with equal verve and finesse, I just couldn’t wait to pass on this info for those of you who may be looking for an excuse to gawk at the upcoming trends by trendy and classic designers.
New York leads off the crushing week of non-stop shows, parties and posing. There are five hotels still available for the September 4-12 shindigs. The Standard has two hotels: The High Line and the East Village. Hôtel Americano’s 56 rooms fuses Latin and industrial flavors while the Gramercy Park Hotel’s 185 rooms go for more classic chic. If price is less an object, Read the rest of this entry »

Design Hotels is offering summer incentives at Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bukit Peninsula, Indonesia

Design Hotels is offering summer incentives at Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bukit Peninsula, Indonesia

Summer may be slipping into Fall but that doesn’t mean you’ve missed out on hot resort packages, memorable adventures, or that it’s too late to book the perfect destination for your group’s last-minute meeting. So, let’s get to it, right? You may not have time to waste.


Book this Daytona Beach beauty for a meeting or event from November through February 12, 2015 and you can claim this year’s prices even though the property is in the midst of a major redo. Bonus: The Shores Resort & Spa will show their appreciation by offering groups of 100 or more total rooms a one-hour welcome reception on the first night of arrival and guaranteed ocean-view rooms for all guests, in addition to two complimentary upgrades to the property’s all-new oceanfront Cabana Suites*.  More than 20,000 sf of indoor and outdoor function space has been added to The Shores, considered to be Central Florida’s only AAA Four-Diamond oceanfront resort. “From technology upgrades and updated soft goods to new amenities and eco-friendly improvements, our guests will notice a difference at every turn,” says David Rijos, general manager. Cool ocean blues and sandy beach neutral tones dominate the 11th floor meeting rooms. The inspiration comes from the water views available from each room. On the ground floor, the 6,895-sf is getting new carpeting, paint and décor. The new pre-function area pays homage to the golden age of travel in Daytona Beach. Upgraded technology increases wireless bandwidth throughout the property. Have an executive board looking for something more special than four blank walls? A new private dining room being added on the second floor will overlook the Azure Lounge area and offer ocean views. (20 max).

An additional check-in area has been added to the lobby. All 212 guest rooms and suites are getting new furniture and décor. Fourteen lanai rooms are being converted into Cabana Suites, providing a private outdoor space with lounge chairs and flat screen TV. The outdoor area has been pumped up with furniture, turtle-friendly lighting, and games, such as life-sized checkers and cornhole and ping pong.  The shores is pet-friendly and eco-friendly.

Group Sales: (866) 934-SHORES; www.shoresresort.com

Book any of the four Gaylord Hotels by Sept. 28, stay by Oct. 31 and receive a $50 nightly credit. This promotion applies at Gaylord National (Washington DC), Gaylord Opryland (Nashville, TN), Gaylord Palms (Orlando, FL) and Gaylord Texan (Dallas/Ft Worth). Really easy.

Just use this promotional code—ZXO—when you go online or call (800) 228-9290.

Hotel Unique in São Paulo, Brazil stands out from the rest of the city

Hotel Unique in São Paulo, Brazil stands out from the rest of the city

It’s an endless summer of discounts when you book Design Hotels in Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Spain or Turkey. Get up to 30% discount and free breakfast for booking by August 31 any three (or more) night stay at six featured hotels. These include:

Aguas de Ibiza Lifestyle & Spa (Spain) – an eco-luxury 112 room property

Design &Wine Hotel (Portugal) – a 23-room high-tech hideaway in Portuguese wine country

Klaus K (Finland) –139 rooms. Think of it as Renaissance meeting cutting-edge Nordic modernity.

La Maison Champs Élysées (France) – 57 rooms of French elegance

PalazzinaG (Italy) – 22 rooms. Taking 16th century Venetian design into the 21st century

Seaside Palm Beach (Spain) – 328 rooms located in an old palm grove.

There are also 59 hotels worldwide with discounts if you book by Sept. 14. Check out the 65 room Alila Villas Uluwatu (Indonesia) that sits atop a 100-meter cliff or Hotel Unique’s distinct architecture in Brazil.

  1. designhotels.com


The New $223 Million LINQ Hotel & Casino opens October 30 in Las Vegas.

The New $223 Million LINQ Hotel & Casino opens October 30 in Las Vegas.


The slogan for Las Vegas may be that “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” but the truth is far different. In fact, like most major cities, especially those that attract an international clientele, Vegas is constantly reinventing itself. Take for example what’s happening to The Quad Resort & Casino. At its October 30 reveal this year, it will be known as The LINQ Hotel & Casino, a 2,256 room Caesars Entertainment hotel with 204 suites and 29 cabana suites with private access to the new pool area.  Look for the new automated check-in process and a concierge touchscreen option for immediate bookings of favorite dining and entertainment offerings. The north entry has been redesigned with new retail and quick-service dining options. Significantly, The LINQ Hotel & Casino will connect to the LINQ promenade, which has12 restaurants, eight bars, 14 retail shops and two concert venues. It is anchored by the tallest observation wheel in the world, the High Roller, recently named by Travel & Leisure as the “World’s Coolest New Tourist Attraction.”

  1. caesars.com/thelinq/news.html; www.TheLINQ.com; (855) 891-6863

What does a $10 million makeover get you? If the property in question is the Los Angeles Convention Center (LACC), which became privately operated last year by AEG Facilities, the year-long transformation will include:

-Installing a new, energy efficient solar-ready “cool roof” on the South Hall and Concourse Hall

– Rolling out new carpet throughout the Center, including the Concourse Hall, Concourse Walkway, and hall lobby areas

– Overhauling parking systems to provide more automated options and speedier entrance and exit times

– Completely remodeling the 299-seat Theater and upgrading AV capabilities to accommodate a wide variety of current and next-generation technology options

– Installing the latest in energy-efficient and noise-reducing air handling units

– Upgrading air walls, IT infrastructure, lighting systems and numerous operating systems

This is LACC’s first expansion in 20 years. It annually attracts more 2.5 million visitors. The environmentally-friendly facility holds the prestigious U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-EB Gold Certification.

  1. Lacclink.com

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. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen 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


Lake Peyto, British Columbia, Canada--one of the world's prettiest lakes.

Lake Peyto, British Columbia, Canada–one of the world’s prettiest lakes.

Canada is not America.

I had to remind myself of that multiple times during our 10 day vacation to Vancouver and Banff.

Yes, we all speak English (unless you’re from provinces that are innately French in culture and language or come from a multi-lingual family), our coin currency does look faintly similar, we drive on the same side of the road (thank goodness), and both our geographic offerings run the gamut from mountains to beach and urban to rural.

Then I would come across something distinctly Canadian, such as a Bloody Caesar Vodka drink. Similar to our Bloody Mary, but using Clamato juice and often other embellishments. The best one I sucked down was at the famed Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel as we sunned on the deck of the hotel’s Walthaus pub, overlooking a gurgling stream running over rocks and a golf course whose water features would be a challenge for any player.

My husband, Russ, had read that the pub’s deck was a hidden treasure not too many tourists discover. Even many of the hotel guests don’t tackle the seven-minute walk from the ornate lobby to the European-styled building, with a fine dining Bavarian restaurant on the ground floor. We lucked out and snagged a table perfect for people and scenery watching.

Russ invariably tries out new ales. I read the description of their Caesar: a blend of olive juice, muddled pickles, Clamato juice, and vodka. The mug Read the rest of this entry »


Visiting Vancouver and Banff in British Columbia has been on my husband’s wish list for as long as I’ve known him.

Russ in Butchart's Sunken Gardens. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Russ in Butchart’s Sunken Gardens. photo by Karen Kuzsel

His original thought was to journey through the Rocky Mountains of Canada by train, whistle-stopping through some of the most touted scenic landscapes of North America.

This summer it would finally be possible. Russ had meticulously researched for months, reading through consumer reviews and studying guidebooks. Although many train options exist, about three months before our scheduled departure, he switched gears. Our decision to rent a car, follow a similar route, and stop/eat/rest when we pleased for a fraction of the cost overrode the plan to ride the rails. Russ instead researched hotels, locations, car rentals, routes and must-see attractions.

Most of our trip exceeded our expectations and I will tell you about those glorious occasions soon in another post. This story is about one of the worst vacation experiences either of us has ever had, the misinformation we were told, how it was preventable, and how it may save you headaches in your own travels.

Our day of disaster began with the decision to visit Butchart Gardens, an idyllic setting near Victoria on Vancouver Island. Russ had read Read the rest of this entry »

The 12 private villas of deLMango Villa Estate,  Jalan Raya Seminyak, Seminyak, Indonesia

The 12 private villas of deLMango Villa Estate,
Jalan Raya Seminyak, Seminyak, Indonesia

Planners, grab whatever you use for note taking. Not sure which is hotter right now: global climate changes or the hotel and destination deals being offered. Here’s a sample of what’s happening.


Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes sweetens their deal with a gift card. Book a $5,000 meeting by August 31 and get a $150 gift card, but go for the gusto with a $10,000 party and get double dollars on that gift card. Laura Fletcher has all the details. Laura@Normans.com; (407) 393-4343.

Book any of the four Gaylord Palms hotels by July 21, stay by September 30th, and you will receive savings of 15% off plus a $25 Hotel Credit. Now here’s the part where I sound like one of those late night informercial promos: Wait! There’s More! Yes, there is more. Kids eat FREE all summer long. Anyone who knows Gaylord Palms properties knows there are many, many dining and entertainment options. (800) 228-9290. Ask for promotional code F8L or book online.

If summer is your time to plan for your fall meetings, check out the incentives Pine Mountain, GA is offering at Callaway Gardens®. Book your 25+ group stay from a August 1 through February 1 of 2015 fulfillment and here what your All Fall Complete Meeting Package will include in addition to unlimited admission Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard Salad cools with summery colors and refreshing tastes

Checkerboard Salad cools with summery colors and refreshing tastes. photo by Karen Kuzsel


What’s hot, what’s not lists usually don’t pique my curiosity but the Orlando chapter of the National Association of Catering and Events (NACE) cast a spell that had me drooling before I’d even registered for their monthly meeting. Not only was Mark Leggett, owner and designer for Arthur’s Catering going to be discussing food trends for events, but I was going to get to finally satisfy one of my “wonder what this would taste like” cravings.

Now I have piqued your interest, right?

About two years ago, I did a Prevue Magazine story that focused on why a meeting planner’s group returned to the Four Seasons in Phoenix, AZ for their annual conference. While not the only reason her group loved the resort, she said they couldn’t stop raving about the juicy cheeseburger sandwiched between a grilled glazed donut served at their western theme night barbecue. I couldn’t wrap my taste buds around this imagined flavor profile of the sweet donut soaked in the juices of a savory burger.

You know how when you first hear about something, then all of a sudden you seem to hear about it frequently? So it was with this burger, but I had yet to taste one for myself.

That all changed when the menu for NACE’s evening of “Comfort Food vs Healthy Choices: the clash between good and better” teased that one of the butler-passed mini-options would be a Krispy Kreme Burger enhanced by bacon and cheese.

It did not disappoint.

That said, I think the slider was the perfect size because there were so many other delightful dishes being presented that evening at the Ocoee Lakeshore Center and I wanted to taste all of them. There were Rosemary Potato Flatbread, a crunchy bite of Chicken & Waffle, and a Korean Pork Taco Read the rest of this entry »



Design Hotels is offering summer incentives at Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bukit Peninsula, Indonesia

Design Hotels is offering summer incentives at Alila Villas Uluwatu in Bukit Peninsula, Indonesia

Hot Deals

It’s not often your group can stay in a castle to meet, eat, and play, but if you book Peckforton Castle for your June, August and September events, you can even receive a discounted delegate and residential package. Built in 1840, the medieval castle in the heart of Cheshire, UK, has meeting space for 180 and 48 overnight accommodations that blend contemporary amenities with historic architecture and decor. Call 01829 260 930 and quote ‘Peck News’; www.peckfortoncastle.co.uk/the-castle

Design Hotels collection is so hungry for your business that they’re offering two additional nights free for a five-day booking this summer. But even if you don’t need a 5-day booking at any of the 36 participating hotels, Read the rest of this entry »

Taking a break from a Cooking class at an Orlando Marriott World Center. They presented me with the apron embroidered with my name.

Taking a break from a Cooking class at an Orlando Marriott World Center. They presented me with the apron embroidered with my name.

Some people eat to live.

I live to eat.

Cooking and baking are two of my passions. Thank goodness a third one is exercising (as long as music and dance are involved) or I’d weigh hundreds of pounds. My tongue waters as the smell of onions and garlic sizzling in a hot oiled pan assail my nose like the sweetest of perfumes. Fresh baked cookies, pizza, or a marinated pork roast simmering in caraway-infused sauerkraut… any and all of those aromas and my taste buds perk up like a child’s ears attuned to adults trying to whisper forbidden conversation.

I grew up in an Eastern European Jewish home and learned to cook and bake dishes from those ethnic cultures at the hands of my more than capable grandmothers, aunts and my Mom. A pinch of this. A dash of that. Smell. Toss. Stir. Experiment.

Our military service family moved frequently from state-to-state, country-to-country. Each time my Mom learned to cook like the natives. The education of my palate began early and by the Read the rest of this entry »

CSR—doing what comes naturally for Resorts with a heart

Meritage Vineyard Deck at Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa

Meritage Vineyard Deck at Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa Valley

Giving back to the Napa Valley community has become part of The Meritage Resort & Spa’s DNA. Their latest project is such an obvious “do” that it is a wonder more properties haven’t joined in as well. Instead of dumping the doors, desks, chairs, lamps, flat screen TVs, bedframes and sofas from the recent renovation of 157 of the 322 guestrooms located within the four-diamond Napa Valley luxury resort complex, The Meritage has donated them to Solano-Napa Habitat for Humanity and the St. John’s thrift store. The renovations and expansion began 18 months ago and were completed in March. www.TheMeritageResort.com

Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina and Pack for a Purpose have come up with a plan that will only cost travelers up to five pounds of space in their luggage but will provide so much more for the BVI (British Virgin Islands) Autism Centre, where the resort is also based. Scrub Island is the newest luxury private-island resort in the British Virgin Islands. Pack for a Purpose’s mission is to positively impact communities around the world by helping travelers make meaningful contributions to destinations they visit. The CSR project works like this: travelers are encouraged to save at least five pounds of their available luggage allowance for supplies requested by the Autism Centre, such as books, toys, art supplies, and other items.  Once guest unpack, the supplies are taken directly to the BVI Autism Centre. A full list of requested supplies can be found at http://www.packforapurpose.org/destinations/caribbean/british-virgin-islands/scrub-island-resort-spa-marina. “Many of our guests are very involved in philanthropies and charities at home, and this new program offers an easy and enormously rewarding way for them to extend Read the rest of this entry »

Mount Rushmore handcrafted in solid milk chocolate at the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe'. photo by Karen Kuzsel.

Mount Rushmore handcrafted in solid milk chocolate at the World of Chocolate Museum & Cafe’. photo by Karen Kuzsel.

Russell Crowe’s movie, “Noah” has me seeing things in pairs.

I first noticed that the small strip mall near my house contains three sets of restaurants: Chinese, barbeque, and Italian. I thought it odd that a second restaurant would come into the same plaza with a similar menu, but then noticed venues recreating in the same manner.

As an active member of both the Orlando area chapters of MPI (Meeting Professionals International) and ISES (International Special Events Society), I attend meetings at many newly-opened venues that cater to corporate and leisure groups. The latest pairs are upscale bowling alleys, museums about chocolate, and the unfolding of Diagon Alley, the famed street favored by wizards, witches and now muggles.

I was frankly curious how an upscale bowling alley would differ from the ones I used to frequent. And what exactly does one do at a museum about chocolate other than dream of mouth-melting morsels sans calories? Will the expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley be as skillfully-replicated as its Hogsmeade counterpart at Universal Orlando Resorts’ Islands of Adventure?

So here’s what I’ve discovered.

Both Chocolate Kingdom and The World of Chocolate Museum & Café are surrounded by the trappings of Orlando’s famed tourism districts. Both museums offer amusing and educational guided tours of how chocolate went from being a drink only the wealthy could afford to the favorite reason to crash a diet, including the ever-popular “It’s dark chocolate so its oxidants are healthy for you” excuse. Both museums offer limited chocolate samples along the roughly 45-minute interactive tour, have event space, and each has a convenient gift store. That’s where the similarities end. Here’s what makes each of them stand out. Read the rest of this entry »

Salmon with merlot omniSpring is within striking distance, contrary to vicious storms still harassing the U.S and abroad. Here in Florida, where I am based, blue skies, light breezes and temperate weather in the 80s draw crowds to art shows, the beach, sports fields, and barbeques. Just like the colourful flowers and vegetables bursting from awakened shoots, people are eager to break from indoor venues and unwelcome routines to greet Spring with renewed vigor. Corporate clients and leisure travellers are ready to be enticed by exciting offers, and boy, are destinations, resorts and venues ready to deliver. Here’s just a sampling of what’s coming.

Omni Hotels Wine & Resorts Wine about their new partnership and property

Omni Hotels & Resorts just gave me another reason not to care if it’s 5 pm somewhere in the world as an excuse for imbibing in a hearty glass of fruit of the grapevine.

Their culinary series, “Flavors of the World” turns its Spring spotlight on the wines of Washington State, thanks to a new partnership with the Washington State Wine Commission. The promotion, running through May 31, pairs 10 Washington State wines (in 6 and 9-oz pours) with specialties of the state, such as artisan Washington Cheeses served with fig jam, honey and olives, Dungeness crab fritters, Dungeness crab and snap pea soup, apple and fennel salad, roasted salmon served with wild Mushrooms, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. Omni food and beverage professionals sacrificed their time and taste buds in February to crisscross Read the rest of this entry »

The Venetian Room's version of Caprese Salad. all photos by Karen Kuzsel

The Venetian Room’s version of Caprese Salad. all photos by Karen Kuzsel

Romance  in The Venetian Room whispers like butterfly wings across the white linen tables, ornately carved dark woods, dim lighting and the hushed tones of the tuxedoed wait staff. Yes, we could have been part of the post-convention corporate crowd meeting at the Caribe Royale Hotel (Orlando, FL) where The Venetian Room is secluded behind heavy wooden doors and a whimsical entry, but instead we were one of the many couples cuddled in plush booth seats, curtained from the other tables by etched glass and wood walls. We were there to recapture the romantic aura emitted by both the elegantly sophisticated décor and the artistically divine creations of Chef Khalid Benghallem that we had first experienced last September for our anniversary.

Our first visit to the Four Diamond restaurant– routinely voted the most romantic restaurant in Orlando in various foodie surveys and publications, was during the Visit Orlando-sponsored Magical Dining Month when the prix fixee’ 3-course meal was $35. We’ve tried to return many times, but each time they were already booked up, so we were thrilled to get this reservation. Imagine how significant my husband Russ and I felt when two head waiters who had served us six months prior greeted us warmly and remembered roughly where we had sat and when we had been there. It doesn’t matter if their “remembering” had anything to do with our being in their customer system now; we felt “special.” Our main server for the evening was Matsi, a well-spoken knowledgeable server who proffered wise meal suggestions.

Once again, the ambiance created the mood that we were in for a sensory treat. The meal began with an amuse bouche of a delicate pesto cream gently tucked into a tartlet and kissed by a balsamic reduction. Five Read the rest of this entry »

From feathers to full period handcrafted clothing, these are Just some of Natasha, The Psychic Lady's finds at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Tampa.

From feathers to full period handcrafted clothing, these are Just some of Natasha, The Psychic Lady’s finds at the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Tampa.

When I was very young, taking a vacation nearly always involved a road trip. With my Dad in the Air Force and subject to frequent transfers, we found ourselves packed tightly into our car of the moment, traversing the country from one base to another. It wasn’t much different when we took a vacation. In the years before my brother arrived on the scene, my sister and I would either share the back seat with piles of boxes and luggage that rose like a wobbly tower from the floorboard, or we’d find ourselves nestled snugly in the back of the station wagon, sitting on blankets and playing board games to pass the time… at least when I wasn’t suffering from motion sickness and forced to just meditate to sleep. (And yes, I know kids sitting sans seat belts are no longer a viable option.) Vacations weren’t luxury resort destinations. They were sightseeing glimpses of the state or country we were in or near at that time. Each journey created indelible images of ethnic cuisine (which my Mom would later strive to duplicate), unusual architecture, or the cultural stamp of the local populace.

Even now, when I travel for work or pleasure, those memorable Read the rest of this entry »

Rose petals and hearts heat up Valentine's Day romance at Capella Pedregal in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Rose petals and hearts heat up Valentine’s Day romance at Capella Pedregal in Los Cabos, Mexico.

Is it just me, or is the year already resembling a white water rafting trip, where one hurdles along a swiftly-moving river, past dangerous obstacles, barely allowing enough time to catch your breath? Albeit the weather which has played havoc upon lives across America, I am seeing strong signs that business is rebounding across the globe. Hotels are putting more heads in beds; airport traffic is heavier; and business meetings are rediscovering that face-to-face conferences initiate more business creativity and closed-sales than do virtual conferencing. On a personal note, as an entertainer (when not working as a journalist), I am elated that companies are signing off on contracts for parties and trade shows months ahead instead of waiting until the last moment for fear their attendees may opt not to attend.

As January slips into February, I wish you warmer weather (if you’ve been plagued by the polar vortex), more business, and the time to embrace love (not just work) in your life. For those of us in the hospitality, travel, lodging, meetings & events industries, the approach of Valentine’s Day heralds romantic promotions and the crunch of conference bookings. Here are some grand deals for which you may want to consider.


Cold weather dashing your warm thoughts of love? You may want to catch a flight to Los Cabos, Mexico, on the southernmost tip of the Baja Peninsula, where love will indeed be in the air and in the romantic possibilities. The 96-room Capella Pedregal’s “Month of Romance” offers an arrange of activities created especially for lovebirds in mind, such as Movies Under the Stars and Romantic Culinary Delights, which includes a romantically themed five-course dinner. There’s also A Chocolate Love Affair for couples who want to mix up a scrumptious chocolate fondue, or Romancing the Moon, a romantic spa experience based around the cycles of the moon.

Escape to Las Ventanas al Paraiso, a Rosewood Resort whose Valentine’s Weekend includes everything from the special Hearts and Hands couples massage on the suite’s terrace to private rooftop dining under Los Cabos’ star-filled skies. A weekend isn’t long enough to express your sentiments? Maybe the four-night Passion in Paradise Package is a better fit. There is an option for a 5th night at 50% off. Hurry though. Travel must be booked between February 12th and 18th. The package includes breakfast in bed daily, delivered by your personal butler, as well as Moet rose champagne and strawberries.

If your budget doesn’t quite stretch as far as you’d like, the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos has a (minimum) three-night option from Feb. 9-21,that won’t break the bank. It includes 15% off a private champagne beach dinner, a bottle of premium wine and cheese platter, an upgrade to a Ziva Ocean View Junior Suite (subject to availability) and free access Read the rest of this entry »

Sweet treats from Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at the goampi Meeting Planner All Stars program. photo by Lauralee Shapiro CMP

Sweet treats from Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at the goampi Meeting Planner All Stars program. photo by Lauralee Shapiro CMP

What does a meeting planner want?

That question is as enigmatic as a clueless husband wondering what more could his wife could want after his birthday surprise of a new vacuum cleaner didn’t go over quite as expected.

The answer to what a meeting planner wants varies as much as who may be asking. Is the person pondering the hotel coordinator who’s servicing a group’s meeting or trying to solicit that business, or is it the AV tech/florist/caterer/transportation or furniture décor rep? Is the planner working for a corporation, association, or independent?

The simple answer to what a meeting planner wants is a smoothly-run event, surrounded by attentive and reliable vendors in a fantastic venue that was generous with incentives, and to have the client’s attendees wowed by the entire experience.

Easy peasy to pull off, right?

Or not, which is why an audience of about 85 were so intently focused on the questions and responses given by a panel of six Meeting Planner All Stars at the January luncheon meeting of the Greater Read the rest of this entry »

Elevate your palate in Elevage, the fine dining restaurant in the new Epicurean Hotel in Tampa, FL. Amy Pezzicara, Pezz Photo/Epicurean

Elevate your palate in Elevage, the fine dining restaurant in the new Epicurean Hotel in Tampa, FL. Amy Pezzicara, Pezz Photo/Epicurean

The weather may be putting much of North America in a deep freeze, but across the globe, hotels opening or in transition are heating up the environment. There are so many hotels changing owners or under construction that it’s difficult for me to keep track of property names, but as folks often check out my blog before doing site visits, booking groups, or even booking their own vacations, here are some of the latest of my discoveries.


Finally, the long-awaited Epicurean Hotel opened in Tampa in December. The 137-room boutique hotel, with a focus on fine foods and fine arts, is located across from the renowned Bern’s Steakhouse. The new hotel’s 80-seat restaurant, Elevage, is joined by Chocolate Pi (a patisserie, or for those who don’t speak French… a bakery), a Bern’s Fine Wines & Spirits shop on the first floor, and the Epicurean Theatre, a culinary classroom I hope to find myself dicing and splicing in very soon in the future. The Grand Awakening Weekend is coming up January 17-19 and stars the hotel’s Chef, Chad Johnson, and celebrity chefs such as Norman Van Aken. Developed by Mainsail Lodging & Development in collaboration with the legendary Bern’s Steak House, Epicurean Hotel is the first newly-constructed property in the United States to join the prestigious Autograph Collection® of Marriott International, Inc.www.EpicureanHotel.com; (855) 829-

Two new Tampa hotels are slated to open this year. What do you call a former Mercantile Bank building when it’s been converted into a 130-room boutique hotel situated along Tampa’s famed Riverwalk? You get Aloft Tampa Downtown. It’ll feature a terrace pool deck overlooking the Hillsborough River, the picturesque University of Tampa minarets, and downtown Tampa. Aloft won’t be the only boutique hotel to emerge from an historic property. Once a 108-year-old Federal Courthouse building,  Le Meridien Hotel gains new life as a 130-room hotel with 4,800 sf of meeting space, including a 2,200-sf ballroom set in the old courtroom with 18-foot ceilings, two breakout rooms, and a board room that seats 12.

There’s a “No Strings Attached” policy being offered by The Langham Huntington Pasadena, located nine miles north of Los Angeles for groups who book before March 31 and arrive through December 31 of 2015. The historic property can accommodate up to 350-person conferences. Lots of indoor and outdoor space, a resort style setting, no resort fees, no attrition and no F&B minimums. Industry specific offers are available for Pharmaceutical, Financial, Insurance, and Associations. www.alhi.com/LanghamHuntington

Omni Hotels & Resorts just bought its 6th property from KSL Capital Partners, LLC, a leading private equity firm. The reflagging of the Montelucia Resort & Spa as theOmni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia extends the Omni’s Read the rest of this entry »

Hoo has personality!

Hoo has personality! photo by Karen Kuzsel

If wishes were dreams that come true, being able to take culinary classes in high school would have been near the top of my list. As easy as it would be for me to be envious of the 193 students who participated in the competition segments of the Orange County (FL) Public School’s 4th Annual Hospitality and Culinary Competition, I am instead grateful to have once again witnessed the incredible creative and skilled talent they exhibited.

The December competition held annually at the Orlando World Center Marriott broadens the number of categories and participating schools and tech centers each year who offer culinary and/or hospitality training. Competition categories include: gourmet meals, desserts, knife skills, decorative centerpieces, edible centerpieces, and waiter’s relay. The hospitality portion, which I didn’t see, includes room inspection, case study analysis and project presentation.

This was my fourth year of judging. The first time I agreed to sample desserts in the early morning. As lovely as some of those sweets were that crossed my lips and went straight to my hips, I have happily judged the presentation of edible centerpieces for the past three years if for no other reason than to stand in awe of what these students craft in an hour.

penguin holiday

penguin holiday. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The Marriott prepared an amazing buffet in multiple stations for the judges and students and then awards are presented for the top places in each category. After smelling the aromas of gourmet meals and desserts being prepared tableside across the cavernous ballroom for a few hours, you can understand why there’s a mad rush for the buffet tables when given the OK signal.

Before I name the participating schools, tech centers and winners, I encourage anyone who would like to witness or impact future generations of hospitality and culinary stars to contact Patricia Breeding for next year’s team of volunteers. 407-317-3200,ext 2690 or  Patricia.breeding@ocps.net.

Don’t take just my word that this program is beneficial. Dave Robitaille, MS, MT (ASCP) and Program Specialist and Administrator for the Health Science Career and Technical Education at OCPS says, “The data overwhelmingly shows that students enrolled in CTE programs have a greater chance of completing high school and going to college than non-CTE students. So, CTE programs should not be looked at as an alternative for students not bound for college. On the contrary, if parents want their children to go to college, they should encourage them to enroll in a CTE program.”


The high schools who participated are: Colonial, Cypress Creek, Freedom, Wekiva, Winter Park, Oak Ridge, Gateway School, and Dr Phillips. Tech centers include  Mid Florida Tech, Westside Tech, and Orlando Tech. Sponsors included the Marriott, Keiser University, Johnson and Wales University, and the CFHLA.

The edible Christmas tree and friends. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The edible Christmas tree and friends. photo by Karen Kuzsel





School Home School Student Name
Non – Edible Centerpiece      
First place Cypress Creek HS   Riani Pokipala
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Cassidy Brown
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Sofia Fernandez
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Madison Fitch
Second place Dr Phillips HS   Tia Humphries
Edible Centerpiece      
First place Mid Florida Tech University HS Christine Hernandez
Second place Mid Florida Tech Edgewater HS Kristopher Davis
Third place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek Jamie Pena
Dessert High School      
First place Gateway School   Heriberto Lopez
First place Gateway School   Josue Cabrales
Second place Cypress Creek HS   Grant Baldinger
Second place Cypress Creek HS   Jessica Butler
Third place Winter Park HS   Daniella Sauri
Third place Winter Park HS   Raham Elsayed
DessertTech Center      
First place Westside Tech Wekiva HS Zakoya Hall
First place Westside Tech Evans HS Devante McDonald
Second place Westside Tech West Orange HS Kristi Caruana
Second place Westside Tech West Orange HS Lauren Harms
Gourmet Meal      
First place Winter Park HS   Melissa Morales
First place Winter Park HS   Antonio Cepero
First place Winter Park HS   Angelique Allison
Second place Winter Park HS   Joey Goldberg
Second place Winter Park HS   Laura Johnson
Second place Winter Park HS   Foley Flood
Third place Winter Park HS   Caleb Johnson
Third place Winter Park HS   Julie Phicien
Third place Winter Park HS   Amber Negron
Gourmet MealTech Center      
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Angela Cippilone
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Brandon Santiago
First place Westside Tech West Orange HS Abby Johnson
Second place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek Emmanuel Arboleda
Second place Mid Florida Tech University HS Raquel Amador
Second place Mid Florida Tech University HS Desiree Perez
Knife Skills      
First place Orlando Tech Winter Park HS Yafreicy Rodriguez
Second place Mid Florida Tech Dr Phillips HS Fransheska Whittington
Third place Westside Tech Wekiva HS Latasha Morris


Waiter’s Relay      
First place Freedom HS   Luis Alvarado
First place Freedom HS   Ysenia Palomino
First place Freedom HS   Lourdes Sanchez
Second place Colonial HS   Christine Ortiz Hernandez
Second place Colonial HS   Nathaniel Morales
Second place Colonial HS   Angel Dones
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Jessica Rivera
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Gabrielle Tursi
Third place Orlando Tech University HS Adrianna Colon


A cantelope tiki hut shields birds of a feather. photo by Karen Kuzsel

A cantelope tiki hut shields birds of a feather. photo by Karen Kuzsel


Hospitality Competition Winners


Event School Home School Student Name
Hospitality Competition      
First place – Overall Dr Phillips HS   Tia Humphries
First place Dr Phillips HS   Cassidy Brown
First place Dr Phillips HS   Madison Fitch
First place Dr Phillips HS   Sofia Fernandez
Second place- Overall Colonial HS   Yarissa Pena
Second place Colonial HS   Meagan Ojeda
Second place Colonial HS   Noe Hernandez
Second place Colonial HS   Lesly Lopez
Third place – Overall Mid Florida Tech Lake Nona HS Angie Grunskyte
Third place Mid Florida Tech West Orange HS Jadia Johnson
Third place Mid Florida Tech Cypress Creek HS Sasha Gatti
Third place Mid Florida Tech Wekiva HS Deja Miller


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. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen 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.


Castle Hotel shimmers with royal attitude

Castle Hotel shimmers with royal attitude

There have been two stately Castles in Orlando. Both at one time have been pink, but unlike Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom, the Castle Hotel on International Drive encourages overnight stays. In fact, after the Castle Hotel became the 9th Kessler Collection  boutique hotel to become part of the Marriott Autograph Collection on October 17, those overnights have gotten cozier.

Two of the 216 guestrooms have magically morphed into the three-treatment room Poseidon Spa and Garden Bistro. The remaining 214 threw off their mantle of yore and are now dressed in modern European furniture and soothing colors. The Castle didn’t shed its spires, turrets or twin rooftop balconies (some of the best viewing of area theme park fireworks and the perfect size for a reception for 120 max), but inside it now more closely resembles an upscale hunting lodge adorned in fine art work. Many pieces—such as the gorgeous chandelier hanging in the Palace Ballroom, came from Chairman and CEO Richard C. Kessler’s private collection.

Upon my visit to the grand re-launch of The Castle as the only Marriott Autograph Collection hotel on International Drive, I couldn’t stop drooling over the two rhinestone-encrusted black-and-white curved chairs enhancing the lobby. I have costumes (for my alter ego, Natasha, The Psychic Lady) that aren’t this bejeweled.

As with all 10 Kessler Collection properties in Florida, Georgia, Colorado, New Mexico and North Carolina, this one features local, regional, world-renowned and Kessler Signature artists. The $6.5 million, months-long renovation has repositioned The Castle from a luxury leisure property to one focused on attracting corporate business. There is now more than 9,000 sf in meeting and event space. The new Palace Ballroom can seat 180 in rounds. There is also the Read the rest of this entry »


You're never too young to learn to ski at Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows, CA.

You’re never too young to learn to ski at Squaw Valley or Alpine Meadows, CA.

I smell the cookies baking. It must be December. Not that I don’t bake cookies all year, but from the time I was young, baking for the holidays began early in the month. My Mom, sister, and then my daughter and I would begin our ritual of selecting which favorites and which new recipes would warm our kitchen. They were meant to be sampled and mostly, meant to be shared. In the last two years I had last minute writing assignments and performing gigs that made my life too hectic to spend casual time listening to holiday music while I kneaded, mixed, and decorated an assortment of goodies. Cooking and baking are cathartic. They feed my soul, not just my belly. I already “sense” this December will be different. We have one trip planned to visit relatives, parties to enjoy, and two cookie exchanges for which to prep. I’m feeling merrier already.

May you have the holiday you either remember or one you wish to have. Here are some possibilities that may stoke your imagination or get you to pack your bags for a new adventure.


Even I, a complete chicken when it comes to anything involving heights and the possibility of me hitting the bottom in an unintended splat, might consider taking advantage of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows’$49 Learn to Ski and Ride Weekend, December 14-15. The package includes lift tickets, a half-day lesson and full rental packages for first time skiers and riders. Reservations are required for kids’ lessons (ages 12 and under). 13 and over can register online. Walk-ins Read the rest of this entry »

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

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

You don’t have to go over the rainbow to find otherworldly adventures. Somewhere in our world, hotel resorts are renovating or building, meetings are occurring and families are gathering to create memories. In America, we’ve begun the holiday crush that begins with Halloween and rushes past New Year’s Eve. Elsewhere, other holidays occupy heart, mind and wallets (as if you expected someone else to pick up the tab?) For many businesses, this is an opportune time to regroup, fill out next year’s RFPs, or scope out destinations for next year’s conferences. For the leisure industry, the next two months are make-it-or-break-it for sales, promotions, or capturing imaginations that live on past packing one’s bag to head back home. With that in mind, here are some destinations, resorts, events, and opportunities that you may want to consider.

Aulani, a Disney Resort and Spa in Ko Olina, Hawaii, knows that even adults need time to play, so the imaginative folks at Disney have expanded Ka Maka Landing, a popular Waikolohe Valley water play area. There’s an infinity pool with a realistic grotto, a dynamic fun splash zone for smaller kids, and a new dining location for poolside and beachside dining. No worries, meeting plannners, the new Hālāwai Lawn provides a 16,000-sf lushly landscaped environment for outdoor events. The new lawn is part of the resort’s total 36,000 sf of function space, including a 14,000-sf conference center. “With Aulani, we’ve introduced an entirely new Disney experience for incentives and meetings,” said Anne Hamilton, vice president, Resort Sales and Services, Disney Destinations. “In keeping with the rest of the resort, events on the new Hālāwai Lawn will immerse Read the rest of this entry »

Elegant dining at Coquina del Mar, signature restaurant of Esperanza, an Auberge Resort. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Elegant dining at Cocina del Mar, signature restaurant of Esperanza, an Auberge Resort. photo by Karen Kuzsel

Los Cabos oozes exotic imagery like a romance novel set under vivid pink sunsets.

From the sultry summer heat beading one’s brow to the azure waves cresting and spilling onto pebbly beaches or splashing against the Easter egg turquoise water of infinity pools, this Mexican paradise on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula defies typecasting. Most assuredly there are the expected iced margaritas, thrumming salsa music and platters of tacos and guacamole, but you won’t see men sporting sombreros or women swishing colorful peasant skirts.

Los Cabos is the Mexico of today’s visionary businessmen. Magazine cover-worthy resplendent resorts rise or are renovated at a dizzying pace. Stylized cuisine reflects the recent emphasis on organic farm and sea-to-table ingredients, and there’s an innate savvy response to what leisure and corporate business visitors find appealing, whether it’s Sea of Cortez water adventures, walking through the galleries crowding the narrow cobbled streets of San José del Cabo, or studying the hundreds of indigenous plants that form its landscape.

Many visitors flock to Los Cabos’ two main cities, Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, in the hottest months of August through mid-October to take advantage of the lower rates, to fry by the pool, slurp frothy tequila or rum concoctions, and if on an inclusive plan, eat whenever they’re hungry. With the Resort Corridor an easy connecting road between the two cities, a night of clubbing or a day of shopping or snorkeling is never more than an hour away.

I was in Los Cabos in early October for a press familiarization trip sponsored by the Los Cabos Tourism Board.  As much as I am accustomed to the hot, sunny and humid weather we encountered, I think next time I’d prefer from November to April when I’m told whales swim and frolick just offshore.

While the appeal for corporate and incentive groups may include some of the same elements that lure tourists, there are four factors that predicate group bookings.

  1. 1.       Hoteliers say groups account for 50 to 80% of their business. Of that, roughly 70 to 80% are from California and Texas. The reason? Easy maneuverability through the San José del Cabo and an increasing number of direct flights from the U.S. Dollars are accepted currency. No need to worry about exchange rates.
  2. 2.       Most resort hotels that cater to groups are boutique properties whose attentive service and exceptional safety considerations are notable. One such exclusive property is Esperanza, a 57-room Auberge Resort.During the recent G20 Summit in Los Cabos, President Obama was their honored guest.
  3. 3.       Los Cabos temperatures average mid-70s all year and about 10 inches of rainfall, so inclement weather rarely disrupts events. Outdoor venues with the beach, sky or sea as stellar backdrops equal saved dollars on décor.

From the time I was picked up from the airport and through all of our adventures, we were escorted and given guided commentary by Tony Kayser, customer care manager for Epic Group, DMC/DCO, and her capable, amiable crew. Here’s what I liked most about them: they were always prompt and courteous. When each of us was to return to the airport, we were individually handed a card spelling out our name, pick up time and flight info. There was no fear that a driver would fail to greet me, as has happened on two other trips (but that’s a discussion for another day).


Chopping cilantro and garlic with Chef Enrique Silva at Huerta Los Tamarindos

Chopping cilantro and garlic with Chef Enrique Silva at Huerta Los Tamarindos

Anyone who has ever read my blog posts knows how passionate I am about cooking, baking, and taking classes from chefs sharing their culinary recipes, so it should come as no surprise that my favorite adventure was at the 17-acre Huerta Los Tamarindos organic farm/restaurant and cooking school in San José Del Cabo.            

Before we set about chopping, dicing, mixing and marinating our four course meal from just-picked produce and locally-sourced fish, Chef Enrique Silva gave us a rundown of how he converted a sugar cane plantation kitchen built in 1888 into this sought-after school. He described his role as co-founder of the Organic Market and member of the co-op Del Cabo, the first Mexican organic farm to export herbs and vegetables to the U.S. Tired of the myriad of rules and regulations needed for exporting, Silva now just sells locally.

His college degree was in agricultural engineering but his passion for cooking was learned from his mother. He follows culinary styles (Peruvian cuisine is trending) and refreshes his skills with visits to Oaxaca, considered the center of Mexican regional cooking. Staples of Oaxacan dishes include corn, beans and chile peppers, but local standouts include stylized tamales and varieties of mole sauce.

The farm is situated off twisting, narrow dirt roads. Dining is al fresco on a wide porch overlooking the fields of more than 100 vegetables and herbs and an event space for 250 under a canopy of cissus and passion fruit vines which act as a natural cooling shield. Next to one of the two kitchens is a small gift shop selling artisan goods, spices and canned goods prepared onsite. The restaurant menu changes every two months or with the harvest.

Los Tamarindos specializes in group cooking classes. The upper level outdoor kitchen we used, with a traditional pizza oven and a long community table for splicing and dicing, could hold 18. The kitchen in the grove can hold 85. In his typical team building challenges for about 10, recipes are assigned and teams then have to harvest and clean what they’re going to prepare. “One of our most popular quick team building challenges is making fresh salsa,” says Silva. “They have to pick, chop and plate the salsa for a blind tasting.” 100 max.

A toast of the house special lemongrass tea formally began our cooking lesson. Over the next two hours we prepared a spiced herb oil to marinate five different types of eggplants that we roasted (amazing the varied tastes and textures), an arugula and mango salad, a mahi al achiote and green rice entrée, and dessert of boiled and sweetened fresh pumpkin called dulce de calabaza. We refreshed our palette with the tea and tamarind margaritas rimmed in chile pepper. Do I need to tell you how delicious this meal and drinks were?

While you’re envisioning that, here are two of Silva’s cooking tips:

1.       To add a smoky flavor to your food, bake whole peppercorns for 15 minutes in a 250-300 degree oven. Then grind the peppercorns as coarsely as desired. They rimmed the margarita glass and were sprinkled over our meal.

2.       Mexican rice is fried first on a medium-hi heat for three to four minutes so it’s not sticky. The grains whiten and make a hissing sound to signal when to add water. Steam it, don’t drown it.

My second favorite adventure was speeding across the Sea of Cortez on a zodiac, heading to a rock-strewn area known for great snorkeling. Along the way, we took a brief side trip to view El Arco (The Arch), Cabo San Lucas’ iconic rock formation at the tip of the Baja Peninsula. One side is the Pacific Ocean and a section of beach known as Playa Divorcio (Divorce Beach) due to rough currents. Zip around the arch and you’re in the calmer Sea of Cortez. Nestled up to the base of the rocks is Playa del Amour (Lover’s Beach). Our host group, Cabo Adventures, prepped us on what our boundaries were for safety and what activities were available: snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding.

This was only the 2nd time I have successfully snorkeled and only the first in open waters. (The other time was at SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove.) The salty water teared my eyes and I can’t name the colorful fish I spotted, but I loved it until our Cabo Adventures guide chummed the water so we’d see even more fish. I loved spotting them… just not having them literally on top of me!  Did some kayaking, but the push of the waves battled my arms more than I was willing to endure for long, so I re-boarded the zodiac, drank lots of water and nibbled on the wafers and oranges Cabo Adventures provided. 

One afternoon, a Terramar (DMC) guide led us around San José, a quaint town crowded with art galleries. We took a quick walkthrough Casa Natalia Hotel and Cocina Restaurant, a favorite venue of travel magazines like Conde Nast. A tiled walkway lined with dining tables elegantly clothed split the hotel’s overhanging balconies. Each bore baskets of colorful flowers and greens.

We passed by the famed Wirikuta Garden, home to over 1500 varieties of desert plants from around the world, but didn’t have time to stop this trip. The botanical garden has more than a million plants and three pyramids built from gigantic granite boulders.

Over the span of five days, I stayed at two resorts and visited two others. At each we dined and checked out the amenities. Each property’s uniqueness would appease particular tastes. In each case, privately-owned residences form an upper ring around the edges of the hotel.  Those residences often handle overflow registrations.


The host hotel was Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach, a sprawling mammoth complex that required calling for a cart to shuttle from one location to another when in a hurry. The carts were in perpetual motion, so waiting was never long. Sidewalks are only located near the lobby. Vacationers would love this complex. Seven beautiful landscaped pool areas, including their Sky Pool with a rain wall plummeting into the curved structure. Guests can choose inclusive or European plans. The latter means you’re paying for room only. As you should with any resort offering an inclusive plan, be aware of which restaurants are actual participants. Not all are. Also, there are only two free WiFi hot spots. Internet and cell service were almost non-existent.

Do try their upscale La Frida Restaurant, which is $20 a person extra if you are on the inclusive plan. The margaritas were terrific and the food great. The 80-seat restaurant resembles a traditional hacienda with heavy carved furniture in dark tones, an abundance of flowers, and live music. Oh, and check out their spa, Armonia. Unlike most resort spas in light, breezy colors, this one is low-lit with darker colors and stained glass sunbursts in the waiting area. They make their own toiletries under the Armonia brand.


It doesn’t get much more exclusive and intimate than Esperanza Resort. The stunning 57-room boutique hotel’s most recent claim to fame is hosting President Obama when he attended the 2012 G20 summit in Las Cabos. That security level has attracted many world leaders and celebrities such as Jennifer Anniston. Even with the small number of rooms, there are seven outdoor venues. Each can hold up to 150 and small boardrooms can accommodate 40. Sales & Events Manager Hector Hernandez says, “Eighty percent of our group business hails from California. The two-hour flight from Los Angeles, our exclusivity and security are strong attractions.”

Every room comes equipped with binoculars during whale season.

You know those romantic foreign romantic movies where the loving couple is always dining al fresco on some tiled patio overlooking exquisite scenery? That’s just how I felt dining at Esperanza’s signature restaurant, Cocina del Mar. The patio area could likely accommodate a couple hundred, but niches were created to make small groups feel like they were alone under twinkling lights, overlooking the sea. We sat on the second curved tier of one section of the patio. There were a couple of larger areas with intimate dining to our left and then around the bend, a section for a larger group to have privacy. That night a bridal party had decorated everything in that latter area in pink, from the lights to their tablecloths.

We toasted the dinner to come with Sala Vivé, a sparkling wine made in Querétaro (central Mexico). From a menu created just for us and paired with appropriate adult beverages, I first chose Seafood Tortilla Soup with poached lobster, scallop shrimp, little neck clams, crispy tortillas and avocado. It was a delicate broth unlike any Tortilla Soup I’ve ever had. That choice was paired with the Sala Vivé. My entrée was called Inspiration, and it was. The chef’s grilled creation was served with D.O Valle de San Antonio of Chile, my preference over a Chardonnay.  I was sure I was much too full for dessert until I saw the chocolate lava cake with cardamom ice cream and hibiscus-plum sauce. That arrived with a glass of Cream of Tequila from Oro Azul. I meant to just take a bite or two…


El Ganzo Hotel's latest rooftop artwork. photo by Karen Kuzsel

El Ganzo Hotel’s latest rooftop artwork. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The next day’s visit to El Ganzo Hotel in the Puerto Los Cabos area was filled with firsts. It was the first hotel I’d ever seen painted completely white. It was the first time I ever sat next to a rooftop concert stage to hear a Grammy-nominated singer perform, and it was the first time I I’ve ever visited a recording studio built inside the lower level of a hotel. Oh, it was also the time I ever tasted Tajín Clásico with lime, a popular Mexican seasoning that we liberally sprinkled in our margaritas and on fresh pineapple and coconut. (I was so impressed with the seasoning that I immediately sought a Mexican grocery on my return home to purchase it.) As I said: a day of firsts.

El Ganzo (meaning goose) is a living ode to art. The hotel opened in the Puerto Los Cabos area in December as the newest in the Grupo Questro Hotels family. El Ganzo caters to groups of about 150, with a clientele generally in the 30s to 60s and who are creative and appreciate art. (No one under 18 is allowed to stay there.) Creating a living monument to art is the motivation behind their artist and musician-in-residence programs.

 “Think of El Ganzo as a blank white canvas,” says Ines Munoz, PR and business development director. “Each month we host two or three artists in residence. In exchange for their stay, the artists leave a piece of their artwork on a wall, door or furniture.” As each of the 72-guestrooms is imprinted with art, that artist’s name replaces the room number.

The musician-in-residence program swaps a stay and the opportunity to use the hotel’s underground, state-of-the-art private recording studio for a one-night concert. That’s how our group landed rooftop, stage-front seats for Mexican actress-singer Ximena Sariñana’s concert. I didn’t know what she sang as all but one song was in Spanish, but her warmth, congeniality, and tender ballads didn’t need interpreting.

Cleverly, the hotel records the concert for El Ganzo Sessions and then airs it on the Ganzo Channel, an in-house station available on each guest’s room television. Up next is a filmmaker and videographer-in-residence program to document the artists and musicians as they develop their work.

Many features about El Ganzo Hotel struck me as smart planning. When you step inside, you notice immediately the reclaimed wood and white walls, with occasional splashes of color from the artwork already finished.  Each first floor guestroom has both a Jacuzzi tub in the bathroom and one on the balcony, overlooking the ocean. There are three restaurants, one of which is across the marina at the hotel’s Beach Club and accessible by a boat that shuttles back and forth all day.

Also across the marina and opposite the beach club, the hotel built a fisherman’s wharf. The fishermen have a nice place to hang out, clean and filet their fish says Rafael Sanchez-Navarro, director of sales & marketing for Grupo Questro. “They supply us with fresh fish for our restaurants.” The public has access to fishermen’s wharf and boats are frequently chartered for deep sea fishing. “We believe it’s very important to preserve the traditions of our community, not impose our ways on them,” says Sanchez-Navarro.

He says their beach area is one of the spots along the Sea of Cortez that is entirely swimmable, thanks to jetties that form a natural barrier. The hotel offers paddle boarding, kayaks, bikes and outrigger canoes. “Nothing noisy, like jet skis. We encourage a more natural environment.”

Note: Right now there are discounted pre-opening prices. Those rise in February, 2014.


Before the end of 2014, Grupo Questro expects to build a recreated Mexican village with multiple restaurants, nightclubs and a museum around the marina. With the vision to attract larger conferences than the area has ever been able to support, Grupo Questro is also developing at least four new hotels around their marina, totaling more than 2,000 rooms, according to Sanchez-Navarro. Here’s what’s expected:

Secrets opens December, 2013, with 500 suites, a convention center and a ballroom with up to 8,000 sf that will be able to hold up to 800 people, theater style. Secrets will have ocean view restaurants  and a golf course. The building resembles a modern hacienda.

JW Marriott opens the end of 2014 with up to 270 rooms.

Ritz Carlton Reserve opens in early 2015 across the marina from El Ganzo with 100 suites. The Reserve is a new brand for the Ritz Carlton family.

Grupo Questro also plans to open three more luxury boutique hotels, totaling about 400 rooms, on another section of the marina and if all goes well, a 500-room Fairmont will rise by 2016.



Relaxing at one of the pools at Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cobos Golf & Spa Resort

Relaxing at one of the pools at Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cobos Golf & Spa Resort

Luxurious decadence was the 24 hours I spent at Fiesta Americana Grand Los Cabos Golf & Spa Resort. Never have I felt so pampered. Never have I had my favorite three tangible “loves”—amazing culinary creations, full-bodied yet silky-smooth red wines, and a massage that leaves one euphorically stupified, all come together in one glorious experience.

 Fiesta Americana is 10 minutes from Cabo San Lucas and 15 from San Jose del Cabo.  I didn’t come there to wallow in “me time” though. The property has a solid reputation for impeccable amenities that has make it popular for corporate and incentive gatherings.

 Fiesta Americana is just one of 110 Grupo Posada properties, Mexico’s largest property investment group.   “A planner once described us as having a leisure property with group amenities. It’s a perfect combination that will make our attendees feel like they’re on vacation,” says Mauricio Moncada, associate director of group sales.” The oceanfront resort caters to groups who book 150 to 200 rooms of the 249 available in both the main hotel and in the upper scale Grand Club section. I stayed in the Grand Clulb section, in one of 13 suites. Mine had two bathrooms, large bedroom and full living room. Most groups who come bring spouses, so extended stays are frequent. He says, “We don’t sell rooms. We sell experiences.”

Indeed they do. Take for instance their three-hour Barefoot Experience theme party. Moncada explains that a past GM created a unique party by combining the great wines of the Baja Peninsula region, treatments from Somma Wine Spa and their private, swimmable beach (a rarity on that coast, don’t forget). After guests remove their shoes, they are led to half-barrels filled with grapes… which they then stomp. Twenty minutes of foot reflexology is followed by a tasting of regional wines and dinner on the beach, with the chef centered in the midst of the group.

Of course, if you’re not one who likes getting sand in your toes, maybe you would prefer dining on the Whales Terrace at the Peninsula Restaurant, so named because “From November to the beginning of April you can have lunch and watch them swim by,” says Moncada. 150 max, banquet style.

Wine pairings are de rigueur  for group events, but how about ice tea pairings, an invention of Chef Gerardo Rivera to spice up luncheons. While Moncada and I sat on the Peninsula Restaurant terrace, gazing at the waves breaking against the shore, we dined on a customized four course meal, each paired with tea. We began with peach tea and cerviche, simply the best I’ve ever had. That was followed by the lightly breaded, delicate flavors of pirate fish and shrimp taco served with Bugambilia (bougainvillea) tea.  Third course was seabass with beans, cactua and chilo ancho accompanied by green tea with ginger. Vanilla tea, cardamom ice cream, chocolate and strawberries finished the meal (and me) off.

The group experience at Fiesta Americana actually begins with registration at a private reception area, an automatic amenity earned with a confirmed booking. The area is an open expanse of marble tile in soft earth tones. Moncada says they shiatsu massage chairs and hospitality tables can be brought in for the welcome. Occasionally the golf concierge will be provided.  “We’re in the Cabo del Sol development with two golf courses: ocean and desert courses. Both are designed by Jack Nicklaus. Golf can be charged to the master account for convenience to planners so they only have to pay one bill and not many.”        

Fiesta Americana has two boardrooms, one with desks in a u-shaped setup that remain fixed and one room that is bare. Two ballrooms totaling 10,900 sf have 21’ ceilings. Both have natural lighting, beautiful woods and overlook the Sea of Cortez. One of the cleverest ideas I’ve ever seen a resort do is that Fiesta Americana keeps one ballroom set up with tables and décor highlighting their various themes, such as Oaxaca night, mystic night, a night under the stars, or the popular barefoot experience . On the wall, holographic video footage screens teasers of the fun that could be had with each theme. Outside The Grand Slam ballroom is the Fairway Terrace, a favorite location of group breakfasts and luncheons of up to 300. One level below, the smaller Star Terrace overlooks both the ocean course and the ocean. 120max.

Fiesta Americana is horseshoe shaped. All the rooms have balconies with a view and include both a tub and a shower. The palette is done in contemporary shades of sand and earth. There are three restaurants and three bars, each with ocean views.

One of the perks of my job is to experience spa experiences and write about them. (I you’re your whispers of “Poor you,” but someone has to do it.) Somma Wine Spa is my idea of the perfect spa. They use grapes from the Guadalupe Valley and Santo Tomas area of Baja California to fuse into their oils and lotions. I had the 80-minute Le Vin, the resort’s signature massage. Chardonnay grapes were used in the oils that were generously applied to my body using a combination of Swedish, mio-intensive and lomi-lomi techniques. When the treatment ended, my legs felt as rubbery as if I’d just walked off a speeding boat. My therapist rang a sweet gong to reawaken my chi and then escorted me to the lounge, placed a warm coiled towel beneath my neck, and asked whether I’d like a glass of red or white wine. It arrived with a creamy cheese ball and frozen green grapes.

If I had my way, I’d spend days in Somma Wine Spa trying out exotic treatments such as the Choco-Coco Wrap (from the cacao seed) that begins with a mint-white chocolate and coconut granule exfoliation, followed by a cocoa mask and moisturizer. Or maybe I’d want to do the coffee extract and seaweed wrap, or maybe the Chardonnay Clay Wrap or the Lambrusco Red Wine Wrap.

Fiesta Americana was a treat… one I’d love to repeat.










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. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen 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.

California Grill Dragon Roll with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and chili-soy glaze.  California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. (Jimmy DeFlippo, photographer)

California Grill Dragon Roll with spicy and tataki tuna, shrimp tempura, bell pepper, avocado and chili-soy glaze. California Grill in the Contemporary Hotel at Walt Disney World Resort. (Jimmy DeFlippo, photographer)

September in Florida (where I’m based) is hot, sticky, humid, rainy and for those of us in the hospitality, meetings & events, and entertainment industries—it’s a time of hanging on til convention season reappears. September also means Magical Dining comes to Orlando for the entire month, whereby upscale restaurants host a three-course prix fixee’ meal for $33 and my husband and I celebrate our anniversary by enjoying as many of these meals as we can. Visit Orlando and the participating restaurants partner to both highlight their cuisine to locals during this corporate and leisure shoulder season and to raise money ($1 from each meal) for Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

I know most of you aren’t in Orlando, but for those of you who are, I’ll talk about these restaurants later in this blog. Last year I covered them after the month ended and by then it was too late for you to personally check them out.

So, with food ever-present on my mind, I think I’ll just jump into news about a hotel whose opening I’ve been eagerly awaiting, with dreams of spending a bit of time there.


The hotel is called Epicurean and it officially opens in December in Tampa, FL. As you may expect by the name, food will be a central theme of the 137-room boutique hotel. There’ll be cooking classes in the Epicurean Theatre, wine tastings, craft cocktail courses and celebrity appearances. The food-centric Epicurean Hotel, the first newly constructed property in the United States to join the Autograph Collection®, is in collaboration with Bern’s Steak House, a Tampa gastronomic icon since 1956. Epicurean Hotel’s website has launched and is taking reservations for stays, booking meetings or social events in the 2,000 sf Grand Cru Ballroom, the Epicurean Theatre or the second Read the rest of this entry »

Native American statue on Museum Hill, Santa Fe, NM

Native American statue on Museum Hill, Santa Fe, NM. photo by Karen Kuzsel

The rich, the famous and the infamous pinned Santa Fe, NM to the pages of history, but it’s the arts that have solidified its reputation for the future. Whether we’re talking about paintings, sculptures, Native American handcrafted jewelry, bohemian clothing, books, movies or its distinctive cuisine, Santa Fe’s art rises from the desert floor like scented steam from one of its many spiritually sacred spas. You can see it. You can breathe it. But what matters is how it makes you feel.

The Southwestern city of 70,000 is a smorgasbord for the senses wrapped in an eclectic blanket of Spanish, Cowboy and Native American influences. It made me feel alive, refreshed, awakened, attuned, energized and wired during my recent visit. (And that’s without the light-headedness that comes from being at 7,000-ft elevation. Drink water until you feel squishy to avoid headaches or nausea.) I felt it immediately upon reaching the city limits, an hour’s drive from the easy-to-maneuver Albuquerque International Airport (20 from the Santa Fe Airport) and saw how the zoning-mandated and culturally-authentic brown adobe buildings that blend seamlessly into the inescapable desert terrain also serve as a blank canvas to the vibrant displays of art bursting like wildflowers in the Spring.  

In this flourishing city now ranked as the third largest art market in the world, there are 250 art galleries (more than a 100 of which cram the one mile stretch known as Canyon Road), 250 restaurants, 1,400 (mostly boutique) hotel rooms, and statues elegantly defining its cultural roots. My beaded braids, gypsy attire and personal spirited philosophy of life fit into the landscape as if I were a resident.

The core of the oldest U.S. Capital city, established in 1610, is a squared plaza and the oldest marketplace in the country. Across the street, Read the rest of this entry »

Food Lovers' Guide to Orlando  I am not sure if Orlando has ever had a food guide before Ricky Ly took on the task. I had heard about Ricky Ly before meeting him at two food events where we were both invited as food critics. Ly is a food blogger who can be found at @tastychomps or on FaceBook at tastychomps. His book is the Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando: The Best Restaurants, Markets & Local Culinary Offerings.

Like Ly’s day job as an engineer, he tackled this food guide with meticulous organization and verve at getting the project done in a timely manner. Unfortunately, as with a guide of any kind, the listings start to become outdated by the time the guide is published. I noticed that with several of the restaurants mentioned here that are no longer in business.

Nonetheless, for someone looking for descriptions of a restaurant’s cuisine, a bit of background, and where it’s geographically located within the metro Orlando area (which is divided in food zones), this book is a winner. He articulates Orlando into downtown, central, north, west, east and south areas, as well as breaking down further into Universal/International Drive, Restaurant Row/Sand Lake Road, and Disney/Lake Buena Vista. The surprise is a separate listing for Winter Park and for food trucks. He told me he had visited all 300 restaurants listed here. I wish I could more plainly see the evidence of that. I like when he mentions dishes he personally favors at these restaurants. There just should have been more of that.  Instead, many of the restaurants are relegated to general information about what style of cuisine is prepared; information that could be found elsewhere.

I can see this guide as very useful for someone unfamiliar with Orlando restaurants, or someone just looking to try something new when out of their usual vicinity for dining out. Restaurants are delineated as to their price, type of attire (dressy or casual), and which are hid favorites. Specialty markets and stores are also categorized.

The book sells for $14.95 and can be found on Amazon or you can just contact Ly on his Facebook page or twitter name to get updates on where it can be purchased. Tell him you heard about the book in my blog.

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. She writes about food & wine, spas, destinations, venues, meetings & events. A career journalist, Karen 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.




Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando

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