Ever wanted to swim with the manatees? You have a chance to with two winter packages at the Plantation on Crystal River in Florida, said to be the only place in North America where you can legally swim and interact with the sea cows in the wild. The breed found at Crystal River is the West Indian manatee.
at $224 for two people, the one-night swim package includes a room,
manatee snorkeling tour for two, equipment included, breakfast for
two and a welcome bag with plush manatee toy, manatee facts and
interaction guidelines. The tour is guided, and leaves from the
The resort also offers a swim-and-dive package starting at $448 for two people, which gives the manatee package, a second night's lodging, and a guided tour for two on Rainbow River. Manatee tours are offered year-round at the resort, but in winter, guests are far more likely to see them. During prime manatee-viewing season, usually Oct. 1-March 31, guests can see and interact with up to 350 of the gently lumbering beasts as they play, eat and socialize with each other.
For information, visit www.plantationoncrystalriver.com or call 800-632-6262.
Star Wars Land at Walt Disney World? It sounds like it.
According to the website, Theme Park Insider, a series of attractions based on the “Star Wars” movie franchise is coming to the Hollywood Studios theme park at Walt Disney World, possibly by the year 2018. Cars Land, the popular addition to Disneyland’s California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, Calif., also appears to be a part of the major revamping in order to compete with Universal Studios Florida across town.
“This appears to be a five-year project,” Robert Niles writes, “though Disney could choose to throw money at it and accelerate it by a year.”
When Disney purchased the rights to Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise late last year for $4.05 billion, it immediately meant the reality of a new film, as well as other marketing opportunities that would seem to be a natural fit within the company’s theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim, Calif., where the “Star Tours” ride remains a popular attraction. "Star Wars"-themed weekends are also popular at Hollywood Studios periodically throughout the year.
Up next, a battle for the Death Star? Pod racing? Escape from Cloud City?
Gotta go to Moe’s? If you’re in the mood for a burrito, there are dozens of locations in Massachusetts. If you’re looking to share a cold one with Homer Simpson and Barney Gumble, you’ll have to make your way to Springfield. Or, Orlando, Fla.
Universal Studios Florida unveiled its latest theme park attraction over the weekend with the mythical Moe’s Tavern as part of “Fast Food Boulevard,” featuring other dining locales from the long-running Fox animated series, including Krusty Burger, the Flying Dutchman, and Cletus’ Chicken Shack. For the most part, the expansion of the park’s Simpsons’ ride is little more than fast food licensed as Simpsons’ merchandise. But check out the above exploration of Moe’s Tavern, and it’s like walking into the series to enjoy a Duff beer. Visitors can even snap their photo with the ubiquitous Barney.
According to InsidetheMagic.net, there is more to come in the re-vamped area, including a Duff Brewery attraction as well as “Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl ride.”
Alligators, black bears and panthers, oh my! They're the Holy Grail of Everglades wildlife watchers. But Captain Al Cruz and the staff of Miami-Dade's Venom Response team have their sights trained on critters of the invasive kind. Think Burmese Pythons, African Rock Pythons, Nile Monitor lizards and most recently, the Tegu Lizard, which preys on small small ground mammals and their eggs.
This scene unfolded while I was munching a gator taco at Gator Grill on the road into the Arnold Coe entrance of Everglades National Park. Despite their hyped-up reputation, Tegus mostly eat and sun themselves, and don't attack unless cornered.
Guy Harvey Outpost, a TradeWinds Beach Resort on Florida’s west coast on the island of St. Pete Beach, celebrates Earth Day and its National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Dolphin SMART recertification, by offering two free dolphin watch trips with each suite reserved for at least two nights.
By Patricia Borns, Glove Correspondent
As April 20-28 marks National Parks Week, there's still a short window to visit Everglades National Park before it's swallowed in mosquitos and uber high humidity. As you roll along SW 192nd Ave. toward the park's most visited Arnold Coe entrance, keep an eye peeled for Gator Grill, where a Brooklyn, NY transplant is cooking up the best gator bites around.
Then, in 2010, a local farmer Sal Mucumeci offered him a spot near the Everglades agricultural buffer to start a business. The location offered a steady stream of Glades traffic and a standout neighbor: the wildly popular exotic fruit smoothie stand Robert Is Here, a short hike down the road.DeVito jumped at the chance, and voila, or should we say, ecco: a menu of farm-raised gator and locally sourced frog legs done every which way except fried was born, with South Florida's best Italian meatball sub thrown in for good measure.
Recently I tried the popular gator tacos served with crispy shredded slaw and DeVito's delicious cream sauce ($9.95), outstanding. You might equally like the grilled gator kabob ($9.95) or the area's only local frog legs served in wine and garlic butter sauce instead of a fried basket ($9.95). For the less adventurous, DeVito has gourmet burgers in the $6.00 range including a vegan version, a local fish sandwich and sweet potato fries.
As I chowed down at one of the outdoor picnic tables, a glimpse of Glades wildlife in the form of an invasive cannibalistic tegu lizard slithered from behind an out building and tried to cross the road!
The first South Walton Beaches Food & Wine Festival takes place April 25-28 in Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, on South Walton's beaches in northwest Florida. More than 800 wines and a culinary village will comprise the event, proceeds from which benefit the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation for children in need in northwest Florida. The run-up to the event began Feb. 1, with an international wine competition held at the Hilton Sandestin Beach, a founding partner of the event. As a founding partner, the hotel is offering two packages for the April event. The Grand Tasting Getaway packages features upgraded beach-view rooms and two tickets to the grand tasting April 27, with rates from $409 a night, using booking code "WF." The VIP Wine Lover's Weekend package includes beach-view rooms, two tickets to the exclusive Vibrant Rioja Reserva & Grand Reserva Tasting & Food Pairing event April 26, two upgraded VIP tickets to the grand tasting April 27, and two tickets to the after-party party April 27. Rates for this package start at $769 a night, using booking code "VP." Both packages require a minimum two-night stay. For more information about the deals, visit www.HiltonSandestinBeach.com. To check out the food and wine event, visit www.SoWalWine.com
AAA Travel has announced new discounts and deals for consumers booking their Walt Disney vacations through their local AAA branches in January. Benefits to AAA members include exclusive the Disney Story Tell Experience; Diamond Savings Card, which gets holders up to 20 percent savings on dining, shopping and events; Diamond parking, which gets you closer proximity to the park; and preferred fireworks viewing locations. Booking in January gets members things like a Disney Gift Card offer; a $50 onboard credit for Disney Cruise Line trips when booking for a May 2-Sept. 26 departure; and $100 off the land-package price of an Adventure by Disney vacation. Check it out at your local AAA travel office, visit www.southernnewengland.aaa.com/sne/travel/disney.php or call 800-222-7448.
Come to Panama City Beach in the northern Florida Panhandle and you’ll soon find, by dialect and design, a place apart from what you might usually think of as Florida.
South Florida, arguably from the midpoint of the state on down, is a place where everyone seems to be from someplace else, where you’re far more likely to hear a New York or other accent than a southern one.
Not so in Panama City Beach, in the belly of the deep South, rooted below Alabama and Georgia, not far from Louisiana. Here, when locals saying they’re going anywhere, they’re likely to say in a rich, lovely drawl, “I’m fixin’ to go to…..,” a place where grits in all marvelous manner of incarnations are as common in trendy restaurants as they are in strip-mall eateries.
This beachside community is small but gets big-visitor numbers, with a year-round population of about 7,500 and tourists numbering six million a year. And given its northern Florida location buffeted by Gulf of Mexico breezes, it doesn’t get as oppressively steamy as southern Florida, even in summer.
We visited over New Year’s weekend, never having been before, and found a eclectic place of business, a mix of tattoo parlors, tchotchke stores, dive shops, go-cart tracks, and, I kid you not, the “Condom Knowledge Novelty Shop,” side by side in an area with upscale restaurants, shops, family attractions and high-rise condos..
Panama City Beach is righteously most famous for its beach, a 27-mile stretch of sugary sand so white, at first glance you’d swear it was snow, the result of quartz crystals washing down from the Appalachian Mountains centuries ago and being ground, smoothed and polished until the surf of the Gulf of Mexico deposited billions of grains of sand on the shoreline. Along its coast, Panama City Beach is dotted by mostly high-rise condos for rent, and only a couple of hotels, about 21,000 housing units in all, most with smashing ocean views and riveting sunsets.
A year ago, the city finished up a three-month, $16-million beach re-nourishment project working with the U.S. Corps of Engineers, pumping 1.4-million cubic yards of sand to about seven and a half miles of beach, extending the shoreline by 100 feet in some locations. It was the third major beach replenishment in the last dozen years.
One of the city’s crown recreational jewels is St. Andrews State Park with a stunning beach that was named the second-best in America by TripAdvisor. The 1,260-acre park has forest, snow-white sand dunes covered with sea oats, fresh and saltwater marshes, a lagoon swimming area, fishing jetties, hiking trails, a mile and a half of beach and two campgrounds. It is also home to many white-tailed deer, hundreds of bird species, and the occasional alligator. It opened in 1951, and had been the site of a World War II military reservation. There is also the newly opened 2,900-acre Panama City Beach Conservation Park, created to rehydrate thousands of acres of protected wetlands, which consists of a system of boardwalks and 24 miles of dirt trails.
Panama City Beach has a lot of the old-Florida feel, but it’s a city on the rise, a low-key, down-home kind of place with a central touristy core in Pier Park, a five-year-old retail strip by the water with more than a million square feet of shopping and eating, with entities like Margaritaville (try the El Diablo, a true burger in paradise, topped with poblano peppers), French Charmed, Francesca’s Collection and an IMAX theater. For families, there’s a great playground there, with some of the original rides from the iconic Miracle Strip Amusement Park that closed a few years ago. Other family favorites in the city include Shipwreck Island Water Park, Gulf World Marine Park, Emerald Coast Mirror Maze and Grand Maze at Coconut Creek.
It’s also gotten easier to get there; in 2010, Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport opened, the first international airport in the country to open since the terrorist attacks of 2001, served by just two airlines so far, Southwest and Delta. It’s a place so new it’s not surrounded by the usual glut of airport hotels, restaurants and stores, a virtual stand-alone entity in the middle of a forest, a place with a welcoming, unhurried feel, not to mention unusually cheap airport parking: The long-term lot charge is $9 a day.
Panama City Beach’s food scene is significant, with the fare of most places focusing on seafood, in places upscale and down-home. In the middle are places like The Boatyard on Grand Lagoon, accessible by land and sea, known for killer views and terrific seafood, including oysters, fish tacos and sushi. On the smaller side are places like the gourmet sandwich shop, Liza’s Kitchen, where the Nassau grits have a nice kick, and is famous for its “Hippie Chick” and Portobello grill sandwiches and its cutesy, kid-made polka-dot placemats bearing how-they-see-it recipes, such as one for cake calling for four cups of oil and five teaspoons of salt baked at 49 degrees for seven hours.
More upscale and trendy are places like Firefly, where the signature dishes are the silky smooth she-crab soup and the espresso-rubbed and tomato-braised free-range Texas boar shank, succulent, sweet and so tender, it falls off the bone. They also create a mean John Daly, named after the pro golfer, a concoction of vodka, lemonade and ice tea that is disarmingly easy to consume. Chef Paul Stellato creates the menu, and is used to pressure, having cooked for Team USA athletes at last year’s summer Olympics. But he faced pressure of another kind in 2010, when President Obama and his family dined there and the president had the N.Y strip steak and his wife the fried lobster – with the Secret Service watching every move of preparation. For the record, he paid with his personal credit card, with agents taking all records of the transaction with them.
Other notable eateries are Boar’s Head Restaurant, which mixes it up nicely with seafood and meat, from its signature fried lobster to whopping prime rib and good game offerings, such as quail, venison and duck; Mike’s Café and Oyster Bar, very hot with the locals offering things like black-eyed peas, collard greens and my favorite, shrimp and grits for breakfast; and Andy’s Flour Power Café and Bakery, where you get a huge and hugely decadent “Café Skillet,” seared potatoes, onions and peppers topped with eggs, ham, tomato and melted sharp cheddar for breakfast, negating the need for lunch.
Panama City Beach was largely spared damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the gulf oil spill in 2010, remaining a steady, reliable and temperate choice for tourists, drawing mainly from the southern states. If you’re from father away and fixin’ to check out the real Florida as it used to be and still is in the panhandle, Panama City Beach is a pretty good choice..
For information on the destination, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
Biggest losers? Hardly. Jackie and Dan Evans, mother-and-son contestants in 2008 on the popular “Biggest Loser” TV series where large people shed weight on screen, lost 89 and 136 pounds respectively that season in the televised boot-camp style weight-loss program. They didn’t win the contest but are now touring the country hosting “The Biggest Loser Half Marathon and 5K RunWalk” events, touting the benefits of exercising and healthy eating.
We met up with Jackie and Dan in Panama City Beach, Florida, over the New Year’s weekend, where they were hosting the inaugural event, one of many they’ll do in the coming year, from Florida to Oregon and a bunch of places in between, licensed through the NBCUniversal Television Consumer Products Group and Shine America. They also do “Off Road Challenge”events and a “Get Fit, Get Ready” race series.
We had dinner with them one night at The Boatyard in Panama City Beach, one of the destination’s most popular restaurants, and where they looked like they’d kept their weight off. And for good reason: In 2011 alone, they did more than 20 half marathons, and have embraced a healthier lifestyle. For the record, at the Boatyard they ate fish and didn’t finish, taking their leftovers back to their hotel.
“I’m not saying I couldn’t eat that whole thing,” laughed Dan Evans,24, when I pointed to a giant bowl of insanely good crab dip. “I’m just saying I won’t.”
And this is a guy who for much of his life was a frequent fast-food flyer by day, gorging himself at all-you-can-eat buffets by night. He was working as a director at his family’s summer camp in Illinois when the idea came to his mother to try out for the show. She was a big fan.
“I’d watch with a huge bowl of popcorn coated with about a stick of melted butter,” she said with a rueful laugh.
Dan Evans, a young man blessed with an abundance of personality, tried out and got the nod, and then the producers thought a mother-son angle would work well. They did almost six months of grueling exercise and dieting, with cameras watching every single move, recording every bit of drama and infighting among contestants. Dan Evans said one of the guys on their team was a former college football player who claimed his gridiron workouts were nothing like those on “The Biggest Loser.”
Along the way they became fast friends with others on their team and their team’s coach, Bob Harper, with whom they remain friends. The support they got, in what they termed the family feeling of the show, got them through. But then when it was over, it was a cold slap in the face.
“When you’re done, you’re done, that’s it,” Dan Evans said. “The night I lost, they had a car waiting with all my stuff in it. And a psychologist to talk to, to make sure I was OK.”
The hard part, he said, “was leaving the daily ritual and going home to television, the internet, friends and family, all the things denied to you for months while you’re on the show. Getting back to normal isn’t easy.”
Some relapse and go back to their old bad-eating ways. The Evans did not. They’ve got this gig going now, and Dan Evans, a lifelong musician, cut a record soon after the show, “Going All Out,” which he said made it to number seven on the country-music charts that year.
“The one thing you learn is you can overcome struggle,” Jackie Evans said of their time on the hit show. “We were convinced early on we couldn’t do it, that we’d fail. But then we realized we could, we did have the willpower. You can make excuses, that your weight is genetic, that you’re predisposed to being fat, and maybe that’s true. But then you realize it’s all on you, it’s up to you and that you can do it. They taught me that you can choose, you have the ability to do it.”
On Dec. 30, on an unusually cold Florida morning with temperatures near freezing just after dawn, thousands of participants lined up at Pier Park in Panama City Beach, waiting for the race to start. On stage, bedecked in Biggest Loser gear, Dan and Jackie Evans screamed into microphones, exhorting the waiting athletes to do their best, commending them for taking literal steps to a healthier lifestyle. And when it was over, they were there, shouting encouragement, shaking hands, hugging racers and doing all they could to keep the feeling going. All manner of people took part, from seasoned runners to newbies.
“Any of us can overcome whatever it is that makes us feel guilty about ourselves, our weight, our addiction to cigarettes or drugs or alcohol, whatever it is we’re doing to hurt ourselves,” Dan Evans said. “It can be done. It’s not easy, but it can be done.”
With 225 pounds lost between them, Dan and Jackie Evans may not have been the biggest losers that season but they’re now coming across as pretty big winners.
For more information on the Evans and the events they’re running, visit www.biggestloserrunwalk.com For more on Panama City Beach, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
There's only one of them, and it's only available from Dec. 14-Apr. 14, but Everglades National Park's new eco-tent is an inspired form of eco-digs that could lead to more and better lodging options for South Florida's giant subtropical wilderness.
The tent is located on the park's east side in the Flamingo camping area beside Florida Bay. It rests on a platform and offers a table, chairs, solar-powered lighting and, for the camping-averse, bed frames for your air mattress. It's being offered at $16/night (scheduled to increase to $30/night) with a three-night maximum to prototype the lodging concept. If successful, more eco-tents will provide the first (human) creature comforts the Flamingo area has had since 2005, when its hotel and cabins closed due to hurricane damage.
Contact the park for information and reservations.
Panama City Beach in Florida is hosting a Biggest Loser Half Marathon and 5K Run/Walk over New Year's weekend, and several hotels have come up with deals for participants with "stay-n-race" packages. Edgewater Beach & Golf Resort, which is headquarters for the event's free health and fitness expo, has rates starting at $79, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2. Use promo code Biggest Loser RunWalk when visiting www.edgewaterbeachresort.com, or call 800-874-8686.
The Bay Point Wyndham Resort's rates start at $69 for the event, with a 10-percent discount on spa services. Participants booking here need to call 850-236-6000. The hotel's website is www.wyndhambaypoint.com
Other properties with deals are By the Sea Resorts, with four-night packages starting at $199, using promo code BL12. For info and reservations, visit www.bythesearesorts.com or call 888-627-0625. Sleep Inn & Suites has a fourth-night free option, with rates starting at $77 through Feb. 28. Visit www.sleepinnpcb.com or call 850-249-2501. And Coastal Properties Services offers two nights free when booking three nights at select rental properties, including Moondrifter, Largo Mar and Top of the Gulf condos. Check it out at www.cpservices.net, or call 850-236-6620.
Registration is still ongoing for the inaugural Biggest Loser weekend, which includes the 5th Annual Beach Ball Drop on New Year's Eve at Pier Park, in which an 800-pound glowing beach ball drops to herald the start of the new year. Earlier that night, a family ball drop is held with 10,000 inflatable beach balls making the descent.
And if you're not up for venturing to Florida for a Biggest Loser event, check out the one in Boston Nov. 18 where participants will run and walk through Fenway Park. For information on all Biggest Loser events, visit www.biggestloserrunwalk.com For Panama City Beach info, check out www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
I've never been a huge football fan, but given the chance to talk to Don Shula, one of football's most beloved coaches, winner of back-to-back Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, while at the same time chowing down a world-class burger at a new restaurant bearing his name, you think I'm gonna say no?
The occasion was the opening earlier this year of the first Shula Burger at the Postcard Inn in Islamorada (formerly Holiday Isle, a legendary hotspot of the Florida Keys back in the day). The burger joint is the newest part of the Shula culinary empire, which consists of Shula's Steak Houses, Shula's 347 and Shula's 2 Steak and Sports.
"We had a lot of success in restaurants, starting in Miami Lakes where we live, then on to Tampa, then outside Florida," said Coach, as I found myself respectfully calling him as everyone does, a title he'll righteously never lose despite not having coached for years. "We'd never done it before, but my wife, she has a great business mind."
So does his son, David, who runs the food empire, and who also had coached for the Cincinnati Bengals. Opening night at Shula Burger, David was explaining to rapt football fans the details of a play scrawled on one wall, one of his dad's plays from the Super Bowl years that was found on a yellow legal pad Coach had drawn. Sitting near the wall bearing the play writ large was a familiar face: Bob Griese, fabled Dolphins quarterback and winner of said Super Bowls, and long-time great and food friend of Shula.
Coach looked great, still fairly active at 83, though not as much as he'd like: A balky back had sidelined his golf game, he grumbled. I asked where the next Shula Burger would be opening.
"I don't know," he shrugged, as we sat on the outside patio of the restaurant. "They don't tell me anything."
"But Coach, you're the face of the franchise," I offered. He just smiled.
And he's still good dealing with reporters bearing loaded statements.
"Coach, I have to say, you have a way better personality than Bill Belichick," I teased about the sour-pussed Pats coach.
He laughed and held up one hand, Super Bowl ring flashing, as if about to make a point, but diplomatically stopped, talking instead about what a great receiver Wes Welker was for the Pats and calling Tom Brady "a great quarterback, just so cool under pressure." Just a few feet away sat Griese, one of the greatest and coolest of all time.
Shula Burger is a lovely place with, naturally, a football motif, and an impressive menu of burgers of all stripe, the buns fresh and fluffy and branded - literally - with the Shula name. My fave was Coach's as well, "The Don,"which has an all-beef hot dog, split and grilled, served atop a burger with pickles, onion, sauce, cheese and mustard served on a branded brioche-style bun.
"You go to a barbecue, what do you get?" the Coach asked, setting up the punchline as easily as Griese set up in the pocket all those years ago. "A burger and a dog. Why not put 'em together? Makes perfect sense."
Coach was looking a little tired, but remained gracious despite my blabbering, but I moved on as he moved inside, to pose with the staff, Griese, his son, his wife, anyone who wanted his time and chance to pose with him and talk burgers or football. But mostly football.
Now, I wish I had his ear, I'd love to know what he thought of the replacement officials in the NFL. I'm sure he'd have plenty to say - between bites of "The Don" that is.Photos from Shula Burger. Top photo, from left, Bob Griese, Mary Anne and Don Shula
It was 30 years ago today that Epcot Center opened its doors at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The unique theme park, a “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow,” was inspired by Walt Disney’s dream of creating an innovative community in which to live and work. Made up of Future World and World Showcase, the enormous park has evolved over the last three decades, hosting a variety of attractions, rides, and cultural aspects.
Do you have a favorite Epcot memory or a feeling about a specific attraction that may be extinct? Let us know in the comments section.
The Epicurean is being developed in collaboration with Bern's Steak House in Tampa, and will be the first newly built property to join the Autograph Collection of Marriott International. Joe Collier, president of the development company doing the project, Mainsail Lodging & Development, said some of the special experiences planned for the Epicurean includes wine lockers for guests, evening wine sampling, signature organic bath products and luxury linens and pillows. The Hotel will also be home to the popular annual Bern's WineFest, and will host a variety of cooking demos and classes, wine exhibitions and more from chefs and sommeliers around the world.
For more information on the Epicurean, visit www.epicureanhotel.com
Visit Sarasota County will pick a winner from each method of entry who will win a pair of round-trip tickets to Sarasota from any airport served by JetBlue (Boston's Logan International is one of them); a two-night stay at Helmsley Sandcastle hotel or Hotel Indigo Sarasota; and gift certificates to local attractions that reflect the winners' favorite shorts styles, which can include leisure shorts, cultural shorts, culinary shorts and others.
Tourism folks said the shorts theme relates to the laid-back attitude of the area since people can wear them while doing just about anything the area offers, including going to the ballet and museums. For the pun-intended "shorts list" about the contest and other info about Sarasota, visit www.sarasotainshorts.com
The addition of "Gaston's Tavern" to the newly-revamped Fantasyland in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom raised some eyebrows recently due to the theme park's long-standing ban on alcoholic beverages. What's in a name though, right?
As it turns out though, alcohol will not be served at the forthcoming restaurant. It will, however, be served at "Be Our Guest," which opens Nov. 19, sparking a debate as to why the ban has been lifted at the most family-friendly of Disney's four theme parks.
"As part of the overall theming, we wanted to offer wine that enhances the guest experience and complements the French-inspired cuisine," beverage director Stuart McGuire told the Disney Parks Blog. "The wines focus primarily on France's famous wine-growing regions, including Champagne, Alsace, Loire, Rhone, Burgundy and Bordeaux.
"We'll also offer the leading French beer, Kronenbourg 1664," said McGuire. "And, staying in the general region, we'll also offer Belgian beers."
Beer and wine has been served for years at Disney's Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot, where some visitors have even made it a day's challenge to sample beverages from around the World Pavillion, but the Magic Kingdom has always been treated as something of a sacred jewel in that regard by Disney. The quiet admission yesterday did not go unnoticed by many.
Previews of the new Fantasyland, which has already debuted a few attractions, begin in November, prior to its grand opening on Dec. 6.
Panama City Beach in Florida has launched a mobile app, available for Android, iPhone and iPad users which showcases all the coastal community offers. Visitors can use the app to map their day, check out deals and packages, see what events are coming up and everything else a good travel app does.
Dan Rowe, president and CEO of the Panama Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the new technology "offers our visitors a progressive yet amusing way to enhance their vacation," planning everything for the "sandy-bottom bunch" to "eco seekers."
You can jump start your planning with the "Decision Maker" tool, which selects dining, lodging or attractions based on criteria you enter, such as Gulf-front restaurants, kid-friendly stays or adventure-warrior options. Once in the destination, the app can be used as a GPS to find stuff using the "Near Me" function. Check it all out and download the app at www.visitpanamacitybeach.com
Getting healthy in a sunny warm place is never a bad idea, nor is planning ahead for it. On Dec. 30, "The Biggest Loser Half Marathon and 5K RunWalk" will be held in Panama City Beach, Florida. The destination has partnered with Dan and Jackie Evans - season give contestants on NBC's hit show, "The Biggest Loser" - to offer the event as a non-intimidating place for all participants, with longer course time limits to allow walkers to finish at their own pace. The event is licensed through NBCUniversal Television Consumer Products Group and Shine America.
If you stick around for the holiday, you can join in Panama City Beach's Fifth Annual Ball Drop on New Year's Eve, a new tradition that happens in the 1.1-million-square-foot outdoor lifestyle center, Pier Park, when an 800-pound glowing beach ball drops to mark the new year. Earlier in the evening, a family ball drop is held, when 10,000 beach balls drop from the sky and a fireworks display then lights it up.
Dan and Jackie Evans are a mother-son team featured on season five of NBC?s hit reality show, where they lost a combined 225 pounds. Since then, they've kept their weight off, eating and working out, to the point of completing more than 20 half marathons in 2011 alone. For information on them, and the event, check out www.BiggestLoser.com/RunWalk And for info on Panama City Beach, including where to stay, visit www.visitpanamacitybeach.com.
JetBlue Airlines announced today that it will begin service from T.F. Green International Airport near Providence, R.I., to multiple destinations in Florida beginning Nov. 29. T.F. Green becomes the 75th destination within JetBlue's network of airports.
JetBlue will initially offer two daily nonstop service to Orlando International Airport and one daily flight to Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport .To commemorate the addition of its 75th city, the airline is offering Florida fares as low as $75, available today through Aug. 1, for travel Nov. 29-Dec. 12.
Last year JetBlue chief executive Dave Barger said that the carrier was considering expanding to Providence, and possibly Worcester, but he suggested that Green was the first priority. The Worcester Telegram and Gazette reported that JetBlue officials said recently that the company had no plans “in the near future” for Worcester, but did not rule out the possibility.
"I am proud to welcome JetBlue Airways to Rhode Island," R.I. Governor Lincoln Chafee said in a statement. "The addition of JetBlue will have positive effects throughout the state: T.F. Green customers will have more flight options, the airport will enjoy the addition of new air service and jobs, and Rhode Island will continue to build its reputation as a great place to do business. JetBlue service makes T.F. Green Airport, in the heart of Warwick's growing transportation hub and regional connectivity, an even more appealing option for the traveling public."
Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney made big news over the weekend for having the plug pulled on them at London's Hyde Park, but believe it or not, that wasn't the oddest musical-related happening.
Welcome to the annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, which took place Saturday at the National Marine Sanctuary off Big Pine Key, Fla. This is a real thing.
About 300 divers and snorkelers listened to US 1 Radio 104.1 FM's broadcast of the event, which was piped through underwater speakers suspended from boats. According to the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce, "the submerged songfest typically features ocean- and water-themed selections ranging from the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" to humpback whale songs and 'water music' created by local musicians."
It sure seems...well, interesting. Immerse yourself in the experience with the video clip below.
This sale continues this summer's trend of deals with tightly limited dates and destinations. For this one you must book by midnight for travel July 9 - Oct. 3. Blackout dates include Aug. 29, Sept. 5, and other restrictions vary by route. Here are some sample one-way fares from Boston: $50 to Buffalo, N.Y.; $59 to Newark, N.J.; $66 to Nantucket; $85 to Washington, DC (Dulles); $110 to Raleigh-Durham, NC; $120 to Tampa; $130 to Ft. Myers; $143 to Bermuda; $160 to Phoenix; $174 to Santiago; and $223 to Aruba.
Upscale Bal Harbour Village on the northern fringe of Miami Beach, is trying to lure visitors this summer and fall with offers for families.
The St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, which opened up in January, has its "Sunsational Savings" offer, which includes a fourth-night free, $100 resort credit and a "Royal Cabana" for a day. Rates start at $499 per night, through Oct. 1. The resort also has its "Love Your Family" package, with rates from $499, a $50 resort credit, use of a Royal Cabana for a day, and a choice of a Starwood Preferred Guest Kids Pass or St. Regis Kids Pass for the full stay.
The hotel is one of four in the village. Up by Bal Harbour Beach is the five-star One Bal Harbour Resort & Spa, which is also offering a fourth night free, along with free Wi-Fi, no resort fee, and a beach experience that includes the usual (chairs, umbrellas) and the rather unique -- chilled scented towels, flavor-infused ice water, cooling mists and a dune area for the kids to play in.
Another hotel, the historic, Euro-style Sea View Hotel noted for its milkshakes, also has a fourth-night free offer at its newly renovated resort, along with free continental breakfast.
The fourth lodging option is at the Bal Harbour Quarzo hotel, on the Intracoastal Waterway, where guests get 10 percent off a one-night stay, 20 percent off two or 30 percent off three or more nights. Through Nov. 30, rates start at $220 a night at this boutique hotel that offers a new beach service this year and has free Wi-Fi and outdoor pool.
The village also has the Bal Harbour Beach Camp, a satellite children's club of the Miami Children's Museum run at the Sea View Hotel for those aged 3-10, with themed sessions. Family friendly eats are found at the Bal Harbour Shops' restaurants, that include La Goulue and Carpaccio. The Books & Books store runs a weekly story time for kids every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. And Haulover Park, between the Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway, is a favorite of families to hang out flying kites or go out on the water on fishing charters.
For more information and booking options, visit www.balharbourflorida.com