Monday, March 29, 2010

The Gaylord Palms in Orlando

On the surface, this is a pretty awesome hotel. Everything under one roof, the way only states with tons of land can do it. The atrium and gardens in the center (complete with a partial castle) are pretty cool. Koi, turtles and alligators are all on view (not in the same pond). There are snakes down in the Everglades section and rays in the Key West wing. There is a ship floating in Key West. Waterfalls are always running and the air feels a bit tropical even with sun and humidity.

Every staff person I spoke with at the hotel: in restaurants, shops, at the front desk - everyone was friendly. In five days I did not run into a rude staff person. The rooms were clean, in good condition, thick windows to block out sound and heat, bedding was awesome. The bathrooms were clean and large with plenty of counter space. With your $15 resort fee, you get free wi-fi access, free admission to the fitness center and two free bottles of water a day. Pretty awesome stuff.

Now the bad: the decor in the St. Augustine tower. What were they thinking? This is a picture of the comforter / sham pattern in my room:

Terrifying, isn't it?

Food: Over-priced, but I expect that in a resort that can keep you trapped indoors at all times and has a captive audience. However, the H20 Sports Bar out by the pool was terrible. We ate there twice (remember: captive) just to get outside a bit and it was horrid. Don't even think about trying the cocktails unless you really dig things with odd colors and tons of sugar. The guacamole was pretty bland and the Sloppy Joe Sliders truly seemed like sloppy joe's out of a can.

Sunset Sam's was better - I like the ability to choose a fish and a sauce and it is kept simple. This was probably the second best meal I had here - but be warned butter is used liberally in cooking everything. The wine selection was decent but again I avoided the cocktails.

The sushi joint, Sora, was pretty darn good. Not the most stunning sushi I have ever had, but good. They had some fun side dishes like nachos (not what you are thinking) that were intriguing. The cocktails here were interesting and the best in the resort - especially given the apparent state law in Florida that all cocktails must be SWEET.  The problem here was timing: we ordered a couple of things to get us started after being told the sushi would take 45 minutes to come out to the table. About 45 minutes later, the sushi came out and THEN the appetizers came out. Not cool.

Java Coast - this is the quick and simple coffee shop located in the atrium. The coffee varied - some days it was so watered down it just wasn't even consumable. Some days it was average only but it was never good. The food was pre-packaged and "OK". It was fast and relatively cheap so it would get you through the day as you dashed from one conference session to the next. Wraps, sandwiches, salads. That's about it. After eating wraps for lunch everyday, you can actually start to lose you mind - just FYI.

As I mentioned, I was at the Palms for a conference and these guys do know how to manage large groups of people. From what I saw, things went off without a hitch for a conference that must have had between 3000 and 4000 attendees. Impressive!

Happy Travels - and watch out for the nightmare monkeys!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Eatin' and Drinkin' in Las Vegas! Feb 2010 version

I just have to say first that drinks and snacks in Las Vegas are expensive. It is really tough to eat well and cheap. Even "to-go" places like 'wichcraft are going to be pricey. Over the years, I've also heard again and again how amazing the culinary experience is in Vegas - but on a recent trip: meh, not so much. I may be biased though (and not just bitter and cynical) because I live in San Francisco. SF really is a foodie town and a haven for cocktails. 

Happy Hours seem to have finally taken off in Vegas, probably due to the economy. At the MGM Grand, Michael Mina's Seablue had a great happy hour - $1 oysters, $1 peel and eat shrimp, lobster corndogs and Stella on draft. Also at the MGM, Nob Hill (another Michael Mina restaurant) had a late night happy hour with cocktail and food specials. We ended up here two nights in a row and had a blast. I love the lounge in Nob Hill also - very comfy and off the beaten path.

Still within the MGM: I wasn't impressed with Pearl. Very pricey and portions were average. The service was average and overall, the food was just not interesting. Studio Wok is not far away and is cheaper for about the same quality of food. Finally, Wolfgang Puck's was outrageously expensive and without any true distinction to the food.

Dining outside the MGM: Michael Mina at the Bellagio was a favorite of ours a few years ago, but this time around it just did not seem to hit the mark. It is hard to put a finger on what exactly it was, but on the winter tasting menu it seemed like more of the dishes were a "miss" than a hit - and the ones we enjoyed were barely above average. One of my favorite restaurants in Vegas is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Consistently we've had good service, excellent food and are lucky enough to get the romantic window tables with views of the Bellagio fountains. This is the BEST way to see the fountains too - you miss out on the cheesy music to which they choreograph the fountains and just get to see the amazing display!

Drinkin': My favorite lounge is the Baccarat bar in Bellagio. Drink prices are average for Vegas (in other words, not cheap) but the piano and bass player there are just too much fun. When they pulled out a version of Coldplay's "Clocks" I was laughing - they were clearly enjoying themselves and having fun shaking it up. For the lounge you have a view of the casino and the people watching is just rich. We love to make up stories about the people we see around us - just so many different folks coming and going. Back inside the MGM, I am going to go for cheese factor and admit to liking Rouge. I love red and I like the fact that while you have a bit of a shield around you, you still have some good people watching. The drinks are average quality and (of course): over-priced.

The loser in the Drinkin' category for Vegas: West Wing Bar in the MGM. Wow. No smoking in this bar, but they do have TVs with sports on. This completely clashes with the "ultra-modern cool" vibe they are going for and to top it all off: this is the area people walk through to get to the elevators for their rooms in the West Wing.

Clearly, there is much more to Vegas - I hope to return to debunk the "Vegas is a foodie heaven" myth or find those secret gems somewhere.

Happy Travels!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dog-friendly in San Francisco: A few of our favorite places!

As mentioned in a previous post, San Francisco has more dogs than children: so thinking "dog-friendly" for your business is going to make a difference. On a recent trip to Ohio, I realized that while the Midwest has plenty of dogs, they stay at home. It was a stark contrast to the dog-friendly environment in San Francisco.

If you are visiting SF with your furbaby, here are a few of our Fuzzbutt approved places.

Eating / Drinking:

Elite Cafe - Sunday brunch is a favorite here, and reservations are not taken. If you want the outside tables (heat lamps are provided), get here early. This is a heavy dog area - it seems like everyone is walking a dog here. If they aren't, they love dogs and will stop and admire yours! Try the habenero-infused vodka bloody mary for a kick and the deviled eggs are yummy!

Absinthe - The sidewalk tables are small and the sidewalk area isn't very broad. So make sure to keep tails well out of the pedestrian walk area. The staff are great with dogs and welcoming. No heat lamps, but this is Hayes Valley which tends to be a tad bit warmer than other parts of the city. Try the burger and the deviled eggs. And the fries. And the cheese. Oh heck - try it all!

Park Chalet - Dog heaven. Hang out on the lawn with your best friend, order food, listen to music. In the summer, it is super crowded here so stake a claim on your spot early!


Corona Heights - Fenced in dogpark! Fuzzbutt is not an off-leash kind of dog, so this place is fantastic for us. The dogs here seem to be generally well-behaved and many of the pack walkers and dog walkers come here in the afternoons. After playing in the park, you can climb to the peak and have amazing 360 views of the city. The downside is the park gets super muddy and takes some time to dry out. In the summer, it can get dusty, though parks and rec have made an effort to add more mulch to control the dust factor.

Fort Funston - Since we don't do the off-leash thing, I cannot speak personally to this one. But EVERY dog owner I speak with loves this park. This dog beach is a top spot again and again. It is huge! The NorCal beaches are not known for being warm, so bring layers - and watch your dog in the surf. The Pacific Ocean can have some funky currents in this area.

Golden Gate Park - There is an off-leash and fenced dog park around 38th and Fulton Street. On-leash, the park is dog-friendly and huge. There are cool paths through the woods as you get closer to the ocean end of the park. Stow Lake is very entertaining, especially if your dog likes to chase birds (which is frowned on, but still funny). Do not let your dog in the lakes to actually EAT the ducks and geese - this is seriously bad form. Stow Lake has Strawberry Hill in the center which is a great climb and fun to explore.


Fillmore Street - From about O'Farrell all the way up to Sacramento Street, Fillmore Street is a homage to consumerism. It is also a very dog-friendly area. Every store we've walked in, except for the food stores, has been welcoming of dogs. We always ask first, but have never been denied. One block over at Steiner and California is ... park. More fun for your best friend!

Union Square - We took Fuzzbutt here often as a puppy to help socialize him. It is absolute chaos, so if you have a timid dog, I wouldn't recommend this area. There is only one good green area for potty breaks, located on the Post side of the Union Square green area. The cable car lines in the streets can freak out some dogs also and there is just so much foot traffic that you really have to keep your dog close to you to avoid them being stepped on. The stores are nearly all dog-friendly: Macy's, Tiffanys, Barneys, William-Sonoma, Banana Republic, Lush - all have been tested and are good with dogs coming in. Outdoor dining is limited, but if you go over to Belden Place you'll find plenty of outdoor seating.

Happy Travels!