St. Augustine Day Tripping

Living in Central Florida provides the perfect opportunity to explore most of the state even if you only have the time and money for a day trip.

This past week, my husband had taken a day off of work for plans that fell through, so we made a last minute decision to make a day trip to St. Augustine in Northeast Florida.  St. Augustine has the distinction of being the US’s oldest continuously inhabited European settlement, having been founded in 1565. It had previously been under both Spanish and British rule, before the foundation of the United States and as you wander the charming, colonial era streets you will notice that much of the old town has beautiful Spanish inspired architecture.

There is an eclectic mix of tourist trap shops, artisans and dining options as well as museums, in the Historic Old Town area and it really is the perfect place to get out and stroll.  We always have to have a popsicle or two from the Hyppo, who makes their pops using fresh fruit, so tasty and refreshing on a hot summer (technically fall) day. This trip we also tried a relatively new restaurant, Prohibition Kitchen, it was pricey for lunch but had really good burgers and we loved the atmosphere.

 

After walking around the Old Town, we decided to stop at San Sebastian Winery for a free tour and wine tasting, before heading home.  San Sebastian winery is only a short distance from the historic Old Town area of St. Augustine and they have some really delicious, sweet muscadine grape wines.  If you have time you could also stop at the nearby St. Augustine Distillery for a complimentary tour and tasting and stick around for cocktails and dinner at the adjacent Ice Plant bar, which from previous experience is very good.

I have only scratched the surface of St. Augustine as this was a rushed trip, if you have more time, you can visit the beach, the lighthouse, take a tour of Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest masonry fort in the continental US,) stay the night and take a ghost tour, shop till you drop at the outlet malls or visit one of the nearby state parks.  Because we had to get back we chose to have dinner on the road, which turned out to be a great idea!

We usually stick to I-4 and I-95 when visiting St. Augustine from our home and the traffic coming through Orlando can be a nightmare….  For this trip home we decided to stay off the interstate as much as possible, this led to us passing through Deland on Highway 44. Using my trusty friend Yelp, I found a great little restaurant offering German food that was only slightly out of our way, Emmy’s Time Out Tavern.  It was a good indication when we pulled up to a full parking lot, the food was great and plentiful, the atmosphere somewhat kitschy in that charming way small town restaurants can be.   The proprietor, Emmy was the icing in the cake, such a nice lady!  It pays to get off the interstate, see more of small town Florida and find great little places like this. We find ourselves doing this type of traveling more often.  It was a great ending to a wonderful day trip.

*Links to a few of the places I have mentioned in this post.
http://www.thehyppo.com/find-us
https://www.prohibitionkitchenstaugustine.com
http://sansebastianwinery.com
http://iceplantbar.com
http://staugustinedistillery.com/tours-rfp/
https://www.facebook.com/emmysrestaurant/

 

 

 

 

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2017 WDW EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival Menus and Photos.

We are fortunate to live close to Walt Disney World and the annual EPCOT International Food & Wine Festival is one of my favorite events at the parks, so we visit as often as we can.  Because I find it easier to post the information on my corresponding Facebook travel page, I am including a link.

Here is a link to my Wednesday’s Travels Facebook travel page where I post updates with photos and descriptions of the food that I have tried so far as well as photos of the booth menus.

2017 EPCOT Food & Wine Photos

 

AmaWaterways’ AmaSonata & AmaPrima

I have had the good fortune to (so far) sail onboard two of AmaWaterways’ newer twin balcony ships with another, the AmaStella slated for 2018.  Initially, I decided to try Ama because of the twin balcony cabins but I have since learned, that there are many other reasons to give them a try.  They are top rated by travel and cruise experts such as Berlitz, Cruise Critic, Travel Weekly and many others.  In our experience they have a consistently outstanding crew, with everyone from the Captain and Cruise Director to the dining staff and cabin stewards, always providing professional and friendly service. Another area where they shine is onboard dining.  Ama is a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a prestigious culinary society that is by invitation only,  it shows in the quality of the onboard dining.  I am still missing their eggs benedict for breakfast!  One other great thing I should mention, is that the Ama ships have a shallow draft and sleek profile. This may not seem so great, but it allows them to continue sailing much longer than some of the other river cruise lines, when there are issues with river water levels.  That can be a very big deal if you want to lessen the chance of your dream river cruise becoming a bus trip.

The overall feel of the ships is clean and elegant, both I have sailed have been very well kept, they sparkled like new inside and out.

When you step aboard, you enter on deck three, otherwise known as the Violin deck.  Upon entering you will be in the airy and bright reception lobby, that in addition to the reception desk, boasts an elevator to  take you down to the two decks below.  The elevator is flanked by a spiral staircase for you to use if you would prefer to burn some of your overindulgences off.

Continuing our tour we will walk towards the front of the ship and to the starboard side of the reception desk.  We pass between the gift shop and the beverage center, which includes a few cafe tables to sit and enjoy your coffee or tea.

From here we see the bar on our left and the main lounge ahead of us, this is where you will spend a lot of your time onboard.  The lounge has a buffet area in the center of the room, where snacks and beverages are provided throughout the day, it is also the staging area for continental breakfast items for the early risers as well as more substantial offerings around lunch and dinner.  Comfortable groups of sofas and chairs are positioned around the perimeter of the lounge as well as along the front.  There are floor to ceiling windows along both sides and looking out over an outdoor dining area and the bow of the ship.

We now head back along the port side of the ship toward the stern which brings us by the bar and the library before returning us to the reception lobby.  From there we take the stairs to the Violin deck cabins (they are offset from the public areas of the deck.)

AmaSonata_library

*Library photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

Once we make our way up to the Violin deck cabin area we find ourselves at the Cruise Director and Hotel Manager’s desks.  On our two cruises the Cruise Director was the awesome Rachel!

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From here we continue heading towards the rear of the ship passing through the hallway of the deck three cabin area.  There are five cabin types on this deck, including our AA twin balcony cabin 305.  You will first pass the one AA+ twin balcony and three suites, followed by the AA twin balconies and then the BA twin balconies, with the Category C French balconies at the end of the hallway.

AA Cabin 305

For information and photos on the other AmaSonata cabins (AmaPrima would be the same save colors)

From here we proceed to the aft of the ship on deck three, where the Chef’s Table restaurant is located.  You may have dinner here one night of the cruise and it is complimentary.  I do recommend on itineraries including Budapest, to choose your night there, the views are spectacular!

Leaving the Chef’s Table, just forward of it’s entrance,  you will see the entrances to the Gym on one side and the massage room/hair salon on the other.

*Salon Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

From here we will take the aft staircase down to deck two, the Cello deck.  The section of deck two aft of the elevator and main staircase is only made up of cabins, starting with Category C French balconies farthest aft, followed by BB twin balconies, category AB twin balconies and finally finishing with a few more BB’s at the farthest position forward.  I am including a photo of our BB cabin from the AmaPrima, you can see the link above for photos of the other cabin types.

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So we find ourselves now back at the elevator and main staircase,on the deck two cabin area landing.  From here we take the stairs down to the deck two forward area, where the main restaurant is located, breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here daily, have I mentioned their eggs benedict??

If we leave and return to the elevator and stairs we can either go down to level one, the Piano deck, here we will only find a cabin corridor, this corridor is first occupied by Category D fixed window cabins, with Category E fixed window cabins farther aft.  Instead, we will go up to deck three reception lobby, from here we can step outside through large sliding glass doors on either side of the ship.  Here we will find stairs leading to the Sun deck, which is the large outdoor deck on the top of the ship.  The sun deck is home to a decently sized, heated outdoor pool with swim up bar.  There are also comfortable seating areas, a walking track, large outdoor chess game and the wheelhouse.  I imagine this will be a great place to hang out in the warmer months, like my July 2018 cruise!  So far I have only sailed the Christmas market itineraries, which are just magical but brrrrrrrrrrr……….

*Pool photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

Cruising on  one of the AmaWaterways’ twin balcony ships is a great way to see Europe.   I cannot wait for my next cruise, right now it seems so far away!  Oh, and did I mention how much I love their eggs benedict?  Stay tuned and I will do a writeup on AmaWaterways’ dining.

 

 

Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (Part 1)

I had intended to visit during the passholder preview, that was given before the official opening on May 27th, but I missed the email invitation (thanks to Gmails “helpful” filters) and by the time I saw it, it was much too late to get on the list.  There was no way I was going anywhere near Animal Kingdom on opening day, which happened to fall over the Memorial Day weekend, so we decided to visit a few days later.  It was still crazy busy but not the 4 hour plus lines of opening day.  We planned to visit later in the evening and ride the attraction with the shortest wait time, which happens to consistently be the Na’vi River Journey.

Here are a few photos of the walk into Pandora, which during the day looks much like the rest of Animal Kingdom with it’s lush, tropical landscaping and sculpted concrete hardscape.

 

The stated wait time for the Na’vi River Journey was 105 minutes, this ended up being an excruciating 150 minutes, a reminder to not always trust the wait times…  So, we grabbed a cold beverage and a “Fruits of Mo’ara” Raspberry, lime and strawberry popsicle from a cart by where the loooooong line for the ride was queued, to help cool off.

The theming in the main covered queueing area was quite nice and the occasional fans and water bottle refill station were a nice touch.

At loooooonnnnggggg last we finally made it to the ride!  It was short and there really is no story line like Pirates of the Caribbean but it is very beautiful and the animatronics were absolutely lifelike.

 

And of course, this being Florida in the summer, when we got off of the ride it was FLOODING and STORMING!  I can tell you that there are not enough covered areas in this part of the park when it rains and being shooed out of nearly any available shelter in the middle of an active thunderstorm,  by park employees, made me quite angry.  Anyway the rain eventually dwindled and I was able to get a few shots of Pandora at night which is just beautiful with the black lights and glowing paint.

We spent some time in the very crowded Satu’li Canteen waiting on the rain to diminish, I tried a Pandoran Sunrise while we were there which was pretty good.  The food here looks great and we plan on trying it when we go back on Thursday to ride Avatar Flight of Passage so stay tuned for my next Pandora post!

Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs

Disney restaurants can be pretty hit or miss and with the inflated prices they charge, to me it is always a risk trying something new.  My friend Sheena and I decided to take the gamble and have our girl’s night out at a Disney Springs because we wanted to get in some shopping.  It was a last minute decision so available reservations were limited, out of the available options Frontera Cocina won out.

Frontera Cocina, a Chef Rick Bayless Mexican eatery,  opened June 27, 2016 and with me being an avid fan of just about all Latin food, I am surprised it took me this long to try it.

We arrived about 15 minutes early for our reservation and were told, despite empty tables all around, that they do not seat reservations early, okay no problem we can get a little shopping in while we wait.  Upon returning, we were directed to the hostess to be seated. Looking around, there are shelves lined with vivid Oaxacan carvings and interesting tequila bottles.  The walls are brightly painted and the focal point is a beautiful tiled mosaic, the restaurant also features a semi-open kitchen and a full stand alone bar.

This restaurant gets very mixed reviews online but I am happy to report we had a great meal and experience.  We started with drinks (Sangria for me!) and an order of the chips and salsa, which for me are like crack, so I proceeded to nearly spoil my appetite on them. They were a heavier chip served with both smoky chipotle salsa and a salsa verde.

Dinner Menu

It took me forever to order the main dish because there were so many great options (red snapper, shrimp, carne asada…) on the menu. In the end my personal favorite Mexican meat dish, carnitas, was the winner and I was not disappointed, it was moist and had a great citrus flavor.  I should mention that they were very accommodating with substitutions, I hate beans and guacamole and was allowed to substitute the cotija cheese mashed potatoes and crema.  Sheena had an easier time, from the moment she saw the carne asada she was sure that was the right choice, she was not disappointed either.  I tried the carne asada and can confirm it had a great flavor, it was a bit overcooked for me, I prefer my beef cooked medium but Sheena likes a more well done steak so she was happy.  She thought the beans and plantains were great as well, I think I have mentioned that I loathe beans and while I do love sweet plantains, these were served topped with crema and cotija cheese, I also do not mix my sweet and salty foods so I did not try them.

Despite being so full I could just die at this point, I was with Sheena and if there is one thing I can say about her, the girl loves dessert!  Frontera Cocina doesn’t have your garden variety Mexican tres leches, which BTW is one of my favorite desserts, they step it up a notch and add one more leches to the mix for a cuatro leches cake.  Had. To. Have. It!  It also had coconut and lime zest added, the lime zest I wasn’t sure about for a tres (sorry cuatro!) leches cake but the subtle lime flavor added a unique twist and it tasted amazing!

Dessert Menu

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From reading other’s reviews, I cannot promise you will have the great experience we did but if they remain consistent to what we experienced, you will have a very enjoyable meal.

Also, they do provide discounts for Disney Annual Pass holders, Tables in Wonderland members and Disney cast members (lunch only.)