Orlando remains the theme park capital of the world: Where to stay and play

By Alexandra Cohen

Orlando, Florida (www.visitOrlando.com) has long been known as the theme park capital of the world, making it an ideal visiting location for people of all ages, including both children and Disney Adults. While I had visited the city with great enthusiasm as a child, this was my first time returning in my adult years, and I am pleased to report that it has not at all lost its magic and wonder.

WHERE TO STAY: While Orlando has more than 490 unique properties to choose from, we chose to stay at the JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa, a beautiful hotel that first opened its doors in 2020. Looking for action and fun? The hotel includes not only a pool, but also an Activity Garden for families which features the Mount Chelonia rock-climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course, and an open lawn to play giant chess. There is also the sixth-floor Kids Conservatory, which offers access to various games and arts and crafts. When you are ready to explore the city, the hotel offers a free shuttle service to take guests to the Disney World theme parks, as well as to Disney Springs, which is located less than 10 minutes from the hotel. The shuttle service can be booked in advance, and if desired, will also pick you up from any of these destinations. 

The resort has 516 rooms, as well as 18 event/meeting rooms. It is only a 30-minute drive from the Orlando International Airport, and a 10 to 15-minute drive to the main Disney Parks. The property recently received a highly acclaimed Gold Badge from U.S. News & World Report, ranking as one of the Top 10 Best Hotels in Orlando. We stayed in a very comfortable room that overlooked the pools and featured two queen-sized beds, a fridge, both a shower and a bathtub, and an in-room safe. For those traveling in larger groups, consider booking a suite, including one of the Family Suites which has two bedrooms and sleeps up to nine people. 

While Orlando is best known for its amusement parks, the primary purpose of our trip was relaxation, hence our selection of this fantastic hotel. This JW Marriott property features two pools – a larger and more shallow family pool with sparkling fountains and zero-entry, as well as a neighboring, slightly smaller adult pool for those looking for peace, quiet, and a splash-free zone. The adult pool area is completed by a soothing hot tub. 

The service at these pools is truly outstanding. From the moment of your arrival, there is a clear sense of luxury as the poolside attendants happily set you up with towels at whichever pool you choose, opening your umbrella for you and moving it as necessary should you be looking for some shade. There was no shortage of lounge chairs available, no matter the time of day that we came by. Once you are settled in your seats, the staff will bring you your pitcher of water, which is refreshed as needed throughout the day, and they also occasionally come by offering samples of some of the pool restaurant’s menu items or offering to polish your sunglasses for you. We truly never wanted to leave!

For those looking to further elevate their comfort at the pool, one option is to reserve a personal cabana. During my time in the cabana, I was treated to a sectional couch with a fan, a 43-inch Satellite TV, a personal safe, a mini fridge, scented towels, a fruit platter, as well as a platter of sweet and salty snacks. Poolside cabanas must be booked for an entire day. See this link for more information: https://jwbonnetcreek.ipoolside.com/

Looking to step up the relaxation yet again? Look no further than Spa by JW, which is 10,000 square feet of luxury. I had the opportunity to try out the 50-minute Magnesium Oil Infused Massage, which was incredibly well done and also included the use of some sound bowls. While I had never incorporated sound bowls into a massage before, the effect was incredibly peaceful and added to the experience. In addition to massages, other options include a variety of facials, body treatments, as well as hair and makeup services. With the purchase of any service or treatment, guests also have access to the co-ed relaxation lounge, spa steam room, sauna, showers, and locker rooms. 

The minimum age for spa access is 18. Upon exiting, you have access to a boutique featuring a variety of high-quality products for all face and body needs. Spa by JW is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm.

Hungry? The hotel offers plenty of dining options for any mood and budget. On the hotel’s main floor, consider starting with their signature Sear + Sea steakhouse, which offers both a nice interior and a small patio overlooking the pool. We sampled some of the mouth-watering options on their menu, including some oysters and their creative take on a burrata salad to start, followed by a 16oz ribeye cooked to perfection and paired with a potato puree. For dessert: the chocolate dome, which tastes just as good as it sounds and is covered in a warm salted caramel sauce for extra measure. The restaurant also has a complete wine list and cocktail menu – we tasted the rosemary beret cocktail which certainly did not disappoint. 

For another dining option, consider the ninth-floor rooftop lounge, Illume, which features a menu of creative and hand-crafted cocktails, sushi, and Asian tapas. For dinner, we enjoyed two fantastic maki rolls, including one of the chef’s daily specials and the oki rule, which included snow crab, avocado, cucumber, salmon, tuna, yellowtail, spicy mayo, and fried shallots. We also tried the beef tenderloin bao buns paired with scallions, toasted peanuts, yuzu aioli, and cabbage slaw, which were incredibly satisfying. One of the highlights of Illume, however, is the cocktails, which are both tasty and served beautifully. We enjoyed the ILLUMination cocktail, which includes Casa Noble blanco tequila, passion fruit liqueur, agave nectar, and lime, as well as the Lychee Martini. Later in the evening, we were treated to a view of the Disney fireworks from our rooftop perch. 

Other dining options at the hotel include UnReserved, a European-inspired, food-hall-style restaurant with all-day dining, Palm Cove, the poolside grill, and the JW Market, which serves grab-and-go coffee, drinks, snacks, gelato, and all-day breakfast offerings. 

JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa is located at 14900 Chelonia Parkway. For more information, log on to www.jwmarriottorlandobonnetcreek.com

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS: When trying to select a theme park, the options are limitless. While I had visited several as a child, I did not doubt my return to Orlando that the Universal Parks were at the top of my list (www.UniversalOrlando.com). 

Outside of its separate water park, Universal features two distinct parks that one may wish to explore: Universal Studios, and Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Visit one, visit both separately, or visit both in the same day by purchasing a park-to-park pass. Amongst other attractions, Universal Studios features areas tributing various cities, including Hollywood, New York, and San Francisco, as well as Minion Land and Springfield, USA: Home of the Simpsons. Universal’s Islands of Adventure includes Marvel Superhero Island, Skull Island, Jurassic Park, Seuss Landing, and more. 

That being said, the highlight for me was, without a doubt, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Harry Potter universe is a must-visit for all fans of the books and movies and sprawls over both Universal Parks. Visit the famed Diagon Alley over at Universal Studios, where you can visit all of the shops so well-known from the series, including Gringotts Money Exchange, Ollivanders, and more. The main ride at this location is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. When you are done in Diagon Alley, make your way to Platform 9 and ¾ and take the Hogwarts Express from King’s Cross Station to Hogsmeade, which is found over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. To make this trip, you will need to have purchased a Park-to-Park admission ticket, however, or will need to own an Annual/Seasonal Pass. 

Over at Hogsmeade, which is also superbly decorated to reflect scenes from the films, explore a few more shops, have a bite to eat at famous destinations such as Hog’s Head or Three Broomsticks, and try out a few more rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was my personal favourite of the day, as well as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Flight of the Hippogriff. Stroll by the stage to watch performances by the frog choir or from the Triwizard Spirit Rally – the performance schedule can be viewed on the Universal phone app. Another highlight of Hogsmeade is the beautifully constructed replica of Hogwarts Castle, which is the perfect photo opportunity. 

For an extra fee, guests can purchase the Express Pass, allowing them to skip the regular lines. Buy a regular Express Pass for as little as $79.99 to skip the regular lines one time per participating ride, or buy an Express Unlimited Pass for as little as $109.99 to skip the regular lines as often as desired. Note that most but not all rides at the park offer an express line. The list can be found on the Universal website. 

DINING OUT: While its world-famous theme parks are certainly the headlines, Orlando has increasingly been recognized for its culinary scene in recent years. The website WalletHub recently named Orlando the 2023 Best Foodie City in America. 

During my recent trip, I discovered the wonders of Disney Springs, which is a top-rated entertainment, dining, and retail district formerly known as Downtown Disney. Disney Springs is a completely outdoor district featuring 120 acres of boutiques, restaurants, and entertainment. Watch the Magic Kingdom or Epcot nightly fireworks from a patio, or take to the sky in the Disney Springs hot air balloon. Furthermore, families can enjoy the Disney Springs Kids Club every Saturday, a free experience featuring interactive entertainment for all ages located at The Landing. 

WINE BAR GEORGE: For my first visit to Disney Springs, I was pleased to sit out on the patio at Wine Bar George (https://winebargeorge.com/). With Wine Bar George being a predominantly tapas-style restaurant, I decided to embrace the experience and sampled some of their small plates, including an out-of-this-world artisanal cheese plate that featured four different types of cheese paired with almonds, honey, fig jam, and olives. Other delicious treats included their New Zealand Lamp Chops, which are served with black garlic purée, salted onions, and an herb vinaigrette, as well as the crispy mac & cheese bites with tomato nage and pecorino. 

The true highlight of the restaurant, however, is, as its name implies, the wine. Wine Bar George is the only restaurant in North America to offer more than 200 wines, all available by the glass, by the bottle, or in some cases, even by the ounce. A series of wine flights are also available for those keen on multiple tastings. The restaurant servers are incredibly knowledgeable, and my dining partner and I were very well-guided when it came to making our selections. To ensure that such helpful guest interactions are always the standard, the Wine Bar George team conducts regular wine tastings and education sessions. Of course, there are also always Certified Sommeliers, an advanced Sommelier, and/or a Master Sommelier present in the restaurant to support both servers and guests in making the best possible choices. 

Wine Bar George is more than just a dining destination – it is a dining experience. For more information, follow the restaurant on social media @WineBarGeorge or visit https://winebargeorge.com/

MORIMOTO ASIA: Also at Disney Springs, the fantastic Morimoto Asia restaurant looms tall. Helmed by famous Japanese Master Chef Masaharu Morimoto, this pan-Asian, two-story destination is not to be missed. Chef Morimoto opened his first restaurant in Hiroshima in 1980 before eventually establishing himself in New York City, where he was eventually head chef at the well-known Japanese restaurant, Nobu. It was while he was at Nobu that he began his career on the Iron Chef television show, where he made his name in particular with his famed dish, “Buri-Bop”, his take on Bibimbap with yellowtail fish instead of meat. I had the pleasure of sampling this delicious dish during my visit – it was cooked table-side with fried rice, egg yolk, and Korean-style yellowtail served in a hot clay pot. Another fantastic dish was the Mongolian Filet, which is a 10oz Angus beef tenderloin served with wok sauteed scallion, bean sprout, mixed mushroom, and sweet Szechuan sauce. The menu truly includes something for everyone, with a series of small plates, dim sum, vegetable dishes, ramen, rice and noodles, and seafood. Another signature dish that I did not have the chance to taste is the Morimoto Peking Duck, which is a carved house-roasted whole duck meant to be shared between two. 

Sushi lovers are in for quite the experience at Morimoto Asia! While sushi and sashimi can be ordered a la carte, another option would be to order one of the several available combos, platters, and towers/pagodas, which allow for the chef’s selections to be brought to the table for a tasting experience. All fish is fresh and flown in daily from Japan, including the seasonal Japanese cherry blossom salmon (Sakura masu) that I had the pleasure of tasting. I also sampled the bluefin tuna (o-toro) and the golden eye snapper (kinmedai), as well as some fresh oysters served with dressings including a yuzu ceviche, cocktail sauce, and soy sauce. 

My meal was coupled with one of their highball cocktails – the restaurant’s Suntory custom highball machine dispenses super chilled, highly carbonated soda water, which is described in the menu to be 5x the carbonation of regular soda water and 1.5x that of champagne. My highball was called The Forgotten, with ingredients including haku Japanese vodka, strawberry rose, yuzu, and soda water. For dessert, I enjoyed the yuzu pie, the restaurant’s unique take on a key lime pie, which was coupled with white chocolate vanilla cream and a blueberry compote. Other dessert options include churro donuts, Japanese souffle cheesecake, gelato, and sorbet. 

While the taste of this excellent meal was the true highlight, the restaurant also features a nice ambiance. The building’s 36-foot-tall layout includes lounges, private dining spaces, a glass-encased kitchen with a view of the culinary action, an outdoor patio, and a second-level sushi bar and lounge with a separate entrance. The custom glass beaded chandeliers and glass mosaics, based on ancient Japanese prints, further add to the aesthetic. 

The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Call 407-939-6686 or log on to https://www.morimotoasia.com/ for more information. 

 SOPHIA’S TRATTORIA: The Conrad Orlando, which is Orlando’s first Hilton luxury brand 5-star hotel, opened recently this past January, situated at the Evermore Orlando Resort. I had the privilege of experiencing this beautiful new property through the newly launched restaurant, Sophia’s Trattoria (https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/orlcici-conrad-orlando/dining/sophias-trattoria/).

Sophia’s Trattoria is found on the hotel’s first floor, with its patio directly facing the hotel’s picturesque lagoon and man-made beach. Both the restaurant’s aesthetic and menu are meant to celebrate the coastal-inspired Southern Italian cuisine, with dishes including wood-fired pizzas, handmade pasta, fish, and meat. 

For our meal, we started with the tasty baked fontina, dressed with garlic and thyme, and Bellini cocktails. We shared the whole branzino for our main course, which was served with sauce vierge, lemon confit, and fine herbs. For dessert, we enjoyed a truly decadent tiramisu. 

Dinner service here is from 5 pm until 10 pm. For more information, call (407) 387-2000 or log on to https://www.hilton.com/en/hotels/orlcici-conrad-orlando/ 

OTHER ATTRACTIONS: While we did not have time to explore all that Orlando has to offer, here are a few other suggestions for your consideration. 

Within a short distance of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you can find Disney’s Boardwalk. Inspired by Atlantic City, the boardwalk features free admission to stroll along a Coney Island-style boardwalk with complimentary evening entertainment including jugglers, comedians, and fire-eaters. It is connected to Disney’s ferry system via the adjacent Disney’s Boardwalk Villas. 

Whether or not you plan on buying tickets to any of the Universal theme parks, check out the action-packed Universal CityWalk, which features several themed restaurants, nightclubs, a movie theatre, shopping, and access to all of the Universal-themed merchandise. Parking is free after 6 pm. 

Love animals and nature? See more than 500 animals, including some rare and endangered species, and wander through 23 acres of lush, natural beauty at the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. As well, Gatorland is one of Orlando’s longest-running attractions, featuring 110 acres with thousands of alligators and crocodiles, plus a flight aviary, petting zoo, nature walk, splash pad play area, Bobcat Bayou, and more.  

This spring, LEGOLAND Florida Resort will debut the LEGO Ferrari Build & Race, which offers guests the experience of viewing a life-sized LEGO Ferrari Car and then building and testing it in one of three obstacle-laden test tracks. Young drivers can also enjoy the LEGO DUPLO Build Zone to design their own custom creations with larger bricks. 

Everything you need to know is at www.visitorlando.com

New York City: The magical city that never sleeps

By Alexandra Cohen

New York City has always ranked amongst my favourite places in the world to visit. It seems to buzz with an energy that is difficult to describe without feeling it for yourself. Of course, I was thrilled when the opportunity presented itself for my friend and me to head over there for a long weekend. We certainly made the most of every minute that we had! 

During our visit, we stayed at Arlo Midtown, a two-year-old hotel property located right between Times Square and the Hudson Yards, on 38th Street and 9th Avenue. If the hotel name sounds familiar to you, perhaps that is because Arlo Hotels is an independent, four-star lifestyle hotel brand, with two other locations in New York City, two in Miami, and the newest property that has just opened in Chicago. Featuring 489 guest rooms and suites, Arlo Midtown also features a modern-looking lobby bathed in greenery, with a coffee shop and plenty of comfortable, cushioned seating. 

While the hotel has six different room types available for all travelers, my friend and I stayed in a King room on the 20th floor, which featured an incredibly comfortable bed, a view of nearby skyscrapers, and calming colour palettes of white, grey, and light blue. One of the room’s highlights was a comfortable window bench, which you will find in most of the hotel’s rooms. Rooms are also equipped with bedside wireless charging stations, Bluetooth radios, 55” LED TVs, and complimentary WiFi. The bathroom includes a glass-enclosed shower and softly backlit bathroom mirrors. 

Another hotel highlight is the rooftop, where you can soak up some beautiful panoramic views of the city, including the Empire State Building, from 26 stories as you socialize with friends, mingle with colleagues, or celebrate with family over craft beers, fine wines, creative cocktails, and light bites. 

The hotel’s business features include a variety of flexible meeting and event spaces, with seven venues offering a total of 7,334 square feet of meeting space spanning three floors. The hotel’s leisure facilities include a state-of-the-art fitness facility, outfitted with traditional weights and cardio equipment, in addition to Peloton bikes, an Interactive Fitness Mirror, a yoga studio, and more. 

An Urban Fee of $25 (plus tax) is added per night throughout your stay and covers the following perks: property-wide internet access, local and long-distance calls within the United States, complimentary Citi Bike day passes, the on-site gym, and two bottles of water when you check-in. The hotel also allows pets! Up to two dogs or cats are allowed per room, provided that they are under 75 pounds, for a fee of $20 (plus tax) per night. All animals must be registered with the front desk upon arrival. 

 Under the American Disabilities Act (ADA), Arlo Hotels is a hotel brand that provides accessible features for all properties and guests, from entrances and common areas to guest rooms, bathrooms, and communication tools. The independent hotel brand also strives to make its website and technology accessible to all, with the goal of providing guests with a successful and enjoyable experience, even if they are using assistive technologies like screen readers, magnifiers, voice recognition software, or video captions. From stepless entry into the hotel to wheelchair-accessible rooms, and meeting and lounge spaces, the hotel has taken everything into consideration. In public spaces, visual alarms and Braille signage alert and guide guests, and assistive listening devices are available upon request. Wheelchair and ADA-accessible rooms range from cozy doubles to airy terrace rooms and spacious suites, perfect for different traveling goals. Arlo Midtown’s state-of-the-art gym is also wheelchair accessible. For more information, visit www.arlohotels.com/arlo-midtown or call  212.343.7000 

PLENTY TO DO:  There is so much to do in the city. This includes Broadway shows, museums, tourist attractions like Ellis Island, the 9-11 Memorial, parks, shopping, fine dining, people-watching at Times Square, sports events and much more.

DINING OUT: A globally acclaimed burger joint, Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer, owned by husband and wife duo Chris Barish and Julie Mulligan, continues to expand within the United States, bringing their award-winning burgers and world-famous CrazyShake® milkshakes to fans in more than 21 locations globally. 

Black Tap, at first glance, is a classic burger joint with a downtown New York vibe. The menu offers something for everyone, from signature burgers like the All-American to chicken sandwiches, salads, wings, and various snacks. Black Tap’s burgers have won awards across the world, and they are now five-time winners at the New York City Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash competition for the wagyu beef burger called The Greg Norman, the Italian-American inspired Mulberry Street Burger, and most recently for The Wagyu Steakhouse Burger. Black Tap’s famous CrazyShake® milkshakes, known for being highly Instagrammable, have reached worldwide acclaim with their whimsical and over-the-top flavors such as The CakeShake® and the Cookies ‘N Cream Supreme. Since opening its first 15-seat location in New York’s Soho neighborhood, Black Tap has expanded to the West Coast with locations in Las Vegas and Anaheim at the Downtown Disney District® at Disneyland Resort, and internationally to Dubai, Geneva, Zurich, Verbier, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain.

We had a great time visiting Black Tap (www.blacktap.com) for the first time at the 35th Street location (known as Black Tap 35th). The space is inspired by 80s and 90s music, including an installation of 5,000 custom-designed cassette tapes and an oversized neon boombox. At the stand-alone Shake Bar—the first in New York—guests can get a glimpse into the magic of making one of Black Tap’s famous milkshake creations. 

New York-based graffiti artists and twin brothers How and Nosm designed Black Tap 35th’s signature street art murals. Known for their large-scale installations and unique, complicated compositions, How and Nosm left their mark on the restaurant with their signature style of red, black, and white imagery. 

Wanting to experience some of the restaurant’s award-winning burgers, my friend and I elected to try The Greg Norman, which is topped off with house buttermilk-dill, blue cheese, and arugula, and The Wagyu Steakhouse Burger, which includes pepper jack cheese, bacon, crispy onions, A1 sauce, and roasted garlic mayo. Both burgers were delicious, but the true highlight of the meal was the accompanying milkshakes. Restaurant-goers at nearby tables whose food had not arrived genuinely stopped to gawk when our server brought us our CakeShake and Strawberry Shortcake CrazyShakes.  The size of an entire meal all on its own, my CakeShake included a cake batter milkshake with a vanilla-frosted rim, rainbow sprinkles, and whipped cream, all of which was topped off with an entire piece of Funfetti cake. 

Black Tap 35th is located at 45 West 35th Street and is open from 11 am to midnight daily.  You can call (646) 943-5135 for more information, or take a look at their social media for mouth-watering pictures. 

There is a wheelchair access ramp to the left of the front door that goes into the hotel next door, where there is a side entrance leading into the restaurant. They have a few different seating places for handicap accessibility, as well as an ADA bar seating area. The ADA-accessible bathroom is located in the back of the restaurant.

Fort Lauderdale: a sunny year-round destination with plenty to do for all age groups

By Alexandra Cohen

With the weather having been so freezing lately here in Canada, I was thrilled to make my escape for a winter getaway in the sunny state of Florida. For the first time, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Lauderdale, which was a real treat (https://www.visitlauderdale.com).

Fort Lauderdale is the largest municipality in Broward County, which encompasses 1,197 square miles, with 24 miles of Atlantic Ocean beach. It has a resident population of over 1.95 million people.
While previously known as a quiet beach community, Fort Lauderdale has been known as a hot spot for Spring Breakers ever since the December 1960 film “Where the Boys Are,” which was shot on location in the Fort Lauderdale area. Outside of Spring Break, however, Fort Lauderdale is now known worldwide as a year-round destination with plenty to do for all age groups.

Fort Lauderdale has been nicknamed the Venice of America due to its 300 miles of inland waterways. There are plenty of ways to explore the Intracoastal, which is lined with impressive mansions and yachts – check it out on a paddleboard, water taxi, or even on a Las Olas Gondola.

The area is also known for its sea turtle nesting season, which takes place from March through October of every year. It is not unusual when going for a walk along the beach to encounter a nest – they will be well-marked due to a robust sea turtle conservation program in Broward County. We came across several signs raising awareness about sea turtles during our trip. These babies need lots of help and care, as sadly only approximately one in 1,000 survive.

If you are seeking out a free and sustainable method to get around town, look no further than the Micro Mover, which is a fantastic ride-share service available to those wishing to explore areas such as downtown, Las Olas, and the beach. Download the “Ride Circuit” app to book your ride.

For some family fun in the sun, you may wish to try out the local mini-golf experience. Pixar Putt is an 18-hole pop-up experience that will be open until March 26th. The experience features iconic characters from many of Pixar’s most beloved films, including Toy Story, Inside Out, Finding Nemo, Coco, and more. It is open 7 days a week and includes after-dark sessions for those 18+.

If shopping is something that you hope to do in Florida, look no further than Sawgrass Mills, the world’s largest single-story discount mall. Further discount shopping can be accomplished at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, which is the largest indoor/outdoor flea market down South. For a more traditional shopping experience, The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale is a more upscale shopping mall with stores including Macy’s, Michael Kors, and much more.

COMING SOON: The Florida Panthers organization is revitalizing the War Memorial Auditorium and is constructing a new state-of-the-art practice and community ice facility in Fort Lauderdale. This is slated for a 2023 debut, though the exact opening date has yet to be announced. Upon its completion, the new 144,000 sq. foot sports and entertainment venue will house South Florida’s first-of-its-kind ballroom-style concert and performance venue, capable of accommodating up to 3,800 people for intimate live music and events. The redesigned theater will carefully preserve the iconic War Memorial Auditorium’s classic art-deco character, while new enhancements and technical upgrades will modernize the space to accommodate global tour productions and larger-scale events. The addition of a state-of-the-art practice facility will feature two regulation-sized indoor ice rinks, including a dedicated public rink that will host a robust variety of youth and adult hockey programs, public skating, and figure skating for those of all ages.  

INCLUSIVITY: “Visit Lauderdale”, the official Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) for Greater Fort Lauderdale in South Florida, recently unveiled its new brand campaign “Everyone Under the Sun.” The vibrant campaign reflects Greater Fort Lauderdale’s welcoming and inclusive community. People from more than 170 countries speaking 147 languages call Greater Fort Lauderdale home. The brand campaign features plenty of surprising twists to not only highlight how different Greater Fort Lauderdale is from other destinations but to also invite “everyone under the sun” to enjoy its one-of-a-kind offerings. The new campaign showcases accessible beaches, thrilling outdoor adventures, immersive nature encounters, shopping, in-pool meetings, dock and dining opportunities, pampering, romance, and memory-making experiences.

WHERE TO STAY: There are close to 600 lodging establishments, with more than 37,000 hotel rooms in the area, ranging from luxurious high-rises to smaller boutique hotels and motels. The diverse mix of Greater Fort Lauderdale accommodations encompasses oceanfront and inland properties, specialized spa resorts, as well as meeting and convention facilities.

During my trip, I chose to stay at the B Ocean Resort (https://www.boceanresort.com/), which many people may remember as the former Sheraton Yankee Clipper.

The B Brand caters to the following aspirations through its signature elements and programming: B Nourished® as it relates to the mind, body and soul; B Adventurous by exploring the world and self-potential; and B Compassionate by actively caring for the community and the environment
Along with a fresh, contemporary design and a desirable beachfront location, B Ocean Resort offers a unique experience allowing both travelers and staycationers to fully immerse themselves in the destination from the second they step foot through the door. The resort is conveniently located in the heart of the city, around 15 minutes from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Port Everglades, downtown Las Olas Boulevard and along the famed coastal highway A1A.

Originally built in 1956 as the Yankee Clipper, named after its ship-like structure, the hotel quickly became a popular place to visit for American favorites such as Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, and many more. As one of the few beachfront hotels in the city along the Atlantic Ocean, the B Ocean Resort has incorporated some historic elements and has blended them to create a more modern, sleek, and stylish feel.

The B Ocean Resort offers 481 spacious guest rooms and suites, ranging in size from 300 sq. ft. to a lavish 1,700 sq. ft. – all of which are inspired by the property’s serene oceanfront location. Guests can choose from room categories including the Chic Room, the Captivating Room, the Stunning Room, the B Enhanced Junior Suite, the Posh Suite, or the Master Suite. Along with the B Hotels & Resorts® signature Blissful Bed®, each room has sleek custom furnishings, a 55″ HD LED interactive flat-screen television, bath amenities, a coffee maker, an in-room safe and a mini fridge, as well as electrical power hubs equipped with convenient USB, USB-C, and international outlet plug-ins. We were very pleased with our accommodations.

Beyond the guestrooms, the B Ocean Resort features a spacious lobby and several meeting spaces. Guests may choose to relax at either of the hotel’s two outdoor swimming pools, one of which is a fairly large infinity pool conveniently located right on the beach. The private beach offers every guest two free beach loungers and towels per room, with the option to also rent umbrellas when the weather permits. Beach-side service is provided, with food and drinks from the beachside restaurant The Salty Siren being delivered right to your seat.

The hotel also includes a 24-hour state-of-the-art B Active® Fitness Center, two B Indulged® Spa Suites, and over 14,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor meeting space that has expanded onto the second floor. The second-floor Point Room offers floor-to-ceiling windows with an attached spacious outdoor beachfront terrace – it is an ideal venue for high-end corporate and social events.  B Ocean’s private beach, pool decks, and first-level ballroom are also available for large group events, meetings, or weddings.

The hotel has five restaurants on site. The Salty Siren, as mentioned, is the hotel’s poolside restaurant. Otherwise, the hotel offers seafood and Mediterranean cuisine at the Naked Crab, drinks and brunch with mermaid shows and burlesque shows at the Wreck Bar, more drinks and cocktails at the Florida Bar in the lobby, and the grab-and-go Clipper Express, which includes offerings such as bagels, croissants, muffins, juice, coffee, and chips. Come by in the evening for grab-and-go sushi as well!

A little bit more about the shows:

Mermaid Aqua Burlesque Show: Perfect for those seeking a unique, next-level nightlife experience, the adults-only Aqua Burlesque show produced by MeduSirena promises to be an unforgettable night. The show starts every Friday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), as well as every Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) and 11 p.m. (doors open at 10 p.m.)

Aquamen Underwater Boylesque Show: The only underwater male burlesque show in the United States, the adults-only Aqua Boylesque show produced by MeduSirena is also part of the Wreck Bar’s line-up. This show starts every other Thursday night at 8:30 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)

Mermaid Elle & Friends: For an exciting mermaid encounter that the whole family can enjoy, the all-new, interactive Coral Reef Mermaid show follows the story of South Florida mermaids who need to find their magical gadgets in order to return back home. The show aims to both entertain and educate as it demonstrates how pollutants harm the ocean’s delicate ecosystems and explains how recycling aids in the continued protection of coral reefs. This exciting adventure starts every Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. and includes lunch (doors open at 11 a.m.). During my stay, I overheard a little girl exiting the show with her mother, enthusiastically proclaiming “the mermaid was real!”

Mermaids & Mimosas Sunday Brunch: During B Ocean Resort’s signature Sunday brunch, guests can enjoy a delicious meal with bottomless mimosas, while watching mermaids swim in the background. This takes place every Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Yoga, Mermaids and Mimosas: Every Sunday morning, B Ocean Resort offers a relaxing and restorative one-hour yoga class by the Atlantic Ocean. After the class, yogis are invited to join the Mermaids & Mimosas Sunday Brunch at the Wreck Bar. The class takes place every Sunday from 10 a.m. – 11: a.m.

Splash Into The Past: which takes place every Wednesday at Wreck Bar, is the newest show. Presented by Tropical Sirens Entertainment and directed by Leydis Castillo, the live, interactive show takes visitors on a voyage back in time through the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and 2000s. Travelers can experience an unforgettable night of trivia, games, singalongs and dancing alongside the magnificent mermaid. Costumes are welcomed and encouraged, with prizes given to the most creatively dressed guest of the night each week. Doors open at 6 p.m. for drinks and/or dinner, and the show starts at 8 p.m.  Admission is $45 per adult (guests must be 18+) with a $35 credit toward food and beverages purchased during the show. Advanced reservations are required for all mermaid shows. For more information or to reserve tickets, visit https://www.boceanresort.com/mermaids-at-the-wreck-bar/.

See our interview with Leydis in costume: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3qR6Jx-khw

In terms of accessibility, the hotel has ramps at the pool, as well as connecting the pool to the beach. There is also a ramp available to connect the hotel’s different towers. Both pools feature ADA Pool lifts. The resort offers valet parking at the main entrance to the lobby. There are guest rooms available that feature roll-in showers or accessible bathtubs.

The CEO and founder of B Hotels & Resorts are Ayelet Weinstein, who started working in multi-family and condo conversions in 1996. In 2004, she became interested in a local building that she assumed to be an apartment building. After pursuing the building and learning it was, in fact, a hotel, she discovered a passion for the hospitality industry and has remained involved ever since.

“I was immediately intrigued,” Weinstein told Lodging Magazine. “I was fascinated by the hospitality business model and the industry’s depth and complexity. During the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, InSite Group, where I was a senior vice president, started to look more into hotels and basically switched its focus from multi-family to hospitality.”

“B Hotels creates an environment that encourages living life to its fullest potential. It’s in our blood,” Weinstein described. “Life in general is a collection of experiences. Travel and work play major roles in that experience, and we were able to bring these components together.”

The B Hotel and Resort is located at 1140 Seabreeze Blvd. For more details go to www.boceanresort.com or call 1-954-524-5551. B Hotels also has locations in the Florida Keys and in the Disney Springs area in Lake Buena Vista. Visit http://www.bhotelsandresorts.com.

BOUCHER BROTHERS ON THE BEACH: We were thrilled to discover that The B Hotel & Resort partners with the award-winning Boucher Brothers Management (www.boucherbrothers.com) in order to pamper guests while at the beach.  I have had the pleasure of experiencing their fantastic work before during previous stays at hotels in the Hollywood and St. Petersburg areas.

Boucher Brothers is a Hospitality Management Company that specializes in a variety of outlets including pool, beach, food and beverage, water sports and team-building activities.  They are a forward-thinking and proficient hospitality company expanding across North America. The company currently owns a portfolio of over 100 hotels and condominium properties, 45 blocks of public beach throughout Florida’s east and west coasts, 50 blocks of public beach in Virginia Beach, and four beaches around Lake Michigan in Chicago. They also do corporate team building and team events.

The Boucher Brothers know that when you come to the beach, you want to relax and feel pampered – their courteous and friendly staff does just that. The Boucher Brothers team provided excellent service during my stay. Upon your arrival at the beach, they will set you up with your free beach chairs, as well as an umbrella if you wish. Further, you have the option to rent the more luxurious sun loungers, with comfortable cushioning and unobstructed views of the ocean. Servers from the hotel restaurant, The Salty Siren, come right to your seat to take your order, further enhancing your relaxation.

In terms of beach sports, the Boucher Brothers have collaborated with BouYah Watersports. If you wish, you can arrange for jet skis, kayaks, banana boat rides, or paddle boards. The closest BouYah Watersports location to the B Ocean is at the Marriott Harbor Beach, which is a six-minute walk from the hotel. Guests can reserve their adventure directly online at https://bouyahwatersports.com/marriott-harbor-beach/

In terms of special needs, the Boucher Brothers have teamed up with the City of Miami Beach in offering immobile guests an easy transition to the beach. The Miami Beach Ocean Rescue team is considered the best in the United States. With them, they are able to partner up and offer beach-friendly wheelchairs, which are equipped with large wide wheels that can roll across the sand at ease without sinking. “We take the Americans with disabilities act very seriously and that’s why we have joined forces with the city to help everyone enjoy their experience at the beach,” the company states. If you are in that area, make sure to call ahead and reserve your beach wheelchair since quantities are limited. The number is (305) 673-7714 and you can pick it up at the Beach Patrol Headquarters located at 1001 Ocean Drive.

DINING OUT: There are more than 4,000 wining and dining establishments and 132 nightclubs in Broward County. The culinary scene is filled with rising star chefs, exciting restaurants, breweries and pubs, coffee houses and scenic dock-and-dine eateries, along with many great hotel restaurants.

I experienced a few places during my stay.

The Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen + Cocktail Bar

Let’s start off with the Naked Crab Seafood Kitchen + Cocktail Bar, which was conveniently located right in our hotel lobby at the B Ocean Hotel and Resort. It was the most convenient place to dine after checking in right at dinnertime. The Naked Crab embodies authentic, local dining on Fort Lauderdale Beach. Executive Chef David Morales conceptualizes slightly different menus every season and blends together fresh ingredients and spices in order to create contemporary Mediterranean dishes influenced by the flavors of Europe, and North and South America. The menu is sourced locally using fresh seafood and produce from local farms.

To sample some items on the menu, I tried the crab cake as an appetizer, as well as the scallop risotto and the particularly tasty branzino. This was capped off with some tiramisu for dessert, which was also delicious.
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a weekend seafood brunch, locals and guests can relish in a seafood tower to share with the table or take advantage of the dry-aged prime steak. For breakfast, guests can enjoy a full menu of traditional staples and specialties, including lump crab benedict and crab avocado toast.

Matchbox Restaurant

We also experienced Matchbox Restaurant (www.matchboxrestaurants.com), part of an American chain that first opened in 2003. Matchbox currently has 15 locations, including Washington, Maryland, Virginia, and of course Florida. Matchbox is part of Thompson Hospitality, one of the largest retail food service management companies in the USA.

The Matchbox in Las Olas, Fort Lauderdale, opened in early 2022. It is located in a particularly trendy area that features dining and entertaining on the New River, with lovely water views.
Since its debut, Matchbox has become known for brick oven pizzas, mini burgers, fresh salads, and chef-inspired entrées, like Miso salmon and chimichurri steak frites. Diners can enjoy elevated American bistro fare crafted from high-quality ingredients. I particularly enjoyed their delicious cocktails, including the strawberry rose margarita and the peach lemon drop, as well as the spinach and artichoke dip, the aforementioned Miso salmon (a menu highlight!), as well as the chicken pesto pizza.
Warren Thompson, President and Chairman of Thompson Hospitality, started the company in 1992. It is built on values gained from 30 years of client, customer and community relationships. Veterans in the hospitality industry, the company currently owns and operates over three dozen restaurants. Other company-owned restaurants in the area include Big Buns and Willie T’s Seafood Shack.

The restaurant offers several handicap-accessible tables and a lowered bar area, as well as compliant restrooms. In order to enter, as you come out of the parking area, the sidewalk/courtyard has a ramp.
Matchbox is located at 221 SW 1St Avenue. You can call 954-751-5959 for a reservation. Visit https://www.matchboxrestaurants.com/.

The Lobster Bar and Sea Grill

When seeking out places to eat in Florida, one would be amiss to forget about the fantastic local seafood scene. I had the privilege of enjoying a meal at the Lobster Bar Sea Grille while in Fort Lauderdale (https://lobsterbarseagrille.com). The restaurant, located at 454 East Los Olas, offers an extensive selection of seafood, including, as mentioned in its name, a large array of lobster dishes.

The dining room features soft white herringbone subway-tiled walls and arched ceilings. Warm custom lighting creates an intimate and inviting ambiance. Clusters of sofas are located near the bar for cocktails before or after dinner, making it the perfect place to meet friends or business associates. Adjacent to the lounge is a fully covered outdoor patio with cushioned furniture, ideal for cocktails and light dining. Walls can be brought down in this outdoor space as well on a windy day to preserve client comfort.

During my meal, I had the opportunity to taste some oysters, the restaurant’s famed lobster morsels (lightly fried lobster with Greek honey-mustard aioli), Dover sole served with brown butter and a side dish of quinoa mixed with kale, the decadent Whole Lobster & Black Winter Truffle risotto dish, as well as some profiteroles to end the meal on a sweet note. Everything was delicious!

General Manager George Mollas notes how the restaurant presents freshly caught, both locally and internationally, whole fish. “Our seafood is as fresh as fresh can be; 48 hours from the water to the table,” he said. “The atmosphere of the Lobster Bar Sea Grille is a very swanky, upscale and sexy environment”

Mollas says that his team’s goal “is to exceed our guests’ expectations. We go the limit for our guests. Whatever they need we can deliver. As guests leave the restaurant, they let me know how much they enjoy the food we prepare for them and the wonderful atmosphere. In particular, they love our attention to detail.”

The restaurant is fully code-compliant with regard to handicapped accessibility.

It seats about 175 indoors and 50 outdoors and also features two private rooms (one seating up to 60 and one seating up to 80).

The Lobster Bar Sea Grille is part of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group, which also owns eight other restaurant brands. You can purchase the Ultimate Dining Gift Card, which never expires and can be reloaded.

For reservations call (954) 772-2675. The restaurant is open for lunch on weekdays and dinner seven nights a week.

On the famous Fort Lauderdale boulevard that leads to the beach, you will find the Friendship Café, which is situated right next to the Las Olas Chabad Jewish Center. Part of The Friendship Circle, a local non-profit here in Montreal, the kosher Mediterranean restaurant and coffee bar serves lunch and dinner options, from falafel hummus plates and salads to kebab pita sandwiches and vegetarian shawarma. They offer training and employment opportunities to people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

The New York Capital of Albany represents a quick and easy getaway for Montrealers

By Alexandra Cohen

ALBANY- I have been to the city of Albany, New York (https://www.albany.org/) many times. In January 2020, I made my last visit there just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, which put a pause on travel. Returning again more recently, I was reminded of why I like the state capital so much. In particular, I was fortunate to have a great place to stay.

WHERE TO STAY: One of the bonuses of a visit to Albany is the ability to visit some American stores not available to us here in Canada. Therefore, it was convenient that the Residence Inn Albany Washington Avenue Extension was just adjacent to the Crossgates Mall. The Residence Inn is an extended-stay hotel that is also just minutes from the Albany International Airport, the Empire State Plaza, and more. It is also under 30 minutes by car from the Saratoga Racetrack and the Global Foundries.

Staying at the Residence Inn feels like being at home, while still enjoying some excellent hotel services. You can choose between studios, one-bedroom suites, and two-bedroom suites, with the suites providing enough space for a full kitchen and separate areas where one can relax, work, and sleep. My family and I enjoyed the two-bedroom and two-bathroom suite, which was incredibly spacious.

Hotel amenities include free WiFi, daily hot breakfast, coffee, and tea. There is also an indoor pool and hot tub, a fitness center, a small convenience shop, and a laundry room. The lobby is quite nice with a large amount of seating, including a nice outdoor space to relax when the weather is appropriate.

The hotel is completely accessible, with elevators, a self-operating lift, and a sloped entry into the swimming pool. Service animals are always welcome. Accessibility features available to guests upon request include adjustable height hand-held shower wands, alarm clock telephone ringers, bathtub grab rails, a bathtub seat, closed caption TV, flashing door knockers, hearing accessible rooms, and lowered electrical outlets and deadbolts. Some of the bathrooms also contain non-slip grab rails and roll-in showers.

The hotel is located at 124 Washington Avenue Extension. For more information, you can call 518-218-7240 or log onto the hotel website: http://www.marriott.com/albwa.

ATTRACTIONS: Albany truly is a great place to shop, with a wide array of stores for all to enjoy. While we stayed close to the Crossgates Mall, it was also a quick and easy drive to the nearby Colonie Center as well. The majority of entrances at both malls are ADA accessible with ample parking distributed throughout. Wheelchair rentals are also available.

Crossgates Mall (https://www.shopcrossgates.com/) has been labeled as the largest shopping, dining and entertainment destination in New York’s Capital Region. It offers over 10 different entertainment experiences, providing something for every age group. Younger children and families don’t have to shop – they can bowl their hearts out, play the newest video arcade games, see an IMAX movie, or go down some colourful indoor slides. Crossgates offers dining options to suit any taste, including 12 sit-down restaurants, 11 food court options, two fast-casual eateries, and 16 snack spots.

Colonie Center (https://shopatcoloniecenter.com/), a 1.3 million square-foot enclosed two-level, regional shopping center with over 100 specialty stores, is at the heart of New York’s Capital Region. The center is anchored by a three-level Macy’s, Boscov’s and Sears. Colonie Center features popular retailers such as The Gap, New York & Company, Bath and Body Works, Kay Jewelers, American Eagle, Victoria’s Secret, Sephora, and Barnes & Noble. The center boasts the only Cheesecake Factory Restaurant and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in the capital region and a state-of-the-art all-digital Regal Cinema with a newly renovated RPX theater. Additional sit-down eateries include Five Guys Burgers & Fries and Moe’s Southwest Grill, as well as the second-level food court. The center sits at the intersection of Wolf Road and Central Avenue, is just 5 minutes from the Albany International Airport, and is accessible from Interstates 87 and 90.

Albany lies at the foot of the Adirondacks and the Catskill Mountains and is at the tip of the historic Hudson Valley Region. Within a short ride are the neighboring towns of Cooperstown and Saratoga Springs. Albany is home to several museums, historic homes, and outdoor activities such as boating, skiing, biking, and snowshoeing. Sights to consider exploring include the Million Dollar Staircase, the “Egg” at the Empire State Plaza, and more. Albany is also less than three hours from New York and Boston, if you’re looking to add more stops to your trip.

The exceptional Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida

By Alexandra Cohen

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA:  A number of years ago, my family joined friends for dinner at the Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida (http://www.diplomatresort.com).  Looking around at the beautiful facilities, I distinctly recall hoping to experience the hotel in its entirety one day.

Recently, that wish came true, our visit coming soon after the completion of a $100 million transformation of this oceanfront, all-encompassing destination resort offering a fresh new take on vacationing for all business and leisure travelers. From the Atlantic coast to the Intracoastal, the reinvented resort pays homage to the hotel’s storied past as a social hub, with a modern take on design and amenities, including a luxurious spa and more than 10 new culinary concepts.

Upon entering the Diplomat, the first thing that you notice is an open concept lobby with sweeping views of the ocean via the floor-to-ceiling windows of The Hotel Bar- the property’s wraparound indoor-outdoor bar.

ACCOMMODATIONS: The Diplomat is now part of Curio Collection by Hilton, a global set of upscale hotels handpicked for their unique character. We stayed in a gorgeous Oceanview Double Deluxe Room with a balcony, providing a beautiful and completely unobstructed view of the ocean. Wonderfully appointed, this retreat is both original and modern, with a gracious lounge area and workspace as well as a generous bath with both a glass-enclosed shower and a separate deep-soaking tub. In-room indulgences – luxe robes, plush bedding and Bigelow bath amenities – enhance the experience of Florida beachside living at its finest.

With 1,000 guest rooms – including a Presidential suite, 515 king rooms, and 484 double rooms, with 96 being suites – The Diplomat is the largest hotel in Broward County. Designed by the world’s leading hospitality interior design firm, Hirsch Bedner Associates, the resort’s stylish and thoughtfully designed rooms offer sophisticated spaces, befitting the prime beachfront location in Hollywood. A strong sense of place is woven throughout, reflecting a glamorous oceanfront design that nods to the storied history of the Diplomat Hotel of the 1950’s. Carefully selected artwork throughout the property highlights the local-regional lifestyle, with modernized spaces harkening back to the hotel’s vibrant past.

All rooms feature unobstructed ocean or Intracoastal vantage points, while most suites boast 180-degree views of the tropical surroundings, including a variety of premier suites, the Governor and Presidential suites. Suites exude a mixture of midcentury elements with refreshing ocean tones, creating the perfect backdrop to relax and recharge completely with hand-tufted rugs, natural wood furnishings, crisp white bedding backed by driftwood headboards, and nautical touches that speak to the location. Guestrooms at the property depict two separate design schemes: Sunrise and Sunset. Sunrise rooms are modern, vibrant and refreshing with earthy tones that provide a soothing, calm atmosphere accented with blue ocean colors. Sunset rooms conversely present a subtler, more modern and organic design scheme with views overlooking the famous South Florida west horizon, giving guests a front seat view to stunning sunsets.

DINING OPTIONS: The Diplomat has no shortage of exceptional dining options. We were there for four nights, and via the “Diplomat Restaurant Group” (DRG) there were no less than 10 innovative and surprising culinary destinations to choose from. Guests are welcome to Dock & Dine at Diplomat Landing’s 7-slip marina with 350 feet of linear dock or park complimentary valet and self-parking for up to four hours when dining on property. Unique dishes and drinks highlight ingenuity and variety, using locally sourced ingredients and fresh mixes for cocktails created on-site. Each destination is rooted in strong culinary sensibilities and exudes brand individuality, creating distinct spaces and experiences.

Let us certainly recommend breakfast at Point Royal, a coastal restaurant also open for lunch and dinner. This is a large dynamic buffet filled with almost every breakfast option imaginable, from house-made pastries and an inventive cereal bar to egg dishes, salads and grains. The salad bar, for instance, includes arugula, mix greens, cherry tomatoes, chickpeas, shaved radishes, cucumbers, pickled onions, parmesan cheese, poppy seed vinaigrette, cumin-lime vinaigrette and seasonal daily selections. You can choose from Florida smoked salmon, red onions, whipped cream cheese, capers, hard boiled eggs, assorted bagels, the Breakfast Reuben (corned beef, pickled cabbage, gruyère, scrambled egg, and comeback sauce), crispy breakfast potatoes, and much more. It is conveniently open from 6:30 am to 11:30 am.

Our first dinner was also at Point Royal (http://www.pointroyal-fl.com), part of famous chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s approachable American cuisine, complete with indoor/outdoor seating and a grand yet modern Raw Bar. We had previously experienced Zakarian’s excellent cuisine at his restaurant Georgie in Beverly Hills, so it was a given for us to pursue a reservation at Point Royal for dinner as well.

Complimentary parking is offered for guests who dine at Point Royal.  There were a variety of hand-crafted cocktails to choose from, and my dining partner opted for a satisfying rum passion fizz. While we looked at the menu, our fabulous server brought us some delicious cornbread and smoked honey butter (smoked in-house). Next, there was no question that we wanted to sample a seafood platter, so we opted for The Diplomat, featuring six oysters, six clams, an eight-ounce king crab, three pink shrimp, and half a Maine lobster. This was absolutely superb. We then shared some tossed heirloom lettuces, which included shaved carrots, radish, and aged sherry vinaigrette. The yellowfin tuna tartare, with avocado and chili-sesame seed vinaigrette, was next, followed by an order of roasted Maine diver scallops, which included baby turnips, fennel, herbs and smoked fish chowder. All in all, it was an amazing meal, which we capped off with the most decadent of desserts, a Black Forest meringue pie. The rich, dark chocolate pie crust was filled with a layer of sharp cherry curd, topped with light meringue rippled with dark chocolate.

We simply cannot wait to return and try some of the many other signature dishes, including the Pomegranate glazed short rib, steaks, the local black grouper, the grilled Spanish Octopus and the marinated baby kale just to name a few.

The next night, we also enjoyed a superb meal at Monkitail (https://www.monkitail.com), which won the top spot for Best Hotel Restaurant in USA Today’s 2017 Readers’ Choice Awards. After eating there ourselves, we no doubt understand why it was selected for this honor. Celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Schulson is at the helm; Monkitail is his seventh restaurant. The menu is a contemporary take on the classic izakaya, featuring shareable small plates and sushi as well as an array of specialty cocktails and saké. Surrounding an open robatayaki kitchen in the heart of the restaurant is a private dining area overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Tucked away beyond Monkitail’s main dining room is Nokku, a discreet cocktail lounge with four private rooms, each having full karaoke capabilities.

What an absolute treat this was! My dining partner started off with a blooming blossom drink from the cocktail menu.  We then proceeded to allow the chef to make a series of outstanding suggestions. This began with the hot Hamachi, toro caviar, and the big eye tuna special. The Edamame dumplings were specifically recommended to us, having won the nod for Best Bites of 2017 by noted South Florida food critic Michael Mayo. To say that this dish exceeded our expectations is an absolute understatement. As Mayo explains: “The dumplings are delicate and plump, round and dimpled, and resemble tortellini. They shimmer and almost float in a broth of sake and brown butter. They are stuffed with a delectable mix of pureed edamame, cream, truffle and caramelized scallion.”

The tasting continued with some Robatayaki lobster tail, skirt steak and short rib skewers, a duck scrapple bao bun, a tempura shrimp taco, an aged New York strip, and broiled sea bass with aioli and snap peas.  Just when we thought that the meal could not possibly get any better, our server brought us two excellent desserts. First came the fruit loop ice cream and almond joy, which came in mini cones. Next was a chocolate mousse with miniature brownies, cherries, and ice cream on top. What a meal! If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Hollywood, Florida, you must come to the Diplomat to dine.

Other food choices at the hotel include Bristol’s Burgers, Candy & Cones, Counter Point, Diplomat Prime, Nokku, Playa, Portico Beer & Wine Garden, and the Canteen, which includes snacks and ready-made sandwiches and salads. There is also the Diplomat Restaurant Delivery, providing room service from any of the dining establishments on the property.

For kosher food in Hollywood, you can try Sara’s, Big Apple Pizza, the Grand Café Espresso Bar, Hummus Factory, La’Chaim Meets China, Levinsky Roasting, Levy’s Kosher of Hollywood, Mizachi’s Pizza Kitchen, Mozart Cafe,  Pita Star,  Redwan’s Pita Bakery, Sylvia’s Kosher Place, Yum Berry Cafe and Sushi.

ACTIVITIES: The Diplomat is also perfect for family-focused guests, providing a variety of activities and amenities for all ages, meant to create happy, genuine and memorable vacation experiences.

In addition to the two beachfront pools, there is also jet skiing, ocean kayaking, paddleboard rentals, and the property’s newest addition, the Dip + Slide water play area. Designed with an interactive water bucket that playfully tips over when full, the area entertains young travelers and is strategically located to give parents a direct line of sight from the lagoon pool so they can still relax poolside. Pool amenities include complimentary towel service and full-service poolside lunch and spa services.

We marveled at panoramic views of the ocean from the edge of the infinity pool, which features a porthole bottom, and two waterfalls that cascade into the 240-foot lagoon pool below. You can cool off in the lagoon pool surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and sweeping views of the ocean. Conveniently, both pools are open from sunrise to sunset.

From sandcastle building and free arcade and poolside games to bounce houses and behind-the-scenes resort tours, guests aged four to 12 are always entertained and supervised at the fun-filled kids club, Ocean Ambassadors.

At The Diplomat Spa + Wellness Center, guests can recharge at the expansive 24-hour fitness center or get pampered at the new, full-service 14,000 square-foot spa overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. From healing massages and cleansing facials to energizing body treatments, a full-service spa experience awaits you. Before and after treatments, you can clear your mind in the relaxation room with a mesmerizing rain wall that invites calm. I had the opportunity to experience a 50-minute Diplomat Signature Spa Treatment, which I must strongly recommend. Be sure to make your spa reservations well in advance as space is limited. You can do so by calling the spa Concierge at 954.602.8400. A credit card is required to secure your appointment.

THE CABANA EXPERIENCE: Exclusively designed for The Diplomat, specialty cabanas created by fashion designer Trina Turk are available for rent on the lower floor of the pool deck, providing a relaxing and stylish oasis for the day. We were fortunate to spend an entire day in a private poolside cabana where we were pampered by the pool concierge and spoiled with generous amenities and a comfortable haven. Fourteen spacious poolside cabanas surround the lagoon pool and eleven upper cabanas offer a more secluded experience with sweeping ocean views from the upper deck. Located on the Lagoon Pool deck, poolside cabanas are equipped with flat-screen HD televisions, ceiling fans, mini-refrigerators stocked with six waters, interior seating with a table, a sun umbrella, two chaise lounges outside, and towel service. The cozy upper cabanas also come with amenities and services, which include interior seating with a table and sun umbrella, four chaise lounges outside, and towel service. Advanced reservations are recommended and are available to guests with a room reservation. Up to six guests may occupy an upper or lower cabana, both of which are open from 9 am to 6 pm.

While spending the day in our poolside cabana, we ordered lunch from Playa, a Beachfront Nuevo-Latina restaurant and bar featuring an extensive rum and tequila selection.

There is also The Diplomat Golf Club, The Diplomat Tennis Center and the Diplomat Marina. With 209,000 square feet of flexible function and meeting space, The Diplomat continues to serve as the premier location for business travel and large-scale conferences, weddings, and milestone celebrations.

BOUCHER BROTHERS ON THE BEACH: We were thrilled to discover that The Diplomat partners with the award-winning Boucher Brothers Management to pamper guests during their day on the beautiful Hollywood Beach.   We got to spend a day lounging in private daybeds and relaxing on a chaise for a luxurious take on ‘fun in the sun’. The team from the Boucher Brothers team could not have been nicer in setting us up, and they in fact came back several times during our stay to adjust the umbrellas and make sure everything was okay. Lunch and drinks were available right at our chairs. This service is available daily from 9 am to 6 pm. To reserve, call (954) 602-8690. When lunchtime came around, we started off with some drinks, followed by our burgers and chips. The orders were delivered in large plastic containers, with serving plates and cutlery inside.  In terms of beach rentals, run by the Boucher brothers and its BouYah Watersports Division (www.bouYahWaterSports.com), there are full and half day rates for chaise lounges, sand chairs, umbrellas, cabanas, and luxury queen and king beds. BouYah also rents out jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards. You can book your choice experience right at the hotel or call in advance and ask to be connected to someone from the Boucher Brothers team. This is an established firm with over 26 years of experience providing hospitality management solutions for resorts, hotels and condominiums.  They service dozens of hotels across Florida.  Kenny Gonzalez is the regional general manager covering Hollywood, Hallandale and Miami, and his team does a top-notch job.

LOCATION: Nestled between the aquamarine shores of the Atlantic Ocean and the peaceful Intracoastal Waterway, The Diplomat stands in the very heart of Hollywood. With an ideal location, the property’s transformation caters to those looking for seamless travel and local experiences with easy access to key destinations. The hotel is only 10 minutes from Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport, five minutes from Hollywood’s historic oceanfront Boardwalk, 10 minutes from world-class shopping at Aventura Mall, and 30 minutes from South Beach. Starting room rates in low season begin at $189/per night and $249/per night during high season (based on availability at time of booking). For reservations please call 1-954-602-6000. For more information, visit www.diplomatresort.com.

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hollywood Beach

By Alexandra Cohen

We have always enjoyed staying at  DoubleTree Resort by Hilton properties. After enjoying a nice experience last summer in Santa Monica, we were excited to find a newly branded addition to the chain in Hollywood Beach, Florida.

Checking in to a DoubleTree hotel always starts on a sweet note thanks to their signature, warm chocolate chip cookies.

Owned by Sotherly Hotels and managed by Chesapeake Hospitality, DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hollywood (http://www.hollywoodbeachresort.doubletreebyhilton.com)   is located at 4000 South Ocean Drive, approximately eight miles from the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport. The hotel opened with its new identity last October after undergoing an extensive $7 million facelift.

Through its multi-million-dollar transformation, the property features 311 oversized guestrooms and suites, all with furnished balconies overlooking the property’s attractions. Along with a 24-hour business center, it houses 10,000 square feet of meeting space, including a stylish boardroom and an outdoor pavilion for up to 250 guests.

Each room comes with complimentary WiFi, a 37-inch HDTV, premium cable, a vanity area, a work desk, and a kitchenette, which includes a microwave, mini-refrigerator, and coffeemaker. We were able to open a sliding glass door and enjoy the view from our private and furnished balcony.

Situated near the ocean waves and white-sand beaches, the resort allows easy access for guests to hop on the Hollywood Trolley to tour Ocean Drive or to set off on the Fort Lauderdale Water Taxi.   Family-friendly activities and outdoor recreation are at guests’ fingertips from walks along the beach to people-watching on the nearby Hollywood Boardwalk.

“This idyllic seaside resort is located between two of Florida’s biggest cities and travel hubs, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, making it easy for travelers to reach major airports, cruise terminals and to explore South Florida’s famous beaches,” said Dianna Vaughan, global head and senior vice president of DoubleTree by Hilton.

Guests will find American cuisine with Caribbean flair across the resort’s restaurant and bars. Its lobby nook, Made Market, offers Starbucks coffee, ice cream, snacks, and more. Port South Bar and Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring Caribbean Fusion and local seafood in an indoor and outdoor setting. The Port South Lounge serves tropical cocktails, domestic and imported beers, and fine wines. Just steps from the Intracoastal Waterway, guests can enjoy live music, cocktails and snacks from the poolside Lava Tiki Bar.

The resort’s spectacular amenities include an outdoor infinity pool and whirlpool, daily room service, and a 24-hour Fitness Center and Business Center.  We were beyond impressed with the beautiful and spacious pool area, with plenty of lounge chairs available. The Tiki Hut serves drinks, including different specials of the day, and we had a fabulous view of the intracoastal waterway, with boats passing by and music playing.  For lunch, we enjoyed some grilled quesadillas and shrimp tacos.

“The resort promises to make any vacation memorable – from breathtaking beaches to family-friendly attractions like the famous Boardwalk, Anne Kolb Nature Center or a jaunt to Fort Lauderdale or Miami,” said  General Manager Joseph A. Ruiz.As a local landmark, we look forward to welcoming guests under the trusted DoubleTree by Hilton brand.”

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hollywood Beach is also part of Hilton Honors, the award-winning guest-loyalty program for Hilton’s 14 distinct hotel brands. Members who book directly have access to instant benefits, including a flexible payment slider that allows members to choose nearly any combination of Points and money to book a stay, an exclusive member discount, free standard Wi-Fi, and access to the Hilton Honors mobile app.

Diamond and Gold members will enjoy free Wi-Fi and space-available upgrades to the hotel’s exclusive Hilton Honors floor. Additionally, Diamond members will receive the complimentary Wake Up DoubleTree BreakfastTM and 1,000 Bonus Points per stay. Gold members will have the option of a complimentary, continental breakfast or 1,000 Bonus Points per stay.