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Soar over Orlando on MAUIVA

August 26th, 2010

MAUIVA flight over Disney World

Last week I had the chance to soar over Orlando as part of the MAUIVA sightseeing flight. “Sightseeing from the clouds” is a great marketing line, but my favorite part is how personal the experience is. In a way you get to see what it’s like to be a pilot. You are at an airport with no security at all – head to the hanger and then step onto a plane with the pilot. Put the headset one, hear the air traffic controllers and other pilots calling each other in the lingo I don’t understand.

When you are up in the air over the parks and celebrity houses you get the pilots full attention (except for his focus on actually flying the plane). You can ask him what is that? What are they building there? And he points out Harry Potter or the tree of life.

I actually flew the plane which was pretty crazy – I think I stared so hard at the controls to ensure “the line was between this number and that number” that I didn’t even look out the windshield the entire time I was flying the plane.

The landing is my favorite – soooo smooth. And the runway is so close you feel like you can reach out and touch it as you are landing. I can definitely recommend that you check out MAUIVA for your next trip to Orlando.

lvolcheff Attraction Review , , , , , , , , , ,

Orlando - Travel Like A Local

February 2nd, 2010

Websites where most of the content is user generated, like,,, are all good for getting several opinions about a restaurant, nightlife, shopping, etc., but these sites don’t ensure a local experience. As an Orlando local, I use sites like those to plan vacations – not to plan my Saturday in Orlando. Instead, if you want to paint your next trip to Orlando with a non-touristy brush, head to sites that locals actually use.

Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • Metromix: This site covers multiple cities with the claim, “Your one-stop local entertainment guide on where to go and what to do, from the hottest restaurants and bars, to the latest in music, movies, and entertainment.”
  • Convention & Visitors Bureau Websites: This seems like the ultimate “Don’t” when you are trying to have a local experience, but when I want to mix things up, I head to my Orlando CVB’s site- they usually feature activities that I wouldn’t immediately think of and feature events in areas of the city I don’t frequent. Bottom line – the people maintaining and updating these sites live in that city – they are locals.
  • Here you can get “gift certificates” (more like coupons) worth $10, $25, $50 for a fraction of the price. Be sure to read the restrictions of each coupon. Sign up for their emails and you will never pay over $2. This won’t tell you which restaurants are local favorites, but it will save you some money.

Orlando specifically
It’s easy to tell you where the locals hang out, but I prefer to share local resources– you know the “teach a man to fish” saying. You can either check out their websites, or follow them on Facebook in the weeks leading up to your trip – you can always de-friend when you get back a guide to Orlando restaurants from someone who is paid to know. Scott Joseph is the former restaurant critic for the Orlando Sentinel. He’s since hung out his own shingle and hosts an active forum with news you can use about the Orlando dining scene. This philanthropic organization has chapters in 3 cities: Jacksonville, Orlando and Charlotte. They run everything from happy hours to full out parties. Most events require a donation, cash or toy, etc to enter. Some highlights include The Disco Ball, Annual White Party, Costumes for a Cause. This site host events around Orlando most of which raise money for charity. They have run everything from Wine-Walks, to Casino Nights, to an annual Bachelorette/Bachelor Action auction – all for charity. Typically these events have an upfront cost, $20 gets you a free drink and raffle ticket. Promotes special events in conjunction with local bars and restaurants. Typically, there is no cover or cost for OTown events – instead each event offers discounted drinks and food. Most recently the site is promoting a happy hour with a free buffet and drink specials.

I hope next time you’re in Orlando you take some time to escape the theme parks and see The City Beautiful like a local does. I’ll see you there.

lvolcheff Destinations , , , , ,

Experience the True America: Travel ‘off the beaten path’

May 8th, 2008

Having a few international friends, I often consider where I would recommend they travel to have a TRUE American experience. With the current economic situation, some of these off-the-beaten-path destinations are looking better than ever. Here’s proof that the Mid-West should no longer be called the ‘fly-over-states.’

Madison, Wisconsin:

A gorgeous college town of 200,000+ situated between 2 lakes. Imagine a white capitol building and 5 blocks from its 3 and 9 o’clock positions are lakes and at the 6 o’clock position is State Street: a pedestrian-only street with bohemian shops (and the Gap), local bars and international restaurants (E. African, Afghani, etc). These 10 blocks lead straight to the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.

Experience America in Madison:

  1. Go in the Fall for colorful leaves and the amazingly large farmers market around the capitol square every Saturday.
  2. Madison Wisconsin

    Madison Wisconsin

  3. Get there in time for the Halloween bash (Saturday before the holiday). Voted the #1 Halloween party by Playboy several years, it’s not really a family-friendly event.
  4. Madison Wisconsin Halloween Bash

    Madison Wisconsin Halloween Bash

  5. In the summer, the capitol square hosts Concert on the Square (free) every Wednesday night, bring a blanket, picnic and wine.
  6. Check out the Kohl center for concerts and sporting events
  7. Eat and Drink! Around the capitol is typically more upscale then on State Street.
  1. State Street and Campus

i. The Memorial Union – that’s right, the student union. Sit on the famous Terrace and have a beer (you might have to have a student order for you from the Ratskeller as you need to be a member or student!)

ii. Himal Chuli – Great Nepalese food

iii. Chautra – Hole in the wall Himalayan food, don’t get scared off by the wild plants in the entrance.

iv. State Street Brats – so wisco! Have a brat and stay for the bar atmosphere. Be sure to try a ‘Spotted Cow,’ a great local brew.

Now drive around Madison:

  1. Visit the many wineries and breweries such as Capital Brewery ( or
  2. Head to the American Players Theatre in Spring Green for Shakespeare under the stars! (
  3. Also in Spring Green is Frank Llyod Wright’s famed home and studio, Taliesin (

Budget Travel ( had an article about Wisconsin in their May issue. Before you go, learn more about the Wisco-basics:

Chicago, Illinois

This is the city I recommend all foreigners visit (over New York) if they really want to experience the America not found in movies. Stay a few nights in the downtown area and a few in one of the neighborhoods like Wrigleyville or Lakeside. I will only add 2 notes about downtown as the sites are quite well known: try it before Christmas; cold yes, but also beautiful and, second, music lovers check out: Now, more on the neighborhoods:

  1. Go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field (Wrigleyville)
  2. Before the game, have a few at one of the designated ‘Cubs bars’ near the stadium. (Wrigleyville)
  3. Every neighborhood has unique, local bars and restaurants. Some worth mentioning: Sheffield’s just off Belmont for a drink, Orange for amazing brunch, Joey’s Brickhouse for a great burger (all in Lakeshore)
  4. Go to the Weiner’s Circle late night (post bars), the busty lady behind the counter will verbally abuse you like its going out of style. (Lincoln Park)
  5. The shopping is great down town, but check out the boutique stores tucked inside the neighborhoods.

Louisville & Lexington, Kentucky

Known as the blue grass state, Kentucky is rich in history, beauty and Southern hospitality. All of Kentucky can get behind a 2 things – horses and basketball (if you are in Louisville cheer for the Cardinals, in Lexington, you are a UK fan!). The two cities are only 1.5 hours away by car.

  1. Lexington
    1. Keeneland – this small but beautiful horse track is only open in April and October. Although all walks of life are in attendance, I suggest dressing up (no hat required) and bringing $2 for a bet and $4 for a drink.
    2. Keeneland Horse Track

    3. Afterwards head to Murray’s ( for a drink on the patio and the food is great too (upscale southern food in an old Horse Manor). Go to Dudley’s downtown for brunch.
    4. Wineries – have lunch and a tasting at Chrisman Mill, then at night, head to Talon Winery for its Summer Concert Series (tickets in advance for dinner and a concert: 859-971-3214).
    5. Bourbon! You can order a glass anywhere or tour the many distilleries such as Makers Mark. Dip your own bottle in the famous red wax.
    6. Right outside of Lexington you can’t miss the Shaker Village.
    7. Visit the Liquor Barn (I would live there if I could) the only thing to rival its selection of booze is the selection of amazing foods.
    8. Liquor Barn

  2. Louisville
    1. The Kentucky Derby – start with Keeneland then finish with the Derby. Unless you are young and stupid (and drunk), don’t opt for the infield. Be sure to wear a hat and order a mint julep.
    2. Don’t miss the Mohammed Ali Center, is interactive and really more about life and about a boxer. There is also a Children’s museum in the area.
    3. Mohammed Ali Center

    1. 21c Museum Hotel – whether you stay here or just visit for an hour the art is too cool, and free. Visit the bathroom before you leave.
    2. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a must for any sports fan. All these museums are within walking distance too each other too.
    3. Fourth Street Live – This is a street of bars and restaurants that is a lot of fun to eat during the day and drink during the night.

Before you leave this great state, be sure to ask someone what ‘corn hole’ is. Don’t worry, its not dirty. Your kids will even like it!

Traveling is all about your experiences, so whether you head off-the-beaten-path in Wisconsin, Illinois or Kentucky, you will be able to experience the beauty, culture, tradition . . . and various accents of the TRUE America.

i. Great Dane Pub- the best and most eclectic bar food and great beer! Get the beer sampler and sit in the outdoor beer garden. (

ii. Restaurant Muramoto is a favorite – atypical Asian fusion with a very unassuming entrance.

iii. Marigold for breakfast or brunch. Café Continental is solid too.

iv. Harvest and L’Etoile are fine dining but worth it - the seasonal menus use local foods from local farms.

lvolcheff Destinations, Dining Reviews, Events, Featured, Tips, Travel , , , , , , , ,

Eating your way around the world

March 10th, 2008

Food is my #1 passion in life and travel #2. However, sometimes I think the only reason I like to travel is to find different foods to fuel Passion #1 - I even keep a restaurant journal. When I travel, I research the restaurants and make someone else research everything else. I then record the details of the foodie-adventures in my journal.

Some lessons I have learned along the way:

  1. Ask locals for recommendations – obvious, but there are a few caveats.
    1. Your hotel front desk is usually the first place to start, but beware. If they recommend a restaurant with a business card and instructions to give it to the restaurant and “tell them we sent you,” DON’T GO. This happened to me in Barcelona, and we were so upsold at dinner it was the most unrelaxing part of the trip.
    2. Ask the right question. Don’t ask, “What restaurants do you recommend.” Ask, “Where do you eat with your friends/family?” and follow that one up with “What kind of food do you like” to ensure their tastes aren’t completely off from yours.
    3. My favorite people to ask are taxi drivers and locals working at bars or restaurants where you have had a good experience.
  2. If you are traveling within the US, the internet will be your best friend in pre-planning, but web sites aren’t as common among international restaurants. I like for national and international.
    1. One thing you can research online before is what is considered local cuisine and drinks. Research tipping practices while you are at it.
    2. If you go to a restaurant that you like, and there are a lot of other restaurants in that same area, grab a business card – that way, you can hand the taxi driver the card the next night instead of trying to explain.
    3. Look for restaurants that are already busy – it will be worth the short wait.
    4. Ask for an English menu, you would be surprised how many places have them – and they usually give you a good laugh with the spelling and translations.
  3. I shouldn’t have to tell anyone this – but try to avoid chains. However, some local chains, are usually pretty good.

So actual recommendations in random locations?

Tokyo: Garlic House – order the garlic French bread for the appetizer, amazing!

Madrid: La Finca de Susana (chefs in training, so great, inexpensive food), and ENE (funky posh, a little pricy)

Dublin: For me, the food in Irelandtastes as dull as the weather, but I managed to find one good place: Chatham Brasserie (Chatham street Dublin– try the burger and chorizo brushetta). Diep Noodle Bar (Ranelagh Dublin 6) is also good.

Madison, WI:I know, not very ‘jetsetter’ of me, but this is an all time favorite and easy to miss and there is only a small black sign hanging on a grey door: Muramoto (106 King Street; Asian fusion)

Barcelona:Barceloneta (L’Escar, 22 moll Dels Pescadors) – pricey, but the view is to die for! Try the cod Carpaccio and don’t skip dessert.

London: Too many great restaurants to count, but Ping Pong is great. All Dim Sum! Order Jasmine tea for a nice surprise too!

Berlin: KaDeWe is a department store in Berlin – like Harrods in London, at least when it comes to the food. Take a few hours to wonder around the upstairs section and sample oysters and champagne!

Santiago: Nau Kana - unbelievable Asian, Middle East fusion! Try their version of the Mojito - vodka & basil.

lvolcheff Dining Reviews, Travel , , , , , , ,

In Madrid, with nothing but my health

February 18th, 2008

Gone – my iPod, camera, passport, wallet with my license, cash, every credit card, really, any card with my name on it was gone. I was in Madrid, Spain for a tradeshow and with nothing to link me to my actual identity, I had 16 hours to catch my flight and, hopefully, maintain my identity, credit rating, etc.

Long story short, at the tradeshow, I put my bag behind the booth for 3 minutes while typing an email on my blackberry. When I went back, it was gone.

If you are unprepared like I was, follow my example as it seemed to work pretty well. However, if you are reading this, you should now know better than to be unprepared.

  1. While crying, I took inventory of what I did still had. . . my blackberry. If you have every read the book “Hatchet” that is what my blackberry meant to me
  2. Next, inventory of my credit cards. A nearby booth had computers with internet so I got phone numbers for each credit card and started cancelling them
  3. While online, I got the address and phone number to the US embassy in Madrid and my hotel (including fax). I called the US Embassy emergency number to find out what I should do.
  4. Next call - my parents. Three years ago I had given them a photocopy of my passport, hopefully they still had it and could fax it to my hotel.
  5. In case my parents didn’t come through, I emailed my employer. When you are employed they always photocopy your driver’s license.
  6. I went straight to my hotel and immediately got a new room since the thief had my hotel room key.
  7. The front desk pointed me to the police station (the embassy asks you what measures you took to find/report your lost passport). My friend who lives there accompanied me (unfair advantage). It took an hour, but would have taken 2 with out her as my translator.
  8. Arrive at the embassy when it opens (8 am) - get in the line for American citizens. When you get in, you take a number, fill out 3 forms and take a picture (4 Euros). Although they didn’t ask for an ID, they did take the faxed photocopy of my passport when offered (thanks mom & dad!). I had a temporary passport (good for 3 months) 1.5 hours and $100 dollars later, which my friend provided, so keep cash separate from your passport. They do accept euros, dollars and credit cards, but the credit card network was down. PS: Don’t expect sympathy from anyone at the embassy.

Here is what I should have done:

  1. In the United States:
    1. Leave photocopies of your passport and credit card front/back with someone you trust and leave a copy in your office.
    2. Memorize your Social Security Number and Passport number.
    3. Create a document with phone numbers to (1) ‘the keepers of your photocopies,’ (2) your credit cards and (3) the US embassy for where ever you are traveling. Email yourself the document and keep one copy - separate from your wallet.
    4. Take no more than 2 credit cards with you.
    5. Whether traveling on work or pleasure, back up your computer!
  2. In the country:
    1. Keep your passport and extra cash in your hotel safe, not on you.
    2. Keep your valuables/credit cards in multiple places.
    3. Keep bags and valuables in eye sight at all times.

lvolcheff Tips, Travel