Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Food Fun in Orlando

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on September 4, 2017

September is a bonanza month in Orlando for foodies like me. It’s Magical Dining Month at many of the area’s fancy restaurants, meaning you can get a three-course meal for $35 each. And it starts Disney’s annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival.

For Magical Dining Month, we visited two restaurants that would have been pricey otherwise. The first was Big Fin™ Seafood Kitchen located in Delagio off West Sand Lake Road on Restaurant Row. The restaurant is a lively place with an upscale crowd. This evening, I dined on a starter course of lobster bisque that was creamy and good. Another member of our party began their meal with oysters.

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My entrée was Maine lobster tail. When I’ve had lobster on cruise ships, it’s always rather bland and doesn’t have much taste except for the sauce. This time was different. At Big Fin, the lobster meat sat atop the shell so you didn’t have to work at it. I discarded the shell in a bowl provided for that purpose and dug in. The lobster meat was succulent and flavorful, probably the best I’ve had short of a lobster meal in Bar Harbor, Maine. I dipped it in melted butter and enjoyed the accompaniment of mashed potatoes and green beans.

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Dessert was Key lime pie. How can I resist one of my favorites? It was both sweet and tart at the same time with the right amount of graham cracker crust and a dollop of whipped cream.

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The following night found us at Eddie V’s, where we’ve only gone before to celebrate special occasions. Also located on Restaurant Row, this place has a lovely view of a lake at the rear. The Caesar salad wasn’t the best I’ve had. It appeared to be big chunks of lettuce (Romaine?) with a dressing that was too vinegary and didn’t taste so much like Caesar’s to me, with shaved Parmesan and croutons that were small pieces of toast that not even my fork could penetrate. The eight ounce beef filet was done just right for my entrée and was tender and juicy. We had to pay extra for our accompaniments of choice being potatoes au gratin and broccolini. Dessert was a bananas foster cake with butter pecan ice cream. This dish was very sweet and reminiscent of an English plum pudding. It also stuck to my teeth. Nonetheless, we continue to like the atmosphere and excellent service here.

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At Epcot, we made the rounds of World Showcase after stopping in at the Light Lab to sample a Glownut. Everything glows in this new attraction in the back of the Coca Cola hut where you can sample free international sodas. The Light Lab has a single cashier who takes your treat order from a limited menu of glowy items. Then white lab-coated staffers serve your food or drink from behind a counter. Space is limited so there could be lines. We ate the Glownut which looks cool inside the place, but out in the concourse it has a plain white frosting with sprinkles. It’s sweet and caloric.

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Outside, it was too hot for me to have much of an appetite. I didn’t feel like eating any beef, duck or chicken dishes that might have sounded tempting otherwise. Instead, I had my favorite potato pancake with smoked salmon from Scotland. I tried the pistachio cake with chocolate coconut mousse (?) from India. It was pretty to look at but dry to taste. The heat sapped my energy and dampened my taste buds, unless it’s the cold I’ve been fighting for a week. I won’t return here until the humidity drops along with the temperature. The weather didn’t discourage anyone else as the park was crowded.

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So this has been a weekend of overeating, getting in some walking to counteract the calories, and leaving the diet plan for our return home.

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Posted in Disney, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 26, 2017

Located on Marathon in the Florida Keys, this 63-acre hidden oasis has nature trails, a tram ride, historical houses, and a nature museum hidden away near the highway at mile marker 50. We bypassed the orientation film to stroll down the tree-lined paths in a mile-and-a-half loop. If you’re not a walker, you can take the tram instead. We wanted to get in our exercise before the rain clouds moved in.

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We reached The Point at the end, where we came across a lovely water view of Florida Bay. Crane House is here, built for Francis and Mary Crane in 1954.

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We didn’t stop to view the Wild Bird Center that rehabilitates rescue birds as we have something similar at Flamingo Gardens in Davie. The Adderley House was the next attraction, built in the early 1900s for Bahamian immigrant, George Adderley. The white structure was made from tabby, a concrete-like mixture of sand, lime, seashells, and water. We peeked inside the bedrooms, the dining area, and the separate kitchen.

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From here, we headed back on the trail past the Butterfly Meadow and the Cracker House with exhibits and on to the gift shop and museum to cool down. The museum portion houses exhibits on native culture and marine life.

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Visit http://www.cranepoint.net for more information.

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The Road to Key West

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 21, 2017

On our way to Mystery Fest Key West, we took the turnpike extension south toward Homestead. Note the Mutineer Restaurant at the corner of SW 344th Street.

There’s a Starbucks in this vicinity too. From this junction, you head south. A long, boring stretch of swampland and mangroves follows until you leave mainland Florida. Or you can travel the scenic Card Sound Road that leads to upper Key Largo instead. Then it’s about a three hour drive to Key West. Right before the bridge to Key Largo is Gilbert’s Restaurant.

Traffic travels at speeds from thirty-five to fifty-five miles per hour through a series of islands. The scenic wonders will make you glad for the slower pace so you can enjoy the sights along the way. Allow extra time for pit stops and to fill your stomach. It took us five hours total from Fort Lauderdale. State parks abound if you want to stop for a swim or stretch your legs.

Key Largo is the first big island after you leave the mainland. Their inviting Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center just past Shell World is a good place to stop and use the restroom. Here also are a Publix and Winn Dixie, where you can grab a snack or use the facilities. There’s even a Starbucks, a rarity in the Keys. Full service restaurants include Fish House, Snappers, Skipper’s Dockside, Conch House, Island Grill, and Sundowners. We ate at the latter on our way home. Admiring a lovely view of the Gulf, we sipped creamy clam chowder in a bread bowl.

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Or you can take the scenic Card Sound Road instead and stop at Alabama Jack’s, if it still exists. Resorts on Key Largo include a Hilton and a Marriot. There’s a Botanical State Park at the north end. Or, if you like snorkeling or diving, check out John Pennecamp Coral Reef State Park with an aquarium, glass-bottom boat tours, museum exhibits, nature trails. On the way home, be sure to stop at the Florida Keys Key Lime Products on the east side of the road past mile marker 97. Good place to pick up some last minute frozen Key Lime pies, lime barbecue sauce, salsa, and other products.

On Tavernier are a Winn Dixie, Dairy Queen, CVS drug store, Dunkin Donuts, Chevron and Shell gas stations.

Islamorada is a popular weekend retreat. Stop by Hooked on Books at 81909 Overseas Highway and browse the bookshelves. Numerous restaurants claim their fame here: Islamorada Fish Company, Marker 88, Island Grill, Hog Heaven, Pierre’s Restaurant, Wahoo’s Bar and Grille, and Shula’s 2. The Postcard Inn, Amara Cay Resort, and the Chesapeake Resort look like nice hotels. From here, it’s two hours more to Key West. There’s a Visitor Center if you need a pit stop. Tourist attractions include Theater of the Sea, a marine mammal park with exhibits, animal shows, beach, grill, gift shop; and a History of Diving Museum with exhibits and gift shop. Look for a Starbucks before Whale Harbor Channel bridge.

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Marathon has a Publix and Winn Dixie, Walgreens, IHOP, gas stations and fast food places, the Island Fish Company restaurant, along with another visitor center. There’s Crane Point Museum and Nature Center with historic home, nature trails, tram ride, gift shop; and a Turtle Hospital with 90 min. tour and gift shop. if you’re looking for places to explore. Further along on Grassy Key is a Dolphin Research Center. We made it to Marathon three hours after leaving home but traffic was slow on I-75 due to construction.

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Big Pine Key has a gas station if you need it.

We stopped for lunch at Boondocks Grille at Ramrod Key around mile marker 28 on our way south. This restaurant opens for lunch at 11am. They have good clam chowder, sandwiches and salads, and a nicer gift shop than most of the souvenir stores in Key West.

Pigeon Key has a visitor center and a Sunset Grille and Raw Bar.

When you hit Key West, you face Roosevelt Boulevard going in two directions. Heading to the left will take you to a bunch of hotels and Southernmost Point. This latter is Mile Marker 0 on our country’s east coast and is 90 miles from Cuba. The opposite direction will take you past strip shopping centers, fast food restaurants, more hotels, and into downtown.

Duval Street hosts bars, restaurants, and gift shops. During the day, stroll along and soak up the tropical ambiance. Visit Hemingway House, Truman’s Little White House, Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, historical sites, and more. Take a ride on the Conch Train. Charter fishing, glass bottom boat rides, and various other boat tours are available. Or stroll along the Historic Seaport District for a number of waterfront restaurants by the marina. We’ve eaten at Alonso’s Raw Bar and Conch Republic at Harborside, and also Schooner Wharf. Here we saw a cook chopping up fish to feed to the sea life.

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At night, check out Mallory Square for street performers and a blazing sunset. Things come alive on Duval Street in the evening, when hordes of visitors ply the cafés and bars where live singers entertain the crowds.

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We recommend our favorite restaurant, Louie’s Backyard. This historic site faces the Atlantic Ocean and is a great place to enjoy fine dining. Prices can be expensive, but if you’re on a budget, just order an appetizer or share a meal. At the Upper Deck wine bar on the second level, you can get small bites if you don’t feel like a full meal.

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Come to the Keys to decompress. With its slower pace of life, it’ll help you relax. There’s only one negative. It’s hard to leave this island and return to reality.

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Posted in Florida Musings, Food, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pandora – The World of Avatar

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 6, 2017

We visited Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and set out to explore the world of Avatar. Our entrance into this magical land took us past a lounge that looked inviting.

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We skipped the new rides, not having fast passes and not caring to wait two hours in the standby line. It was delightful to stroll around and view the amazing flora and fauna. Disney did a wonderful job making you feel you’re on an alien planet.

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Mountains rise in the distance, past this floating masterpiece, while musicians welcome visitors to their land.

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Hungered by our journey, we entered the canteen where healthful choices tempted us. I had the chicken bowl with rice and vegetable slaw. Others in our party had cheeseburger pods or vegetable curry pods. My non-alcoholic drink, a Pandoran Sunrise, was green and tasted like melon juice.

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Inside the gift shop, you can buy all sorts of theme-related wares. It was fun to browse although we left with our wallets intact.

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It took us a couple of hours to stroll around. If you go on the rides, allow more time. You’ll still have the rest of the day free to explore the Animal Kingdom. I love the lush greenery of this theme park anyway, and the new addition adds to the allure.

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Brookside Gardens

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 18, 2017

Brookside Gardens is a fifty-acre horticultural garden located inside Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland. It’s one of my favorite spots to visit in the area. Flowers, ponds, and wooded trails make for a pleasant escape from urban congestion. We met our niece there for some quality time together.

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Bethesda has its fans. We headed on foot to the shopping district nearest the Hyatt Regency. Here are some landmark businesses.

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If you have a car and some free time while you’re in the area, Brookside Gardens is worth the visit. Also look for the Nature Center nearby. Wear your walking shoes and a hat.

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Washington D.C. Wanderings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 16, 2017

After visiting the Library of Congress, we strolled past the Supreme Court. Here I am by the steps of this impressive building. The structure is inspiring, making you hope that justice truly is being served inside its doors.

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Across the street is the Capitol Building, always an awe-inspiring sight. The tall Washington Monument reaches toward the sky at the other end of the Mall. Having been in town before, we’d already seen many of these sites and museums.

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The buildings where our Senators and House representatives meet or have their offices are impressive as well.

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We passed patches of greenery, mini-parks with flowering bushes and graceful trees.

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Our path took us to Union Station, where we browsed the shops before taking seats in the bustling East St. Café for a leisurely Asian lunch.

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Then we took the Metro back to Bethesda.

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Library of Congress

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 12, 2017

Visiting the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is an awe-inspiring adventure. As you climb the steps toward the entrance, you’ll be impressed by the massive size of the structure.

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Inside the Thomas Jefferson Building, we passed through a bag check and then had to figure out where to go. Everywhere we looked, the architecture beckoned. I could have stood all day gazing at the intricate ceilings, wall décor, and majestic columns.

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Look at these folks. They don’t look too happy. Maybe they’re spirits trapped in the walls.

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After we admired the Great Hall, we headed upstairs, planning to work our way down. Here are some photos from an exhibit titled “Exploring the Early Americas.”

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We saw “Echoes of the Great War” about WWI and a display called “Drawing Justice.” The latter contained paintings of true-life courtroom dramas. I never knew such a field of artwork existed. Famous trials were depicted here in vivid details.

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I liked seeing Jefferson’s library, or at least a facsimile of books he’d kept there. Some are originals and others are reprints.

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The main Reading Room drew me like a lawn mower to a blade of grass. Up a flight of stone steps, we paused on a landing where we could peer below at the hallowed halls. Researchers sat at desks while other archways led to more reading rooms beyond.

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Downstairs, we viewed the Gutenberg Bible behind its glass case.

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By now, we’d become tired and hungry, and so we passed on the other exhibits. We couldn’t help stopping in the gift shop. We left with our imaginations enriched and our wallets a few dollars lighter.

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Disney Ramblings

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 5, 2017

We visited Epcot at Disney World again for the annual Flower and Garden Festival. The colorful flower displays were as beautiful as always.

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Bypassing the crowds at Future World, we strolled around World Showcase to sample the foods in the various marketplaces. We headed right toward Canada, stopping by to get the beef tenderloin tips in a flavorful mushroom sauce along with mashed potatoes and cooked carrots. The meat was a bit chewy for my taste. Cost $6.50 for a generous portion.

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We moved on to the United Kingdom for the corned beef and cabbage which my husband ate. It’s a dish he likes at any time. Cost $5.50 per portion.

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At France, we noticed the fast-food café had moved toward the back while its former space is now occupied by an ice cream shop.

Next on the menu were the potato pancakes with applesauce from Germany. These are always good. Cost was $3.75. Dessert was the winner: blueberry buckle with pepper berry sorbet at The Berry Basket. $4.25 each. Well worth the visit!

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As if this wasn’t enough eating for the weekend, we took a walk the next day at Disney Springs. Planet Hollywood has reopened since our last visit. The dome looks a lot better without its prior garish colors. The Edison is still under construction but looks to be a big themed restaurant when it’s finished. Not much else had changed that we could notice.

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We ate lunch at the Boathouse, where I dined on this delicious crab and avocado dish. Fully sated, we returned to our condo to rest for the afternoon.

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Model Train Exhibit

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 24, 2017

My brother has exhibited model trains ever since I can remember. So when he came to visit and we noticed a Transportation Exhibit at the Plantation Historical Museum, it became imperative for us to make a trip there. The exhibit included displays by the Florida Citrus Model Train Society. Below is a replica of an early 1900’s train depot.

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The details in these dioramas were incredible. We watched the model trains go around the tracks, complete with sound effects, but what fascinated me more were the little buildings and the attention to detail.

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One display talked about train bandits and how the Pinkerton Detective Agency foiled these fearsome thieves and protected railroad shipments. Printed materials were available, such as brochures on the myths and realities of safety around train tracks and a brochure about train crossing warning signs. A bookmark I’d picked up says “Never walk or ride around highway-rail crossing gates!” and “Look, Listen and Live!” Trains can’t stop quickly, but you can. About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train. For more information on safety factors, go to Operation Lifesaver.

I’ve been on the Auto Train between Sanford, FL and Lorton, VA. I took a commuter train from New York to Washington D.C. Otherwise, after graduation from high school, a friend and I bought Eurail Passes and spent six weeks exploring Europe. We rode the trains around and stayed in cheap places where we could rent a room. I kept a journal, one of many travel journals still in my collection. Maybe I’ll share those adventures with you someday if you’re interested. A trip like that one would be impossible today. Meanwhile, would you call yourself a train enthusiast? What trains have you ridden?

 

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Writers Conference on Independence of the Seas

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 27, 2017

Fun in the Sun Writers Conference on Independence of the Seas
Sponsored by Florida Romance Writers
February 16, 2017

As soon as we boarded Independence of the Seas, we headed to lunch in the Windjammer Café. Entrees were tempting. They had the grill with burgers and hot dogs inside here instead of out on the pool deck like on other ships. Desserts were not overly appealing, especially after the artistic confections on Celebrity Equinox. The cookies were the crunchy type, whereas I prefer soft, chewy centers. However, there is a soft ice cream machine on the pool deck that’s free to guests.

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We strolled around and unpacked a bit before the lifeboat drill. This one took place outside on the deck where we lined up like sardines and stood there for a half hour until dismissed. No life vests required for the drill, which was a bonus. However, I prefer the cruise lines where you sit in an air-conditioned lounge to hear the spiel.

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The FRW Meet & Greet Welcome Party had the editor/agent panel where we heard what each industry guest has on their wish lists. This event gave us a good chance to mingle in the Olive or Twist lounge on Deck 14. Here I am with my agent, the wonderful Evan Marshall from The Evan Marshall Agency.

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Shortly thereafter, we attended dinner in the King Lear Dining Room. I’m not a late diner, and eating at 8:30 led to a long evening on a full stomach. Some nights we didn’t finish until after ten. While the food was good, it wasn’t exceptional. Nor was the dining room service as efficient as on other vessels.

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Our cabin service was excellent, though. The balcony cabin was spacious with adequate storage. We had an extra-long couch across from a desk console. The shower is the round manhole cover shape but at least it has a glass door. Don’t drop your soap on the floor. You have to be a contortionist to pick it up. I used my slumber mask as light came in from outside the ship at the edges of the drapes. Bathroom amenities included bottles of lotion, shampoo, and conditioner. The bar soap was very thin. I missed the robes we get on other cruise lines.

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We awakened at our usual early hour. I prefer the buffet for breakfast and lunch. Breakfast in the Windjammer Café offered varied choices, but they didn’t change much from day-to-day. A chef would do made-to-order omelets. Pancakes and waffles were always available along with the usual fruits, pastries, yogurt, and more.

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Our conference workshops began promptly at 8am on Friday. Stay tuned for more in the next installment. See all photos HERE.


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