Chicago Sun-Times

FLORIDA SHINES BRIGHT IN SPRING

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Florida tourism is red hot. In 2015, the Sunshine State welcomed more than 100 million visitors, a U.S. record. Many of them come in March and April— for spring break, baseball spring training or the chance to escape northern climes before winter’s grip lets go. USA TODAY’s Ashley Day, James Riley and Nancy Trejos look at what Florida-bound travelers will find this season.

THEME PARKS

There’s an awakening of the Force at Disney Parks in Orlando this spring. First, on April 4, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will introduce Star Wars: A Galaxy Far, Far Away, a live stage show that features big moments from the seven movies. Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacu

lar, a nightly fireworks and special effects spectacula­r at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, will debut this summer. Scenes from the Star Wars movies will be projected onto the Studios’ Chinese Theater as well as other nearby buildings.

However, just getting into a Disney park will cost a bit more, as the company has announced seasonal pricing for their one-day tickets. Value days (for less busy times of the year) are now $105 for adults and $99 for children ages 3-9 at the Magic Kingdom theme park. Regular days are now $110 for adults and $104 for children. Peak days (the most crowded times) are $124 for adults and $118 for children. Children under the age of 3 are free.

Universal Studios Orlando will begin transporti­ng visitors to Skull Island this summer for the Reign of Kong attraction at Islands of Adventure, a 3-D ride that promises to be one of Universal’s longest ever.

Mako, soon to be Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest roller coaster, will begin its feeding frenzy this summer at Sea World Orlando, with a top speed of

73 mph and a 200-foot-tall track.

HOTELS

Downtown Miami has in recent years experience­d a building boom. That doesn’t seem to be slowing down in 2016.

The Langford Hotel is scheduled to open this month with 126 guest rooms in what once was the Miami National Bank in downtown’s Flagler District. The remodeled 1925 structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

EAST, Miami will be perched on top of Brickell City Centre in the thriving Brickell District. Scheduled to open in May, EAST, Miami will have 352 rooms including eight suites and 89 residences. It will be the first U.S. property for Swire Hotels.

ME Miami, that brand’s first U.S. location, will open downtown this spring with 129 rooms. The property will have a sun deck on its 14th floor terrace, dual sunset and sunrise pools, cabanas and an STK steakhouse.

Universal Orlando Resort and Loews Hotels and Resorts will open the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando this summer. It will be the fifth on-site hotel at Universal Orlando Resort. The property will have 1,000 Caribbean-themed rooms and suites built around a lagoon and waterfall.

Over on the Gulf Coast, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurant­s is taking over management of the Hotel Zamora in St. Pete Beach. The Kimpton Hotel Zamora will be Kimpton’s sixth hotel in Florida, and its first flag on the west coast of the state. The hotel has 72 guestrooms, including 22 two-bedroom suites with balconies overlookin­g the Intracoast­al Waterway and Gulf of Mexico.

Some reliable grand dames of the Florida hospitalit­y scene will be getting makeovers this year. In the Keys, Cheeca Lodge & Spa will mark its 70th anniversar­y with a multiphase renovation. In Ponte Vedra Beach in the Jacksonvil­le Beaches area, the Sawgrass Marriott is nearing completion of a $25 million refresh of its 511 guestrooms and villas, pool, front desk, hotel façade, the Sawgrass Spa and Cabana Beach Club.

RESTAURANT­S AND DINING

The Sunshine State is in the culinary spotlight with James Beard Foundation nods in Bal Harbour, Coral Gables, Or- lando, Tampa and Miami, where Alter is a semifinali­st for Best New Restaurant and its chef, Bradley Kilgore, is up for Rising Star Chef of the Year.

Miami’s food scene sizzles each February when South Beach Wine and Food Festival brings chefs and foodies from around the world, and many have come to stay.

Celebrity chefs Jean- Georges Vongericht­en (Matador Room, ABC Kitchen coming in 2017), Tom Colicchio (Beachcraft), Alex Guarnasche­lli (Driftwood Room, Nautilus Cabana Club) and Spike Mendelsohn (Sunny’s) opened restaurant­s in the last year or so.

In February, Matthew Kenney introduced plant-based and raw food destinatio­n Plant Food + Wine (along with a raw-food culinary school on-site), restaurate­urs Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley opened restaurant and market concept Zest, and the “Million Dollar Chef” unveiled Kaori by Walter Martino with $300-$700 tasting menus that fuse Italian and Japanese with such indulgence­s as truffle and edible gold.

Central Florida visitors can look forward to new options at Orlando Internatio­nal Airport with a Cask & Larder outpost, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Green Leaf’s & Bananas in the newly renovated Terminal 2 (Southwest and Virgin America) Food Hall. Plus, Wahlburger­s opened an Orlando outpost in February.

Spring travelers can experience Florida’s famous Strawberry Festival in Plant City (through March 13), the National Cuban Sandwich Festival in Tampa’s Ybor City (March 30-April 3), the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Parade & Festival (March 12-13) and the Marathon Seafood Festival (March 12-13).

Craft beer fans will find new Florida brews at Bog Brewing and Ancient City Brewing in St. Augustine and Wicked Barley Brewing Co. in Jacksonvil­le.

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GENE DUNCAN, WALT DISNEYWORL­D
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BEACHCRAFT ?? The Langford Hotel is scheduled to open this month in what was once the Miami National Bank. Celebrity chefs abound in Miami. TomColicch­io’s Beachcraft serves seafood and seasonal American fare.
LANGFORD HOTEL BEACHCRAFT The Langford Hotel is scheduled to open this month in what was once the Miami National Bank. Celebrity chefs abound in Miami. TomColicch­io’s Beachcraft serves seafood and seasonal American fare.
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