NEWS UPDATE FROM Orlando that has me so excited I just had to share immediately. Rumors have been flying as steadily as quiddich broomsticks that an expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter would occur inside the Universal Studios Florida theme park. Now it’s official. Universal Orlando Resort and Warner Bros. Entertainment are building Diagon Alley, set to open in 2014. It will earmark the world’s first centrally themed, multi-park experience. If you’re a fan of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series (as I am) and have been to the park (love, love, love it!), then you know the extreme detail and immersive authenticity that has been created. Diagon Alley will be no different. And just like in the movies and books, guests will be able to travel between ‘London’ and Hogsmeade aboard the Hogwarts Express. Now where did I put my cloak and wand?

The magic of Diagon Alley appears at Universal Orlando Florida theme park in 2014.

The magic of Diagon Alley appears at Universal Orlando Florida theme park in 2014.

Summer’s coming to North America and Europe and with its imminent arrival comes the soft season discounts. I’m all for saving some of my stash on the upfront hotel costs so that I feel free to splurge on activities I may not find elsewhere. I’ve heard about some incredible deals, such as book two nights and get one free or book 5 nights and get two nights extra. At least 29 European countries are offering these savings. Here are just a few of the choices I found enticing.25Hours Hotel at MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, Austria: 219 rooms & suites. Located in the 7th District, a progressive artsy area, the décor embodies a fantastical world of circus, spectacle and extravagance, with just a touch of madness. Hang out in the rooftop lounge or dine in the terraced restaurant that faces Wedhuberpark. There are meeting and convention facilities.

Hospes Palacio de los Patos in Granada, Spain: 32 double rooms, 10 suites including one Presidential Suite. The interfusion of Arabic influence and native Iberian tradition are apparent. Situated almost adjacent to the Puerta Real, Hospes Palacio de los Patos is an urban oasis housed in a reconstructed 19th-Century town palace. Designers retained the architectural beauty of original elements such as the grand staircase.

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

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

Hotel Unique in São Paulo, Brazil: 85 rooms & 10 suites. Unique’s green copper façade alone makes this hotel stand out even in the upscale residential area of Jardins. Just meters from Ibirapuera Park, São Paulo’s largest green area, the building is dark glass and a desert garden of mini, sand-toned cubes of rock, palms and agaves. The lobby is illuminated with beige marble walls embellished by dramatic geometric themes in the décor, sleek white furnishings and transparent glass tables and fittings. City views from the rooftop terrace fascinate, but ooooh… that crimson red swimming pool is an eye-popper. http://www.designhotels.com/summerspecials

Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, the largest full-service beach-front resort on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, is offering a VIP Passport Package for meeting planners organizing conferences, conventions or tradeshows. Bookings must be actualized August 1 through February 28, 2014. Room nights booked determines bonuses but check out some of the incentives.

* Three (3) percent rebate to the master account for guest rooms posted to the master account;

* Double HHonors points for guest rooms billed to the master account;

* 20 percent off at Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill (not applicable for private group events);

*Poolside cabana with tropical rum punch and fruit-infused non-alcoholic beverages for your guests;

* 10 VIP passports for select attendees, which offers complimentary valet parking, daily complimentary beach chair set-up, one complimentary signature beverage from Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill, and complimentary daily access to Serenity by the sea spa’s private non-profit donation made by the Co-Op on the company’s behalf.

Meeting Planners: sign a contract during the month of May and the group will receive one extra incentive from the list above. Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa has 598 rooms and more than 32,000 sf of meeting space, a world-class spa, fitness center, six on-site dining venues, and access to championship golf courses. www.HiltonSandestinBeach.com

The Reno-Tahoe Meetings Co-op knows that CSR possibilities are often the deciding factor in a planner choosing a destination. That’s why they’ve launched the Good Value/Good Values “give-back” program, which awards the company with a non-profit donation to one of three pre-selected non-profit organizations when their group selects the Reno-Tahoe meetings. Good Value/Good Values is funded with designated buy-in funds from partners such as hotels and events centers. The campaign offers three tiers of donations for corporate, association and third-party meeting planners. Once a company submits a qualified RFP, Reno Tahoe Meetings donates $50 to a designated charity. A no-cost site inspection trip raises the donation amount to $250. When a meeting is successfully booked post-visit, the Co-Op donates $1,000 in the company’s name. The three non-profits available are The American Red Cross, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, or the ASPCA. www.goodvaluegoodvalues.com; (775) 827-7704.

Animator’s Palate on the Disney Magic, one of the most popular restaurants on the Disney ships, is updated with all-new, animation-adorned walls and larger high-definition flat-screens

Animator’s Palate on the Disney Magic, one of the most popular restaurants on the Disney ships, is updated with all-new, animation-adorned walls and larger high-definition flat-screens

You don’t have to be a meeting planner or part of a group to enjoy the newly-renovated amenities aboard the Disney Magic, but if you are looking for a group experience, why not make it as much fun as possible? Once Disney Magic comes out of dry dock October 19 this year, you can expect a new grand atrium lobby and a spa to stimulate the “Senses,” a water play area of “super hero” proportions from Marvel Universe, and a three-story water thrill slide.

A seashell-inspired palette of coral, blue and aquamarine enliven the three-deck lobby, bedecked with an art deco atrium chandelier, opulent furnishings, and a grand piano and giant portholes reminiscent of early 20th century ocean liners. Even the cold-cast bronze statue of “Helmsman Mickey” has been polished to a new golden hue. AquaDunk is a three-story water slide that begins with a mild step into a translucent tube that shoots you up vertically, only to have the floor open like a trap door, propelling you 20’ over the side of the ship. Carioca’s, named after Donald duck’s parrot pal in “The Three Caballeros,” joins Cabanas as new restaurants. Carioca’s turns into an after-hours scene a la Rio de Janiero. Cabanas is a seafood casual restaurant modeled after the Disney-Pixar animated classic “Finding Nemo.” Cabanas can seat 455. Adults can party til the wee hours at After Hours, an entertainment district with dancing, music, comedy and variety shows. After Hours replaces Beat Street, currently on the Disney Magic. Look for new ports of call, including homeports in Venice, Italy and San Juan, Puerto Rico. From May to August, the Disney Magic returns to the Mediterranean and from September to October, the liner will sail four seven-night cruises to the Southern Caribbean from San Juan to a variety ports of call, including Grenada.

The vibrancy of Rio de Janeiro creates an energetic atmosphere in Carioca’s, a new restaurant on the Disney Magic.

The vibrancy of Rio de Janeiro creates an energetic atmosphere in Carioca’s, a new restaurant on the Disney Magic.

www.disneymeetings.com/disneycruise; (321) 939-7221

Is it a coincidence or the influence of “The Great Gatsby” movie that two speakeasy bars just opened in Florida, one in Ft Lauderdale and the other in Orlando?  Stache (named for its mustachioed logo), created by Mykel Stevens & 3J Hospitality and Pharmacy, by the Orlando owners/chefs of The Table, are both dedicated to retro handcrafted cocktails and upscale appetizers. Beer, wine, sake and select champagnes round out the drinks menu at Stache. Don’t just come to drink. Come to eat unique tapas and desserts and to dance in the 5,000 sf, two- level, three-bar boutique, entertainment and music venue location in downtown Ft Lauderdale. They pride themselves on offering a seamless blend of Classic Rock/Funk/Soul/R&B spanning the last six decades to the newest of Indie & Electronic/Tech House orchestrated by Charles Stache. Pharmacy is a bit more casual than Stache’s luxury surroundings. Don’t go looking for a sign at Orlando’s Dellagio Plaza to point the way. There aren’t any. Instead, knock on the door resembling an elevator and push the green button for admittance.  Pharmacy features classic cocktails and a menu of locally-sourced ingredients. Don’t leave without trying their specialty, Neapolitan Pizzas.

Heading to Montréal anytime soon? I was there last summer and loved the contrast between that modern city and the historic quaintness of Quebec. Since last summer, Montréal has been undergoing a flurry of construction growth. I’d have definitely visited the Grévin Museum that opened in April. An offshoot of Paris’s popular wax museum, Montréal’s Grévin used the talents of companies like Moment Factory to create interactive rooms and stunning visuals. There are temporary arts exhibits coasting into next year that would have been on my agenda as well. The Museum of Costume and Textile of Québec showcases that city’s costume and textile heritage with Tapis Rouge: Fashion at the Museum, until October 6. Check out signature pieces from collections by Thierry Mugler, Arnold Scassi, Christian Dior and many prominent Montréal designers. Dale Chihuly‘s brilliant glass installations are presented for the first time in Canada at the Museum of Fine Arts, June 8 through October 13. Maybe this next one will get you singing. The Beatles in Montréal exhibition appears at Pointe-à-Callière began in March and continues until March 30, 2014.

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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