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NEWS: Carnival Cruise Line celebrates 25 years of sailing from Tampa

Carnival Cruise Line celebrated 25 years of sailing from Tampa on November 10th, 2019. The milestone was commemorated with a plaque from Carnival President Christine Duffy to Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson.

Carnival President Christine Duffy and Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson
 Left to right – Port Tampa Bay President and CEO Paul Anderson, Captain Allen Thompson – president of Tampa harbor pilots association, Carnival President Christine Duffy, Carnival’s Director of Port Operations Carlos Estrada, and Port Tampa Bay’s Senior Director of Business Development Greg Lovelace

The service first launched in 1994 and currently services 294,000 passengers a year from Tampa, nearly 9 times the original load. Tampa is an important part of Carnival’s “close-to-home ship deployment strategy in which the line positions ships near large U.S. population centers along the East and West Coasts and the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Tampa is a convenient, centrally located homeport – not to mention a popular vacation destination – and the growth that we’ve experienced at this port is a testament to the wonderful partnership with the Port we’ve enjoyed for the past 25 years,” said Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line. 

Carnival Legend

The 25th anniversary celebration was held aboard Carnival Legend, which arrived in Tampa last month, providing a new choice from this market. The ship features a variety of onboard innovations, including Green Thunder, a drop-down slide that’s one of the fastest and steepest at sea, along with food and beverage choices, such as the Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Pub, Bonsai Sushi serving Asian delicacies, Guy’s Burger Joint developed in tandem with Food Network star Guy Fieri, and a classic American steakhouse. The ship features hundreds of balcony staterooms as well a luxurious health and wellness facility.

Carnival Legend will operate a seasonal schedule of six-, seven-and eight-day cruises featuring top destinations in the western Caribbean, including Cozumel, Costa Maya, Belize, Mahogany Bay, Costa Rica, the Panama Canal and Grand Cayman.

The ship will also offer a 13-day Carnival Journeys cruise from Tampa to New York May 3-16, 2020, featuring a partial transit of the Panama Canal, along with visits to Aruba, Cozumel, Limon (Costa Rica), Cartagena (Colombia) and Grand Turk.

To learn more about Carnival Cruise Line, visit them online at Carnival.com

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NEWS: Busch Gardens Christmas Town returns to Tampa November 16th

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Busch Gardens Christmas Town will return to Tampa on Saturday, November 16th, 2019 and run through Monday, January 6th, 2020.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town schedule
Snow Princess at Busch Gardens Christmas Town

The annual award-winning event that celebrates the holiday season has some new additions this year:

  • The Most Wonderful Time: Enjoy a classy Christmas soirée with jazzy piano solos, a live band and heart-melting vocal performances.
  • The Holiday Sing-Along Train: This season, the park’s classic steam engine has a merry makeover, including more lights than ever. One of the most popular things to do has been updated for 2019.
  • Merry Mint Lane: Park guests can enjoy a close look at penguins and other animal ambassadors at the Animal Care Center. The area’s festive makeover includes photo opportunities with new Peppermint Pals, tasty treats and more.
  • Sugar Plum Princess: Joining the Ice Princess and Poinsettia Princess, a new Sugar Plum Princess will greet guests near Sultan’s Sweets candy shop.
  • Pumpkin Thrill Shakes: It’s not really fall or winter without pumpkin and Busch Gardens has added it to the line-up for their Christmas Town samplers.
  • Breakfast with Elmo & Friends: Families can enjoy hugs and high fives from their favorite Sesame Street friends as they celebrate the holidays with family-friendly eats at Dragon Fire Grill. Available select dates in November and December, space is limited and reservations are encouraged.
  • Taste of the Holidays Buffet: Guests can enjoy the views of Serengeti Plain and Cobra’s Curse, while feasting on holiday favorites at the park’s historic Serengeti Overlook Restaurant. This new buffet menu features returning classic favorites, like house-signature fried chicken and pumpkin cheesecake.
Busch Gardens Christmas Town Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer

For more information visit Christmas Town online at seaworldentertainment.com/christmastown/.

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Riding the Cross-Bay Ferry from Tampa to St. Petersburg

I had the pleasure of riding The Cross-Bay Ferry this past weekend from Downtown Tampa to Downtown St. Petersburg. It is perhaps the most innovative transportation solution I have witnessed in the Tampa Bay area and much needed.

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The price is fair at $8 one-way for adults ($5 with student ID, military ID, or seniors) and the time of the actual trip is efficient as well, easily beating the amount of travel time you would drive from Tampa to St. Pete (probably even better if consider daily traffic on I-275 and I-4). You can also avoid costly hourly parking rates on both sides of the bay at the same time, especially when there are festivals and sports games.

The initial trip was a little confusing because we had to locate the departure point which is behind the outdoor bar area at The Florida Aquarium in Channelside (there was a sign outside the Aquarium that helped us locate it).

I think the website could better explain where you’re departing and arriving from and maybe include that information with your receipt/boarding pass.

Once we were on our way it was great though. There was plenty of comfortable seating available on-board and the outdoor deck was breathtaking.

The Cross-Bay Ferry is equivalent to a ferry you might board in a big city like San Francisco to get to Sausalito for a fraction of the price. I would hope that it can grow its use in the future and become a standard part of the Tampa Bay Area.

You get all the views of beautiful Tampa Bay for a great price and can get to the walk-able Downtown St. Petersburg easily. We saw Beer Can Island, The Manatee Viewing Center, skylines of Tampa and St. Petersburg, dolphins, birds, and more. The overall travel time was a little over 30 minutes with about 50 minutes total for boarding and disembarking.

A cool touch to add  for the future would be a captain or recording narrating the trip across the Tampa Bay area – pointing out key landmarks. It might be something that tourism bureaus on both sides might consider adding for tourists, even if its just one of those headphones you can listen to like at a museum. I knew most of the landmarks as a local and was pointing them out to friends myself.

Parking in Downtown Tampa is FREE on the weekends and there are several options in Ybor City for parking as well. Here are some tips for parking in Downtown St. Pete as well.

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Food and beverages are available for purchase on the Cross-Bay Ferry as well like most ferry ships including alcoholic beverages for those of age.

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I highly recommend riding the Cross-Bay Ferry and cannot wait to ride it again. Transportation solutions like this are what Tampa Bay needs to grow the region and make it a better place to live and visit.

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FAQ:

  • Service animals are allowed on-board, otherwise a case-by-case basis for pets
  • Strollers can be accommodated with no additional fee
  • Restrooms are available on-board
  • No smoking is allowed
  • Luggage on-board is limited to 2 suitcases and 1 small personal item
  • The Cross-Bay Ferry runs 7 days a week except some holidays

Website: http://thecrossbayferry.com/

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Should Michelin stars matter anymore?

Last week food media buzzed about Los Angeles and California finally getting a Michelin guide after Michelin infamously said in the past that LA did not have “real foodies”. LA was finally getting its due according to the chatter and proving the national food elites wrong.

This week all that hype and media attention redirected when it became known that Visit California paid Michelin $600,000 to build a California guide. It isn’t the first time with South Korea paying Michelin $1.8 million for a guide in the past to much criticism and claims of corruption. Eater did a thorough look in the past into this pay-to-play environment, but did not have a local case to look to.

California is legitimately one of the best states to eat at in the United States, funding a Michelin guide is a weird look for a state that is pushing and constantly changing the food industry.

Change of heart? More like change of cash. If Michelin guides are simply pay-to-play that really cheapens the prestige of the system. Why should taxpayers foot the bill for a private business to peddle around a star system for restaurants? If anything Michelin truly shot itself in the foot yesterday when this was published into the news.

To be clear – Visit California and tourism bureaus in general regularly pay for sponsored ads with entities from influencers to writers and publications. Many of those Top 10 guides you see in publications are not as organic as they may seem.

The partner groups are usually required to only cover restaurant and business partners to the tourism bureau (read companies that have paid for coverage), although Michelin claims that there has been no control from tourism bureaus over the restaurants receiving star ratings. Still none of these groups have the kind of recognition and so-called prestige that a Michelin star has.

Last week I dined at Mensho Tokyo in San Francisco, a Michelin Star restaurant, and packed with crowds out the door. There is no denying that a Michelin star brings business and Mensho Tokyo is certainly one of the best ramen bowls I’ve enjoyed recently. Their Michelin rating hangs proudly outside their door for diners to see. This kind of system should not be pay-to-play.

What if Yelp charged cities and taxpayers to exist in their towns? I am sure the outrage would be through the roof. What Michelin is doing is no different.

Miami is one of the most populated cities in the world and is filled with plenty of great restaurants and chefs making waves as well a rich and diverse dining landscape. Yet there is no Michelin stars there? Evan Benn made a great point yesterday that without Visit Florida and Miami paying out cash to Michelin there is no guide. Is this in any way fair to the chefs and restaurants doing great work in Miami?

How can Michelin call themselves a legitimate source of great restaurants if they are going to snub cities, states, and nations that refuse to fund their private enterprise? Quality  should not be decided by whether your town has paid their Michelin taxes. LA was always a great place to eat, but Michelin did not care until they were paid their fee and tried to spin it as a public relations win.

Who is Michelin to decide what towns matter and are “foodie” towns? During a time period where we cannot even fund our schools and pay our teachers, why is taxpayer funding being directed to a private dining guide like Michelin? How many local publications could have been supported with the funding that Michelin is swallowing from tourism agencies? Should Michelin stars matter anymore? I don’t think so.

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Daffodil Bar at The Orchard Hotel San Francisco

I have a deep love for hotel bars. Usually there is a relaxing environment to them that still speaks elegance and many times quality bartenders find themselves there enjoying a bit of a relief from busy nightclubs and dive bars. Daffodil restaurant bar inside The Orchard Hotel San Francisco and located just minutes from Union Square fits the bill.

The bar has a focus on sustainability and local and is still in the middle of blossoming and expanding its menu. One of their local products they serve is Lake Tahoe Vodka which is distilled in Mountain View, California and made with Lake Tahoe water. The bar aims to use farm-fresh ingredients whenever available as well in its cocktails.

The Orchard Hotel is inspired by “Orchard Road” in Singapore, one of Asia’s most famous shopping streets and a luxurious place to shop, dine, and explore. Owner, Mr. S.C. Huang and family, hope to recreate that feeling in their boutique hotel.

Many Americans were first introduced to Singapore last year when “Crazy Rich Asians” became a world-wide success and one of the best romantic comedies I have ever seen.

On the cocktail list you’ll find the Singapore Sling, La Mission Mary, Swiss Sidecar, Vesper Martini, and more with daily specials also available. The Singapore Sling was created in Singapore in 1915 at Long Bar inside Raffles Hotel and is a tasty gin concoction. If you’ve never had one I recommend giving one a try.

Beer fans can indulge in 21st Amendment Brewery from San Francisco, Ballast Point from San Diego, and it wouldn’t be a San Francisco bar without Anchor Steam. Wine enthusiasts can find a variety of California wines from Parducci Wine Cellars, Wilson Creek Winery, and Sterling Vineyards…to name a few.

Prices are fair for a tourist area in San Francisco and will range between $6 for a beer and $14 for a cocktail depending on your choices. Daffodil offers happy hour daily from 4:30PM-6:30PM and offers 1/2 price beer, house wine, and well-drinks.

Name: Daffodil

Venue: The Orchard Hotel

Neighborhood: Union Square

Address: 665 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

Phone: (415) 362-8878

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 4:30PM-11PM, Closed Sundays

Website: http://www.theorchardhotel.com/daffodil-restaurant

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Cigar City Brewing at TPA in running for Best Local Dining award by USA Today

USA Today‘s 10Best Reader’s Choice Awards currently has Cigar City Brewing at TPA (Tampa International Airport) in the running for two categories: Best Airport Bar/Restaurant Atmosphere and Best Airport Bar.

Cigar City Brewing opened last year in the Airside C of Tampa International Airport and is serving and brewing local craft beer to airport visitors daily with Cuban food. Popular crafts such as Jai Alai, Invasion Pale Ale, Maduro, and Florida Cracker can be found at the airport brewery along with other selections.

Votes are accepted daily and Cigar City and TPA is looking for locals in Tampa and fans of the craft beer success story to help spread the word.

How to vote:

Best Airport Bar/Restaurant Atmosphere: http://bit.ly/cigar2019

Best Airport Bar: http://bit.ly/cigarcity2019

Cigar City Brewing was founded by Joey Redner in 2007 in Tampa and pays homage to the rich history of Tampa and Ybor City. It is one of the biggest supports of Tampa Bay’s craft beer scene that now includes over 100 breweries. Cigar City produces over 60,000 barrels of beer a year and has released over 6,000 individual brands of beer. Their annual Hunapu’s Day release party is one of the most popular and exclusive craft beer events in the country.

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10 food destinations to visit for a 24-hour trip to San Francisco

San Francisco is packed with thousands of restaurants and cafes to visit. It’s hard to filter through all of it and really it is all about knowing where to go without getting caught up by the hype. Here are my recommendations on food destinations to visit for a 24-hour trip to San Francisco.

No. 1 – Taqueria El Farolito – The King of the Super Burrito and Mexican food in San Francisco. Don’t let anybody convince you that the other spots are superior (they aren’t). El Farolito has been in this game for decades and still serves up the best burrito in San Francisco at decent prices. The best one is located on Mission and 24th Street. 2779 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 824-7877. Multiple locations. http://www.elfarolitosf.com

No. 2 – Balompié Cafe #3 – Salvodoran food can be found around SF just as much as Mexican cuisine. Balompié serves an authentic sit-down experience of the cuisine and is a hotspot for hungry customers. The signature dish is the pupusa and if you have never had one, I highly recommend trying one during your visit. You can get different stuffings inside this corn meal dish, but my favorites are beans, cheese, and mixed. 3801 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 647-4000


No. 3 – Ton Kiang – Good dim sum is hard to come by where I come from in the South (not true in SF), but Ton Kiang serves an excellent and wide-selection of dim sum that will keep it coming and the prices are reasonable. Their tea is excellent and the experience is one I need to have on every visit to San Francisco. 5821 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, CA 94121. (415) 752-4440 http://www.tonkiang.us

No. 4 – Boba Guys – The best bubble tea in San Francisco hands down and maybe even the United States of America. Boba Guys has a commitment to quality and excellence that is a rare find in the fast upstart tea business. Their Matcha Strawberry bubble tea is a must as are their frescas. Multiple locations. www.bobaguys.com

No. 5 – Señor Sisig – What started off as a random food truck bite to eat in SF during one Christmas has become an annual mission for me to find Señor Sisig wherever they may be roaming around the San Francisco Bay Area. Their Sisig Burrito is like no other. I LOVE it. It may not be traditional, but it packs flavor and understands the complexities between Mexican and Filipino cuisine and that is truly satisfying to my palette. Check website for daily locations. http://www.senorsisig.com

No. 6. – Kitchen Story – This fusion restaurant is the perfect blend of Korean cuisine with brunch and American food. The mimosas do pack a punch and is totally worth buying the unlimited price. Try the Pork Belly Rancheros if you have a chance and you will not regret a thing about life. 3499 16th Street, San Francisco, CA 94114. (415) 525-4905. http://www.kitchenstorysf.com

No. 7 – I’a Poke – I wandered into here one day when a sushi restaurant I was heading towards nearby was closed for lunch and I had the best sushi burrito of my life. No lie, I’a Poke uses quality ingredients and has great customer service. They have since expanded more in the city and with every bite having a heavenly taste to it, I’m not surprised. Multiple locations. http://www.iapoke.com

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Chowda

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No. 8 – Alioto’s – Most visitors will no doubt wander into San Francisco planning to get a bowl of clam chowder from Fisherman’s Wharf. An investigation a few years ago found that most restaurants in SF are actually using Campbell’s Clam Chowder soup which is disappointing to say the least. Alioto’s is one of the ones who serves quality clam chowder and you can buy it in a bread bowl downstairs if you want to have a quick bowl and go explore the waterfront harbor. 8 Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco, CA 94133. (415) 673-0183. http://www.aliotos.com

No. 9 – Mitchell’s Ice Cream – An ice cream staple for over 65 years in San Francisco. Mitchell’s Ice Cream has survived generations of transformation for the Bay Area and one taste of their ice cream makes it easy to see why. My favorite is their Ube ice cream which is inspired from the Philippines, but you really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu. It’s so good that you’ll even find people there on rainy days in SF waiting in line for a scoop. 688 San Jose Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 648-2300. http://www.mitchellsicecream.com

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難得的二人世界💑🍵

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No. 10 – Stonemill Matcha – If you love matcha tea and a zen environment, then you will love Stonemill Matcha. One of the newer businesses to open on Valencia Street, they have more matcha dishes and drinks on their menu then you will know what to do with. Their popularity is through the roof so expect a bit of a wait to sit. 561 Valencia Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 796-3876 http://www.stonemillmatcha.com

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Busch Gardens Christmas Town happening now

Are you feeling the holiday spirit? It’s 67 degrees today in Tampa and I am already sipping on an eggnog latte. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay will bring back their annual Christmas Town series starting this Saturday, November 17th.

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100+ restaurants participating in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month 2018

Taking a trip to Orlando soon? Something delicious is cooking in “The Theme Park Capital of the World”.

Prepare to enjoy some serious dining deals for Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month. 100+ restaurant will be offering three course prix-fixe meals for $35 per person. The restaurant month is sponsored by American Express and will run from Friday, August 24th to Sunday, September 30th.

It’s a great way to try restaurants that you’ve been wanting to experience. New additions for 2018 include first-time vegan options as well as gluten-free and vegetarian options.

$1 from every meal will be donated to a local charities Best Buddies and Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida.

According to Visit Orlando, “Proceeds from Magical Dining Month will help Best Buddies expand its programs into Orange County middle schools with high populations of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This mentorship program helps improve students’ quality of life and foster an inclusive middle school culture, by erasing the barrier that typically separates students with disabilities”.

Also: “Proceeds from Magical Dining Month will help the Down Syndrome Association expand its emergency and crisis fund, pay for potential medical needs not covered by insurance, and fund therapy scholarship programs.”

Some notable restaurants on the list include Morimoto Asia, Wine Bar George, K Restaurant, Pharmacy Orlando, Seito Sushi Baldin Park, and more. You’ll find everything from local hotposts to chains and even some steakhouses and upper-tier restaurants on the list.

Check out www.orlandomagicaldining.com for the full details, menus, and more.

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Guide: Where to eat and drink in Miami Beach

Miami Beach is a classic tourist attraction. Hotels are all along the strip with bars and restaurants just waiting for customers. It’s a little hard to navigate as well. Most bars are open late and many are open until 5AM with nightclubs filling in the party scene.

Here are some recommendations on where to go in South Beach when you’re there.

Uber Pool and Lyft will easily transport you around this area for less than $5 in most cases so avoid attempting to park if possible.

Bodega Taqueria y Tequila: This place is unassuming from the outside, but behind the front and through a few doors is a beautiful bar with libations and food as well as music spinning until 5AM. The best part about this place is their daily happy hour from 6PM to 8PM which features loaded tacos for $2 and $6 cocktails as well as $4 chips and salsa / $5 mezcal and tequila shots. There is a $35 minimum for card so make sure you bring cash or use the ATM there if you don’t mind paying a fee. These were some of the best tacos I have enjoyed in a long time. The ribeye and mahi mahi tacos were excellent. I enjoyed a Maduro Old Fashioned. I highly recommend this spot. Note: 18% Gratuity and 7% Sales Tax will automatically be added to your bill. 1220 16th Street, Miami Beach, FL 33139 (305) 704-2145 http://www.bodegasouthbeach.com/

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Employees Only: Quality craft cocktails await at this speakeasy hidden behind a psychic / tarot card room. The best seats are at the bar in my opinion just because its beautiful, but service was also great tableside. Drinks are fairly priced for Miami Beach and they pack a punch. The Hurricane was enjoyable. 1030 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139 (786) 264-3945 http://employeesonlymiami.com

Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company: You’ll find this beautiful neon lit bar in Collins Park area. The best time to go is during happy hour from 4PM to 7PM where you can enjoy a fantastic Classic Daquiri for $5 as I did or even Tommy’s Margarita for $8. You’ll easily spend $20 a drink in the off hours which is pretty average for Miami. 237 20th Street Suite B, Miami Beach, FL 33139 (305) 763-8217 http://mysweetliberty.com/

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The Broken Shaker: Socialites can enjoy a tiki bar with craft cocktails at The Broken Shaker at Freehand Hotel. There is plenty of people mingling and on dates so it may not be the best bar for someone flying solo. The drinks here are strong, inventive, and flavorful. It might be one of the best bars I have been to and I would go with a crowd or some friends for sure. Expect to spend $15-$20 on a drink. Happy Hour is only for hotel guests as is the pool area. 2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach, FL 33140 (305) 531-2727 http://freehandhotels.com/miami/broken-shaker/

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Moshi Moshi: If you want a reasonably priced Japanese restaurant in South Beach, Moshi Moshi will fit the bill. It’s located right next to Española Way. They deliver and are open-late. Lunch specials here are under $8 which is a steal for South Beach. I enjoyed a takoyaki (octopus balls) during my visit and it was superb as well as Crunchy Krab Ceviche which wasn’t ceviche at all but a great assortment of imitation Krab, crunchies, avocados, eel sauce, and spicy mayo. Sushi rolls start at $5 and many are under $10. 1448 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139 (305) 531-4520

Rosseta Bakery: This local bakery in Miami has excellent Italian breads and pastries as well as a beautiful interior and is a great place to get work done and wake up in the morning with a coffee after a long night of drinking and partying in Miami Beach. You must try the prosciutto croissant sandwich. It is life-changing. The staff is incredibly friendly and they were playing Destiny’s Child and Beyonce songs at 7AM. I can get behind that. 929 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139 (786) 216-7795 http://www.rosettabakery.com