The “B” in B Resort Orlando MUST Stand for BBQ!

Talk about your innovative restaurant choice. In a sleek, contemporary resort hotel… put in an upscale BBQ joint. And, in the vein of naming things with one letter highlighted, call it American Q.

collage of American QI had the pleasure of tasting my way through the menu with other local food/restaurant/travel bloggers last week, and may I just say… if you’ve a “hankering” for southern flavors set in style, give it a try.

When you walk in, you kind of get the feeling you’re not in a run-of-the-mill restaurant. Smack dab in the front is an old ’51 Ford F1 red pick up and on the back is the bed. Not just ANY bed, but the “Flat Bed Bar,” an all-you-can-eat assortment including an incredibly tender chili con carne, a potato bar, peel-and-eat shrimp, assorted salads, soups, and other seasonal favorites. It’s $34.95 for adults and $10 for kids age 7 and under. Oh, and did I mention it includes “Cowboy Carvings”? Nine different items are brought right to your table. Save room for Brisket Of Beef with Texas Bark and Picanha Of Beef. Fans of chiaroscuro will be in heaven. (Say… with these options, the paleo diet seems doable.)

If, however, you want to have a couple of courses, start with some down-home appetizers and bar treats. First, make sure you try the crab deviled eggs. Not too “crabby.” Not too “plain ‘ol” egg flavor. They’re just the right combination of creamy egg goodness with the unmistakable texture and flavor of blue crab and rémoulade. Unusual, yes. Delicious? (Yes, please. I’ll have another!) Make sure you also give the Swine Candy a try. It’s bacon: spiced and candied with molasses. Bacon lovers: You’re welcome. You could also try the alligator boudin with roasted tomatoes, peppers & okra. Yeah, you read that right!

Entree selections include every kind of ribs you can think of, house-made sausage, Texas Bark Beef Ribs, chicken, salmon, and a Gulf Shrimp, Blue Crab & House Made Andouille Sausage Cajun Boil. Executive Chef Justin Leo and staff have created quite the varied selection. Sauces include Kansas City, Carolina, Texas Mustard, and Mango Heat. Try ’em all and pick your favorite. Did I mention you should arrive hungry?

Crafted cocktails should not be missed, either, especially the thyme cucumber martini. It’s light and refreshing. Just what the doctor ordered to balance the meal, though the lavender margarita was a good fit, too. How ever will I decide? (I guess I’ll have to go back again!)

If you’re in the mood for BBQ and want to up the anti on ambiance and quality, check out American Q. It’s the place to B for down home, and up town all in one.

Discovery Cove at SeaWorld Takes Your Breath Away

Discovery CoveMy 4-year-old, Daniel, is used to being up close and personal with marine life. As a visitor to SeaWorld and Bush Gardens well over 100 times in his short life (not to mention countless visits to zoos and other animal-themed attractions) he’s pretty much a pro when it comes to interactions. Our visit to Discovery Cove, however, has raised the bar so much so that I fear his expectation of “normal” is forever altered!

Walking into the check-in/lobby building, Daniel first noticed the incredible art. He bent over to examine the mosaic floor. “Look, Mom. It’s like waves,” he said as he then proceeded to show me how many shades of green were represented, and how many blue. His neck craned up: “Look, Mom, at the dolphins!” Above us graceful dolphins appeared to be floating, breathtaking fiberglass on steel crafted by artist Michael Linenbroker. He looked at it from multiple angles, checking out the white fish “swimming” with them. Our feast for the eyes had begun, and we’d only arrived minutes before.

Once our entire group had arrived, our guide walked us out of the main building toward the Reef. “This is a magical path” my son informs me as we make our way along the nature path past Serenity Bay and Dolphin Lagoon. He knows he’s going to see tons of sea life, and is thrilled to find a corded “fish I.D.” card he can take with us for the day. I was happy to find it, too, as he’s extremely curious on specifics. (I can no longer get away with: “It’s a bird, or a plant, or an airplane.” It’s a Toucan, a Dusty Miller, and a Cessna!)

After donning our wetsuits (sans Spanx, dang it), our little band made tracks for the shore. We easily found a locker for our gear and a chair for our towels. Despite being at capacity for the grand opening of the new attraction, we didn’t feel crowded. Even  “full” was not shoulder-to-shoulder like some places. We felt free and easy, with plenty of “elbow room.”

After our guides gave us the lay of the land we walked into the water, snorkeling gear in hand. A cow-nose stingray swam past us at about “knee deep,” causing aforementioned 4-year-old a moment’s hesitation. Initial fear melted into an ear-to-ear grin followed by wild expressions of delight. Great big eyes looked up at me as he asked, “Can we go way out there?!”

I knew he’d fall in love with Discovery Cove, but I had no idea it would be so hard and so complete. Everywhere he looked there were birds, tropical fish, marine mammals… you name it. At the center of his fascination was the brand new Grand Reef.

With a footprint of 2.5 acres and close to a million gallons of water and 5 million pounds of pristine, sifted beach sand, the Grand Reef is home to thousands of tropical fish and dozens of rays including spotted eagle rays that have a 5-foot wingspan! Behind glass we found eels and, holy moly, sharks!

We balanced on rock formations (man made, like the removable coral so as not to be sharp) and bobbed and floated and swam to points near and far checking out the abundant marine species, and marveling at this unprecedented view into their world.

We did attempt the snorkeling gear, LOL!

I would have loved it if my little man could have used the mask and snorkel to better see the curious and colorful creatures in our midst, but he may be a little young… this trip. He couldn’t quite get it into his head that something covering his eyes and nose (and being tight and pressing on his face) was a good thing. His mom, however, put the gear to good use (with dad nearby to watch the boy). Swimming nose to nose with a stingray whose eyes were larger than mine was awe-inspiring, I can assure you.

“I don’t see how I could ever return to common life after this,” thought we all (quoting “Anne of Green Gables”).

Sure you may have gotten goose bumps at SeaWorld interacting with the marine life and riding the awesome rides. And OK, your family has giggled with delight while whooshing down the slides at Aquatica…. But if you’re ready for your next BIG close encounter with all you love from the marine parks, do not miss Discovery Cove. I’m already counting the days until I, too, can return.

Sesame Street Star Oscar the Grouch Was the Star of our Party

Oscar the Grouch is not one of the performers in the Busch Gardens Safari of Fun Sunny Day Theater (there’s something in his contract about personal appearances, LOL). That didn’t, however, stop us from making him the STAR of my son’s 4th birthday party.

Our invitations told everyone that, in Oscar’s opinion, the party was his “cup of mud.” And it was. And how could he not be thrilled at all the garbage trucks, disgusting sounding (not tasting!) foods, and trashy games? My son decided Slimey the Worm should be next to Oscar, crawling into the wheel.

When guests arrived, they were greeted by a huge sign that read, “Scram! No, wait. C’mon in for the Party!” with a giant photo of the monster himself. All over the back yard trash cans, garbage trucks, and recycling bins could be seen. Normally I try to clean before company, but whoo hoo… when you have a trash-themed party it’s not nearly as high on the “to do” list. We even had an autographed photo of Oscar he sent to us with his regrets that he could not, alas, attend. (I’m serious about the personal appearances clause!)

On the menu were Messy Meatballs, Dirty Rice, Filthy Fondue, Oscar Green Guacamole, Trashy Tortilla Chips, Sloppy Joes, Green Goopy Salsa Verde, and Can-D. (Get it?! In the trash can… Candy!) The cake was a recycling truck with donuts for wheels, ginger bread men for drivers, Pepperidge Farm Pirouettes as exhaust pipes, and of course chocolate pudding in the back with crumbled up Oreos and graham crackers for dirt with gummy worms.

Oscar The Grouch and Garbage Truck

Due to a sudden downpour, we grabbed the gang and headed in to our resi-dump for craft time. Before the party a friend and I cut out pattern pieces for an Oscar puppet. We pre-cut the green face shape, two eyes with pupils, two one brown unibrow, and a black mouth. Using white craft glue and glue sticks, the kids did their best at approximating facial feature placement. (You’ll find pdf files for each of the parts to the puppet at the bottom of this post.)

Oscar the Grouch Puppets

(Thanks home improvement store for the paint stir stick handles which we glued on before the party so they could dry, and Miranda for your exceptional cutting skills.)

Game time was a lot of fun, as we borrowed some bins from our town’s recycling center. We put three labeled bins on each end of the “playing field.” One of each: metal, plastic, paper. In the center of the yard we had two bins facing each other, one green, one orange. Team orange lined up behind their bin, and green did likewise. These bins had various recycling items inside for team members to sort. (Hint: If you use metal soda cans, cut circles of construction paper slightly smaller than the can top and securely hot glue them on, so as not to have a cutting hazard from the sharp opening.) Each child grabbed an item and ran to the “end zone” where a referee was on hand to point to the right bin, as many of the kids couldn’t read the words yet! After a successful dunk, they ran back and tagged the team bin, and the next child would be off to recycle!

On a side note: We’re on a first-name basis with all of our city environmental services personnel. They are the nicest guys and wave at my son every single day they’re there. We bake cookies for them on special occasions and they couldn’t be kinder to our family. Show some love to your trash men: Baked goods or cold water on a hot day.

We really enjoy having our friends and family at our home for parties, but if we lived closer we would have been tempted to have our party at Busch Gardens this year. You can have a preschool part there! The cost includes admission (after 1 p.m.) and features pizza and cake at a special meet-and-greet. Then the kiddos get to be in VIP seating for the 4 p.m. Sesame Street show. (We didn’t have a show at our party, although I had planned on reading a story and having us sing “Oh I Love Trash!” Alas, the rain put a damper on the entertainment portion of the party.)

The Busch Gardens party cost is $49.95 plus tax which includes invitations, decorations, party favors, package pickup for presents and special treatment with some very special monsters. Guests who are Passport members are $23 per person.

They also have a Birthday add-on for people who are already attending a “Dine with Elmo and Friends” event. (The Dine with Elmo breakfast is $18 for adults and $13 for 3- to 9-year-olds. Lunch with Elmo and the gang will cost $22 for adults and $15 for children (ages 3-9). The add-on is a single charge that will provide your party with reserved seating, a cake, and a special birthday wish from the cast during the dine.

(Times, costs, and availability change from time to time, so be sure to visit http://www.buschgardens.com for current information.)

Say, I wonder if an adult can have their birthday party there? I’m over the preschool age—not saying HOW over!—but I STILL love those monsters.

Here are the pdf files you’ll need to create my adorable (IMHO) Oscar the Grouch puppets:

Oscar the Grouch Tongue; Oscar the Grouch Unibrow; Oscar the Grouch Eyes; Oscar the Grouch Face; Oscar the Grouch Mouth