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Just Back: Florida Restaurants Not to Miss in Orlando and Palm Beach

By Emily Goldfischer

Last year, for the first time ever, Florida debuted its own Michelin Guide—an international sign that the state’s culinary scene is flourishing. Having just visited Orlando and Palm Beach, if food was formerly an afterthought, it feels like every establishment is upping its culinary game, from theme parks to stand-alone restaurants. Here are some not to miss:

Harbor Nights at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando

If you don’t know the five-star Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, it really does look exactly like its namesake in Italy, which is why the Italian-themed Harbor Nights event is so genius. Held about four times a year, the ticketed event draws a mix of well-heeled locals and travelers to the hotel’s harbor and spotlights authentic Italian cuisine (think: prosciutto, cheeses and Italian wines paired with live opera music and a festive atmosphere). There are a variety of hot food stations and desserts—you definitely need to come hungry, but really the quality of the food is on point. 

Loews Portofino Bay Hotel Harbor Nights

Good to know: This is one for adults, 21 and over only. Booking essential, choose from $79 per person for Standing Harbor, $109 for VIP, and $850 for a Private Table (which includes reserved seating for up to 10 people at a private table for your entire party). The next event is on April 21, 2023.

Family option: Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is also home to the delicious and more relaxed Mama Della’s, serving authentic dishes from Tuscany, Naples and Piemonte—best lasagna ever, while the cannoli and tiramisu are to die for. The dishes are served family-style in a fun atmosphere with live music. Booking is essential; call 407-503-3463.

Mardi Gras at Universal Orlando: Ride and Dine

If you can’t make it to New Orleans but want to get into the Mardi Gras spirit, Universal Orlando has got you covered. During the entire Mardi Gras season, from the day before Ash Wednesday to the start of Lent in the Christian faith, Universal has nightly parades, dining experiences and live music. This year, there were eight live performances by top names in music like Sean Paul, Maren Morris and the Goo Goo Dolls—all included with your park ticket. A fun way to VIP Mardi Gras is the newly launched "Ride and Dine Experience," which includes a ride on a float and a three-course meal at one of four participating restaurants. Being on one of the New Orleans-inspired floats––such as the iconic, two-story Riverboat and nearly 50-foot-long King Gator––and throwing beads into the crowd is definitely next level.

At press time the 2024 Mardi Gras dates have not yet been announced, but as soon as you book your hotel for Mardi Gras and inquire about "Ride and Dine," contact the VIP Call Center at 866-346-9350.

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