Sunday, April 09, 2017

Birthday Bash!

This has been one of the best birthday celebrations I've ever had! Perfect weather, great activities, awesome food and drinks and multiple venues. Combine that with an amicable Ric, clearing lungs and, of course, the fabulous Rainbow Magic and, well, you can see why I had such a great time.

I thought about doing the SeaWorld Seven Seas Food Festival for my birthday weekend over a month ago and when I texted Ric about it, he was all for it and even offered to spring for an overnight stay at a nice SeaWorld area hotel.

We set out around noon yesterday and since I was coming off work at 7:15am, I had the choice to either take a nap for only a few hours or just push through it. With the help of that special blue and white pill, I picked pushing through. And push through I did.

After a frantic Ricky Roadrage ride on the mess that is I-4, we got to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Suites at SeaWorld, and checked in. Since, due to traffic, and Ric missing an exit, we arrived at around 1:30, we'd already missed the several shuttle rides to the park, so we chose to walk. It really wasn't that far at all.

Quick note about the room: Hampton Inn is owned by Hilton and though this brand is supposedly less prestigious than the Hilton named properties, this particular hotel and accommodations was worlds better, IMHO. than the Atlanta Hilton from a couple weekends ago. Of course, this is Orlando and the stiff competition along with a traveler's expectation of a magical family experience keeps hoteliers on their feet. Plus, it was more than double the cost of my Atlanta room's daily rate.

Like Epcot's annual Food and Wine Festival, this was SeaWorld's take on a similar seasonal guest event. We got pre-paid lanyards which allowed us 15 food or drink items ($55) from any of the nearly one dozen food vendor booths. Despite our best efforts, we weren't able to fully complete our card. I, for instance, have eight more items to go. Luckily, we can bring it back to a future scheduling of the event through late May.

The food kiosk lines were not bad
In order, I had:

Mexican: Braised Chicken Adobo with Mole Sauce, Cheese and Mexican rice.
Caribbean: Cinnamon Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Sweet Plantain Mash & a Red Wine Reduction
Florida: Coconut Shrimp atop Swamp Cabbage Slaw with Mango Horseradish Sauce
Mediterranean: Sea Scallops Proven├žal served with Wild Mushroom Risotto
Grilled Lamb Chop Marinated with Rosemary Mint and Served with Roasted Potatoes and Greek Tzatziki Sauce
Pacific Coast: Braised Pork Cheeks with Savory Apple Polenta & a Red Wine Reduction
Brazilian: Brazilian Churrasco Grilled Skirt Steak with Chimichurri & Garbanzo Frito
North Atlantic: Bacon & Cheddar Hushpuppies Cornmeal Fritters Served with Honey Butter

Example of food and beer sizes
Ric enjoyed pretty much the same as me but he stayed away from the scallop dish, had an additional item or two and he focused more heavily on some of the dessert items.

Festival Funtime!
Though Ric outpaced me, I had my fair share of beer as well, opting for the 20 oz. souvenir cup at $9.46 and subsequent refills, of any beer you chose, at $7.99.

My beer selections:

Kona Fire Rock
Dogfish 60 Minute
Mahou Cinco Estrellas
(Wow, just four? I don't remember getting any others.)

Free Hugs!
There were several live bands playing throughout the park but the headliners were none other than the Village People who performed at the Bayside Stage at 4:00 pm.

"Young Man!" (Err, more like old man, actually LOL)
We rode Journey to Atlantis and Ric also rode Mako and Kracken...but only once each, the park was decidedly more packed than that Monday a few weeks ago.

The lines for the rides were not great
After closing down the park at 9:00, we took an Uber to Point Orlando on I-Drive and stumbled upon Maggiano's Little Italy. This was a somewhat upscale Italian restaurant and, like any popular place on I-Drive on a Saturday night, we had a 45-minute wait to be seated. This was totally fine as it gave us a chance to have a few drinks at the bar and to get to know the two bartenders on shift, Justin and Nicole.

Barside Buddy Shot!
Once in the dining room, the waitstaff, like the bartenders before them, were top notch in enthusiastic engagement. Like the best of Orlando, this place truly provided a wonderfully crafted guest experience. Ric ordered Sausage and Cheese Gnocchi and I had the Veal Parmigiana. But the real star of the meal was the phenomenal Risotto Balls with Marinara appetizer. We both agreed we'd be happy to just have these for the entire meal! So flavorful.

Justin the bartender had taken note during our conversation with him that it was my birthday eve and surprisingly had our servers deliver a small plate of decadent chocolate truffles to me after our meal. It was emblazoned with a candle and the words "Happy Birthday" spelled out in caramel sauce on the plate rim and, of course, they sang Happy Birthday to me. Totally awesome!

By now it was heading towards midnight so we took an Uber back to the hotel to drop off our doggie bags (the portions were huge and, understandably, we had limited space in our stomachs) freshen up and head on out to yet another bar. For once, I was the instigator of keeping the party flame alive. Ric was pooping out, so after I took one myself, I gave him one of my Phentermines. He says it didn't give him pep and in fact he thinks he got more tired from it, but we trod on nevertheless and Ubered once again over to Howl at the Moon, an I-Drive bar which reminded me a lot of venues on Bourbon Street in New Orleans with a lively, loud (and drunk) tourist clientele and live audience-request music.

Perhaps requested by another patron who'd also attended the afternoons show at SeaWorld, the bar entertainers were tasked to perform none other than Y.M.C.A. How meta!

We Ubered back to the hotel after closing the car down and, both of us thoroughly wiped out, we collapsed into our super comfy beds and were soon out like two lights.

This morning, I made my way down to the hotel dining room for their free hot breakfast buffet around 8:30 am and we both checked out around 10:30.

I-4 Ricky Roadrage, the Morning Version on the way back home.

We capped off my birthday celebration with a lunch of wings and a couple of pitchers of beer at Hooter's near Sanford Mall and caught the matinee showing of Kong: Skull Island at the nearby Regal cinema.

A real nice time I must say with my good buddy Ric.

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