Kristen Manieri

Correspondent

  • Orlando, Florida, USA

Kristen Manieri is a correspondent who lives in Orlando and covers the city and surrounding areas for Forbes Travel Guide. A regular contributor to Orlando Magazine, Orlando Family magazine and Edible Orlando, Manieri continuously scours the city searching for the next great person, place or adventure. Living in the Sunshine State has given her the opportunity to explore it from northerly Amelia Island to southernmost Key West. But from top to tip, Orlando remains one of Manieri’s favorite Florida spots thanks to its ‘come as you are’ art scene, local food-focused restaurants and gorgeous green spaces.

  • On June 11, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best water activities in Orlando?

    If you’ve ever wanted to try paddleboarding, your next visit to Orlando might be the perfect time. There are several outfits in the area, each offering lessons and tours at different destinations and with all the necessary equipment provided. In Winter Park, Paddleboard Orlando takes guests on a 90-minute tour through the renowned Winter Park chain of lakes, including a journey through the exotic Venetian canal.

    Maui B's Stand Up Paddleboarding offers lessons on downtown’s Lake Virginia as well as dolphin and manatee eco tours in New Smyrna Beach, about an hour away. Finally, Hau Hele Wai Paddleboarding takes adventurers on paddleboard trips along the Wekiva River as well as several tours throughout the day at Shingle Creek Regional Park, about 10 miles east of Walt Disney World.

    Of course, if you’d rather just kick back, you can pick from six different water parks, including the newest addition at LEGOLAND Florida where you can float along a 1,000 foot lazy river or race down slides complete with a refreshing plunge finale.
  • On June 7, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best outdoor activities in Orlando?

    I’ve always thought one of the coolest activities in Orlando is at Orlando Watersports Complex, where you can water-ski, wakeboard, or waterskate via the cableway or behind a boat. Besides being one of the state's top locations for international watersports events, the complex is open to the pubic for riders and skiers of all skill levels. In fact, trainers there offer lessons to people with absolutely no experience at all.

    Another outdoor must-do is a kayak or canoe trip down Wekiva River. From the rental shop inside Wekiwa Springs State Park, visitors can rent all the equipment they need for a float down this pristine river where turtle, alligator and otter sightings are commonplace. Afterward, spend some time cooling off with a swim inside the spring, which is always a refreshing 72 degrees.

    Finally, zip lining has officially reached craze status in Orlando, which means you’ll find this exciting but not overly challenging activity all over the area, including Forever Florida, Central Florida Zoo, and now Gatorland, where zippers zoom over alligators watching from below.
  • On June 4, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best seafood restaurants in Orlando?

    deep blu seafood grille is definitely the area’s best seafood restaurant, but don’t just take my word for it. The restaurant was recently named Best Hotel Restaurant and Best Seafood Restaurant in Orlando Magazine’s Annual Dining Awards, which are based on votes from readers. In addition, deep blu’s chef, Cory York, was named Best Chef for the second year in a row. 

    The success of this Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort restaurant is almost entirely owing to the quality of the food. Besides his extraordinarily dedication to only serving the freshest catch, Chef York also has a culinary panache that drives him to design things like mango caviar, which he places over his Key Lime Pie Gelle. His sushi is as artful as it is delicious, and his crab cakes should win a gold medal. 

    About ten miles away, The Oceanaire Seafood Room probably isn’t going to let deep blu remain on top for long. Tucked inside the Pointe Orlando shopping and dining hub, this restaurant has been designed to make visitors feel like their dining inside a luxury ocean liner. A new menu is printed every day with a listing of the day’s fresh catch but a few mainstays are offered on an ongoing basis, including the always popular chilled shellfish platter overflowing with shrimp, crab, lobster and oysters. Couples dining here ought to request one of the intimate booths, which can make you feel you’ve got the entire restaurant all to yourselves.

    Finally, Ocean Prime has always impressed me with their chic décor and outrageously creative cocktails, including my favorite, Berries & Bubbles, which mixes Belvedere Citrus Vodka, blackberries, and champagne. Dishes of note are the Shellfish “Cobb” Salad, which comes loaded with shrimp, lobster, and crab, as well as the eight different types of potato dishes to choose from as sides. Ocean Prime also has a great little, glass-encased dining room ideal for private events. An outdoor lounge with cushioned couches can also be booked for private parties. 
  • On June 3, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best hotels in Orlando?

    I can’t say enough wonderful things about the Hyatt Grand Regency Cypress, which is conveniently located less than a mile from Walt Disney World Resort. Even with all the best attractions practically on its doorsteps, guests of the Hyatt tend to spend a lot of time onsite thanks to the incredible number of activities included in the daily resort fee. There are bikes to borrow and climbing walls to scale. You can grab a kayak or paddleboat and float out onto the pristine lake. Kids love the splash pad and adults love the two tucked away hot tubs. The pool, which winds through a cavernous grotto, is ideal for cooling off, especially with a cool beer in hand thanks to the ridiculously attentive pool wait staff. At night, you can purchase a s’mores kit and snuggle around the fire pit while you wait for Disney’s evening fireworks show to light up the sky.

    Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center is another great choice of hotels near Walt Disney World Resort. Staying here is an experience in and of itself thanks to the 4.5-acre atrium and three themed sections that showcase Florida’s most distinctive areas: The Everglades, The Keys, and St. Augustine. Gaylord just installed a new water park last year with slides and a dive-in movie screen that lets families watch movies while swimming in the giant zero-entry pool. There’s also an adult pool, a great spa (Relache Spa) and several restaurants ranging from buffet to sushi to a very swanky steakhouse.

    Near the convention center, nothing beats The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, which sits on the 500-acre Grande Lakes property alongside the JW Marriott. Besides having several fabulous restaurants, including NORMAN'S, an award-winning restaurant created by celebrity Chef Norman Van Aken, the Ritz is home to Orlando's biggest and, in my opinion, best spa. Encasing 40,000 square feet of luxury and comfort, the spa has 40 treatment rooms, a 4,000 square-foot adult-only pool, co-ed relaxation spaces, and a fabulous little spa café serving scrumptious smoothies and bento boxes filled with yummy, healthy food for lunch.

    Downtown, the Grand Bohemian Hotel reigns king thanks to its ostentatious panache and extraordinary art collection. This boutique hotel has a new spa, a great lobby lounge featuring live music on weekends, and hosts one of the area’s most popular brunches, which the GB has dubbed the Sunday Jazz Brunch.
  • On May 31, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What is the one must-do activity in Orlando?

    Discovery Cove has and probably always will be my absolute favorite Orlando attraction, and there are a few reasons for this. First, there’s no better place to stay cool during the hot summer months when theme park hopping can be pretty unbearable on 100-degree days. At Discovery Cove, guests spend the entire day swimming in the Grand Reef, floating along the lazy river, and relaxing on the sandy beach. 

    To chalk it up as another area water park though would do it such an injustice because Discovery Cove is so much more. It features dolphin encounters, an underwater walking trek called SeaVenture, and an area designed for face-to-face encounters with otters and marmosets. There’s an amazing swimming pool called Serenity Bay that is surrounded by towering palm trees, some with hammocks strung between them. There’s also an aviary filled with friendly birds that will often land on guests.

    Add to this that the entire day is an all-inclusive experience, which means once you pay admission, everything is covered including meals, parking, drinks, snacks, sunscreen, wet suits, and masks and a snorkel you get to take home with you.

    Another perk is that Discovery Cove only allows 1,300 visitors a day, which means it never feels packed. You can get there as soon as it opens and then eat and play until it closes, never having to whip out your wallet again after paying admission. Most people book their spots online weeks ahead of time to avoid the disappointment of a sell-out day or week.

    I’m not sure there is anything else like Discovery Cove in the country, and although it’s on the pricier side when compared to other theme park tickets, it’s definitely the most unforgettable experience Orlando has to offer.
  • On May 31, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best hotels in Orlando?

    I can’t say enough wonderful things about Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center, one of my first choices of hotels near Walt Disney World Resort. Staying here is an experience in and of itself thanks to the 4.5-acre atrium and three themed sections that showcase Florida’s most distinctive areas: The Everglades, The Keys, and St. Augustine. Gaylord just installed a new water park last year with slides and a dive-in movie screen that lets families watch movies while swimming in the giant zero-entry pool. There’s also an adult pool, a great spa (Relache Spa) and several restaurants ranging from buffet to sushi to a very swanky steakhouse.

    Near the convention center, nothing beats The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, which sits on the 500-acre Grande Lakes property alongside the JW Marriott. Besides having several fabulous restaurants, including NORMAN'S, an award-winning restaurant created by celebrity Chef Norman Van Aken, the Ritz is home to Orlando's biggest and, in my opinion, best spa. Encasing 40,000 square feet of luxury and comfort, the spa has 40 treatment rooms, a 4,000 square-foot adult-only pool, co-ed relaxation spaces, and a fabulous little spa café serving scrumptious smoothies and bento boxes filled with yummy, healthy food for lunch.

    Downtown, the Grand Bohemian Hotel reigns king thanks to its ostentatious panache and extraordinary art collection. This boutique hotel has a new spa, a great lobby lounge featuring live music on weekends, and hosts one of the area’s most popular brunches, which the GB has dubbed the Sunday Jazz Brunch.
  • On May 28, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best beaches in Orlando?

    It takes at least an hour to get to the beach from landlocked Orlando; whether you travel east or west depends on your personal preference. Many will choose Cocoa Beach, an easy sixty-mile trip from downtown Orlando, because it’s the closest and has the most name recognition. But honestly, there are better beaches.

    In the Daytona area, families favor Bethune Beach, which is located a few miles south of New Smyrna Beach near the Canaveral National Seashore. Unlike New Smyrna, no cars are allowed on Bethune Beach. There is free parking as well as restrooms and showers at Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park.

    If you’re looking for the best, then Clearwater Beach is where you’ll want to travel. It’ll take just over two hours to get there, but once you arrive you can sink your toes into the sugary white sand and float in the warm, turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. In general, Florida’s west coast tends to be prettier and cleaner than the east coast. If you’re headed west, consider checking out Bradenton Beach's Cortez and Coquina beaches. They are a little less bustling than Clearwater and Coquina Beach has loads of free parking. When it’s time to get out of the sun, you can stop into nearby Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium or do some shopping at St. Armand's Circle, both of which are only about 13 miles away towards Saratota.
  • On May 28, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    Should visitors rent a car in Orlando?

    More than a quarter of the 55 million people that visit Orlando every year arrive by air, which means they’ll likely need some mode of transportation once they get here. Those checking into Walt Disney World Resort with no plans to do anything but visit its four theme parks, two water parks, and two dining and entertainment hubs might want to consider forgoing a rental car. A sophisticated network of buses, boats and monorails transports guests throughout the entire 43 square-mile property and Disney’s Magical Express provides complimentary roundtrip transportation via a cozy motorcoach service to and from the airport.

    If your accommodations or travel plans don’t solely include Disney, then definitely get a rental car. While there is a convenient and free bus system called Lymmo in the city’s downtown area, Orlando really is a car commuter town and the public transportation infrastructure is nothing like the system you would find in New York City or Toronto. The good news is, once you have your rental car, it isn’t too difficult to find parking, even downtown, and you’ll find toll highways to be very well marked and easy to navigate.

    One final thought: check to see if your hotel offers a free shuttle to the parks and attractions you hope to visit. If they're offering transportation to all the places you're hoping to go, you may not need a car after all. 
  • On May 27, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What is the best time to visit Orlando?

    If you can swing it, it’s always best to visit Orlando when everyone else is not. As a rule, crowds dramatically thin the week immediately after Labor Day, the week of Halloween, and the last week of May. That being said, it’s a big place and there is lots of room for the millions of people that visit here every year. From a weather perspective, the early spring and late fall are ideal thanks to temperatures in the high 70s and low 80s. If you’re here during the summer months, expect 95-degree days and plan to spend the mornings in the parks but the afternoons by the pool. And don’t be afraid to carve out a day or two at the beach; it’s only an hour drive to Cocoa Beach and typically two hours to the Gulf of Mexico. While the weeks from Thanksgiving through New Year’s tend to be peak pricing, it is pretty special to see the parks decked out in holiday lights and I’ve often heard from families that kicking off the holidays in Orlando, even kick-starting their holiday shopping, can be pretty fabulous.
  • On May 27, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best bars in Orlando?

    Whether you’re up for sophisticated martinis or buckets of beers, Orlando has venues for those and everything in between. Beginning just north of downtown, Imperial Wine Bar and Beer Garden is a great place to visit after antiquing and vintage shopping in Ivanhoe Village (previously Orlando’s antique district). Tucked inside Washburn Imports, an exotic furniture store, Imperial features a menu of a few dozen craft beers and atypical wines and hosts a rotating array of local food trucks most nights to satisfy hungry patrons. Traveling south, the Bosendorfer Lounge inside the Grand Bohemian Hotel is the best downtown locale for artful martinis and live jazz. In the International Drive area, Howl at the Moon’s live dueling piano show makes for a rowdy night of drinking buckets of beer or sangria. Finally, a favorite in the Disney area is Raglan Road, an authentic Irish pub located in Downtown Disney. Besides Irish beer flights and frozen Bailey’s shakes, this drinking hole features live music seven nights a week plus hourly Irish dance performances starting at 6pm.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    Where is the best nightlife in Orlando?

    Where you party tends to be dictated by where you’re staying, but if proximity to your pillow is not a factor, I always suggest leaving the theme park hotel areas and heading to the Church Street District in downtown Orlando. Thanks to the 2010 opening of the Amway Center, home to the Orlando Magic, this area of downtown is really coming to life again after a few decades of resuscitation attempts. While Rosie O'Grady's and the Cheyenne Saloon are long gone, the district’s recent restaurant and bar arrivals are creating a bit of a buzz. Ceviche, Rusty Spoon, and even the flamboyant Hamburger Mary’s diner all make for good eats, while Eternal Tap and newcomer Native are nice spots to grab a drink. On the entertainment side, just head north on Orange Avenue where you’ll find the Plaza Cinema Café 12, a movie theater, as well as SAK Comedy Lab, a zany improvisational live sketch comedy act with shows Tuesday through Saturday nights.  Also in the district is the Mad Cow Theatre where a full season of high caliber plays and musicals appears on stage in this intimate venue.
  • On May 21, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What is the weather like right now in Orlando?

    By mid spring, it’s pretty typical for temperatures to start reaching the mid to high 80s. Visitors will want to bring shorts, t-shirts and sundresses for the day and also a light sweater or long-sleeve shirt for the evening when temperatures cool to around 73 degrees. What’s great about spring in Orlando is that although it’s hot, it hasn’t yet reached that ‘trapped in an oven’ feel that will be setting in by summer.  If you’re in the shade or the sky is a little overcast, it’s actually pretty close to perfection here at the moment. At nearby beaches, the daytime temperatures drop a little lower than inland temperatures. While the Atlantic is still pretty chilly, this is still a wonderful time to plan a beach day. Regardless of your plans, consider bringing an umbrella or rain poncho: spring doesn’t typically see the daily afternoon showers that summer brings, but rain is certainly not unheard of this time of year.
  • On May 18, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    What are the best attractions in Orlando?

    Obviously Walt Disney World Resort, the 40-square-mile mecca of merriment, will top most visitor’s bucket list, and justifiably so. With four theme parks, two water parks, plus a dozen more fun happenings at Downtown Disney, a trip to WDW can easily eat up an entire weeklong vacation. That being said, there’s one attraction that is, in my books at least, even better: Discovery Cove. As the sister property to SeaWorld, you’ll expect to see dolphins and tropical fish; what’s surprising is that you’ll be swimming with them. Guests are outfitted with wetsuits and snorkels upon arrival and then they spend the entire day in Discovery Cove’s various wet zones, swimming with fish, wading with rays, and floating along a lazy river that passes through a free-flight aviary. It’s an unforgettable Orlando experience that’s limited to just 1,300 guests each day. Finally, you can’t come to Orlando without a visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter inside Universal's Island of Adventure. Even if you’re not fan of the outrageously popular book series, you’ll still appreciate the attraction’s epic rides and crafty recreation of J.K. Rowling infamous locales.
  • On May 8, 2013
    Jennifer Kester is now following Kristen Manieri
  • On May 7, 2013
    Kristen Manieri answered the question: Kristen Manieri

    Where is the best shopping in Orlando?

    When it comes to deals, we are so spoiled in Orlando with the Premium Outlets, which are spread across two locations—Vineland and International Drive—that collectively house more than 300 stores. Diehard fashionistas with marathon stamina can conquer them both in the same day thanks to the trolley that connects them. You won’t find many bargains at Mall at Millenia, but the well-heeled shoppers that flock there don’t seem to mind; they’re just happy to find brands like Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Gucci all under the same swanky roof. On those days when you just want to wander and see what you might find, head to Park Avenue, the bricked Winter Park shopping and dining district that’s become a favorite for people who love one-off boutiques and quirky specialty stores.