Hearst Castle pool looks down the valley to the ocean.

Hearst Castle pool looks down the valley to the ocean.

Today is one of those sticky humid days for which Florida is famous… or is that infamous? I’ve recently returned from a glorious vacation to the Central Coast region of California, where we imbibed in the riches of cuisine, wine and destinations for which that area is known. It was our first for many experiences in the Central Coast area as we usually roam the grape-vined hills of Sonoma and Napa. As I wanted to be in the moment, I chose to play tourist and not overburden myself with notebooks and scratched hasty words of reporter prose.

Nonetheless, when I do write about the experiences from a fond after-glow, you will hear about the Starlight Coastal train ride from Oakland to Santa Barbara (don’t wait… do it! Ask me about the roomette advantages), Cielito Restaurant in Santa Barbara and Novo Restaurant in San Luis Obispo, Hearst Castle, Sextant and Cypher Wineries (the latter was so amazing we actually became club members), and The Madonna Inn (go for the outrageous ambiance. The food—not so much), and so, so much more. Our suitcases are finally unpacked, the laundry done, my refrigerator is stocked, and alas, my computer dares me to sit and compose.

Of course, what you really want to know is what deals are currently available for you to turn into your own vacation or to warrant a site visit for a possible group booking.

LOGO_Guy_Harvey_12_OUTLINESSo, let’s begin with this clever promotion to celebrate Earth Day by the Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort located on Florida’s west coast on the island of St. Pete Beach. Book a suite for two nights between April 22 and May 23, and Guy Harvey Outpost will provide two complimentary dolphin watch excursions. The program allows guests to explore local waters and a secluded island during an enhanced educational two-hour cruise led by an eco-savvy certified Dolphin SMART captain. The TradeWinds was just recertified Dolphin SMART by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, which indicates responsible stewardship of wild dolphins in coastal waterways. On the near horizon for an April 24 Earth Day celebration, the 211-room resort hosts a WildNite nature program at 6:30. Admission is free to hear Ann Paul, Tampa Bay regional coordinator for Florida Coastal Island Sanctuaries, speak about the sea and shorebirds of St. Pete Beach. www.GuyHarveyOutpostTampaBay.com; (877) 428-4000

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa just finished renovating its meeting space, lodging and fine-dining Seagar’s Prime Steaks and Seafood Restaurant but is already marching towards its next big redo. Beginning Oct. 1, they launch their five-month multi-million dollar capital improvement project, which includes redesigning and refurnishing the Spa Tower’s 200 rooms, upgrade of the award-winning, 11,000-sf Serenity by the Sea Spa, and a drastically enhanced entrance and lobby. www.HiltonSandestinBeach.com; (850) 267-9500.

SERVICES MEETING PLANNERS LOVE TO KNOW ABOUT!!   

ACCESS Destination Services has joined RTOincentivetrips.com as a charter member. The searchable online catalog of Ready-To-Order Incentive Trips (fully customizable upon request) is managed and executed by premium Incentive Travel Suppliers. ACCESS Destination Services CEO Chris Lee says the relationship will provide international clients to sample itineraries, budgets and video overviews of U.S destinations. RTOincentivetrips.com is a product of conworld.net (now GMI Portal), established in 2000 to provide meetings industry representatives relevant information from a global perspective. In 2002, conworld.net established DMC Quick-Finder, a comprehensive directory of Destination Management Companies listing more than 1,300 DMCs in more than 300 destinations worldwide.

Getting around downtown Tampa, FL just got easier and cheaper for corporate groups. The Tampa Convention Center (TCC) has partnered with TECO Line Streetcar System, enabling registered conference attendees to use their official conference badge for unlimited and free use of the TECO streetcar system during their conference at the 600,000-square-foot, riverfront venue. “This is yet another tremendous added value for meeting planners who book events at Tampa Convention Center, allowing attendees to save on transportation expenses during their event,” said Eric Blanc, CMP, director of Sales, Marketing and Convention Services at Tampa Convention Center. “Through this new program, event attendees can cross the street to the nearest station and use the streetcar to easily visit a number of entertainment and dining options along the line.” Streetcars run seven days a week and offer service every 20 to 30 minutes from 11 stations encompassing downtown Tampa and throughout Ybor City.  www.tampaconventioncenter.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

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