Florida

South Beach Food and Wine Festival 2016

IMG_4513At the end of February I had the opportunity to partake in the South Beach Food and Wine Festival (SOBEWFF). I thought I would share some of the photos I took during the festival for those who may be interested and who may not be on my Facebook. The only reason I went was due to my work requiring me, which as some of you may know I try to avoid South Beach like the plague.

This is a huge event that takes place on the beach and at various venues throughout South Florida. SOBEWFF has now expanded to a couple events up in Ft. Lauderdale this past year. For those who may be cruising in late February or early March, this may be a fun weekend activity to look into before or after your cruise.

I was only at the Grand Tasting Village in South Beach for 3-days. Many of the employees who work at SOBEWFF are volunteer students from Florida International University. The event actually supports the hospitality program at FIU and provides scholarships for students. When I was working on my master’s degree at FIU I could have volunteered, but due to classwork and research I avoided the event for 2-years.

Even though I worked the event, I had the opportunity to taste and walk around all 3-days I was at the Grand Tasting Village. Tickets are normally pretty pricey, with the tasting village tickets running over $200+ for one day. Most events are a minimum of $100 and events hosting a celebrity chef seem to be running over $200.

Friday is Trade day at the Grand Tasting Village, but the general public is unable to purchase tickets for this event. Tickets are given away by businesses or are given to those in the industry. I actually won a ticket from Yelp in 2014, but was unable to go. *(Check out Yelp in South Florida starting in January for chances to win tickets to many of the events).

Trade day is primarily alcohol with really no food. There were probably over 70+ tables ranging from wine to spirits. I just tried the spirits since that’s all I had time for. There were a wide range of bourbons, tequilas, rums, and vodkas. Many of the products being served were well over $80 a bottle.

On Saturday and Sunday the event has less alcohol but more food. I had the opportunity to try some of the samples of food and a few more drinks. The food I tried was delicious. I had a fancy bacon donut from a place in Wynwood and guava barbecue dish from somewhere in South Florida. I also had a slider with fried cheese on top.

Saturday and Sunday are much busier since these days are the expensive tickets for sale to the general public. There are demonstrations in the tents as well from celebrities and chefs. I had the chance to see Neil Patrick Harris, Rev Run, Emeril, and Rachael Ray (to just name a few). These events are huge draws and are completely packed with many people IMG_4547standing.

Now the Grand Tasting Village is located directly on the beach, so you are walking in sand. If you have any problems walking, I probably would not partake in this event. Some people were in wheelchairs made specifically for the beach, but I saw people struggling pushing these chairs. Also highly recommend sunscreen, I learned after day one and was pretty sunburned.

Overall, SOBEWFF and the Grand Tasting Village is a fantastic event. I highly recommend not driving to South Beach and getting a hotel room for a night, or taking an Uber/Taxi. The only way to really experience the event is if you don’t drive. Luckily I had rides for 2 of the 3-days and could really taste some of the fantastic drinks.

Epcot

IMG_0383We spent the last few days of the trip in Epcot. On Christmas morning I woke up feeling congested, which worsened throughout the day. By the end of Christmas day I was down for the count for the rest of my time at Disney. Unfortunately this post is going to reflect that since Epcot was basically a bust for me and I ducked out of the park early each day.

Mainly we just walked around Epcot since this isn’t a park with a lot of rides. We did go on Test Track, Soarin’, and Spaceship Earth since we had FP+ reservations.

The only dinner reservation we had was at Chefs de France for Christmas day. I don’t remember what anyone else ordered, but I just had the French Onion Soup. The soup had a good flavor I remember and wasn’t salty like a lot of onion soups, but unfortunately I only ate half since I was feeling rather lousy at that point. I actually went back to the hotel partway through Christmas dinner.

For the rest of the time in Epcot we just walked around. The big focus of Epcot is really the World Showcase. I do have to admit this wasn’t a huge draw for me. Since I’ve traveled to most of the countries in the World Showcase, the Disney version of them isn’t a big deal to me. Mainly most of the pavilions are just shops, restaurants, and exhibits (films and various cultural collections). This part of the park is really wasted on me. Now if you are in a big group and drinking around the world, that may make the experience more entertaining. In general though just walking through shops is a bit dull.IMG_4446

In the Mexico pavilion we did stop for drinks and guacamole. We all had margaritas and they did taste good. Unfortunately I could only drink a little bit of mine since I just wasn’t up to having a drink. If you know me, you know skipping out drinks is a rare occasion!

After a few days in Epcot it was time to head home. I actually was still stick when I got home. The drive back to Miami is about 3-hours, but there was a ton of traffic and it actually took closer to 4-hours to get to Ft. Lauderdale from Orlando.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

IMG_4391For Christmas Eve we decided we wanted to go to Hollywood Studios for one main reason, the Osborne Family Lights. Sadly part of this post is obsolete now since the Osborne Family Lights have now been retired and 2015 was the final year for the display.

Before we went to the Osborne Family Lights display we had reservations for dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby. This was one of the more expensive restaurants at Disney World, but was well worth it on Christmas Eve. We did get to the restaurant a bit early so we started off at the bar and had a drink. While waiting for our drinks we were called to be seated, we told the bar our table was ready and they sent our drinks to the table instead.

The meal was not rushed and the service was efficient. We decided to order a bottle of wine in addition to the drinks. Both my Mom and I had the famous cobb salad as a starter (highly recommend), while my Dad had the crab cakes. We all ordered the same entree, the charred filet of beef, which was perfectly cooked to medium rare. The entree came with a vegetable and white truffle oil mashed potatoes. On top of the steak was a cabernet shallot butter. The meal was fantastic and the perfect choice for Christmas Eve.

Afterwards we decided to go on the Great Movie ride since we could walk right on, which was surprising for Christmas Eve. This ride is a bit hokey, but it does fit the theme of Hollywood Studios. Afterwards we headed towards the Osborne Family Lights.

Since Hollywood Studios is being expanded and going under construction to make way for Toy Story and Star Wars lands, the Osborne Family Lights was nixed by Disney. Even though the Osborne Family Lights are no longer, I wanted to share a couple videos and photos since this was a fantastic attraction and great way to spend Christmas Eve.

The light show is timed to various Christmas songs that seem to play around every 15-minutes. This was incredibly fun to watch and walk around looking at. Overall I’m disappointed Disney decided to remove this show since it was a fun part of the Hollywood Studios experience at Christmas.

IMG_4412After this we decided to head back to the hotel room for the evening since we were
exhausted. There is a brand new Star Wars fireworks show at Hollywood Studios now, which we did miss. The start time over the Christmas holidays was after 11pm and since we were tired we decided to try and visit it another night. Unfortunately I became sick the following day and never made it back to Hollywood Studios.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

IMG_4292We spent the morning at Animal Kingdom on Christmas Eve and later in the day we park hopped to Hollywood Studios for the evening. This was the only day we used the park hop option with our pass to the parks. Unlike Disneyland, we found there was really no need for the park hop addition to our park pass. This was an expensive add-on that we just didn’t utilize like we had originally expected.

Animal Kingdom did feel like a half-day park experience since we covered most of the park within a few hours. This park (along with Hollywood Studios) is going through an expansion, which should add to the experience in the next few years. Right now it is too bad the park experience lacks since this is probably the best themed park at Disney World with an incredible amount of detail in the decor. The only downside to the park is how hot it is, which is most likely due to all the foliage that makes it feel like you are in the tropics. This park feels about 20 degrees hotter than the actual temperature at the rest of the parks.

The main attraction at Animal Kingdom is the Kilimanjaro Safari. I made sure I had a FP+ reservation as early as I could get, which was for 10:45am. I was hoping to get an earlier time since this is an attraction best seen earlier in the day, but all the earlier FP+ reservations were gone by the time I could select a fastpass.

The Kilimanjaro Safari is an open-vehicle safari ride through a savanna that is supposed to resemble various areas of savanna in East Africa. The attraction features numerous animals including elephants, giraffes, ostriches, and rhinos to just name a few. If you go to Animal Kingdom, this is a must see that can’t be missed.

Afterwards we walked around the park and tried to get lunch. The restaurants IMG_4293were packed and unfortunately even the fast-casual restaurants were busy with no seating,
so we ended up just getting a Starbucks to last us for awhile and walking around the park. We had an early afternoon FP+ for Dinosaur, which is basically the same exact ride track as Indiana Jones in Disneyland. The Indiana Jones version though is much better I believe.

After awhile we headed back to the hotel for the afternoon to clean-up since we were spending the evening at Hollywood Studios.