Wow – it’s been a great birthday and busy August for me (us)! While my birthday is August 2nd, Steve (DOS), true to style, drags it out for a couple weeks if not longer. We’ve had some great dinners and a night’s stay at The Villages since my last post from Bern’s. Instead of writing up each dinner and event as a separate post, I’ll just post a few pics from each event so you don’t lose interest or get too hungry and then head out to snack! It’s Thursday night as I write this, and just finishing up packing for our two week trip to South Africa tomorrow, so I thought I’d catch up on the blog or I never will!
After the weekend in Tampa, we stayed in the Orlando area at the Hyatt Cypress Creek, which is a stone’s throw from Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney). As I was working remotely that week, I could work from the hotel by day, and evening go out for a different birthday dinner each night thanks to Dos. Fortunately we got upgraded at checkin to an Executive Suite, which was definitely conducive to work by day, and leisure fun by night. We had great views of the property, including the lake and pool, as well as Disney Springs, Epcot, and even Magic Kingdom in the distance. We could watch the fireworks every night, and best of all didn’t have to fight the crowds to go back to our hotel. Firework photos never seem to come out unless you have a great camera, and my iPhone it is not; but you get the picture! Pun intended.
The first night we took Uber to the Capital Grille on International Drive, (the one adjacent to the other Hyatt Regency Orlando which we stay at for weekends as well), for the Generous Pour Wine Event. The annual Generous pour runs a month or so long, and is a bargain at $28 a person for their 7 featured wines which are ‘generously poured’ throughout the night along with your meal. DOS had told them it was my birthday ahead of time, and we are seated at a nice booth with confetti on the tablecloth and a nice birthday card, and our waiter brought us a complimentary glass of bubbly! Here are some photos of the evening meal at Capital Grille.
The next night was my actual birthday and we went to Shula’s at the Walt Disney World Boardwalk area’s Dolphin Hotel. In the evening before Ubering to Shula’s, DOS presented me with a few gifts from my brother Andy and sister Jenni in Virginia and Maryland respectively. Andy and Jenni always know how to pick out the fun gifts that will bring a smile to my face, (especially when it’s a clown nose!) and this year was no exception!
Thanks Andy and Jenni – I especially love the smiley wine glasses!
After opening the gifts, we stopped by briefly at the Concierge Club at the Hyatt for a quick drink before heading to Shula’s. We love Shula’s and go there a couple times a year; most recently over the New Year’s Holiday when we also stayed at Hyatt Cypress Creek. Shula’s is located inside the Dolphin Hotel on Disney’s Boardwalk, and we stopped for a quick drink in the soaring hotel lobby before going to dinner. As always we had outstanding service, and our waiter really went out of his way to please – it was a wonderful night of dining, complete with a birthday dessert for us.
On Friday night we Ubered to Fogo del Chao, the Brazilian Steakhouse on International Drive. Like the other restaurants we’ve been to, we love Fogo del Chao, and have eaten at several locations in the US including this one as well as San Juan. The food and service is always excellent and consistent, and believe me you don’t leave here hungry!
On Saturday, we headed up to our annual birthday weekend trek to The Villages, a 55 and older community an hour or so north of Orlando. We’ve been going there annually for the last five years, and always stay at the Waterfront Inn at the Village of Lake Sumpter due to the convenience of walking to the Village Square of Lake Sumpter.
The Villages is HUGE – with some 100,000 residents in various communities scattered throughout three different themed villages, (Spanish Springs, Lake Sumpter Landing, and Browns Landing) each serving as spokes for the many different gated housing communities surrounding each town square. While I think it would be fun to live there with all the activities, some 2000 + clubs, golf, etc, I’m sure it’s quite different living there than the way we do our weekend trips. The Villages itself is a city of sorts spanning two different counties, and literally goes on for miles. Almost all the residents use a golf cart for there Village transportation, but some of the communities are quite distant from the respective town squares, so you wouldn’t want to get a battery-operated cart due to the battery limitations (yes we actually looked for a golf cart on a previous trip! I still have visions of decorating our ‘Rolls Royce looking-golf cart with Christmas lights or whatever the holiday it is! LOL!). No, we haven’t purchased a golf cart (yet), but most people do customize them with their names, sports team, home town, and various grille fronts, like the Rolls Royce looking one we want.
But for now, we like staying adjacent to the town square, where we are just a short walk to the Village Square of Lake Sumpter with the evening ‘Live Music’ and bars and restaurants surrounding it. We had lunch at Johnny Rocket’s while waiting for our room to be ready.
Our friends Ben and Tom couldn’t join us this year for the first time due to previous obligations, but we still did our usual Village Tour and frequented our favorite establishments; Garbino’s the wine bar and store, the Ancient Olive, and others.
The Waterfront Inn, however seemed to have some maintenance issues this year, which became apparent when we checked in. We had reserved our favorite ‘Honeymoon Suite’ (that’s what they call it; basically just a large suite) on the fourth (top) floor, months in advance. When we checked in however, we were given just a standard balcony room on the third floor – at the same price! To make a long story and frustrating check-in short, the maintenance staff had our the suite out of order without telling the front desk, and there were no other suites (there are only four) available. Here is the 4th floor suite we usually get (pic from last year’s visit) which is considerably larger and also has an oversized jacuzzi in the large bathroom.
There was also a Parrothead convention in the hotel so it was full (and noisy) so we didn’t have much choice but to take the room and later watch the Parrothead’s have fun by their private pool party. (LOL!)
The hotel ended up comping our room and offered us breakfast due to the inconvenience, (check-in alone took over 1/2 hour with no one checking in but us) but the lone desk clerk was initially just going to give us a discount on the suite rate while giving us a regular room! Considering the suite was at least a $100 more a night and we were downgraded to a regular room, the math didn’t add up. It was more of the principal that we had guaranteed the room and nobody called us (they have a 48 hour cancelation penalty) to tell us the room wouldn’t be available, and instead of adjusting the rate to the downgraded room, they were going to discount the higher priced suite to make up for it. This has previously been a wonderful 4 star hotel for us, but this weekend, I would give it a two star rating and that’s being generous due to the location. At checkin only one of the two elevators worked, and by the next morning BOTH elevators were out of service! Judging from the crumpled first sign, the first elevator had been out of service for some time, while the second elevator had a fresh ‘out of order sign’ And this is in the Villages were many people have walkers, canes, or wheelchairs! Not to mention hauling luggage up and down the stairs. DOS saw an elderly couple trying to walk down the stairs with their canes holding on for dear life, and tried to assist them – unbelievable! You think the sign would at least say dial 0 for assistance (not that they had the staff to do anything), but they could at least call a paramedic or fireman for someone in a wheelchair.
This year the Waterfront Inn simply didn’t have enough staff for their guests, and were not maintaining the property to it’s previously wonderful levels. The breakfast buffet was very mediocre, bland, and not replenished properly and the the one waiter was non-existent for refills of coffee, water and juice. You were also greeted upon entryway to the restaurant a bucket on the floor catching water from the leak in the ceiling. When DOS had checked into the hotel, he had asked for a manager when our suite wasn’t available, and we were told there were no managers working on the weekends! I’m not sure what happened in the last year, i.e. if the owners changed or what, but they desperately need new management and put some $$$ into maintaining the property. The location is awesome, but the property is unfortunately being seriously if not legally and safety neglected with adequate access for handicap (and all guests) for that matter with no working elevators, or visible bellman.
Anyway, we still had a good weekend as we weren’t in our room much, and spent a lot of the time in the Village Square of Lake Sumpter. We love the nightly ‘Live Music’ from 5pm – 7pm, and the band this weekend played some really good oldies. They have 1/2 price drinks in the square from 5pm – 6pm, and I had a couple brewskis in the hot summer evening before we headed out for dinner around 7pm (late dining for there!)
After leaving the Happy Hour and outdoor Village entertainment (it was quite hot being outside too long), we walked a block or so to Gardino’s for pre-dinner appetizers and vino. We had stopped by Gardino’s earlier in the day as we usually do an afternoon wine flight, but this year they are open until 10pm and even have live entertainment on weekends in the evening, so we went to Gardino’s as a pre-dinner stop instead, which was quite nice. Instead of one of the pre-selected wine flights, we bought a bottle of Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon from the wine shop section of Gardino’s and they will serve it to you there for a nominal $8 corkage fee; quite reasonable considering the wine store are retail, not restaurant-marked up prices to begin with.
We also had a nice cheese and charcuterie platter, as well as a bruschetta platter that was easily for four people, but we made do with it for two, keeping in mind to save room for dinner.
We then went walked up the street to Red Sauce Italian restaurant and had a decent if not fancy dinner compared to the other nights of fine dining at Bern’s and Shula’s. The dining at Red Sauce though is friendly, and like most places in the villages surprisingly inexpensive. We usually go to the Arnold Palmer Country Club one night, but their dining room was closed for the summer this year.
After the wonderful birthday week and weekend, we headed home to Orlando. I drove my newly purchased Audi Q5 to both Tampa and The Villages, and it was a nice way of breaking it in. The SUV has a very smooth and comfortable ride, and has a lot of cool features such as the virtual cockpit, navigation and interactive infotainment system, which DOS and I were adjusting along the way.
Now it’s Thursday night, and I’m finishing up the blog, having packed for our Africa trip leaving tomorrow. As DOS is at his home in Sarasota and isn’t coming here until tomorrow, I used Outback take-out service instead of dining in like we usually do. While not as nice as dining in with DOS, it was sure convenient not having to cook for myself while I finished up last minute travel tasks.
So I can’t believe we’re going back to South Africa again a year later – I guess now that I’m packed it’s starting to sink in! I’m working at home tomorrow daytime, and our first flight to Miami leaves at 7:30pm tomorrow (Friday) night. Due to the iffy summer Florida weather, we are spending the night in Miami tomorrow, just in case we have flight delays. Then our first international flight to Sao Paolo leaves Saturday night at 10pm, and our next flight to Johannesburg leaves Sunday night. If all goes as expected, we will arrive in Johannesburg on Monday! It’s after midnight now, so I’m tired and signing off. The adventure awaits!