Archive For February 26, 2017

Bok Tower Gardens National Historic Landmark – Photo Tour

 

Bok Gardens is lush with beautiful blooms, even in February

Bok Gardens ~ Year-Round Beauty!

 

Bok Tower and Gardens ~ National Register of Historic Places

Bok Tower Gardens is a 50-acre garden located in Lake Wales, Florida.  It’s perfectly positioned on Iron Mountain within the Lake Wales Ridge, one of the highest elevations in peninsular Florida.  Rising 295 feet above sea level, for me it’s the most peaceful place in all of Central Florida.  As a Florida resident looking to take a break from the craziness of Orlando’s theme parks and myriad of other touristy places, Bok Tower Gardens provides a place of solitude, and seemingly shelters me from the over-crowded venues synonymous with the Sunshine State.  Even when the parking lot is full, I feel like I’m all alone; just me nestled amongst nature’s finest.

Bok Tower Gardens has been inspiring locals and visitors for the past 88 years!  It was established almost 9 decades ago by Edward W. Bok as a gift to the American people.  Mr. Bok spared no expense in creating this garden oasis, hiring famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as the designer.  After 5+ years in construction, Bok Gardens was dedicated on February 1, 1929, by President Calvin Coolidge.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.  The history of Bok Tower Gardens is truly fascinating!

 

FUN FACT:

Edward W. Bok was the editor of the women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal!

National Register of Historic Places Plaque is Displayed on Garden Post

National Register of Historic Places

 

Entrance to Bok Tower Gardens with Beautiful Potted Plants

Entrance to Bok Tower Gardens

 

Bok Tower Gardens ~ 7 Distinct Areas

Bok Tower Gardens consists of 7 distinct focal points:

  • Olmsted Landscape Gardens
  • Wild Garden
  • Singing Tower
  • Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
  • Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen
  • Pine Ridge Nature Preserve
  • Pinewood Estate & Gardens

Each one is unique and provides for leisurely strolls, enlightening moments, or engaging activities.  There are a multitude of meandering paths and strategically placed benches perfect for reading, journaling, reflecting, meditation, or praying.  The informal woodland setting is also a haven for bird-watchers, butterfly fanatics, nature lovers, and photographers.  Keep your camera handy — in addition to songbirds, wildlife may include turkeys, raptors, lizards, or the rare gopher tortoise listed as “threatened” and thereby protected under Florida State law.

If you plan on thoroughly investigating all 7 areas in one day, it’s a good idea to arrive when they open at 8 a.m.  Pack a picnic lunch or stop by the Blue Palmetto Cafe, their on-site spot for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.  (You have got to try the Beer-batterd French Fries!  They were even better than my beloved Sweet Potato Fries.)  Here’s a peek at the Blue Palmetto Cafe menu and prices.

Begin your visit at the Visitor’s Center & Museum with a brief orientation film.  Here, you can also learn about the history of the Gardens and view changing art exhibits.  Be sure to pick up a brochure with photos of some of the plants that will be blooming during your visit; these change on a monthly basis. Additionally, there is a table right outside the Visitor’s Center with a sampling of what’s currently in bloom. Take a look, and then see how many you can locate!  Save some time to explore the Tower & Garden Gift Shop with unique treasures (and a live plant shop for your own garden) to commemorate your visit.

Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year, from 8 – 6.  Visit their website at boktowergardens.org for visitor guidelines and frequently asked questions.

 

Bok Tower Gardens List of Flowers That Are Currently Blooming

Flowers That Are Currently Blooming

 

Order Area at the Blue Palmetto Cafe

Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe

 

Sandwich & Fries Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe

Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe

 

Bok Tower & Garden Gift Shop Interior

Tower & Garden Gift Shop

 

Bok Tower Gardens ~ Colorful Creations 365 Days a Year!

Regardless of which month you visit Bok Tower Gardens you’ll find a variety of flowers and plants in bloom.  That’s the beauty of having a botanical garden right in the middle of the Sunshine State!  During every season (and yes, Florida has them!) color abounds.  For example, when I went in December there was Plumbago, Tropical Gardenia, Chinese Hat, Popcorn Senna, Beautyberry, Brazilian Red Cloak, and Camellias, just to name a few.  The citrus trees were at the height of their growing season, and poinsettias were everywhere.  And the mansion at Pinewood Estate was decked out in all its holiday splendor. Christmastime is truly one of my favorite times at Bok Tower Gardens.

 

Bok Gardens Red & Green Bromeliad Tree at Christmastime

Bok Gardens Bromeliad Tree at Christmastime

 

Bok Gardens Pink Powder Puff, Pink Camellia and Beautyberry in December

Outstanding Colorful Blooms in December at Bok Gardens

 

Orange Trees in Bloom at Bok Gardens During December

Orange Trees at Bok Gardens During December

 

Red Poinsettias Near the Entrance at Bok Gardens

Poinsettias are Everywhere During the Holidays at Bok Gardens

 

Inside Pinewood Estate Mansion at Christmas

Mansion at Christmas ~ Pinewood Estate

 

Bok Gardens in February

My most recent visit was a few days ago in February.  I didn’t expect to see much midway through winter, but Mother Nature proved me wrong.  The Gardens were remarkable!  Sensational Snapdragons were blooming in a variety of bright colors and ranged in height from dwarf to medium to tall.  Their showy slender stalks appeared throughout the Gardens, from potted containers at the entrance to Pinewood Estate, and places in-between.

And speaking of “showy,” the Camellias were the crème de la crème!  They were found in various sections and provided breathtaking eye-candy for anyone with a passion for botanical beauty.  The red, white, and pink flowers (oftentimes mistaken for a rose) were in full bloom during my February visit.  Bird of Paradise, one of my all-time favorite tropical flowers, were also blooming.  The Azaleas… oh my goodness, those Azaleas!  Even though they’re quite common compared to a lot of the offerings here, were extraordinarily beautiful.  It seemed like there were acres of them, in so many varieties — such as Amelia Rose, Gloria, Mardi Gras, Southern Charm, Kissimmee, Edward Bok, and Eugenie.

 

Bok Gardens Colorful Yellow and Orange Snapdragons

Stunning Snapdragons at Bok Gardens

 

Hot Pink Aster at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

“Pretty in Pink” Aster at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales

 

Bok Gardens Beautiful Pink Bromeliad Blooms in Winter

Beautiful Bromeliad Blooms in Winter

 

Bok Tower Gardens Red Plumes at Pinewood Estate During Christmas

Red Plumes at Pinewood Estate

 

Colorful Cacti & Potted Plants at Bok Gardens in February

Colorful Cacti & Potted Plants at Bok Gardens

 

Pinewood Estate ~ Mediterranean Revival Architecture

A trip to Bok Tower Gardens is not complete without a leisurely stroll around the grounds of Pinewood Estate.  The enchanting 20-room mansion is Mediterranean Revival Architecture, and just under 13,000 square feet.  This area is comprised of nearly 8 acres and was built in the early 1930s for Charles Austin Buck, the vice president of Bethlehem Steel.  “El Retiro” was the original name, which means “retreat” in Spanish.  I purchased a book with the history of Pinewood Estate and Bok Tower Gardens in the gift shop, which I highly recommend.  It was fascinating!

General Admission to the Gardens is $14, and a combo ticket that includes the Pinewood Estate tour is $20. It’s well worth the $6 up-charge which includes the home’s history, and docents are available throughout the mansion to answer questions about the Estate and its furnishings.  Even if you don’t purchase the interior tour of the mansion, do yourself a favor and peruse the immaculate grounds.  You’ll be able to see the formal Mediterranean-style garden, the Spanish frog fountain, an enchanting stone grotto at the front of the house, an Oriental moon gate fountain, and an English-style country garden with a rolling lawn and reflective pond.

 

Pinewood Estate Exterior at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

Pinewood Estate at Bok Gardens, Lake Wales Florida

 

Pinewood Estate Statuary in Lake Wales Florida

Grounds of Pinewood Estate, Lake Wales Florida

 

Pinewood Estate Mansion Colorful Tiles Provide Latin Influences

Latin Influences at Pinewood Estate ~ Colorful Tiles

 

Pinewood Estate Mansion and Gardens

Pinewood Estate Mansion and Gardens

 

Pinewood Estate Oriental Moon Gate Fountain and Gardens

Oriental Moon Gate Fountain and Gardens at Pinewood Estate

 

Pinewood Estate Colorful Blooms in February

Pinewood Estate in February

 

Pinewood Estate Mansion with Red Colorful Blooms in February

Pinewood Estate Mansion with Colorful February Blooms

 

Bamboo and Palm Trees at Pinewood Estate Mansion Lake Wales Florida

Bamboo and Palms at Pinewood Estate Mansion, Bok Gardens

 

The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens

Towering 205 feet above the Gardens is the neo-Gothic Singing Tower.  It houses one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bells.  The Art Deco style is made up of stone native to the Southeast, ironwork, tile mosaics, and the infamous sun dial and brass door.  Unfortunately, few people will get to tour the inside of the Singing Tower and see what’s behind the brass door.  To receive a private tour invitation you must hold a Sustainer Level Membership or above.  Even so, the outside of the Tower is worth seeing; it was awarded the grand prize for design in 1930 by the American Institute of Architects.  Carillon concerts occur at 1 & 3 p.m. daily.  They can usually be heard almost anywhere on the grounds of the Gardens.

The carillon musical instrument was designed and built in England, in 1928.  There are only 4 in Florida and 600 worldwide.  Bok Tower Gardens will be hosting the 23rd International Carillon Festival March 4-12. Daily concerts and special events will be performed by world-renowned carillonneurs.  This world-famous music festival only happens twice every 5 years!

 

Singing Tower with Reflection in Pond at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens, Lake Wales Florida

 

The Singing Tower Collage

The Singing Tower Collage

 

Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden ~ New at Bok Tower Gardens

One of the new additions to Bok Tower Gardens is the children’s play area called Hammock Hollow. What a fantastic idea!  Young children are generally not as interested or impressed by botanical gardens as adults are, therefore, this add-on was a win-win for everyone in the family.  Mom and Dad no longer have to fight with the little ones to go to the Gardens.  In fact, with an activities area like this one, the only battle will be getting the kids to leave.

At 2.7 acres it’s much larger than I envisioned.  The children can enter through the pint-sized keystone gate, where the adventure begins.  There are rocks to climb (careful… you may get wet!), a gigantic spiderweb to maneuver, logs to climb, a painting area for the next Van Gogh to be discovered, sand play area complete with sand pails and water, a stick stack for building forts and other structures, a chickee hut with an outdoor kitchen, frog hop for jumpers, acoustic musical instruments, bird feeding stations, and lots more.  There’s a decent amount of shady areas to escape the hot Florida sun with places to rest and cool down; rope hammocks, secret nap benches, fountains, spray jets, misters, and foggers.  You can read Florida Fun And Fork’s complete review of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden here.

***Note:  This is not a babysitting service.  The children must be supervised at all times.

 

Hammock Hollow Keystone Entry for New Children's Play Area at Bok Gardens

Hammock Hollow Keystone Entry for Children’s Play Area at Bok Gardens

 

Bok Gardens New Hammock Hollow Children's Play Area

Children’s Play Areas at Bok Gardens

 

Children's Painting Area at the New Hammock Hollow Bok Gardens

Children’s Painting Area at Hammock Hollow

 

Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen ~ New to Bok Tower Gardens

Another upgrade to Bok Tower Gardens is the addition of an Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen. Developed by the University of Florida and other growers, it features fruits, herbs, and vegetables.  Of course, the varieties planted are those well suited for Central Florida weather.  This area hosts special events and culinary classes such as Grilling with a Twist, Sippin’ & Suppin’ Under the Stars with Celebrity Chefs, Kids in the Kitchen, Fermentation Festival, Craft Beer & Cuisine, and Brining & Pickling.

 

Bok Tower Gardens New Outdoor Kitchen Area

Outdoor Kitchen at Bok Tower Gardens

 

Edible Garden with Swiss Chard and Hot Peppers at Bok Botanical Gardens

Edible Garden at Bok Tower Gardens

 

A Slice of Old Florida

Bok Tower Gardens gives me a sense of Old Florida — the way our great state used to be before scores of people discovered our little secret.  It’s off-the-beaten-path, yet so easy to access from almost anywhere within Central Florida.  I highly recommend this peaceful piece of paradise.  And even though there’s been a noticeable increase in attendance since the new spaces have premiered, you won’t have tons of tourists stepping on your toes.  The serenity is addictive.

 

Huge Floating Water Lily Pads at Bok Tower Botanical Gardens in Florida

A Slice of Old Florida at Bok Tower Gardens

 

Bok Botanical Gardens Wooden Boardwalk Path with Bench in Lake Wales

An Old Florida Attraction at Bok Gardens , Lake Wales

 

Bok Botanical Gardens Driftwood

Nature at its Best!

 

Gigantic Palm Leaf at Bok Botanical Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

Gigantic Palm Leaf at Bok Gardens

 

White Swan in the Reflecting Pond at Bok Tower Botanical Gardens

Swan in the Reflecting Pond at Bok Tower Gardens

 

Bok Tower Gardens Membership and Reciprocal Program

If you’re in a geographical area that will allow you to return again and again, consider purchasing a Membership.  With 11 different Membership Levels, there’s one that fits most budgets.  Hubby and I purchased the “Duo” right before the price increase (we paid $55).  But even at $70 for 2 people it’s a bargain.  Not only do you get unlimited visits to Bok Tower Gardens and discounts at the Blue Palmetto Cafe and Tower Garden Gift Shop, it also includes a reciprocal admission program that allows free or greatly reduced entry prices for other select botanical gardens and museums in Florida and throughout the country.

For example, Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando offers free admission simply by showing your Bok Tower Gardens Membership Card (and photo ID).  Here’s my Leu Gardens Review and Photo Tour from a recent visit.  This is another gorgeous botanical garden and museum that is also on the National Register of Historic Places.  Additionally, The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park has free reciprocal admission.  The sculptures in this outdoor sculpture garden are amazing!  To me, if a facility is on the National Register, it’s usually worth seeing.  In total, there are 47 botanical gardens and/or museums in the state of Florida alone that participate in this program.

You can check out the Membership Application for Bok Gardens on their website.

 

Bok Tower Gardens Map and Directions

 

 

ADDITIONAL READING FOR BOTANICAL ENTHUSIASTS

5 Florida Botanical Gardens with Rich Roots!

What do you get when you combine a passion for botanical beauty with America’s wealthiest families? You get 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots!  It’s a fascinating article revealing the connection between the richest people in America and their winter homes here in Florida!

 

SPECIAL EVENT:  EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE 

WHERE:  Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853

WHEN:  April 16, 2017, 7:00 am — Gate opens at 6:00 a.m

COST:  Complimentary Admission until 8:00 a.m

In addition to an inspiring Easter message, enjoy a carillon performance by Geert D’hollander

For an additional fee a buffet breakfast will be served in the Blue Palmetto Café following the service

 

Have you been to Bok Tower Gardens?  Please share your experience or any questions about this National Historic Landmark in the Comment box below!

Read more »

Marriott SurfWatch Resort Hilton Head Island Review & Photos

 

Lagoon at Marriott SurfWatch Resort on Hilton Head Island

Marriott SurfWatch Resort ~ Hilton Head Island

 

Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards 2017

TRAVEL + LEISURE 2017 WORLD’S BEST AWARDS

Congratulations to Hilton Head Island!

Voted #1 Top 10 Islands in the United States

Voted #2 World’s Best Islands

Marriott SurfWatch Resort on Hilton Head Island ~ A Premier Destination

Marriott’s SurfWatch Resort on beautiful Hilton Head Island, South Carolina is a premier destination for anyone expecting excellency in a vacation ownership property.  As seasoned Marriott travelers for over three decades and Marriott Vacation Club Owners for the past 25 years, SurfWatch has quickly risen to the top of our “favorites” list.  The following review and photo tour will show you why we believe SurfWatch is so sensational!

SurfWatch ~ A Marriott Vacation Club Property

It’s of utmost importance that vacation seekers and business travelers alike are aware that SurfWatch is a Marriott Vacation Club property (timeshare ownership), not a hotel.  It does not operate as a hotel, nor does it have the same full service amenities as a traditional Marriott Hotel.  You will not have access to a valet, no room service options, no full-service restaurant on premise, and no daily housekeeping (unless you’re staying there on a “rental” instead of a vacation week exchange, or choose to pay a daily housekeeping fee as part of your vacation preferences).

In exchange for those luxuries and conveniences, you will have a villa with a large amount of space compared to a traditional hotel room or suite.  SurfWatch offers 2 or 3 bedroom villas that are extremely spacious, comfortable, and well-appointed; they can accommodate 8-12 people.  It’s kind of like your “home away from home” because each villa at SurfWatch has a full kitchen with stainless steal appliances that is equipped with cookware, dishes, cups/glasses, utensils, and other kitchen necessities.  Right off the kitchen is a full sized dining room and living room.  The villa layout is open and airy with contemporary furnishings.

The master bedroom is spacious with a king-size bed and separate desk area.  The master bath has a double sink vanity and an amazing walk-in shower bigger than my garage!  Not quite, but it is very large with multiple shower heads and multiple jets.  (Trust me… you will want to linger here a bit!)  The 2nd bedroom (and 3rd, if you have a 3-bedroom unit) has 2 queen-size beds.  The adjacent bathroom has a single sink and bathtub/shower combination.  Included in every villa is a full size washer and dryer, and a balcony off the living room.  (For Marriott SurfWatch nightly rates and availability check the Marriott website here.)

Marriott SurfWatch Villas ~ Photo Tour

We recently completed our 3rd visit to SurfWatch (February 2017) and were blessed to have a newly refurbished unit.  Here are some photos showing the new interior design and color scheme.

 

Marriott SurfWatch Living Room Newly Refurbished in 2017

SurfWatch Living Room ~ Newly Refurbished in 2017

 

Marriott SurfWatch Dining Room Newly Refurbished in 2017

SurfWatch Dining Room ~ Newly Refurbished in 2017

 

Marriott SurfWatch Kitchen with Stainless Steal Appliances

Marriott SurfWatch Kitchen

 

Marriott SurfWatch Kitchen with Granite Countertops

Marriott SurfWatch Kitchen

 

Marriott SurfWatch Master Bedroom Refurbished in 2017

SurfWatch Master Bedroom ~ Newly Refurbished in 2017

 

Marriott SurfWatch Master Bedroom Newly Added Desk

SurfWatch Master Bedroom Desk

 

SurfWatch 2nd Bedroom Remodeled in 2017 Handicap Accessible

SurfWatch 2nd Bedroom ~ Newly Refurbished in 2017

 

Marriott SurfWatch Master Bathroom Huge Walk-in Shower With Multiple Jets

SurfWatch Master Bathroom Walk-in Shower

 

SurfWatch Master Bathroom With Double Sink Vanity

SurfWatch Master Bathroom Double Sink Vanity

 

Marriott SurfWatch 2nd Bathroom

SurfWatch 2nd Bathroom

 

 

SurfWatch Villas ~ Before and After Refurbishment

I really like the updated interior of the villas.  Marriott chose shades of blue, gray, silver, and a splash of orange.  Our unit was immaculate, but we would expect that with a newly refurbished villa.  What was surprising was the great shape of our villa last year.  Marriott Vacation Club adheres to a strict remodeling schedule.  Most locations have a 7 year plan, whereby everything is replaced.  During the years in-between, some things are substituted and updated in order to keep up with design trends.  Typically, when the Marriott villas are due for refurbishing some things tend to look a little worn or in need of repair (much like our own homes right before a remodeling project).  But here at SurfWatch that wasn’t the case!  I didn’t even realize that last year’s villa was soon to be redone.  Everything was spotless, and we had zero maintenance issues.  Here’s a few pics of the previous villa interior…

 

 Master Bedroom 2016 Prior to Refurbishment

Master Bedroom 2016 ~ Prior to Refurbishment

 

 SurfWatch 2nd Bedroom 2016 Prior to Refurbishment

2nd Bedroom 2016 ~ Prior to Refurbishment

 

 SurfWatch Dining Room 2016 Prior to Refurbishment

Dining Room 2016 ~ Prior to Refurbishment

 

 SurfWatch Living Room 2016 Prior to Refurbishment

Living Room 2016 ~ Prior to Refurbishment

 

 Marriott SurfWatch Kitchen 2016, No Change in 2017

Kitchen 2016

 

Although I thought the previous decor and color scheme was as awesome as the new one, I do appreciate the addition of a few little things that have a big impact on me.  For instance, Marriott added a reading light to each bed.  This is great for me since I like to read in bed but feel guilty keeping the lights on when hubby is trying to sleep.  Also, hubby would leave a bathroom light on all night so he can find his way when those middle-of-the-night sweet teas come calling!  Apparently he wasn’t alone; Marriott has added a night-lite to the Master bathroom.  SurfWatch has also recognized the need to have a plethora of plugs for charging all our digital devices.  They have added charging stations to the tables, eliminating the need to unplug lamps and other things in order to find a free outlet.  Plus, they’re conveniently located; no more bending over trying to locate one behind furniture.

As previously mentioned, they have added a writing/computer desk to the master bedroom, eliminating one of those pesky night stands that no one uses anyway.  And since hubby and I spend a lot of time chillin’ and dining on the balcony, I really like the updated patio chairs.  No more strappy vinyl that sticks to your sweaty skin…  thanks Marriott!

 

SurfWatch New Villa Amenities 2017 - Charging Stations, Night Lite, Reading Light

SurfWatch New Villa Amenities 2017

 

Marriott SurfWatch ~ A Laid-back Lowcountry Gem!

I love SurfWatch’s location.  It’s on the North end of Hilton Head Island, tucked away back in the woods. Technically, Marriott considers it a beach-front property, although only one building is actually beach-front (and that one is reserved for SurfWatch Owners).  Two additional buildings have a view of the ocean in the distance, looking across the infamous marshlands of the lowcountry.  That’s where I like to stay!  The other two buildings have a view of the meticulous grounds, including the lagoon with several docks, walking path, swings, and hammocks.  This is the perfect spot for viewing colorful birds, feeding the ducks, catching a glimpse of an occasional gator (no feeding them!), or a moon-lit evening stroll.

Marriott SurfWatch is not a huge resort.  I like that!  It’s a mid-size Vacation Club property with 5 total buildings plus the administrative building.  The laid-back atmosphere will force your stressed-out soul to unwind and relax.  But don’t let its somewhat smaller size fool you.  They have an activities program that rivals any we have seen at the larger Vacation Club Resorts.

Awesome Activity Schedule at SurfWatch

Marriott’s SurfWatch on Hilton Head Island has an activities schedule that will knock your socks off!  Here is a sample of what you can expect:

  • Aqua Fitness
  • Family Volleyball Tournament
  • Bingo!
  • Zumba Class
  • Adult Coloring
  • Mason Jar Decoration*
  • Around The World Basketball Game
  • DIY Hand Scrub*
  • Ping Pong Tournament
  • Beach Flag Football
  • Beach Power Walk
  • Glass Etching*
  • Football Trivia
  • Fitness Roulette
  • Make Postcards To Send Home
  • Shuffleboard Tournament
  • Magnet Decorating*
  • Putting Tournament
  • Paint A Bird House*
  • Billiards Tournament
  • Cornhole Tournament
  • Black Jack Tournament
  • Bocce Ball Tournament
  • Shark Tooth Necklaces*
  • Trivia!
  • Birds Of Prey Educational Presentation
  • Family Feud
  • Horse Basketball
  • Horseshoe Tournament
  • Stargazing With An Astronomy Expert
  • Yoga
  • Book Club
  • Beach Discovery Program (Educational Lecture)
  • SurfWatch Iron Chef Competition

Of course, activities vary according to each week and seasonally.  Most activities are free, except those marked with an asterisk (*) have a nominal charge of $5 or less.

Additionally, SurfWatch has numerous food activities, some of which are free.  I have never been to a Marriott Vacation Club property that offers so many free food items.  Here’s a sample of the freebies:

  • Hot Cider & Cookie Social
  • S’mores Galore (at the fire pits)
  • Complimentary Continental Breakfast (Midweek)
  • Owners Forum with Complimentary Wine and Cheese
  • SurfWatch Bratfest! (Free Bratwurst & Hotdogs with coleslaw & chips; $1 for water & soda) My Favorite!
  • Free Coffee and Cereal (Fridays)
  • Build-Your-Own Nachos Bar

On top of that, other food activities are offered at extremely reasonable rates:

  • Craft Brew Tasting $7
  • Carolina Cookout $5
  • Lowcountry Boil $10
  • Chili Chowdown $3

 

Making Free Postcards at SurfWatch

Making Free Postcards

 

Free Movies in the SurfWatch Cinema

Free Movies in the SurfWatch Cinema

 

Free Eggnog and Cookies in December at Marriott's SurfWatch

Free Eggnog and Cookies

 

SurfWatch Weekly Lowcountry Boil For $10

SurfWatch Lowcountry Boil

 

The SurfWatch cookouts make for a great mixer with other Marriott Owners and visitors.  They also include live music!  Even after the events are over we like to linger around the cozy fire pits!

 

SurfWatch Fire Pits For Evening Activities

SurfWatch Fire Pits

 

For the past 2 years we’ve celebrated hubby’s birthday at SurfWatch.  The SurfWatch staff really know how to make us feel special.  To our surprise a birthday gift was delivered to our villa while we were out for the day.  We were totally amazed at the unexpected gift and generosity at this resort.  We’ve never received anything like this, even at our home resort in Orlando.  Kudos to Case the General Manager and his superb customer-service-oriented team!

 

 SurfWatch Free Birthday Gift for Hubby in February 2016!

Free Birthday Gift for Hubby ~ 2016!

 

 SurfWatch Free Birthday Gift for Hubby in February 2017!

Free Birthday Gift for Hubby ~ 2017!

 

Marriott SurfWatch Amenities

At SurfWatch you can be as active as you like, or do nothing at all.  In addition to the plethora of activities listed above, these are the amenities available:

  • Concierge Service (Perfect for Restaurant or Golf Reservations)
  • Fitness Center & Sauna
  • Foosball & Pool Table
  • Fire Pits (By Request in Summer Months)
  • 2 Outdoor Heated Pools with Spa, Toddler Pool, & Interactive Water Feature (One Ocean Front)
  • Indoor Heated Lap Pool and Large Spa
  • Putting Green
  • SurfWatch 28-Chair Cinema (Plus Free In-villa Movies)
  • Tram Service (For Shuttle to Beach or Anywhere on Property)
  • Bike Shop (Rentals for Bikes, Beach Buggies, & Fishing Rods at Affordable Pricing)
  • 165 Cable TV Channels (46 are Music… yea!)

 

Marriott SurfWatch Photo Tour of Property

 

Marriott SurfWatch Pool View from our Villa

Pool View from our Villa

 

Marriott SurfWatch View of Marsh, Boardwalk, and Ocean in the Distance

View of Marsh, Boardwalk, and Ocean in the Distance

 

Marriott SurfWatch The Sea Salts ~ An Oceanfront Bar & Grille

The Sea Salts ~ An Oceanfront Bar & Grille

 

Marriott SurfWatch Oceanfront Pool on Hilton Head South Carolina

SurfWatch Oceanfront Pool

 

Marriott SurfWatch Beautiful Boardwalk to Beach

SurfWatch Boardwalk to Beach

 

Marriott SurfWatch Private Beach with Wading Shorebirds

Marriott SurfWatch Private Beach

 

Marriott SurfWatch Lagoon with Reflections of Trees and Buildings

Marriott SurfWatch Lagoon

 

 

 Marriott SurfWatch Lagoon & Dock with Rocking Chairs

Lagoon & Dock

 

Relaxing on a Swing at SurfWatch

Relaxing on a Swing

 

SurfWatch Hammock Creating Havoc for Me!

SurfWatch Hammock Creating Havoc for Me!

 

Feeding the Ducks with Provided Corn at Marriott's SurfWatch

Feeding the Ducks at SurfWatch

 

Marriott Landscaping

Impeccable Grounds

 

Ocean View Overlooking Marsh from our SurfWatch Villa and Balcony

Ocean View from our SurfWatch Villa

 

Morning Sun Reflecting Off the SurfWatch Oceanfront Building

Morning Sun Reflecting Off the SurfWatch Oceanfront Building

 

Riding Our Orange Rental Bicycles on the Beach on Hilton Head Island

Enjoyed Riding Bicycles on the Beach on Hilton Head Island

 

Sunrise Over the Sand and Surf at Marriott's SurfWatch on Hilton Head Island

Sunrise Over Marriott’s SurfWatch ~ Hilton Head Island

 

Sunrise Over the Ocean As Seen from Our SurfWatch Villa

Sunrise As Seen from Our Villa

 

Marriott SurfWatch Resort ~ Your Fun, Your Way!

Marriott’s SurfWatch Resort truly has something for everyone; from nature exploration to culinary contests, and everything in between.  In the rare occasion you experience boredom at this beachfront property, there are unlimited things to do on Hilton Head Island as well as short day trips to some of my favorite lowcountry spots — Savannah, Charleston, Beaufort, and Bluffton.  In these sleepy little Southern towns you’ll find history, culture, the Arts, and some of the best restaurants in the Eastern United States.

After our 3rd visit to SurfWatch, here’s what I’ve noticed… nothing has changed!  That’s a good thing, because as they say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”  I highly recommend this Marriott Vacation Club Resort!

 

NOTE:

For our readers traveling to Florida, you’ll want to read FloridaFunAndFork’s Review and Photo Tour of Marriott Grande Vista, a popular Marriott Vacation Club destination in Orlando, just minutes from the Disney Theme Parks!

Additionally, here’s a convenient link to view the complete list of Marriott Vacation Club destinations worldwide!

 

Questions about Marriott’s SurfWatch Resort?  I’ll try my best to answer them.  Or perhaps you’ve already been there and have helpful information for our readers.  Please share in the comment box below!

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Epcot Festival of the Arts Premier – Review and Photos

 

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

 

Epcot Festival of the Arts Premier

Epcot has a brand new festival.  It’s called the Epcot International Festival of the Arts.  The inaugural event runs from January 13 – February 20, Fridays through Mondays only.  This first-ever celebration is the result of mixing visual, culinary, and performing arts inspired by cultures from all over the world.  Anytime you introduce something new, there’s always room for improvement.  Disney knows that better than any other company out there.  It’s a given that future Festival of the Arts will be bigger and better than this initial one, but honestly, they set the bar pretty high — higher than my expectations.

Initially, I thought they probably just came up with a concept to fill in the low-attendance time period between the holidays and the beginning of the Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival (see photos of the 2016 Epcot Flower and Garden Festival here).  I was convinced it was simply Disney flexing their master-marketing muscles; a month-long money-making scheme in the middle of the off-season.  I was wrong!

 

Color Abounds at Epcot Festival of the Arts!

Color Abounds at Epcot Festival of the Arts!

 

Color and Creativity Everywhere!

For a moment, upon entering the theme park, I thought I was at the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival.  On display at the main entrance was a sea of sensational color — gorgeous fuchsia and purple blooms.  It looked like someone had taken gallons of brightly colored paint and splattered them everywhere; eye catching, to say the least.  This spectacular burst of color set the stage for what was to come at the Festival of the Arts; I’m sure it was strategic.

 

Colorful Entrance to Epcot's Festival of the Arts

Colorful Entrance to Epcot’s Festival of the Arts

 

A Sea of Sensational Color at Epcot Festival of the Arts

A Sea of Sensational Color at Epcot Festival of the Arts

 

Epcot Living Statues

After leaving the impressive picturesque area just inside the front gate (probably the best “selfie” spot in the entire park), I couldn’t wait to encounter the next “wow” moment at the Festival of the Arts.  I didn’t have to wait long.  There was live entertainment at the Fountain View Stage and Plaza in Future World.  Well, maybe “live” isn’t the best word to describe it.  There were three different life-size cast figures expertly sculpted; one in silver, the next in gold, and the third in a bronze material.  A large crowd had gathered around the human representations, so of course I had to investigate the reason for their popularity.  Turns out the statuaries were alive and breathing.  Well, I never seen them blink or utter a word, but I know real blood was running through their veins because I did see them move at times.

Long lines had formed by families who watched in awe as the statues came to life.  Sporadically they would interact with guests posing for photos.  Every now and then the calculated moves were downright hilarious. The living statues brought back fond memories of the ones that used to be stationed around the France Pavilion many years ago.  The death of Epcot’s living statues was a sad day for me, so imagine my joy to witness their resurrection at the Festival of the Arts.

NOTE…   The entertainment in this area changes throughout the day.  I got to see the remarkable living statues, but you may see a vocal ensemble singing American pop tunes, a festive marching band, a splendid jazz quartet, or a lively choral performance by some of Central Florida’s finest high schools and universities.

 

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

 

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

 

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

Living Statues at the Festival of the Arts

 

Galleries Throughout the Park

As I walked away from the living statues, I couldn’t help but think, “How in the world do they do that?” Some of these street artists pose as statues for hours at a time.  Incredible concentration and focus!

Well, I had only been inside the Festival of the Arts for less than half an hour, but I was already loving it.  The immense amount of creative gifts and talents in the world never ceases to amaze me.  My next stop was one of the Art Galleries spread throughout the park at  the Odyssey Festival Showplace in Future World East. On display here was the work of Mary Blair, Herb Ryman, and some Disney Original Art.  I’m under strict orders from hubby not to bring home any more artwork, so my willpower was getting quite a workout browsing the masterpieces on display.  There was a variety of artistic styles, which made my window shopping even more enjoyable.

 

Artwork by Mary Blair and Herb Ryman on Display

Artwork by Mary Blair and Herb Ryman on Display

 

Disney Original Art

Disney Original Art

 

Food Studios at the International Festival of the Arts

Regardless of which Epcot festival you attend, it just wouldn’t be as memorable without the creative food offerings that are custom-made for each event; food items that aren’t available any other time of year.  We were first introduced to food kitchens at Disney’s Food and Wine Festival, then food kiosks at International Flower and Garden Festival were added, and here they are again at the Festival of the Arts.  Only this time, the food was waaaay more gourmet-ish!  Each small plate was an edible work of art almost too beautiful to destroy, rivaling the presentation and flavors found in any 5-star restaurant.  The prices ranged from $6 – $14, a bit hefty for just a few bites, but no regrets here.  In all fairness, each one was quite labor intensive to put together.  Watching the chefs work their mouth-watering magic made the delectable morsels even more wonderful.  Hubby and I tried eight different gourmet treats; each was flat-out fantastic!

 

Deconstructive BLT with Crispy Pork Belly, Tomato Jam, and Soft Poached Egg

Deconstructed BLT with Crispy Pork Belly, Tomato Jam, and Soft Poached Egg

 

Shrimp Ceviche with Lime-Mint Foam

Shrimp Ceviche with Lime-Mint Foam

 

Charcuterie Palette with Artisan Cured Meats, Applewood-smoked Duck Breast, and Cheese

Charcuterie Palette with Artisan Cured Meats, Applewood-smoked Duck Breast, and Cheese

 

Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, Crisp Lavash, and Traditional Accompaniments

Smoked Salmon Tartare, Caviar, Crisp Lavash, and Traditional Accompaniments

 

Pan-seared Scallop with Chorizo, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, and Parmesan Crisp

Pan-seared Scallop with Chorizo, Roasted Red Pepper Coulis, and Parmesan Crisp

 

Braised Beef Short Rib with Parsnip Puree, Broccolini, Baby Tomatoes, and Aged Balsamic

Braised Beef Short Rib with Parsnip Puree, Broccolini, Baby Tomatoes, and Aged Balsamic

 

Port Wine-poached Pear, Vanilla Panna Cotta, and Pistachio Crumbs

Port Wine-poached Pear, Vanilla Panna Cotta, and Pistachio Crumbs

 

Meet the Artists!

Each weekend of the Epcot Festival of the Arts features different artists.  A highlight of our visit was meeting the various creators.  Every one of them shared unique facts and tidbits about their creative art skills.  To me, the stories behind the art can be as incredible as the art itself!  For example, we met Jeff Laibson who specializes in the art of music.  Each musically inspired piece is full of rhythm, and emotionally evocative. You see, this artist is also a renowned composer; a musician who has performed all over the world with some very famous people.  He later became a professor of music at the University of Miami.  His artwork was absolutely amazing, and the conversation as warm as an old friendship.

Then there was Rodel Gonzalez.  He’s got artistic DNA from his father and grandfather, who were artists. His artistry, like Jeff Laibson,  also became evident in the field of music.  At the age of 20 he founded “Side A” in the Philippines.  He was the lead singer and the band’s most prolific songwriter.  The band is still active today and is currently the longest-lived band in Manila.

When you attend the Festival of the Arts, don’t just scurry by the displays that are not your “style” — take a moment to engage the artist.  I guarantee you will learn something!

 

Artwork by Jeff Laibson

Artwork by Jeff Laibson

 

A Masterpiece Taking Shape Right Before Our Eyes!

A Masterpiece Taking Shape Right Before Our Eyes!

 

Live Painting of a Mural

Live Painting of a Mural

 

Colorful Creations at Epcot Festival of the Arts

Colorful Creations at Epcot Festival of the Arts

 

Imaginative Chalk Artists

Imaginative Chalk Artists

 

In Conclusion…

What happens when you mix visual, culinary, and performing arts inspired by cultures from all around the world?  You get a global masterpiece!  You get the Epcot International Festival of the Arts!   I believe the inaugural event was a success, at least in my book.  I’m sure Disney has just laid the foundation of something awesome that will be built upon for many years to come.  Kudos to “the Mouse” for producing a top-notch artistic production to fill the void between holiday happiness and those first blooms of spring at Epcot!

 

UPCOMING EPCOT FESTIVALS…

2017 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Dates: March 1 – May 29

2017 Epcot Food & Wine Festival Dates: August 31 – November 13

 

Have you been to the inaugural Epcot International Festival of the Arts?  Please share your experience with our readers.  Or, perhaps you have a question about this premier event.  Reply in the comment box below — I’ll try my best to answer it!

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