For this year’s “Things to do in Bradenton” article, I thought I’d take a different approach. I’ve been coming down to Spring Training since 2010 to cover the Pirates. I’ve lived here in Bradenton since 2013, which has given me a chance to give a local guide unlike any other you can find. But in two months, I’ll be moving away from the area.
I’ll still be back on occasion for work. But those trips will be limited to a week at most during the season, or longer during Spring Training. That means I’ll have to cram all of my favorite spots in over a short time span. This is very similar to how many of you would need to plan for your trips to Spring Training. So I decided to do a sort of “Greatest Hits” edition of the Spring Training article.
These are all of the places I’d go if I had a week down here. There are more suggestions down below the “Greatest Hits” section, in case you’ve gone to these places already and want to try something new. There are a few new places in the Greatest Hits section, so don’t assume you’ve been to all of them if you’ve read previous lists.
The Greatest Hits – Food
When I’m traveling to a place I’ve already been to, I like to pick out my favorite food spots and plan out meals in advance, to make sure I’ve got time to hit my favorite spots. I usually leave a few meals open to try new places. In this case, I’m going to pack the list full of options for you to try in a week.
I’ve only included places that are unique to the area, and avoided chains, unless they’re local chains. So while I might eat at Tijuana Flats most Tuesday’s for taco Tuesday, I’m not including it on this list.
Sage Biscuit – I’m not a big breakfast person. I typically do a bowl of cereal or a smoothie. When we have family in from out of town, this is the place we take them to. The sage biscuits are great, especially in the biscuits and gravy. My favorite thing is the southwest quinoa skillet. This is the best breakfast place in town, and they have a location in downtown Bradenton about a mile from LECOM.
The Donut Experiment – This is a donut shop on Anna Maria Island where you can get custom cake donuts. They make the donuts fresh in front of you, and you choose between 5-6 icings and about 25 toppings, getting one icing and one topping on your donut. My favorite is the maple bacon donut, with second being the always-healthy-for-breakfast vanilla Oreo donut.
Coffee – I don’t drink coffee. I’ve never needed it, and hate the taste. So I deferred to my fiancee for this section. If you’re like her, and think Starbucks is total shit, then there are two independent places in the area. Her favorite is Buddy Brew in downtown Sarasota. The other one is Kahwa, which has a few locations, including one in Lakewood Ranch.
Charlie’s Bulgogi – First of all, I’m going to give a shout out to my boy Charlie who just opened a Bulgogi restaurant recently in Sarasota. This used to be a very successful food truck, arguably the best in the area (and one that I frequently visited), and became so popular that he turned it into a restaurant, which has also been popular. The place isn’t too big, so you can expect a wait at times, but the food is worth it. I recommend the Bulgogi bowls, along with Chicken GangJeong. They also have grills on the tables, where you can BBQ your own short-ribs. And if the wings are an option that day, definitely get them.
Starfish Company – This is my favorite seafood place in the area. It’s just before you cross over to Anna Maria Island on Cortez Road, on 123rd St W. The seafood here is better than what you find on the island, and for half the price. Depending on when you go, you can expect a long wait to order, and then a long wait to get your food. Sitting at the bar cuts down the wait to order, if there’s a spot. I find that ordering a beer and a cup of chowder (Stone Crab and corn chowder is a must if they have it) helps with the wait for the food, as you get that immediately. My favorite thing is the blackened grouper sandwich, which has won awards. The crawfish box is also a great value.
Owen’s Fish Camp – Located in Sarasota, this is more of a sit down place than Starfish, but with an equally long wait. The good thing is that they have an outdoor area for the wait, where you can order drinks and appetizers. The best thing here is the Low Country Boil. It comes with King Crab legs, shrimp, mussels, clams, sausage, potatoes, and corn, and is a meal for two.
Mojos Real Cuban – I haven’t lived in this area long, but it has been long enough that I crave good Cuban food when I’m gone. No Cuban sandwich I’ve found up north comes close to what we have down here, and the moment I get back, my first meal is at a Cuban restaurant. Mojos is my favorite place, located in Bradenton near Lakewood Ranch. It’s kind of like if you had a Chipotle restaurant that only served authentic Cuban food. They have a build your own bowl, where you can pick your rice, beans, and meat, plus other toppings. I could eat nothing but their yellow rice. They also have Cuban sandwiches, and medianoches, which are Cubans on sweet rolls. There’s like a 90% chance I end up having this today after writing all of this up.
Columbia Restaurant – If you want a more sit-down Cuban restaurant, Columbia is the place to go. It’s located at St. Armands Circle near Lido Beach in Sarasota. It’s not the same type of Cuban food you’d get at a place like Mojos, although they do have Cuban sandwiches. They also have great drinks and a lot of finer dining options. I recommend getting the mojito.
The unique thing about Columbia is how they prepare most of the food. If you’re getting a Cuban sandwich, they’ll just bring it to the table already made. But if you’re getting their signature 1905 salad, they will make the salad table side. They do the same if you order a pitcher of Sangria or a mojito pitcher — they’ll bring all of the ingredients out and prepare the pitcher at your table. If you order the creme brulee, they will bring it out to the table, add the sugar on top, and caramelize it with a blow torch at the table. You get the idea. They also give you a free portion of their Cuban bread, which is amazing. It’s served hot out of the oven, and comes with butter that is almost as cold as ice cream.
Basically if you’re looking for a place with a good atmosphere, good food, and great drinks, I recommend Columbia. There are several locations in the Tampa area. The one at St. Armand’s is the closest to Bradenton, and is my favorite due to the proximity of Lido Beach. There are two sides to the St. Armand’s one. The first side is more casual, and fine if you’re coming down from the beach. The other side is more formal. The food is the same on either side.
Danny’s Pizza – You can get pizza anywhere, and you’re probably not looking for that specifically on vacation. But if you’re looking for a slice for lunch one day, Danny’s is the best in town. I actually used to order this all the time when I lived in West Bradenton. Since I’ve moved east, I’ve gotten it once or twice, due to the drive over there. I just got it again this past week and realized how much I missed it. It’s the closest thing to authentic New York style pizza that I’ve found down here. The wings are also really good — a lot of meat and crispy, with good sauce options.
Oak & Stone – Here’s another pizza place, but this one isn’t as traditional. Oak & Stone has regular pizzas, but they also have specialty pizzas, including a mac and cheese pizza and a buffalo chicken pizza. My favorite is the Far East, which has korean meatballs, sesame slaw, and sweet chili aioli, among other things. The best thing about this place is the beer wall. They give you a wrist band that you can use to unlock whatever tap you want and pour as much of any beer you want, with a ton of craft beer options spanning a lot of styles.
Thai Palace – If you’re noticing a theme here, it’s that I love Asian food. It drives my fiancee crazy, because I could eat Asian food every day of the week (Thai, Korean, Chinese, sushi, etc) while she can only do it once a week at most. My favorite Thai place is in west Bradenton, called Thai Palace. I’m pretty sure they’ve been awarded the best Thai restaurant in town, and it’s well deserved.
Full Belly Stuffed Burgers – We’re fully in the “stuff you can get at home, but these are some of my favorite places down here” territory. You can get a good burger at home. What I like about Full Belly is that they stuff their burgers with a lot of unique fillers. It’s like a juicy Lucy, except instead of putting cheddar between two patties and melting it, they put stuff like peanut butter and bacon, then serve it with spicy maple syrup and sweet potato tots. If you think that combo sounds crazy, definitely give it a shot. My fiancee thought peanut butter on a burger was crazy until she tried it, and now I spend most of my meal guarding my burger from her (the old “I’m going to order something I want, and you order the other thing I want” trick).
Burger Culture – This is a burger food truck in Tampa, not far from Cigar City. I usually stop here before or after going to a brewery. As you’d expect, they have some unique burgers, including a waffle burger that is served between two Belgian waffles, with goat cheese and blueberry compote on top. It’s not far from the airport in Tampa if you’re looking for food on your way in or out of town.
Poppo’s – A good taco place is Poppo’s in Bradenton. They have organic and locally sourced ingredients and very fresh tacos. They’re so fresh that they press and grill the tortillas right before making your taco/burrito/quesadilla/etc. You can then get your choice of meat and toppings, kind of Chipotle style, only better quality.
Sweetberries – Save the dessert for last. Sweetberries is a must stop for me. It’s a frozen custard shop with some great sundaes and a flavor of the day. I used to live five minutes from the one in west Bradenton, and the only reason I’m still alive today and somewhat healthy is because I moved far away from that place.
If you’re coming down, you might check out one or two breweries. If you’re like me, you’re going to check out a new place each night, or multiple places. I think I’d go to every place on my list below while I’m down here, especially if they had a bottle release. But if you’re looking for my top spots, it would be Calusa in Sarasota, and Angry Chair in Tampa.
Calusa does everything well, which is hard to find for a brewery. They have some of the best IPAs in the country for my money, while also releasing some good barrel aged sours, stouts, and some more traditional styles.
Angry Chair specializes in pastry stouts, and if you come down around Tampa Beer Week, you might have a chance at getting one of their best beers on tap (their Barrel Aged Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake Stout is one of the best beers I’ve ever had). They also do some good sours and their IPAs are good, but I defer to Calusa for that.
I don’t play much golf these days, outside of going to Top Golf in Tampa. My favorite course in the Bradenton area (out of the few I’ve played on) is The River Club. They’ve got a cool course, with one hole having an island green, and another having a tee box that allows you to drive through the trees into an open fairway. You can get some good rates on GolfNow for this course and others in the area.
There are more options at the bottom of the article.
Things to Do…
And now, here’s the article format you’re used to…
I get asked a lot about advice on things to do or places to sit inside LECOM Park, and I’m just not the person to ask for advice on this subject. Most of the time I’m getting to LECOM from Pirate City in the 5th inning, and I’m usually conducting interviews during the game, or after the game. When I’m not doing interviews, I’m working in the press box. I’d imagine you’re there to watch the game, so there’s not much advice I can give you beyond that. I will say that a good spot to watch is on the boardwalk in right field. That overlooks the bullpen down below, allowing you to look down and watch the pitchers warm up.
If I had to pick one place to be during Spring Training, I’d choose Pirate City. It’s not just because I cover prospects. It’s because I think the action at Pirate City is much better than LECOM in every way. LECOM has the Major League players, but you’re only seeing them for about 5-6 innings. Outside of that you’re paying for the game, sitting in an assigned seat, and watching just one game.
Pirate City is free, and usually has 2-3 games going on at the same time, with all of the games starting at 1 PM. Plus, the view at Pirate City is like having seats to a Little League game, as there is usually only a fence between you and the field. If you stand in the right spot, you can watch three games at the same time. Or you can stand between the fields and watch two games at once, which is more manageable. The schedule (which I’ll post when I get it) either has the Triple-A and Double-A teams at home, or the two A-ball teams at home. The short-season players will sometimes play an intrasquad game, which means you could see four minor league teams at the same time on any given day.
The Pirates don’t have names on the back of their minor league uniforms, so be sure to pick up a roster sheet. You can either get this from the security at the entrance, or in a box on the tower between all of the fields. This will let you know which player is wearing which number. I also recommend buying the 2019 Prospect Guide, and not just for shameless plug reasons. I designed the Prospect Guide specifically for places like Pirate City. You’ve got a ton of minor league players that you’re watching, you want information on them, and the Prospect Guide has all of that information.
There isn’t much around Pirate City as far as food. I usually eat at Mixon’s, which is right down the road. If you’re going to Mixon’s, you have to try the orange juice (they have free samples), and I recommend the orange swirl ice cream, made with their orange juice.
I can’t give any good recommendations on finding a place to stay, except try to find something west of 26th St W or east of 15th St E, or somewhere in the downtown Bradenton area. Pretty much everything is close to either Pirate City or LECOM. If you’re going to Pirate City, I recommend somewhere by interstate 75. If you’re going to LECOM most of the time, I recommend staying closer to the beach, or in downtown Bradenton. If you’re on the island, the traffic is probably going to be insane going back and forth.
More Food Places
Siesta Key Oyster Bar is located on Siesta Key, which is about an hour south or more from Bradenton when you factor in the traffic this time of year. They’ve got some great seafood, including half off deals on oysters and crawfish from 3-6 PM everyday. They’re on an island, but they’re a small place and not right on the beach, so you’re paying reasonable prices, rather than paying for a view.
If you’re in Tampa, a good Cuban place is West Tampa Sandwich Shop. If you’re in St. Pete, there’s a place called Bodega. If I’m rating the places, I’d go Mojos first, Bodega second, and West Tampa third.
If you want Chicago style pizza, the place to go is Fratello’s. There’s another place called Joey D’s, which isn’t bad, but Fratello’s models their pizza after Lou Malnati’s, which is my favorite Chicago pizza chain. This approach makes their pizza better, with the crust being much better, and better sauce on top of the pizza.
Anna Maria Island Beach Cafe – If you go to the beach on Anna Maria Island (at the end of Manatee Avenue), they have a cafe at the top of the beach. Not that they don’t still have the cafe if you don’t go to that beach. What I like is that every day until noon (1 PM on weekends) they have All You Can Eat pancakes for $5.99. All I can eat is usually the first three they give you, but that’s all you need, as they’re each the size of a plate. I recommend following that up with a nap on the beach, because that’s all you’re going to want to do after that breakfast.
You can’t throw a full bottle of Bud Light around here (the only thing to do with a bottle of Bud Light) without hitting at least two breweries, so there is plenty to choose from. I’m going to focus on the best in the area, and places I typically go to.
Angry Chair Brewing – This is one of my favorite breweries in the area, to the point where I’ll make the 45 minute drive to Tampa about once a week to have their beers. They specialize in dessert stouts, which are typically saved for bottle releases. Those releases happen maybe once a month on Saturday mornings at 9 AM, and usually see a line of hundreds of people getting there before that time, with bottles selling out in 30 minutes. The good thing is that you can usually get some of their stouts on tap. They also do some good New England style IPAs, and some good sours. As for food, there are a lot of good farm-to-table places nearby in the Seminole Heights area, with my favorite being The Rooster & the Till, across the street from Angry Chair.
Cigar City Brewery – Cigar City is the biggest brewery in the area, and the one that most of you know about. I actually don’t go there much anymore, as they don’t have a lot of variations on their tap list. That’s a problem if you live here and you want something new that you can’t find in stores, or that you haven’t tried in previous visits. But if you’re coming in from out of town, especially from a place that doesn’t get Cigar City yet, then it’s worth a visit. The taproom is located near the Tampa airport, so it’s a good place to stop after you fly in, or before you fly out.
Garagiste/Hidden Springs – I’m pairing these two up because they’re right next door to each other in Tampa. Garagiste does amazing meads, with the highlight being their Reboog series — a peanut butter and jelly mead that clocks in around 14%, and tastes like you’re drinking a PB&J. That’s not always on tap, but their other fruit meads are still good. Hidden Springs does some of my favorite sours in the area, along with some good stouts. Right across the street from Hidden Springs is a cool food spot called The Hall, which is a collective eatery where you can order food from five or six different mini-restaurants. My favorite thing there are the waffle fry nachos.
7venth Sun – They have two locations, one in Dunedin and one in Tampa. I usually go to the Tampa one, since it’s near Angry Chair. They have a large tap list, with good options across the board. They also sell some stuff in cans to go.
Cycle Brewing – This is another favorite of mine, located in St. Pete. Cycle also does some good bourbon barrel aged stouts, and they have a lot of them on tap these days, along with plenty of bottles to go. As for food, there’s a good Mediterranean restaurant across the street, and Bodega is nearby for Cuban food.
Green Bench – This is another one of my favorites in the St. Pete area. Their best stuff is in the sour and mead department. They also do some good IPAs, including some amazing sour IPAs. They’re also across the street from Bodega.
Rapp Brewing Company – This one is in St. Pete, up north near the St. Pete airport. It’s one of my favorites in the area, with their chocolate peanut butter stout being their best beer. They also have a great chocolate hazelnut porter on occasion. Their taplist has 40 beers, spanning a lot of varieties, and they are surprisingly good across the board.
Arkane Aleworks – Located in north St. Pete, and kind of out of the way. They do some really good sours and stouts, getting creative with the flavors. At Halloween, they did candy bar stouts, with flavors like Snickers, Heath Bar, Butterfinger, Reese’s Cups, and more. They also did candy sours, like Skittles, Sour Patch, and Warheads. Those were amazing, but they rarely have those beers outside of October. Their other sours and stouts are worth the trip, especially if you’re already in the area (12 minutes from St. Pete airport).
Calusa Brewing – Calusa is located in south Sarasota, which is about a 20-30 minute drive from most places in Bradenton. However, it is worth it. I go here at least once a week. They have the best IPAs in the state of Florida, and some of the best in the country, and they’re just starting to get noticed for that, which sucks, because I enjoyed the times where I could go in a few weeks after a release and still pick up a 4-pack of cans. They’re also well-rounded, doing some really great sours, and making some good stouts. If you’re an IPA fan, you’ll want to go here, and start with anything in the Citronious category. Focus is my favorite IPA of theirs, if they have it. There’s not much around Calusa, but they usually have a different food truck every night of the week.
Good Liquid Brewing Company – They just opened in Bradenton in the last year, and have gotten off to a good start, with a lot of options available, and good styles. My favorite thing they do is a Sour Patch Kids beer. The Blue Raspberry one is the best. The cherry one tastes like straight Nyquil to me, so I don’t take any blame if you don’t like that one. They’re probably my number two brewery now south of St. Pete/Tampa.
Darwin’s Brewery – This is one of two places near LECOM, located right across the street. I like this over Motorworks, as their beers are much better, while the selling point for Motorworks is more about the space. You can also get their beers inside LECOM. Ayawasca, a belgian dubble, is one of my favorite beers here.
Other Breweries – This is where I’m going to list the breweries in the area that are more generic, and that don’t really stand out in comparison to some of the others around them. Coppertail is really good, and their Unholy Trippel is one of my favorite beers in the area. They are located in Tampa, and worth a visit if you’re brewery hopping (not far from Hidden Springs). 3 Keys opened about two years ago in Bradenton, and they’re not bad for a new brewery. They have a program where they release a unique beer on Tuesday’s, which is about the only time I will go. However, that’s a once a month stop, at best. Big Top in Sarasota is a good one, with their chocolate peanut butter stout (Decklin’s Indulgence) being one of my favorites in the area. You can also now find that in cans at Total Wine, which is a place I recommend if you’re stocking up on local beers. Also, if you’re looking for a good bottle shop outside of Total Wine, I recommend Hawthorn or American Spirits in St. Pete.
I don’t go to the beach often. Before I lived here, I never went to the beach. My feeling was that I could be in the sun watching the water, and get sand all over myself and inside my car, or I could sit in the sun and watch baseball…and somehow still get sand in my car. I always picked baseball. I’m not much of a beach person, so I still don’t go often, even though I live here now. So I’ve heard Siesta Key is nice, but I have never really been motivated enough to drive down and spend a day there. That’s a line that I’ve had in this review every year, and it never changes.
My favorite beach would be Lido Beach, which is down from St. Armand’s Circle. The sand is white and the water is clear enough to see your feet at the bottom. I once saw a flock of sting rays swimming around when I took my brother there. We could see them from about 30 feet away, and they got within five feet of us.
Anna Maria can get pretty crowded on the main beach with the pancakes. If you’re looking for a less crowded beach, you should check out the top of the island at the point. It’s not good for swimming, since the rip currents are so strong, but it’s a good place to go and relax without having a ton of people around. Because if you go to a crowded beach, then inevitably someone near you will start feeding the birds (don’t feed the birds, ever), then every bird in Florida will swarm your area, and then you’ll want to murder the person who fed the birds, and that’s why Florida is in the news for crazy stories all the time.
Things to Do
Like I’ve mentioned many times, I tend to stick to baseball, so this section will be short. There are a few recommendations I have from personal experience, and they don’t involve Bradenton. The first is close to Bradenton, and is the Manatee Viewing Center up in Apollo Beach. That’s about a 30 minute drive from Bradenton, the admission is free, and you can just see manatees swimming around every day. Some days there are a dozen of them, and some days there are over a hundred. The spot is located right next to a power plant, which keeps the water warmer, which is why they gather there.
The final suggestion would be for anyone who is making a trip over to Orlando while they are down in Florida. One of the benefits of living in Florida is that the annual pass rates for the theme parks are very inexpensive. So I’ve got passes to Universal, and try to make it over about once a month (these “off days” always seem to work out to be the days where the Pirates make a lot of moves, which means John Dreker is usually busy, and I end up adding my analysis while waiting in line for a roller coaster).
Universal has really stepped up their game the last few years, designing two amazing Harry Potter theme parks, and that’s coming from someone who had never seen a Harry Potter movie until recently. When you walk into the new Diagon Alley park, it’s just like the scene in the first movie (the only one I’ve seen, still) where they’re walking into Diagon Alley. They got every detail correct. The Hogwarts Express that takes you to the other park is like a ride, with a different experience each way, and Harry Potter things happening outside your window, and outside the door of your car (including Harry Potter and his friends talking and walking by the door, and zapping some bad guys). The original Harry Potter park is also excellent.
What Universal has done well is creating “Worlds” where it seems like you’re in the movie or show that is featured. The Simpson’s World is another example of how they have done this well. They’ve got everything, from Lard Lad donuts, to Moe’s Tavern (where you can get a Duff beer), to the Kwik-E-Mart. They also built Skull Island for their new King Kong ride, and it’s a really cool ride that puts you in the middle of King Kong fighting three T-Rex dinosaurs that are trying to attack you (through the use of giant 3D screens on either side of you). The action is really intense.
As for the rides, if you like roller coasters, then Universal beats Disney. The best roller coaster is the Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, which allows you to listen to a song of your choice while on the ride. There is also a hidden song list, which you can access here, for more choices. The Hulk is one of my favorites. The Mummy is a very innovative indoor coaster that mixes a roller coaster with a theme ride, with the roller coaster taking you from scene to scene. Men in Black is also a great ride, allowing you to shoot aliens with a laser gun, and compete with the car across from you. I like this one because it’s a different ride each time, allowing you to try and beat your own personal best score, or just beat other people in your group.
If you don’t feel like paying for Universal, but want to get the experience of one of their best new creations, check out the expanded City Walk area (you’ll still have to pay the $20 parking to get into the park). They have added a lot of great new restaurants, with my favorite being Cowfish Burger and Sushi Bar. They feature great sushi, and some creative burgers, including an Elvis-inspired burger that has peanut butter, a fried banana, and bacon on top. If you sit at the bar, they have giant touch screens on the bar that allow you to play games while you eat. The bar is the place to be, because the drinks here are the best. I recommend the Buffalos and Bacon, which is Buffalo Trace bourbon, cherry liquor, honey, Angostura and orange bitters, and garnished with a piece of candied bacon.
The best milkshakes at City Walk are at the Wonka Style restaurant The Chocolate Emporium. They have one brownie shake served with a brownie on top. Another one has a red velvet cupcake. One has a slice of key lime pie. You get the picture. If you eat in the restaurant, they have a bacon flavored milkshake, topped with chocolate and vanilla whip cream, chocolate covered bacon, bacon brittle, and bacon sprinkles. I’ve never made it through half of this, which is why I’m able to tell you about it today.
Disney is in a bit of a transition, as they try and create some worlds of their own. They built an Avatar world in Animal Kingdom, although it’s nothing close to the Harry Potter worlds at Universal. They’re working on Star Wars and Toy Story lands in Hollywood Studios, which might be better. I’m a roller coaster guy, and Disney’s rides are much tamer. The Aerosmith roller coaster at Hollywood Studios is a really good one, as is Everest at Animal Kingdom. However, the makeovers with each park leave them pretty bare, and there probably wouldn’t be much else to do at either option right now, with a lot of rides closing to make room for the new stuff.
Epcot is a classic, and has some amazing food and alcohol options at their world showcase. One of my favorite things to do here is to go with a group of friends, stop at each world, and split a drink and a food item at each place. My favorite combo would be the nachos and margaritas in Mexico, which is the first world on your left as you enter from the park. As for rides, one of the best rides (Soarin) is currently undergoing a transition, so that’s another ride that is closed. Universal really put the pressure on Disney to upgrade, and that has led to some things being shut down in the short-term.
Finally, there’s the Magic Kingdom, which would be my favorite. I really don’t care about the Disney characters, so that aspect gets lost on me, although if you have kids, that’s sure to be a hit. Their roller coasters are tame, but still kind of fun. They’ve also got some great food options all around the park, with some of my favorites including a waffle sandwich filled with nutella, strawberries, bananas, and blueberries; a hot dog topped with pulled pork and cole slaw; and the Rice Krispy treats at the candy store on main street. None of these are healthy options, and that’s hard to find in theme parks. If you’re looking for a healthy option, I’d try to get in to Be Our Guest, which is the Beauty and the Beast themed restaurant. It’s extremely difficult to get in, as most reservations are made a year in advance. However, if you check early in the day, you might be able to get a last-minute table for lunch. The quinoa salad is my go-to healthy meal there, although I ruin it with their gray stuff cupcake at the end, with the “gray stuff” being a sort of Oreo cookie mousse.
I definitely go for Universal over Disney, but that’s because I care more about thrill rides, and don’t care about the Disney characters, which seems to tip the scales in favor of Disney for a lot of people. That’s not to say Disney is bad. If you’ve got a multi-day pass and can see it all, then you’ll be able to hit all of the best things in each park. But if you’ve got one day for theme parks, Magic Kingdom gives you the best mix of rides and food options at Disney, and I’d take Universal over Magic Kingdom (as it’s possible to do the big highlights at both Universal parks in the same day, while also eating on City Walk for dinner).
Got questions about anything else in Bradenton or the Tampa area? Leave them in the comments!