Summer & Fall Food Truck Festivals in the U.S. (….and more)

asiseeit_fayette_headshotThe food truck craze has continued to grow in the U.S. over the past decade. Large and small cities alike now feature this meals on wheels alternative all across the country. While food trucks traditionally find prime pedestrian locations within a city and sell their mouth-watering creations curbside, a new push is to bring these “city vendors” to the suburbs (and beyond) and feature them at annual community festivals. Some areas are even featuring weekly and monthly days and nights throughout the year.

Here are some popular food truck festivals around the United States and Canada for the summer & fall of 2015:

June 6
Providence/Boston Food Truck Showdown
Providence, RI

BostonProvIndia Point Park in Providence, Rhode Island will again be the setting for one of New England’s best food truck events. Food trucks from Boston, Providence, and surrounding areas will be serving up a great variety of food on the first Saturday of June. VIP tickets ($20) will allow guests to enter the festival one-hour early (11:00am) and get started on their tastings. General Admission ($5) will run from noon til 4:00pm. For those RedSox fans in attendance, a quick drive to Fenway from Providence will allow them to take in a 4pm ball game vs. the Oakland A’s.

June 13
King City Craft Beer & Food Truck Festival
King City (north of Toronto), Ontario, Canada

KingCityJust north of Toronto, Canada sits King City. Every year they host their Craft Beer & Food Truck Festival. The beer flows, the smell of incredible food from gourmet food trucks fills the air, and the music rocks for this day long celebration. Crafts, activities and more make the King City Craft Beer & Food Truck Festival an ideal event for the whole family. Tickets are available online or the day of the event.

August 7-8
Kirkland Summerfest
Kirkland (Seattle), WA

Kirkland SummerFest, August 10-11, 2012

The Kirkland Summerfest plays host to a variety of performances at various venues and spaces along the waterfront and in downtown Kirkland, which is located across Lake Washington from Seattle. The weekend-long festival delivers family activities and exhibitions, along with the best in music, dance, and comedy the northwest has to offer. And when it comes to food, some of the country’s finest food trucks can be found in Kirkland. Located in Marina Park along the shore of Lake Washington, The Food Truck Plaza is ideally located just off the main stage.

August 14-16
Columbus Food Truck Festival
Columbus, OH

columbusThe Columbus Commons will be the location of this three-day food truck festival. With over seventy of Ohio’s best food trucks, the Columbus Food Truck Festival has become one of the largest and most popular events in the country. Starting on Friday, August 14th at noon and running until Sunday, August 16th at 6:00pm, the event will feature live music, crafts and fun activities for the entire family to go along with the large variety of unique food samplings.

August 29
Cape Cod Food Truck Festival
Falmouth, MA

capecodThe 3rd Annual Cape Cod Food Truck Festival will take place at the Cape Cod Fairgrounds in Falmouth. The festival features live music, beer and wine, and New England food truck favorites. The festival’s schedule is planning on featuring over twenty of New England’s more popular food trucks serving up an array of menus items including fresh seafood, BBQ, gourmet pizza and more. Along with the great food selections, local artisans will have their crafts on display. The Cape Cod Food Truck Festival is an ideal way to celebrate the end to another Cape Cod summer.

October 4
New Hampshire Food Truck Festival
Portsmouth, NH

newhampshireFood Truck Festivals of New England heads to New Hampshire during the first week of October for the New Hampshire Food Truck Festival. The Red Hook Brewery in Portsmouth is the venue for a day full of food truck specialties and fun for all ages. For only $5, this annual event is growing in popularity throughout the region, as some of New England’s most popular food trucks make their way to New Hampshire for a crispy fall weekend.


October 17-18
Pocono Food Truck Festival
Pocono, PA

poconosThe Pocono Food Truck Festival features favorite food trucks from the Pocono region, as well as from New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. The Poconos provides a beautiful backdrop for this autumn weekend event. Tasty street treats will feature savory and sweet favorites. The Pocono Food Truck Festival will have a variety of live music throughout the weekend, along with incredible views from the chairlift ride at the Shawnee Mountain Ski Area in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.
And throughout the year the following locations feature food trucks on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis in a festival-type environment:

Every day
Disney Food Truck Park
Downtown Disney, FL

disneyThe newly opened Disney Food Truck Park on Downtown Disney’s Westside is catching on very quickly. Building on the nation’s growing food truck craze, the folks at Disney have created a variety of food trucks, representing the different parks of Disney World. Fantasy Fare (of Magic Kingdom), Superstar Catering (from Disney Studios), and Namaste Cafe (representing the Animal Kingdom) are just a few of the food trucks. Located along the water, the Disney Food Truck Park offers a wide menu and  plenty of tables to rest and enjoy your food truck feasts.


Every Monday night
Food trucks at Arts Park
Hollywood, FL

hollywoodFlEvery Monday Night at Arts Park in Hollywood, Florida food trucks pull up and put on one of South Florida’s most popular weekly events. Considered a great place to visit,  enjoy Arts Park on a Monday night and select your dinner from over twenty-five food trucks in attendance. It’s no wonder this event is quickly becoming a weekly staple in Hollywood, Florida.


Every third Saturday of the month
Wheelin’ Dealin’ Street Food Festival
Magic City Casino
Miami, FL

miamiStaying in South Florida, a short trip south from Hollywood to Miami finds the Wheelin’ Dealin’ Street Food Festival. Located at the Magic City Casino, food trucks from around the region create a culinary festival every third Saturday of the month from 5-9pm. Sponsors feature giveaways at the event, like tickets to concerts at the Magic City Casino and more. A variety of beverages are sold at the Wheelin’ Dealin’ Street Food Festival, and parking is never a problem.


Every third Friday of the month
(April – October)
Downtown Street Food Gathering
Huntsville, AL

huntsvilleDowntown Huntsville, Alabama will again host a gathering of area food trucks every third Friday of the month from April 17th through October 16th. Known as Rocket City, Huntsville is already gearing up for its 2015 season kickoff in April with live music, craft beer, and new food trucks. After drawing huge crowds last year in their inaugural season, organizers are excited with what their second campaign will bring.


Last Wednesday of the month
(April – October)
Food Truck Rodeo
Rochester, NY

rochesterWith nearly thirty food trucks serving up their unique and great tasting cuisine, the folks of Rochester, NY look forward to the opening of the Food Truck Rodeo every April as the true passage from winter to spring in the northeast. Organizers say that “just about everything and anything that is served from the back of a truck can be found at Food Truck Rodeo.” And every last Wednesday evening of the month thousands flock to the Lilac City’s Public Market for some of the nation’s best food truck cuisine. Visitors can enjoy local bands and artists while taking a breather from the food trucks.

Though the food trucks and the events that I’ve highlighted are just a sampling of the growing number of Food Truck festivals popping up throughout the country (and Canada), we’d love to hear about some of your favorites by following us on Twitter @EdFayette and @DestinationsMag, #FoodTruckFestivals.

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8 Great “Destination Wedding” Venues in the US

asiseeit_fayette_headshotMany couples tying the knot these days are not only looking for different kinds of ceremonies and receptions, but unique and memorable locations as well. More and more weddings are veering away from the traditional ceremony and reception, and instead heading toward what is known as the “Destination Wedding”. Typically these types of weddings result in smaller numbers of people attending, but allow for couples’ friends and families to experience an unbelievable day to remember.

Here are some of the most popular “Destination Wedding” ideas happening around the U.S.:

Central Park- NY, NY

The Wedding of Evan and CherylNew York City is arguably the most iconic city in America, so why not select a weekend afternoon in the ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ to exchange wedding vows? Though the venues in NYC are seemingly endless, perhaps Central Park is the most ideal location for a wedding. Nestled between the busy city avenues and skyscrapers, sits the tranquil beauty of this green-filled park. With nearly a dozen locations available throughout the park, the Conservatory Garden, the Pond, and the Boathouse are three annual favorites for weddings. It should also be noted that the famous Tavern on the Green is currently under renovation and inquiries about its expected time of re-opening should be checked on a regular basis. It’s important to know that there are fees, applications, and certain restrictions that go along with having a wedding in Central Park; for example No alcohol, amplified music, or tents are permitted in the park. For more information and to download an application visit the NYC Dept. of Parks & Recreation’s website at www.nycgovparks.org/.

Mall of America- Minneapolis, Minnesota

moaGetting married in a mall? Yes, believe it or not, America’s largest mall plays host to hundreds of weddings a year, having had more than 5,000 performed since its opening. With over 4-million square feet of building area, 520+ stores, and a twenty-five ride and attraction amusement park built inside, it’s no wonder that more than 40-million people visit the MOA every year. But a wedding, really? The fact is the Mall of America has several venues to accommodate just about any style and budget. The MOA even has… (Move over Elvis…) The Chapel of Love! Catering to those who can’t get enough of ‘retail America’, the chapel has photographers, hairstyling, dresses and tuxes, and more all at your disposal. And they of course take all major credit cards. Find out how to book your nuptials by visiting www.MallOfAmerica.com .

Grand Canyon

grandcanyonFor a more rustic approach to tying the knot many couples are venturing to one of the country’s great natural wonders, the Grand Canyon. Some of the more popular ways to celebrate the big day in that area is to be helicoptered in and dropped off onto the peak of a mesa, or ride the historic Grand Canyon Railway from Williams, Arizona that winds through the magnificent canyon with all its colors and beauty. The helicopter rides range in price as well as duration. Bridal parties can view the Hoover Dam and Las Vegas from high above, as well as take in remarkable sunsets as they come and go from the majestic Grand Canyon. Staying more down to earth, the Grand Canyon Railway excursions offer a slower pace, yet still a memorable wedding day. Bridal parties can reserve their own 1923 rail car or mingle in with other passengers. Full-service wedding packages are available and an outdoor wedding permit is required by the National Park Service by calling (928) 638-7841.

Monterey and Carmel, California

MontereyDotted along the Pacific coast sits some absolutely incredible venues for a one-of-a-kind wedding. Carmel and Monterey, California offer breathtaking backdrops for a bride and groom’s magical day. From Monterey’s rocky cliffs to Carmel’s soft sandy beaches, this region gives couples a variety of spectacular venues to choose from. From Stewart’s Cove to Carmel Beach, and Cypress Point at Pebble Beach to the Monterey Stone Chapel in the Redwoods, this area of the Pacific Coast region is home to hundreds of “I Do’s” each year. Booking reservations at a specific area requires timely planning and flexibility of venues and dates, so couples are encouraged to make their plans as soon as possible. www.MontereyWeddings.com is a great place to view all that is offered for weddings in the region.

Rocky Mountains- Colorado region

rockiesIt’s widely known that for skiing enthusiasts there perhaps is no better place to be from mid-autumn to late-spring than the ski trails of Colorado. So it only seems natural that for those who happen to be planning a wedding and enjoy fresh Rocky Mountain powder Colorado is a perfect destination for them. Of course the summer months in the Rockies are also ideal for a memorable wedding. Perhaps the most popular location in the region is Aspen. With an array of hotels, restaurants and activities, Aspen is built for special events. Other Rocky Mountain venues that are perfect for weddings are Golden, Denver, Breckenridge, and Vail, Colorado. Whether winter, spring, summer, or fall, the Rockies offer fun, adventure, and endless memories for brides, grooms, and their families and friends. Finding a location and time of year to suit the soon-to-be-newlyweds in the Rocky Mountain region will take some research and maybe even a couple “fieldtrips”. A great online resource to get your magical day planned is appropriately titled www.RockyMountainBride.com .

Atlantis- Paradise Island, Bahamas

atlantisLike Muhammad Ali knew boxing, the Beatles knew rock n’ roll, and Michael Jordan knows sneakers; with fifteen locations situated around Paradise Island, Atlantis knows weddings. Whether it’s a sunrise or sunset ceremony, a flower-filled or sandy beach backdrop, or a reception for twelve or five hundred, Atlantis at Paradise Island has it covered. From barefoot casual to over-the-top elegant the possibilities are endless for one’s storybook wedding. With the serenity of the Caribbean rippling in the background couples can exchange vows at the secluded Cove Beach. For those looking for a little more ‘wow-factor’ in their ceremony and reception a reservation at Ripples may be just the ticket. Surrounded by a Mayan-style décor and breathtaking water features, a wedding at Ripples will have guests talking about it for years to come. A complete guide to weddings on Paradise Island can be found at www.Atlantis.com . Here visitors will be reminded of what to ask and what to expect when planning a destination wedding in the Bahamas. And remember, U.S. citizens are required to have a passport in order to return to the U.S. (which when you think of it, may be a great place to get stuck for awhile).

Epcot- Disney World, Florida

epcotFor generations Disney World in Central Florida has been thought as a childhood destination. But today the land of Mickey is playing host to nearly two-thousand Cinderella-like weddings each year. Though Disney offers dozens of places to hold a ceremony and reception, I think the most unique venues can be found at a place that may not come to mind right of the bat– the Epcot amusement park. Epcot’s World Showcase takes visitors on a trip around the world, with an incredible attention to detail paid to each country’s highlights. It is here that a bride and groom can choose to be married alongside an English countryside, next to a cascading Canadian waterfall, or with a replica of Rome’s Trevi fountain set as their backdrop. From flowers to cakes, and ceremony to fireworks-filled reception, the wedding planners at Epcot will be there to assist the happy couple every step of the way. Wedding venues at Epcot’s World Showcase can be found within the countries of Canada, United Kingdom, France, Italy, China, Germany, Japan, and Morocco. To start making plans for your Epcot destination wedding visit www.disneyweddings.com .

Fenway Park- Boston, Massachusetts

kimberly + blake | fenway park wedding | boston, massThere are sports fans across the country that would go to the ends of the earth for their favorite team or player. Perhaps there is no place in America where this is truer than in the city of Boston, where fans do just about anything for their beloved baseball Redsox. Having been crowned World Series champions three-times over the past decade, there is no hotter ticket in sports today than that with the Boston Redsox logo attached to it. With all of that in mind, many fanatic couples try to make the Redsox part of their wedding day in any way possible. Whether they decorate their reception hall with red and blue flowers, or have their bridal party decked out in home and away uniforms, some fans just want their favorite team part of their big day. On the other hand, more and more couples are taking their fanaticism to a whole new level; “upper deck level” that is.  The Boston Redsox, like many other sports franchises across the country, are now catering to their over-the-top fans by opening sections of the stadium for wedding ceremonies and receptions before, during, and after the game. Fenway Park’s history and charm can now be captured on sunny afternoon or starlit night during a Redsox home-stand or even while the stadium is vacant. Brides can say their vows from the famed Green Monster, or overlooking homeplate from the EMC Club, which seats up to 300 guests. So warm up your vocal chords for a rousing rendition of “Sweet Caroline” and contact the management of Fenway Park at www.Redsox.com  to book your upcoming wedding.

So from a ballpark to a mall, or an island to a mountain top, the U.S. has some amazing venues for those couples looking to create a once-in-a-lifetime wedding memory. Where will your dream wedding be?

10 Great Things to do at Disney World (Outside the Parks)

Most visitors to Walt Disney World feel that they must take in the four theme parks when vacationing in Central Florida’s wonderland. And for those visiting for the first time, a Park Hopper to the parks is a must. However, for those that visit Walt Disney World on an annual basis, and are looking for a change of pace on things to do, WDW is packed with sights and sounds located outside the four theme parks. To help you make your next visit a little more organized, here are ten things that you must do when visiting the Walt Disney World resort area, without ever stepping a foot inside any of the parks.

1- Dining at Downtown Disney. Divided into three sections, this area of Disney World has fun for every member of the family. The Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and West End are packed with dining, entertainment, and shopping galore. Start your day with lunch at the Earl of Sandwich. This gourmet sandwich and salad shop has perhaps the best meal you can get for the money. At around $6.00 lunch at Disney doesn’t get much better.  From the Earl Club to the Hawaiian BBQ, their sandwiches are made to order on fantastic artisan breads. Eat in or enjoy the Florida warmth outside, the Earl of Sandwich will turn out to be a place that you’ll come back to again and again. There’s also the Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Offering up tasty chocolate samples, gift bags of their confections, and out-of-this-world ice cream sundaes, the Ghirardelli shop has something special about it (without the ears). C’mon, live a little! Let yourself splurge on a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae that will make all other sundaes seem like just another bowl of ice cream. Perhaps my favorite place at Downtown Disney is Paradiso 37. This trendy restaurant/bar serves up some fantastic North and South American fare in a very relaxed atmosphere. Whether you decide to dine in or along DD’s waterfront, you will undoubtedly experience Paradiso 37′s cool vibe. One of the favorite beverages of many patrons (including me) is something the bartenders like to call a “Mangled Margarita”. Now I don’t know exactly what is contained in this magical drink, but after a couple you will be ready to take on Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tinkerbell all in one swoop. From its 24-theater AMC movieplex and Gloria Estefan’s Cuban-flare restaurant, Bongo’s, to Planet Hollywood and The World of Disney megastore, Downtown Disney could easily be a daily stop during your Disney World vacation.

2- The Boardwalk. Located in Disney’s EPCOT resort area, the Boardwalk Resort and Spa is not only a wonderful resort, but is also home to an authentic Atlantic Ocean seaside boardwalk. Complete with games of chance, sidewalk entertainers, and the sweet smell of cotton candy and roasted peanuts, Disney’s Boardwalk is a step back in time to the early 1900s. Nightlife at the Boardwalk is plentiful with a video dance club at the Atlantic Dancehall, dueling pianos at Jellyroll’s, and non-stop sports action at the ESPN Club. Dining options at the Boardwalk include Cat Cora’s Kouzzina, The Big River Grille, and The Flying Fish seafood restaurant. Located between the EPCOT and Hollywood Studios theme parks, Disney’s Boardwalk is full of fun and food.

3- Golfing at Disney. There are four 18-hole championship caliber golf courses woven throughout the Walt Disney World grounds. The Magnolia course is located near the Polynesian Resort and is appropriately named for the fragrant magnolia trees that are found throughout the 7,000 yard course. The Osprey Ridge track is located near the Fort Wilderness Resort and is designed by the famous architect Tom Fazio, and measures about 6,600 yards long. Disney’s Palm Golf Course has just under one-hundred bunkers on its 6,500 yard lay out located near the Polynesian Resort. The fourth championship course is the Lake Buena Vista Golf Course. Located near the Downtown Disney area, this course measures about 6,700 yards. All four of these championship courses include a GPS enabled golf cart in the green fee. A fifth course, Oak Trail Golf Course, can be found at WDW near the Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. This is a 9-hole walking course is just under 3,000 yards and a par 36. Golf club rental is available at all five courses. If playing isn’t what you’re looking for, guests of the Disney World resorts can take a lesson or two from award-winning PGA instructors.

4- LaNouba by Cirque de Soleil. This acrobatic, theatrical experience has been wowing crowds for over a decade at Downtown Disney’s West End. A mixture of strength and grace, LaNouba has performers from all over the world creating mesmerizing stunts and dance from hanging wires and trampolines. Nearly sold to capacity every night of the year, reservations are advised before you make your trip to Walt Disney World.

5- Characters in Flight. This giant tethered balloon rises nearly 400-feet above the Downtown Disney area, giving visitors a panoramic view of the surroundings. Priced at around $20 for adults and $12 for kids, this 10-minute balloon ride is sure to create Disney memories.

6- Miniature Golf. There are four unique and fun miniature golf courses at the Walt Disney Resort. Two are found by the Swan and Dolphin resorts. Fantasia Gardens has one course that takes players through the Disney classic “Fantasia” as they play, while the second is a fairway style course, resembling a traditional golf course. Two other courses are found just outside the Blizzard Beach water park area. Known as Summerland, these two courses celebrate two favorite times of year. The Winter course takes players through a winter wonderland with Santa and his elves, while the Summer course winds players through the sand and surf of summer fun.

7- Splitsville. Brand new to the Downtown Disney area, this rock n’ roll style bowling facility isn’t your grandad’s bowling alley. Located in the former Virgin Megastore, Splitsville is scheduled to open in September of 2012. It will feature 30 bowling alleys, a dozen billiard tables, a restaurant, and sports screens throughout. During late-night hours, Splitsville will have a minimum age of 21, so couples and friends can socialize in a kid-free environment.

8- Dining at WDW resorts. When it comes to world-class dining and menu variety, the restaurants found throughout the Walt Disney resorts are second to none. Some of my favorite places are The Turf Club found at the Saratoga Resort and Spa, The California Grill at the top of the Contemporary Resort, and Olivia’s at the Old Key West resort. The Turf Club serves lunches and dinners in relaxed atmosphere reminiscent of sitting on the veranda of the Saratoga horse track in Upstate NY. The California Grill offers guests spectacular views from its location atop the Contemporary Resort, and a menu ranging from yellowfin tuna to bison to organic chicken. Olivia’s is one of my favorite WDW restaurants because of its menu and laid back atmosphere. Throughout the restaurant are pictures and artifacts of Key West, Florida. With regards to the menu, be sure to try their Chicken Caesar Salad. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner will likely be a pleasant surprise. Of course every resort at WDW has at least one full-service restaurant, and all meet, or surpass the quality that you would expect from Disney.

9- DisneyQuest. Located at Downtown Disney’s West End, DisneyQuest is five floors of futuristic, interactive games. Whether you want to design, then ride, your own roller coaster with Cyber Space Mountain or drive your own out-of-this-world car with Buzz Lightyear’s Astroblasters, these and other fun interactive experiences can be found at DisneyQuest. Virtual Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Carribean  -Battle for Gold, and Mighty Ducks Pinball Slam are just a few other attractions that can be played at DQ.

10- Relax at the Disney World Resorts. Whenever I visit Disney I try to remind myself that I am ‘on vacation’. With so much to do at WDW, it’s easy to forget that Disney World is packed with some of the finest resorts and spas to be found anywhere. All resorts at Disney have multiple pools, each with one large trademark swimming area, and usually several smaller pools, for a quieter, more relaxed, day of sun and fun. Each resort wraps itself around a theme, and true to Disney style, it is always done to near-exact detail. The Saratoga Resort and Spa celebrates the historic charm of Saratoga, NY, The Wilderness Lodge places its guests inside an upscale log cabin, complete with a working geyser, and The Grand Floridian is simply elegance personified. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge offers guests a unique experience by having animals found on the savannah of Africa grazing and wandering outside their balconies, while The Polynesian Resort and Spa transports its guests to the feeling of the far east islands.

So next time you’re planning a trip to Central Florida’s most famous tenant, don’t feel you have to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the theme parks of Walt Disney World. True, the theme parks of WDW are like no other, and are world-famous, but the land of Mickey contains so much more. Besides the ten ideas mentioned, there are so many more things to do, like behind-the-scenes tours, parasailing, boat rentals, and bike riding. Walt Disney World is truly “The Happiest Place on Earth”, and has so many things to do that every time you visit you’ll find a surprise waiting for you everyday.

Changes coming to Disneyworld in 2012

Though Disneyworld in Florida still consists of its staple attractions like Cinderella’s Castle, the Indiana Jones stunt show, and It’s a Small World, big changes are heading to The Happiest Place on Earth in 2012. From a complete new world at the Magic Kingdom to a widespread overhaul of Downtown Disney, the coming year is bound to bring pleasant surprises.

At the Magic Kingdom, look for the Fall of 2012 to debut the new Fantasyland. Complete with the Beast’s castle, Ariel’s grotto, and a three-ring circus, the new attractions of Fantasyland will be found at the back of the park, near the existing carousel and teacups. New restaurants and quick service food stops will dot the landscape of Fantasyland, including one sit-down restaurant inside the Beast’s castle. Also in the new world look for a water attraction that wraps itself around The Little Mermaid theme. But perhaps the biggest attraction coming to the new Fantasyland is the 3-ring circus called Storybook Circus. However, unlike most circuses, this one will be permanent. Dumbo’s flying elephants, Goofy’s cannonballs, and character meet & greets will be just a few of the colorful, larger-than-life additions to the Magic Kingdom.

Meanwhile, over at Disney’s EPCOT look for the newly refurbished Universe of Energy building to feature an updated attraction with Ellen DeGeneres. This, along with the recently re-introduced ‘Captain EO’ 4D show, featuring Michael Jackson, will give EPCOT a positive shot in the arm.

Perhaps 2012’s largest changes will be seen at Downtown Disney. All three sections of DD are currently going through changes. At the Marketplace LittleMissMatched for girls has already opened, as has the new Pollo Campero quick service restaurant. Surprisingly, Pollo Campero sits in the same square footage where the longtime American icon McDonalds once did business.

In the Pleasure Island section of Downtown Disney changes can already be seen. Gone are the dance clubs of the 90’s, and instead you’ll now find family-friendly restaurants with an around-the-world flair. Street performers play for visitors of the area, and new shops like Apricot Lane and Sammy Duval’s Curl draw shoppers in. Mixed into the new Pleasure Island is the new Irish restaurant Ragland Road and Paradiso 37, which serves up a cuisine from Central and South America.

In the West End section of Downtown Disney the storefronts are changing faster than you can say “Bippity-Boppity-Boo”. No longer exists the classic Magnetron store. Where am I supposed to buy my gift magnets now? Also gone is the Masters of Magic store. I always felt like most of us stopped in the store just to see a free magic show, and never had any intentions of buying a $29.95 magic kit. In their places look to see a Sunglass Icon store and clothing chain Wet Seal’s – Blink store to open up in early 2012.

The most exciting news to me is the creation of the Downtown Disney attraction called Splitsville; a 31-lane bowling alley that will double as a restaurant, bar, and dance club. As a sign says outside the current construction zone- “This isn’t your grandfather’s bowling alley”. Located in the old Virgin record store building, things are already underway for a Fall 2012 opening.

In a recent visit to Disneyworld, I asked a business owner about things happening at Downtown Disney. In our conversation she told me that the DD that we know today will look like something totally different by the year 2014. And if the fast-moving changes of 2011 and aggressive plans for 2012 are any indication, the entire Disneyworld experience that we grew up with will be something completely new in the very near future.

5 things to do at Downtown Disney, Florida

Most visitors to Walt Disney World feel that they must take in the four theme parks when vacationing in Central Florida’s wonderland. However, for a change of pace and a wide variety of food and fun, Downtown Disney is a place that must be visited. Divided into three sections, DD has fun for every member of the family. The Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and West End are packed with dining, entertainment, and shopping galore.

To make your visit a little more organized, here are five things that you must do when visiting Downtown Disney.

1- Earl of Sandwich. Start your day with lunch at this gourmet sandwich and salad shop. From the Earl Club to the Hawaiian BBQ, their sandwiches are made to order on fantastic artisan breads. Eat in or enjoy the Florida warmth outside, Earl of Sandwich is perhaps the best meal you can get for the money. At $5.99 for a good-sized sandwich, lunch at Disney doesn’t get much better.

2- Characters in Flight. New to Downtown Disney in 2009-’10, this giant tethered balloon rises nearly 400-feet above  the DD area, giving visitors a panoramic view of the surroundings. Priced at $18 for adults and $12 for kids, this 10-minute balloon ride is sure to create Disney memories.

3- Ghirardelli Ice Cream & Chocolate Shop. Located in Downtown Disney’s Marketplace, Ghirardelli offers up tasty chocolate samples, gift bags of their confections, and out-of-this-world ice cream sundaes. C’mon, live a little! Let yourself splurge on a Ghirardelli hot fudge sundae that will make all other sundaes seem like just another bowl of ice cream.

4- LaNouba by Cirque de Soleil. This acrobatic, theatrical experience has been wowing crowds for over a decade at Downtown Disney’s West End. A mixture of strength and grace, LaNouba has performers from all over the world creating mesmerizing stunts and dance from hanging wires and trampolines. Nearly sold to capacity every night of the year, reservations are advised before you make your trip to Walt Disney World.

5- Paradiso 37. Having just opened in 2010 in the newly renovated Pleasure Island area of Downtown Disney, Paradiso 37 is a trendy restaurant/bar serving up some fantastic North and South American fare. Whether you decide to dine in or along DD’s waterfront, you will undoubtedly experience Paradiso 37’s cool vibe. A favorite beverage of many patrons (and me) to P37 is something the bartenders like to call a “Mangled Margarita”. Now I don’t know exactly what is contained in this magical drink, but after a couple you will be ready to take on Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and Tinkerbell all in one swoop.

Don’t think that the previously mentioned are the only places worth visiting at Downtown Disney. From its 24-theater AMC movieplex and Gloria Estefan’s Cuban-flare restaurant, Bongo’s, to Planet Hollywood and The World of Disney megastore, DD could easily be a daily stop during your Disney World vacation.

Hail Caesar (salad) !

For a little over three years now I have been working on changing my diet and lifestyle, one day at a time. At my age I figured it was about time. It’s not easy, but the potential outcome is so very worth it. I started my “Journey to Better Health” in December of 2006 when I began working with the people at the now-defunct LA Weight Loss Center in Oswego, NY. They looked at my weight, age, and lifestyle and set up a realistic dietary plan for the next 365 days. They changed my eating habits and schedules, and I added exercise periods into my weekly schedule. Over the course of the next year I introduced myself to new foods such as turkey burger, fruits & vegetables, and salads (not the macaroni or potato variety either) as just some of my new daily foods. And over that same one-year period, through this diet plan and moderate exercise, I lost 65 pounds! My primary care physician saw all of my medical numbers improve tremendously, and I felt great, not only health-wise but psychologically too. 

Over the past few years my weight has fluctuated, maybe gaining a little of those 65 pounds back, but then stabilizing at my current weight. Weight maintenance is not easy. There are so many temptations that can throw you off, and I honestly have fallen off the ‘skinny wagon’ many times. Portion size, exercise, and the recognition that you don’t have to cut out any food completely are three mainstays that help me in my “journey”. 

I don’t consider what I’m doing as a “diet”. I look at it as more of a “lifestyle change”, or without meaning to sound too deep, an “awakening”. Gone are my days of four Diet Cokes a day. No more Friday nights of getting pizza and wings. And perhaps the biggest change of all is no more snacking after dinner until bedtime. The deletion of those things and many more bad habits, balanced with a healthier meal plan and exercise, are now the way I ‘choose’ to live my life. Without making these changes I was running the risk of shortening my life dramatically; and that was something I wasn’t ready to accept. (Heck, I’ve got to write for you people.) 

Many times people think of diets as a penalty or sentence. With the plan I was working with, and the way I look at food today, I now never think of food as a negative. In fact, I now enjoy cooking more than ever at home. I also have found that grocery shopping is a lot easier. Did you know that you can save time and a bundle on money if you shop around the perimeter of most grocery stores? That’s where you find the fruits and vegetables, meats, breads, and dairy products. In the middle aisles are the Fritos, Apple Jacks, brownie mixes, and sodas. 

Eating out is not something that is impossible either when on a diet plan. Once a week I try to treat myself to eating out; whether it’s at a sit-down style restaurant, or fast-food. That’s right, I said “fast-food”. Eating healthy can be done anywhere. Over the past couple years I have jotted down the restaurants I’ve visited, up and down the Atlantic seaboard. And from local restaurants in Central NY to eateries found in between Boston and Key West, I’d like to tell you of some of my favorites. During this time one entrée has become my favorite to order when dining out – Chicken Caesar salad. I never was a huge salad eater and didn’t realize that something as simple as a Caesar salad could be prepared so many different ways, and have several different tastes. So, strap yourself in, and let me take you on a Chicken Caesar salad roadtrip. 

Starting first in our local area of Central NY, you can find a great Chicken Caesar salad at Oswego’s Press Box, Canale’s Restaurant, Ruby Tuesday, and the Port City Bakery. When it comes to fast-food restaurants, I’ve found that Quizno’s maybe makes the best fast-food Chicken Caesar salad around. With regards to some of the larger chain restaurants, I have found spectacular Chicken Caesar salads at Panera Bread, Cheesecake Factory, and the Olive Garden. There are only two places that I have visited that I wouldn’t place high on this list for Chicken Caesar salad, and that’s Applebee’s and Chicago Uno. Now that’s not to say that the restaurants general menus weren’t good. It’s just that I didn’t think much of the presentation and taste of their Chicken Caesar salads. 

Heading into New England I have found several great Chicken Caesar salads at some Boston establishments. Topping the list was Dolce Vita Ristorante in Boston’s North End and sitting 52-floors above Boston’s Back Bay is the Top of the Hub Restaurant in the Prudential Building. Not only their Chicken Caesar salad very good, but the view is breathtaking. I also have found several good Chicken Caesar salads in the Quincy Market district, including Ames Plow and Cheers. 

Into Florida Chicken Caesar salads continue to impress at several restaurants that I’ve visited. I found one of the most unique presentations at Disney World’s Saratoga Springs Resort. Their Turf Club restaurant makes a very tasty Chicken Caesar salad by giving you whole stalks of romaine lettuce and the other ingredients on the side. In the culinary world I think they would call this a “de-constructed” Chicken Caesar salad. Cool, very cool. But perhaps the best Chicken Caesar salad I have had at any restaurant is the one served at the ESPN Club at Disney World’s Boardwalk. One word- Perfect! Perfect size, perfect taste, perfect amount of dressing….you get the idea. And oh by the way, whenever possible be sure to order the Caesar dressing on the side. 

Finally as we finish this leafy roadtrip we come to the end of the line, literally. Key West. In the country’s southernmost city I have enjoyed many Chicken Caesar salads. (And I don’t think those were the margaritas talking either.) On the famous Duval and Front Streets of Key West sit some fantastic restaurants. Fogarty’s, Island Dogs, The Rooftop Café, Caroline’s, Red Fish Blue Fish, and The Grand Café all rest high on my list for great tasting Chicken Caesar salads and one-of-a-kind atmospheres. After all it’s Key West. What’s not to enjoy? 

Now I know that you may be thinking, ‘Is this poor guy a slave to Chicken Caesar salad the rest of his life?’ But that’s really not the case. When I go out I often will mix it up with wraps and light sandwiches for lunch, and fish or poultry for dinner. Having a Chicken Caesar salad is something I choose, and enjoy. 

So whether you’re in the midst of making some changes for yourself or know someone that is, the bottom line is- don’t punish yourself. Rather, relish the idea of getting the opportunity of trying new things. You’ll be amazed at the results. I know that if my dad were alive today he wouldn’t believe what my daily diets looks like. I was always the picky eater of the family. You know, pizza, burgers, steaks, and potatoes, …lots of potatoes! 

Please don’t think of what I’ve done over the past few years as being easy, it’s not. But also don’t think of it as being impossible either. As the old motto goes- “Heck, if I can do it…..”  It simply comes down to a matter of what you want for a quality of life. And for me, that made all the difference.

Saratoga of the South

Have you ever been to Saratoga in the winter? And while there, have you enjoyed 80 degree temperatures while swimming or walking around in shorts and sandals? Well no, not if you’re talking about Saratoga, NY. However, if you’ve been to the Disney Vacation Club’s Saratoga Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World, Florida you know what I’m talking about.

I love being a member of the Disney Vacation Club (http://dvc.disney.go.com/), with the Saratoga Resort & Spa as my home resort. Situated within a five-minute walk of Downtown Disney, this Victorian-style resort sprawls out over what used to be the Disney Institute, and meanders through the championship 18-hole Lake Buena Vista Golf Club. Complete with a 5-star spa and fitness center, four pools, two restaurants, and a general store, the Saratoga Resort & Spa takes visitors back to the bygone days of old Saratoga.

With its studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas, the Saratoga Resort & Spa engulfs its guests in old-world elegance and charm, while pampering them all the modern amenities one expects when on vacation. Two years ago my family and I stayed in a two-bedroom villa for a week. During our stay we started each day with breakfast in our full-sized kitchen, complete with stainless steel appliances, cooking utensils, plates, silverware, and granite slab countertops. We cooked our breakfast with the food we pre-ordered prior to arriving at the Saratoga Resort & Spa. The eggs, muffins, orange juice, etc. were fairly priced and brand-name quality. The beauty was that our refrigerator and cupboards were stocked with what we had ordered when we arrived. This meant one less hassle to worry about, and more time to enjoy at the parks. The bedrooms came with a king-size bed in the master and two queen-size beds in the other, along with two full-size bathrooms. The master bath also had a Jacuzzi tub. Our greatroom area was spacious enough to comfortably have dining room table in one section, as well as a sofa and a couple of chairs in the remaining space. Off the greatroom was a large balcony with a couple chairs and a table that overlooked the well-manicured grounds of the Saratoga Resort & Spa.

And just recently my wife and I enjoyed five days at The Saratoga in a deluxe studio villa. Though it didn’t have a complete kitchen, it did have a microwave and refrigerator in the small kitchenette area. But for just the two of us, that worked out just fine.

Getting around the Disney World resort is always easy. From the time you land at the Orlando International airport until the day you depart to head home, Disney transportation is seemingly at your disposal. From the airport (MCO) we boarded the Disney Express that took us directly to the Saratoga Resort & Spa. Now check this out, by signing up for the Disney Express (free to all Disney resort guests), not only did I get free transportation to and from the airport, but they also got my bags from the airline and delivered them to my room! Let’s see, I don’t have to rent a car, I don’t have to wait for my bags, and I don’t have to shop for groceries… Yep, I’m on vacation!

Once settled in, the Disney transportation system would basically take me to wherever I wanted to go. My family and I simply walked our of our room to one of the many bus stops, and waited no more than 5-10 minutes for the bus we needed. The air conditioned buses are always clean and comfortable. Only at night are they crowded, as park-goers scramble back to their rooms after a long day at the various Disney parks.

The Saratoga Resort & Spa has one large pool in the common area, complete with water slide and pool-side bar. There are several other pools situated throughout the resort that may be closer to your actual room. Many also come with full-size outdoor hottubs too. The larger pool area is also home to the On The Rocks pool bar, to help quench any thirst you may have. Dining at the Saratoga Resort & Spa is fantastic. The Artist’s Palette and Turf Club Bar & Grill offer guests a wide variety of lunch and dinner options. The Turf Club has one of the most unique presentations of Chicken Caesar salad that you’ll ever see. Of course, only being minutes from the Downtown Disney area, offers up even more dining options. I highly recommend the newly opened Paradiso 37, and their mangled margaritas, while The Earl of Sandwich is always good and perhaps the best value found anywhere at Disney.

Guests to the Saratoga Resort & Spa, as well as all other Disney resorts, are always able to enjoy Extra Magic Hours at the four Disney World parks. Extra Magic Hours are times at selected parks that resort guests can ride the rides and visit the attractions between one and three hours before or after the parks are available to the general public. And it is worth it? Imagine no lines for the newly refurbished Space Mountain, and you can ride it three times in a row at 7AM! Or how about no lines for Expedition Everest at the Animal Kingdom, and ride the spectacular roller coaster to your heart’s content at midnight! It’s all possible with Disney’s Extra Magic Hours.

Guests to the Saratoga Resort & Spa will experience the luxuries of a world-class spa, arcade, fitness room, championship golf course, and general store. Add these bonuses to its serene setting, convenient location to Downtown Disney, and the A+ service to be expected from Disney, and you truly do have the ingredients for a magical vacation.

For more information on the Saratoga Resort & Spa or the Disney Vacation Club, contact Maribella Quinones at 866-240-3817.