Quickly…over Christmas, I did that thing I usually do. I headed up to Orlando to visit my dad’s side of the family. My aunt and uncle have a timeshare in Orlando and — gasp — they actually use it. (Most Americans buy timeshares and then quickly realize they just can’t use them and then they try to sell them and can’t.) We stayed one night at the Marriott Cypress Harbour and boy am I glad my dad is a senior citizen, because without his discount, this would have cost us over $400 bucks just for one night. (My father was happy to stay at the Quality Inn 4.5 miles away for $62 bucks a night. Not me.) We got 15% off our rate because he is over 65.
The Marriott Cypress Harbour is an apartment hotel and our room was HUGE. As was the hot tub. A little disconcerting, this hot tub. I let my dad have this room. I took the smaller guest bedroom, above.
I guess if I were a family with two children, this place would have been the perfect setup. For a father and daughter traveling together though, there was no easy access to alcohol, which was a problem. There was no minibar and the bar at the clubhouse required a car to get there. (I often joke that my father would never survive a trip to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. No red wine.) That being said, my bed was comfortable and the blackout curtains were awesome.
While in Orlando, we had lunch at the Copper Canyon Grill, where my order of rotisserie chicken was large enough to feed fourteen people. (America, this is why you’re fat. Really.) Our server also told us he was a green beret in Afghanistan, and my dad and my uncle, both servicemen themselves, thought he was lying. So that was awkward. (We didn’t tell him he was lying. We just discussed it during and afterwards.) Everything here was nice enough by big-box-chain-restaurant standards though. Speedy service, plenty of tap water, and they very easily dealt with our party of ten.
And before we sped off to the airport the next morning, we stopped at Denny’s at 11037 International Drive. (Remember, I’m not as sophisticated as you might think I am.) And I was again given pause for thought. Do you wonder why there is an obesity epidemic in America? Things like The Grand Slamwich exist, that’s why. Potato bread!! That being said, the service at Denny’s was super-chipper and speedy. There’s something about diner service in America: these servers are not precious, they’ve seen it all, and they are as flexible as flexible can be.
I was in Miami for Labor Day back in September. It was a bad trip because I got monsterously ill. And I hated the hotel I was staying in, a hotel that made me question the value of TripAdvisor and wonder whether the hotel was paying people to write all those wonderful reviews. But I survived. And got a little tan in the process. Here’s where I ate, roughly in order of deliciousness:
Yardbird, 1600 Lennox Avenue: If I had been smart, I would have eaten here multiple times. Reservations were hard to come by, so bar seating for us. Yardbird is one of the new breed of southern-focused restaurants. I had — surprise — the fried chicken. But what really amazed me with its deliciousness was the salad with mango, pecans and tomatoes, all local to South Florida. Florida used to be all agriculture. Now it’s all strip malls and strip clubs. Yardbird reminded me of the old days. The Verdict: GO.
BLT Steak, 1440 Ocean Drive, at The Betsy: This is totally a chain, but I loved the peaceful plantation vibe and attentive service. Also, my delicious grilled cheese and tomato soup. All too often, people mess up grilled cheese. Not here. I had the place to myself on a weekday afternoon and I loved it. The Verdict: Very very nice.
The Dutch, 2201 Collins Avenue, in the W Hotel: I’m not quite sure why I did so much hotel eating, but I did. The Dutch is all white subway tile and feels like an old soda fountain. I love that. What I didn’t love? The food. Mainly because although I was one of the only diners, my corn chowder (bisque?) was served lukewarm. My pasta main was unmemorable. The Verdict: OK. More style than substance.
The Front Porch Cafe, 1458 Ocean Drive, in the Z Hotel: This place packs them in, and I’m really not sure why. If you like a dirty restaurant with inattentive service and a lot of people drinking heavily early in the morning, maybe this place is for you. I could barely touch my breakfast. Meh. The Verdict: Don’t go here.
I was all over the great state of Florida last month. Three hotels in three nights. It was a combination of vacation, phase one of my mom’s surgery, and what ended up being a bit of a travel nightmare because I got terribly ill and wasn’t allowed anywhere near my mother after her surgery.
It’s interesting, staying in three hotels in three nights. You notice things you might normally not once you get to the second hotel. And by the time you get to the third hotel, you’ve got a little bit of a routine going.
The first hotel, The Crowne Plaza Z Ocean in Miami Beach. I stayed here on points, and well, while many people might like it here, it just wasn’t for me. The staff was spacey — they checked me into someone else’s room and then they forgot to clean my room two days in a row — and the hallways were pretty dingy and knocked up. Plus, they had signs like this.
If you’re going to provide something that looks like a refrigerator, why not just make it a refrigerator?
Oh, and then this drove me crazy. The real refrigerator door opened one way, while the cabinet door opened the other way. Designed by a man, I’m sure. (Sorry, men.) Ah, and the bed has some sort of plastic wrap on it, and they forgot to give me toilet paper and one of the TVs didn’t work. Oh, and the front desk staff kept calling me “Honey.” Honey? SHUT IT.
Then, I flew to Gainesville, in northern Florida, during an electrical storm. On a super small plane. Everyone on the plane screamed in unison at one point. That wasn’t fun. But we survived, and I checked into the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center and it was pretty amazingly nice for a basic hotel. Check-in was seriously the fastest I’ve ever encountered, there was free wifi all over, and the restaurant served some pretty tasty (albeit not creative) food. My Uncle George said the burger he had in the bar was the best he’s ever had, and my Uncle George is 75 years old, so that means something to me. I was so ill at this point that all I did was sleep, so no pictures for you. Sorry! But I can tell you that the bath products were surprisingly nice, and the sheets were surprisingly soft.
After I was told to leave Gainesville, I had to find my way back to Orlando by myself. (My original plan was to head home with my mom to West Palm and take care of her for a few days. The doctors said NO WAY once they picked up on how sick I was.) I took a BUS to Orlando because it was cheaper than renting a car, and I was kinda excited about this because they promised free wifi on the bus. Well, there was no free wifi, and when I finally got to the bus depot in Orlando, there was a big sign that said, “We will not refund your ticket if the wifi didn”t work.” (Couldn’t get a photo.) Seriously people…if you have to make a sign that says that, doesn’t that tell you that THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. And why do you put pictures of business people working on their laptops all over your buses if you can’t delivery on your branding? Red Coach USA, I am looking at YOU.
And then I found myself at the Hyatt Orlando Airport. The staff was amazingly cheerful and lovely, which I needed after all the planes, trains and automobiles. And MY ROOM OVERLOOKED THE RUNWAY, which was kinda awesome. (I love airports, remember.) Oh, and then the hotel is attached to the airport, so you could wander around the food court and shops which was fun for a while, until my cold medicine ran out. This is a super high volume property — you can tell. But the staff and the bits like the runway made it a star for me. Not a star? The $52 I spent on room service. Gah.
So…my trip to Florida didn’t turn out like anything I planned. I wish I had thought to load my iPad up with movies and stuff because I definitely spent a lot of time traveling around. And I wish I had brought more practical clothing than little sundresses because I was freezing half of the time on planes and buses. I also wish I had status on American Airlines because let me tell you — checking in at Miami Airport totally sucks. Actually, Miami Airport just totally sucks in general.
Let’s just say I’m glad to be home and I like my own bed!
After hitting the Bahamas over Christmas, I headed to Fort Lauderdale to visit my dad. I joke that my parents saw me more when I lived in the UK; I would come home for two weeks at Christmas and not the five days that I do now. The good news for me though is I don’t go on the huge shopping binges I used to. Example: Customs officer: “Excuse me, ma’am. But can you please explain why one of your suitcases is empty and the other suitcase has nothing in it but another suitcase?” Um, the answer was for a while there? I was getting $2.05 to the British pound. Now THOSE were good times. **wistful**
To subsidize my quick visit to Fort Lauderdale, I used Starwood points from my amazing Starwood American Express card and booked a night at the W Fort Lauderdale. This is good because after staying one night, I don’t think I’d stay here again.
Let’s start with the positives. The view from my room was pretty great. Fort Lauderdale is a city right on the ocean, with a great beachfront path for running and biking. That’s nice. Also nice, the Bliss bath products, but I decided afterwards that I didn’t really like the Bliss shampoo and conditioner. I did like the body butter and the face wash though.
Now on to the negatives. First thing, my cousin and I saw a hooker on the side of the road when we got off the expressway earlier that morning. She turned up at the hotel!! I know they can’t control their guests, but I was seriously standing there, looking at this woman and thinking, “Seriously? Isn’t it a little early to be hooking? And two days after Christmas? Come on.” (But as I’ve learned over time, the sex trade knows no time constraints, and I can tell you from experience that the holidays are the busiest time of the year. There are A LOT of lonely people out there.)
Then, the colors used in the hotel. Fort Lauderdale is a happy place. Colorful. This hotel was painted darker than battleship gray. This bothered me. Also, although my room in that picture looks nice, there was a bit of an IKEA feel to things that I can’t really explain. Also no free wifi and no slippers. And the slowest elevators in the world. In short, having stayed at many hotels in Fort Lauderdale over the years, I wouldn’t stay here again. Try the Hilton or The Ritz.
Now, to food…my dad took me to three different places while I was in Fort Lauderdale and while none of them are super-gourmet, two of the three might be worth a visit if you are ever in town and looking for something basic and local and not fussy.
Fort Lauderdale Ale House, 2861 N Federal Highway: Definitely a locals place, just because of its location on a busy commercial strip. This is an efficiently run sports bar with bar food to match. I had a grouper sandwich, sweet potato fries, and an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea). My dad swore that one of the cops from the TV Show “Cops” (The Broward County edition) was in the Ale House while we were there, but I have no idea. The Verdict: Perfectly acceptable, but probably not worth going out of your way.
The Lauderdale Grill, 1901 Cordova Road: The more I talked to our server/bartender here, the more I liked the place. They smoke their own meat on premises, and I enjoyed my 10 oz smoked prime rib. Also, the caesar salad I had to start was one of the best examples I’ve had since my repatriation, with just the right touch of creamy, salty, garlicky dressing. Lastly, we visited during happy hour so our drinks were half off! Can’t beat that! The Verdict: Good. Go during happy hour.
Quarterdeck, 1541 Cordova Road: I’ve been going to this place since I was a teenager, so I’ll always have a soft spot for it. This time around, my dad and I split six of the biggest oysters I think I’ve ever had in my entire life. (They were the server’s recommendation. Our receipt said “Blu Point” but I know nothing else.) Our server was slow, but otherwise, my blackened grouper caesar salad was quite nice. (Sorry, when in South Florida, I’m a bit predictable with the grouper thing.) The Verdict: Good. Check their Web site first for specials, which can be quite a steal. My dad had a nice sandwich and side for $5.99, making up for the oyster purchase.
Random Fun Moment: While I was out to dinner with my dad, I saw on Twitter that my London blogging friend Mathilde (she, now of Paris) was in Fort Lauderdale! Where was she staying? Of course at The W! So we had a nice night catching up over champagne with her and her husband and their two friends. The world is a small place sometimes, for sure.
It’s times like these when it’s obvious I’m part Floridian…
Making your own orange juice is a lot of work, but it’s so much better than store-bought. I’ve been throwing in some lemons to tart things up a bit. You should too.
Courtesy of the Breville ikon Multi-Speed Juice Fountain, a very wonderful purchase. I wonder if the TSA would have a problem with a juicer in a suitcase? Because I seriously want to travel with this thing.
The Junior Suite at The Ritz Carlton, Fort Lauderdale
The Ritz Carlton
1 North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Date of Last Visit: Tuesday, December 21, 2010
The Background: Here’s the truth. My parents were married for over 30 years when they suddenly realized that they didn’t really like each other much anymore. So now here I am in my mid-30s, playing that game: who to spend what time with over the holidays.
Lucky for me, they only live about 90 miles apart. (I mean, it could be worse…they could live in different states.) But still…every year it’s the same story. How long am I going to stay with my mom? How long am I going to stay with my dad?
Mom owns a comfortable three bedroom, two bathroom home in a gated retirement community. There’s a gym and a swimming pool and a bike in her storage locker. She does not have any cats and her towels all match. There is a nail salon within walking distance, and wireless Internet access throughout her home and up at the clubhouse. (Yes, there’s a clubhouse. Where we play canasta. And bridge.)
Dad owns a one bedroom apartment in a condominium building in Fort Lauderdale. I can’t really walk anywhere from there without getting killed in traffic. He’s furnished his place in a style I can only call “early bachelor.” (La-Z Boy Recliner, big screen TV, etc.) He has a cat–Snickers–and I’m allergic. And he “borrows” his neighbor’s wireless Internet.
Call me crazy, but for me, this is not a difficult decision.
So visiting my father in Fort Lauderdale always gives me the opportunity to try out different hotels. I’m a huge fan of the boutique hotel, The Pillars, which is located right on the Intracoastal. (The intracoastal is a 3,000-mile (4,800-km) waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, providing a navigable route along the US southeast coast without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.) Last year, I stayed at the nearly brand new Hilton and found it amazingly clean and lovely. And a few years prior, I checked into The Atlantic, where I was upgraded to a spacious suite.
This time around, the price at The Ritz Carlton was too good to pass up. $239 a night. So I booked myself in and hopped into my mom’s Volvo for the short ride down. (That Volvo, by the way, cost me $30 to valet overnight. Uggh and perhaps the only dark moment during my stay.)
The Living Area in the Junior Suite at The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale
Imagine my surprise–seriously–when I checked in to The Ritz learn that I’d been upgraded to a Junior Suite. I wanted to make all sorts of plans to make the best use of the suite. Invite some people over. Write my novel. Get an in-room massage.
Instead, I popped open a bottle of the house chardonnay and checked out the view. And then I went downstairs for lunch.
Caesar Salad on The Pool Deck
This chicken caesar salad was a prototype for caesar salads everywhere. The dressing was perfect–creamy and peppery. It was also, as you can tell, extremely large. God bless America, really.
The View from The Pool Deck at The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale
My view at lunch was gorgeous. As you can maybe tell from the shadows, this was a bit of a late lunch. The beach was cast with golden shadows.
Chocolates at The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale
After a night of Latin dancing with my dad (seriously–this man loves the mambo), I came back to The Ritz to find these lovely chocolates, a bottle of water, and this nice note from The Ritz Carlton management.
Eggs Benedict at The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale
And when I woke up in the morning, I hopped down to breakfast to enjoy some of the best Eggs Benedict I think I’ve ever had. GREAT Hollandaise sauce, perhaps a bit more lemony than I’m used to, but as a fan of all things lemon, I was not disappointed.
The Verdict: For $239 a night, The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale is a no-brainer. And I haven’t even discussed the service! Each time I entered and left the hotel, it seemed like anywhere from four to eight people ran to open the door for me. When I told them I preferred The New York Times to USA Today, they delivered BOTH. And when they brought my car back when I checked out, they plied me with multiple bottles of water and all sorts of advice on the best way to get back up north.
In short, The Ritz Fort Lauderdale is one of those places where the service is so good that you can’t help but smile and think, “Well of course they’d do that. This is The Ritz, after all.”
The View of the Intracoastal from my Junior Suite at The Ritz Carlton, Fort Lauderdale
Life is good. I mean, it would be better if I had an ocean view. But looking out on Fort Lauderdale’s waterfront mansions from my upgraded room at The Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale (only $239 plus taxes!) isn’t so shabby either. I hope your holiday weekend is off to as nice a start as mine is!
Last summer, I was able to catch TBEX in Chicago and LOVED it, so I was kinda excited about zipping down to Florida to catch The Travel Bloggers’ Show.
But this was very much a last minute decision to go. Like booking the tickets on Friday to leave on Saturday. This could be expensive. Would there be any cheap flights?
Cheap flights, yes. Cheap taxis, no. I’ve decided that it costs $40 to get anywhere in Orlando. If you ever go to Orlando, rent a car.
While in Orlando, I stayed at The Rosen Center Hotel, right next to the convention center where the Travel Bloggers’ show was taking place. If you didn’t stay in hotels a lot, you’d probably like it here. Firstly, the first room they gave me? Someone had already been there. Secondly, the safe didn’t fit a laptop. And of course, no wireless Internet. Except for the lobby, where you had to pay for it. All that being said, Harry Rosen, the founder of Rosen Hotels, came and spoke to us one night and his story and philosophy is truly inspiring. (I tried to find a bio for him online but couldn’t, although I did find this interesting article.)
The silver lining? The sushi at the sweet little sushi bar in the Rosen Center was QUITE nice. You know you have a problem when the staff from the sushi bar recognize you the next day.
But I digress, as always. I was there for the Travel Bloggers’ Show. Check out this little video. Cracks me up.
Here’s what I learned at The Travel Bloggers’ Show:
1. Find a niche. This was repeated over and over again. I used to be very good at this niche thing (i.e., London restaurants), but now I’m not so sure. Food for thought.
2. Find an editor. Everyone needs an editor. This is funny (to me) because many years ago, I was an editor at my university’s newspaper. And I will tell you…no one likes to be edited. I remember trying to correct its vs it’s unsuccessfully. And semicolons…I swear to God, please don’t use a semicolon unless you know how to use a semicolon. Ah…and commas. Please look up how to use a comma. If there (not their or they’re) is a conjunction connecting two independent clauses, the clause before the comma and the clause after the conjunction should be COMPLETE SENTENCES. In short…everyone needs an editor. Heck, I can barely remember how to spell “occasionally.” (Spell check, people. Spell check.) And yes yes I know…people in glass houses…
3. Create a page geared towards PRs, and explain your expectations and your philosophy towards dealing with PRs. (I haven’t gotten around to this yet.)
4. eBooks are where the money is at. You are never going to make money off of Google ads. Nomadic Matt’s eBook is a great example of this.
5. Labor for love, not money. Only a very very small number of people are living off their blogs.
6. If you’re on WordPress, consider the What Would Seth Godin Do? plugin. In short, treat your new site visitors differently than your old visitors.
7. Read Chris Elliott’s post on How to Become a Travel Blogger. Because he’s awesome.
I had a good time at The Travel Bloggers’ Show. But then again, I love this sort of thing. So hey..I’ve already registered for TBEX ’11 in Vancouver next June. Maybe I’ll see you there.
Archie's Seebreeze 401 South Ocean Drive Fort Pierce, Florida
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, December 20th
The Victims: My mom, Uncle George and Aunt Ursula, Cousin George
The Damage: Unknown. They paid for me.
The Background: Parts of Florida are very brand new and shiny. But then there are other parts that are beat-up and hurricane-weathered. A lot of Fort Pierce is like that.
I like the old places. Like Archie's Seebreeze. Where the license plates on the ceiling weren't bought on eBay.
I like the burgers at Archie's. Super cheap. Very good. When I request that they toast the bun, the waitress looks at me like I'm from Mars. "Of course we toast the bun. Where have you been eating?"
I like the sweet potato fries a lot. Although I'm concerned by the packet of mayonnaise that's been delivered with my plate.
I like that the menu is part menu, part advertisements for local businesses. Because that's what Archie's Seabreeze is. It's a local joint. So while many of you might never get a chance to visit Archie's, it's nice to know that these sorts of places still exist.
California Grill Disney's Contemporary Hotel 4600 N World Dr 15th Fl Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Date of Last Visit: Thursday, December 17th, 2009
The Victim: My cousin George
The Damage: A LOT. Like $225 for the two of us. (Not each.)
The Background: I'm not much of a creature of habit. I don't like to go to the same restaurants over and over again. I can't see bands multiple nights in concert. I get bored easily.
But after many Christmases around Orlando, the California Grill in Disney's Contemporary Hotel is about the only place I'll eat. So I will gladly go back there, year after year.
But here's the thing…the place books up AGES in advance around Christmas. Because everyone wants to see the fireworks above the Magic Kingdom. (Great views from The Contemporary.) So although we tried and tried and tried to get a booking, we had to try our luck with just showing up and getting a seat at the bar.
Which you can see from the photo above was not a problem.
Ah portion size in America. My "Snake in the Grass" starter–Barbecued Eel with Shrimp Tempura, Avocado, and Cucumber–was huge. I was expecting six, maybe eight pieces in the roll. There were 12. TWELVE. I tried to give this away to the drunk guys that sat down next to us at the bar but they told me, "We don't eat sushi in West Virginia."
When I'm in Florida, I like to eat grouper and dolphin (the fish, not the mammal) because both are native to Florida. (You might also know dolphin fish as mahi-mahi. Seriously, no relation to Flipper.) California Grill did not disappoint in that respect, and I ordered the Pan-roasted Florida Black Grouper Fillet with "Stir-fry" Vegetables, Sticky Rice, Ginger-Soy-Hijiki Broth. (Talk about unnecessary quotation marks.)
Seriously though…this was huge. I started getting this buzzing between my ears as I tried to finish it. I sat there thinking, "This is when it would be really nice to have a boyfriend." Did it taste good? Yes. But I was so distracted by its sheer size that it was hard to focus on the taste.
All of this was washed down with some lovely Californian wines. California Grill is good like that.
The Verdict: After dinner, a woman at the bar (also from West Virginia) invited us back to her campsite. As long as we brought our own Bud Light Lime. So we totally ended the evening on a high note. I can't wait to go back in 2010!