The Harbor Nights series of events take place four times a year at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (near Universal Studios, Orlando). All of the events are said to (i.e. insert marketing copy) celebrate the sweet life with romantic ambiance, etc. etc. etc., because you know… date night and all of that. I like breaking them down a bit more though, because there are subtle distinctions between the events (which I actually wish were less subtle).
The "Primavera" event that I'm reviewing here takes place in Spring, or just after Spring, usually in late May or early April, and is my favorite in the series. I like to think of it as celebrating spring in Mediterranean. The chefs seem to agree with me, as the menu at Harbor Nights Primavera seems to feature slightly lighter, Spring-like dishes (when compared to the fall and winter events that usually take place right after Thanksgiving and then again in December).
All of the Harbor Night events take place in the Portofino Bay's "Harbor Piazza", which is a very large outdoor space surrounded by shops and resort rooms on three sides, with an open "bay" complete with cute little moored boats floating on the water. The weather is usually great for the Primavera event, and the Piazza is mostly shaded by the buildings by 7:00pm. It's a great venue space, but if it does rain… there is a back-up indoor plan as well. The event will not be rained out.
The format is business casual, small-plate strolling between various on-stage cooking stations, with quite a few day-wines to sample along the way. There have been a good selection of craft beers at past Primavera events as well, (which is very cool trend), and at least one well-hidden cocktail. The phrase "Ages 21+" shows up on a lot of the official marketing copy for the event, which is actually a very bold, (and welcome) thing to do on the part of Loews… there is no "child" ticket or discount available.
Yes, Orlando is the largest family tourist destination in the world, but I have to say, it's nice not seeing a million strollers parked in a circle at one of these things. The event planning staff and chefs do not have to put any additional effort into making sure chicken nuggets, apple slices, and bottled milk are available on a knee-high buffet table… and it shows. The food quality here is better than it would be at a similarly price event at the big "D" (good luck finding a $50 event at the big "D" with bottomless wine and savory small plates).
There are two ticket levels, (the prices have gone up this year), a general admission ticket which is $53.25 per person, tax included (if purchased ahead of time, add $10 to that if you just show up that night) … which lets you roam around and try all the food and wine (and beer) on the menu, as many times as you want from 6:30pm until 9:00pm (they take that 9:00pm cut-off pretty seriously, so set your alarm and make sure you're in line to get your last whatever at 8:50pm).
There is limited general seating available at some larger table along with quite a few standing tables (i.e. no chairs) and then a few more seats here and there around the Piazza itself. It's worth noting that the large table chairs should not be thought of as "reserved" seats, if everyone in your party gets up, you loose them. That being said, there seems to be a decent supply of seats around, and most of the younger (20's and 30's crowd) don't seem to want to sit anyway. If you can't snag a chair when you first get there, you should be able to as the night goes on.
There are two live performance groups... a cover-band that plays top 40 type hits from yesterday to today, and a couple of opera singers that perform from a balcony overlooking the Piazza… it's a very cool mix, and the live-feel of the event is very upbeat and just… fun.
There is also VIP ticket ($90.53 per person, tax included), which does guarantee you a chair at a reserved table! That's not all though, the VIP section gets it's own wine table (same wines, shorter lines), a sparkling wine that's not offered to the other guests (it too is all you care to sample), and some additional passed small plate food items that are also not available to the other "normal" guests.
Sometimes we've found the VIP section to be "worth it" because the additional small plate foods have been just as good and creative as the general menu. Other times, they haven't been. If you absolutely need a seat, and don't want to spend any amount of time looking for it (you'll be escorted right over to your table)… the VIP area is the only way to go.
It's a little difficult reviewing the menu, because it changes at each and every Harbor Nights event, but there's usually (at least) five savory small plates that originate from the chefs at the five restaurants at the Portofino Bay Hotel. Over the course of multiple event, Mama Della's Ristorante has consistently been one of my favorites. For the 2015 event, there was a Seared Green Olive and Rosemary Marinated Ocean Bass with Osso Buco Fingerling Potatoes and Kale Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette.
There are at least two additional dishes (with different proteins such as beef, chicken, pork, etc.) and then two dishes that are lighter, like a Seafood Salad, Soup, Ravioli, or Bruschetta type of dish. Desserts usually consist of a couple Gelato or Sorbetto's flavors and one "baked" item such as a Cannoli or Tart.
It's always best to check directly with the resort's event page to get the menu for the Harbor Nights that you are interested in. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much of a "unified page" anywhere online for this great event series. The best I can do is provide a link to the Universal Studio's Resort Events page, which is… semi-updated… sort of regularly… but will usually have the full menu at some point before the actual event. Click here
… to open that page.
If you happen to be in town when it's going on, any of the Harbor Nights events are a great way to get away from the under 21 crowd for a few hours and enjoy adult strolling, conversation, food, wine, and music in one of the best large outdoor venues in Central Florida.
This year's event will take place on Friday, April 22nd, 2016 beginning at 6:30pm. VIP tickets do run out, so if you want to go with a VIP ticket, now is the time to get them. General admin tickets, generally do not run out, and you can even pay at the event, for an additional $10. Click Here
to visit their information page.