Saturday, November 30, 2013

Ringling, Food and More Massage in Longboat Key

I enjoyed a room service order of Vanilla Pancakes with bananas and Greek yogurt, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that my second day at The Resort at Longboat Key was going to be rained out.

My schedule included time on the beach and in the pool, as well as tours of the extensive golf and tennis facilities. That had to be scratched, but my friend Lynn and I still scraped out a wonderful day.

We took our time getting ready in the morning and were happily surprised when the hotel once again sent two masseuses to our room. The massage was as good as it had been previously – even though it wasn’t the sunshine covered beach I was looking at from outside my window.

After the massage we headed back to the Sands Pointe restaurant for another memorable lunch. I had the Cobb Salad, while Lynn went for the tenders and mango salad, which was as good as it was the day before.

The hotel provided us with transportation to The Ringling. I have to confess that I was not overly anxious to go. I don’t have anything against the circus, I actually love it, but spending an entire afternoon at a circus museum? I couldn’t see it.

I was certainly wrong about this huge estate. John and Mabel Ringling were huge supporters of the Sarasota area and left quite a complex for the public, which has been run by Florida State University since 2000.

The Ringling consists of a Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Ca' D'zan, Asolo Theater, Art Library and the Bayfront Gardens. There is a (thankfully covered) tram that takes you around through the estate.

We started in C’Dzan, the 56 room, 36,000 square foot mansion John and Mabel Ringling hired New York architect Dwight James Baum to build.

In addition to being an architectural masterpiece, it was filled with original furnishings and even clothing from its owners. Each room appeared to outdo the previous. Even through the rain, we could remark at the view from the deck of Sarasota and its keys.

The Museum of Art was equally impressive and we couldn’t begin to put a price on the paintings in those rooms. I also enjoyed the Circus Museum, where we saw a film on John Ringling, whom I knew little about. (The story is definitely worth checking out.)

We headed back to the room in time to get dressed for our dinner at Portofino, a fine dining Italian restaurant at the Lido Key Resort. We were met there by Nancy Thielman, the spa manager for the resort’s new Island House Spa, which I was disappointed to find out was opening just after our visit. Also joining us for dinner was Sandra Rios, Director of Communications for Resort at Longboat Key Club.

Sandra and Nancy told us about the upcoming Island Spa House (sounded incredible) and the loyal residents and guests who return to Longboat Key each year. Ironically, some of them came over to say hello while we were eating and told us we have to come back and enjoy this place when the weather is better.

The dinner progressed from one fantastic course to the next. We shared the Portofino Flatbread, with sundried tomatoes, goat cheese and spinach in a balsamic dressing that I’m going to have to figure out how to duplicate at home. Next there was a tasty spaghetti squash appetizer that had tomatoes and mozzarella covering it.

I had the Pasta Bolognese, with tender meat and al dente pasta, while Lynn said the Linguine in Clam Sauce was as good as it gets.

We got an assortment of dessert with our cappuccinos, but the winner was definitely the Semi Freddo Cioccolatta e Nocciola, a chocolate-hazelnut semifreddo with crushed amaretti cookies and toasted hazelnuts in a raspberry coulis. I thought it tasted like a frozen Rocher chocolate.

While the weather didn’t cooperate for us to fully enjoy the resort, the experience in Sarasota, Lido, Siesta and Longboat Keys was enough to let me know it’s a place I want to return to. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

From Lido to Longboat on Sarasota Keys

It had been a fun and relaxing two days at Lido Beach Resort, but it was time for my friend Lynn and me to leave Lido Key and head to Longboat Key.
We left the resort first thing in the morning to head downtown to the Sarasota Opera House. Sam Lowry, Director of Audience Development, met us at the door for a private tour. 
We were lucky enough to get to see every corner of this historic building, which opened in 1984 and went through an extensive ($20 million) renovation in 2008.
The building had been kept its history in the renovation and Lynn and I were impressed with the special touches, from the detailed woodwork around the stage to the gold crest in the cream colored Grand Atrium.

I had never been to the opera and I fantasized about putting on a floor length evening gown and socializing in one of their well-appointed member lounges while waiting for the curtain call!

After the Opera House, we returned to the Lido Beach Resort to pack up. The clouds were beginning to form and we hoped that it was just one of those quick Florida rains coming in as we drove to Longboat Key.
The Resort at Longboat Key Club was very different from the one we had just left even though they are sister properties. It seemed a bit more luxurious, though certainly in an understated way. It was the service that was the most noticeable as we were welcomed in a way that made it clear the staff was there to fulfill the guests’ wishes.
Our suite was not yet ready so we went to Sands Pointe restaurant for lunch. The menu was quite extensive and we couldn’t decide what to order, so we shared the Smoked Turkey Club (turkey, provolone, tomato, arugula and avocado with herb aioli) and the Chicken Cabana (chicken breast with grilled pineapple, applewood bacon, pepperjack cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and barbecue sauce). 
They were both good, but we favored the chicken and really liked both side dishes – Sweet Potato Salad and Mango Cole Slaw.
We headed to our suite right after lunch and it was well worth the wait. We had two full bedrooms, a large kitchen, dining room and living room. We found some welcome and unique touches, like the cocktail mixing tray in our fully-equipped kitchen and books and games in the living room.
The only thing better than the suite was the views from the multiple balconies we had. I got to enjoy one of those views during a phenomenal in-room massage. We were there just before the hotel’s Island House Spa opened so we just missed touring and exploring that, but I hear it is beautiful.

As much as we were enjoying the The Resort at Longboat Key Club, the weather did not cooperate for our visit. It was pouring so hard in the evening that we were afraid to drive down to St. Armand’s Circle in Sarasota, where we were scheduled to check out the stores and have dinner. 
We stayed on the property instead and actually ate in the Point Lounge. It was a relaxing and casual meal while we sipped Chandon Champagne and enjoyed Arugula Goat Cheese Flatbread along with Truffle Mac N’ Cheese.
After dinner we called it a night, hoping Mother Nature would cooperate and let us explore the beach and pools of the Resort at Longboat Key Club.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sun Shines Through Lido Key & Mote Aquarium

My friend Lynn and I woke up to the bright sunshine at the Lido Beach Resort. It was our first trip to the western keys off Sarasota and had been a good one so far.

I had breakfast through room service and thoroughly enjoyed chocolate chip pancakes with blueberries while watching the waves off my balcony. We had a pretty full day and I was hoping to have some time to also get close to those waves.

We were starting the day with a trip to the Mote Aquarium and Research Center, which is dedicated to the ocean life in the area. We learned about Eugenie Clark, still diving and supporting the aquarium’s research into her 90s. We saw some of the research in the form of a project trying to breed octopus in captivity.

One way the Mote Aquarium and research laboratory raise money is through farm by raising sturgeon to harvest caviar and sell it. I found it to be quite fascinating as the process was explained.

Sea turtles are a big part of life here and the aquarium hopes to educate those in the water about respecting their space. There is a full laboratory for research and a hospital to help heal rescued marine life.

This included manatees found in the area injured from boating accidents. We also saw and pet some stingrays while they were enjoying the shade.

Before we left the aquarium to head back to Lido Beach Resort we spent some time with the resident bottlenose dolphin. Moonshine is a rare pantropical spotted dolphin that was rescued after being stranded in the Keys. He’s quite friendly and seemed to enjoy doing tricks and getting attention from the crowd around him.

I had read that the Brunch at Lido Beach Resort was one of the best in the state and it did not disappoint. It was wonderful, but nothing was as good as the view. From every window of the restaurant there seemed to be another picture-perfect scene. We toasted brunch with a glass of champagne, before sampling the buffet. There was quite a lot of seafood, which Lynn and I are both allergic to, but there were still plenty of options to leave us satisfied.

We started with some cold salad items, including a Caprese Salad with yellow, orange and red tomatoes. We passed on the custom-made omelets in favor of some of the hot dishes. I think the Blintz were my favorite, filled with creamy cheese. I also enjoyed the Chicken Florentine.

Dessert was a tough choice, offering everything from bread pudding to warm chocolate chip cookies (my favorite).

After that full meal I took a walk on the beach and then enjoyed a Wolfberry Mojito at the pool. By that time I had digested all that food and even did a few laps.
In the evening, we drove to Siesta Key for dinner and to check out the beach, which has been voted the “Best Beach in the U.S.” It was quite nice, but it does take a lot to impress me having grown up near the beach and seen so many around the world.

It was just before sunset and we were told that locals gathered at this time on Sundays for a drum circle on the beach. We stayed for a bit to listen to the music and watch the dancing, but it was rather cloudy so we didn’t see much of a sunset.

We did find a little Italian place in downtown Siesta Key called Falvios. It was a great choice and we shared a plate of ricotta and spinach filled ravioli as well as a perfectly cooked pasta with tomatoes, eggplant and fresh mozzarella.

We were pretty exhausted by the time we got back to the Lido Beach Resort so it was an early evening before another big day in Florida's Other Keys. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Discovering the Other Keys in Florida

With all the places I’ve been around the world, I’ve actually never been to the Florida Keys (with the exception of covering a tennis tournament on Key Biscayne). I’ve spent a lot of time in the Miami area, but the timing just never worked out for me to extend the visit to the keys.

I was intrigued to get an email about visiting the “other keys.” Frankly, I had no idea that Florida had “other keys,” but a little bit of research led me to discover that there were some beautiful islands on the west coast off Sarasota. The timing worked and, with summer ending here, a beach trip sounded like a great idea.

I made arrangements to fly down and meet my friend Lynn for yet another girls getaway. The itinerary had us doing everything from visiting (what has been voted) the No. 1 beach in the U.S. to touring the Opera House, but I was excited that first day to just arrive in time to catch some rays. My previous trips had been jammed packed and my time at home limited so the idea of actually laying on a lounge chair sounded like heaven.

The first resort we were staying at was the Lido Beach Resort on Lido Key. I had arrived in Florida the night before to spend some time with my mom in the Delray Beach area and then took the four hour drive there. I had made that trip once before and Alligator Alley had been a bit swamp-like with no cell phone service, but things had certainly changed and a new road (and plenty of 4G followed me the whole way).

As I crossed over the bridge from Sarasota to Lido Key I was immediately attracted to the blue waters and pristine palm trees. The resort itself was also quite impressive and I loved the idea that the garage parking was a very short (indoor) walk to our suite.

We had a suite with a fully-equipped kitchenette, large bathroom and breathtaking views of the beach.  It was a great place to call home for the next few days.

Within the hour I was changed into my bathing suit and down at the pool with Lynn with a drink in my hand, toasting to yet another adventure to come. The weather was just perfect, sunny and in the 80s, and not as humid as Florida often gets. We relaxed for a while before heading back up to the room.

The original plan was to go downtown for dinner, but we opted instead to stay in, ordering a veggie-filled pizza from room service.  They also had some of our favorite wine on the menu. A Kendall Jackson Cabernet Sauvignon and a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc showed up at our door just in time to watch the sunset and think about exploring Florida’s Western Keys.