EPCOT is undergoing one of the largest transformations of any Disney park in history. It was due to be completed by the 50th Anniversary of Walt Disney World on October 1, 2021, but was delayed because of COVID. Many of the new rides, experiences and restaurants are now open and several more are due at EPCOT to open summer of 2022. One of the most anticipated rides at EPCOT, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, opens May 27th. This new family-thrill coaster takes guests on an intergalactic chase through time and space. The coaster rotates 360 degrees, features the first reverse launch on any Disney coaster and will be one of the longest fully enclosed coasters in the world.
THE JAX ALE TRAIL OFFERS THIRST-QUENCHING ADVENTURES
Even though Jacksonville is located on the East Coast, it has a reputation as the “Wild West” of beers for its ingenious craftsmanship and tap room experiences, and there’s no better way to experience these innovative beers than on the Jax Ale Trail.
Since the trail began in 2014, Jacksonville has quickly risen to the top of Florida’s beer scene, becoming a competitive destination for beer travel and earning a spot in Livability.com’s 99 Best Beer Cities in the nation.
Spring is a great time to visit Walt Disney World and especially Epcot during its annual 90-day International Flower & Garden Festival. Be prepared to be wowed by millions of brilliant blossoms, more than 100 festive topiaries featuring favorite Disney characters, 220 mini-floating gardens and Disney-crafted “flower towers.” During this event from February 28th to May 28th, guests will also enjoy cuisine from 15 outdoor kitchens and top-notch musical acts.
I just returned from a media trip to Walt Disney World for the grand opening of Pandora–The World of Avatar. This 12-acre addition to Walt Disney’s World’s Animal Kingdom is the fulfillment of a multi-year project by both Disney and the film’s creator James Cameron.
Cameron and the main cast from the movie were on hand for the dedication prior to its opening to the public on May 27th. This amazing, colorful bioluminescent land with floating trees and waterfalls also offers two new rides: Na’vi River Journey and the most realistic 3D ride I’ve ever been on–Avatar Flight of Passage (where you get to fly on the back of a banshee.)
Don’t miss Windtraders, a shop where you can find Na’vi cultural items, toys, science kits and more. The Satu’li Canteen is a great casual restaurant with great food, a bioluminescent frozen cocktail and indigenous beers.
When visiting Animal Kingdom after dark (which I highly recommend) be sure to see the Tree of Life with its animated imagery, the Rivers of Light show, sunset safaris and live-entertainment street parties.
If you plan on visiting Walt Disney World this summer, a great place to stay close to all the action is Animal Kingdom Lodge where you can view animals such as giraffes and zebras right from your room’s balcony!
Oceanfront hotels are a dime a dozen along the East Coast seaboard, but it’s a real treat to find two that have survived decades and still exist as stunning destinations. Their unique stories are woven into a tapestry of Southern charm and hospitality. I recently had the opportunity to visit the King and Prince Beach & Golf Resort located on St. Simons Island, GA, and The Casa Marina Hotel in Jacksonville, FL. Both have fascinating histories and offer unique oceanfront experiences.
This legendary hotel, a member of the National Register of Historic Places and a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America, is located on one of the barrier islands that make up Georgia’s coast. It first opened in 1935 as a seaside dance club. Six years later, the main hotel building opened to the public as the King and Prince Hotel.
During World War II, the hotel served as a naval coast-watching and training facility. The center of Radar operations was housed at the King and Prince which also provided officers’ quarters and classrooms. The bar at the hotel was an after-hours gathering spot for soldiers, their wives and members of the local Civil Air Patrol.
The hotel’s current restaurant “Echo” pays tribute to the hotel’s crucial part in the island’s naval history. As radar sent its electromagnetic waves in and out, the “Echo” became a heartbeat of the War’s impact on St. Simons Island. For history buffs, I highly recommend a Lighthouse Trolley Sightseeing Tourof St. Simons Island, with stops at historic Ft. Frederica and Christ Church.
Over the years, The King and Prince has undergone several renovations and expansions including the Resort’s cherished core–the historic main building. I was privileged to stay in one of the Cabana rooms in this Historic Building with a step-down sitting room off the bedroom and an oceanfront private patio where I enjoyed amazing sunrises and cool ocean breezes. The resort also offers suites, two-&-three bedroom Villas, beach cottages and private homes.
The King and Prince Resort is the only oceanfront resort on the island and is the perfect place for family vacations, business meetings, destination weddings, reunions, golf outings and romantic retreats. Its serene setting allows guests the option to stay as busy as they want or to enjoy a low-key get-a-way. Take a walk or bike on the beach; enjoy a game of tennis on clay courts; or play a round of golf on the “best marsh front course on the east coast.” And be sure to book a relaxing massage at the Royal Treatment Cottage.
The King and Prince offers amazing food options from casual beach fare poolside, to Echo’s Southern-coastal breakfasts, lunches and dinners featuring signature entrees such as Shrimp & Grits prepared with fresh Georgia shrimp. Executive Chef James S. Flack is always ready to prepare amazing cuisine for that special wedding or other event. The 5-course wine dinner I enjoyed while visiting the resort was the perfect ending to a perfect island adventure and it even included a gorgeous Georgia sunset to beacon me back again.
Located in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, the Casa Marina Hotel (circa 1925) is Jacksonville’s only historic hotel with the designation of Historic Hotels of America (HHA). In its heyday, it was a destination for the rich and famous. Known as the original “Famous Beach” during the Roaring Twenties, the hotel frequently hosted such movie stars as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Mary Pickford and later Katherine Hepburn.
It’s Spanish-Mediterranean design boasted a “first” at the beach–a fireproof building composed of stucco-concrete, tile and an automatic sprinkler system. During World War II, the United States government appropriated the Casa Marina for military housing. After the war, Casa Marina went through a succession of owners who converted it into an apartment building, a restaurant, a tea room and then a vintage clothing store. In 1991, the “grand lady” reopened as a hotel.
Today, the Casa Marina Hotel & Restaurant offers guests the opportunity to go back in time and experience its history with 23 bedrooms and parlor suites, each uniquely decorated to represent a different era in the hotel’s history. From the front desk to the hallways lined with black and white photos, the hotel still maintains the feel of a by-gone era.
Casa Marina offers a delicious Sunday brunch, complimentary breakfast during the week, and a fun, open-air penthouse bar on the third level that overlooks the ocean. Its tapas menu, craft cocktails, and sunsets make the climb to the top worthwhile.
Checkout this video of the Casa Marina Hotel:
(I was hosted at both hotels as part of a media visit, but the comments and reviews are my own.)