My Florida Travel Piece: Sweets, Spa and Stingrays

It’s up on AOL Travel. You can read it here.

Or you can read the full piece below:

Sweets, Spa and Stingrays: a Girls Getaway to Orlando

By Renee Sylvestre-Williams

When a giant stingray decides to swim across your path, he automatically gets the right of way. He ripples off while you try to remember to keep breathing through your snorkel. It’s enough to forget that you’re in Orlando, Florida, home to the most famous mouse in the world.

Orlando is proud to be the home of Disney World. You can see Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy everywhere. However, the city is trying to be more than just Disney World, it’s trying to position itself as the place for a “girlfriends’ getaway” that doesn’t include wearing a princess costume.The weekend starts at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, a hotel near Disney but not on Disney property. Built approximately two years ago, the hotel is the sister of the famous New York hotel. Featuring white columns, cabanas by the pools, and the exclusive Guerlain Spa, the hotel is enough to placate any luxury-loving guest.

Where to Go

Discovery Cove

The giant stingray is just one of the thousands of species that live in Discovery Cove. Entirely man made, Discovery Cove lets guests relax in private cabanas, sunbathe on white sand and swim with dolphins. It doesn’t come cheap at $175 U.S. but when a stingray the size of a small area rug ripples past you as it heads to the depths of the 15-foot deep habitat, the experience seems well worth it.

If stingrays freak you out then you can make out with a dolphin. Pet one of Discovery Cove’s dolphins and let them tow you from the deep to the shallows.

Paddle Board Orlando

Yoga on the water? Sounds odd (and dangerous) but the boards are wide and the water is calm so you can do child’s pose on the board without worrying about falling into the water. Just practice your steering as a compatriot drifted and ended nearly ended up in someone’s backyard.

Dining

When you think Orlando you don’t really think of good food. The city’s hidden secret is a collection of well-hidden restaurants that offer a select array of food that tantalizes the palate and hits the pocketbook. If you’re a wine and cheese fan there’s the Wine Room, a wine bar and deli with more than 150 wines to accompany the cheese selection.

If you’re a steak fan there is the Bull & Bear Steakhouse at the Waldorf Astoria. Their claim to fame is their USDA-certified beef.

If you’re watching your calories then Season’s 52 could be on your list. The restaurant boasts of using local, in-season produce and nothing on the menu exceeds 475 calories.

Girly bits

“Rock the Boat” is an excellent song to dance to when making chocolate. It’s a girly weekend so chocolate-making is part of the weekend. The hands-on experience means using milk, dark and white chocolate to create your own culinary (and messy) masterpieces. You can take pretzels, caramels and oreos and run them through the “enrobing machine” which covers them in chocolate, just like that “I Love Lucy” episode. One of our compatriots mourned the fact that she forgot to run a twinkie through.

You get a pound of chocolate treats to take home with you. Wear an apron, it gets messy.

Nightlife

If you’re a fan of CSI Miami’s club scene then One80 Grey Goose Lounge might be your thing. It bills itself as “a tribute to style and class with attention to detail” but after watching multiple waitstaff carry one-litre bottles of vodka adorned with sparklers to tables that order bottle service, it smacked a bit of trying hard to impress the over-the-top crowd.

Shopping

Of course we can’t talk about Florida without mentioning the outlet stores. Canadians know about the outlets where good deals on luxury products can be found but for those who don’t like bargain hunting and want to buy at retail can indulge at Mall at Millennia with J. Crew, Coach and Neiman Marcus.

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