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CityWalk is the grand entrance to Universal Orlando Resort. It is laid out as a T, with the crossbar arched. The vertical arm connects the massive parking complex with the river. The crossbar runs along the river on both sides and connects the entrances to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Just beyond those entrances are the three Universal hotels : Hard Rock, Royal Pacific and Portofino Bay. Along both the vertical arm and the crossbar are stores, restaurants, nightclubs, an Imax Cineplex, and a Blue Man Group Performing Center. Universal has promoted CityWalk as Orlando's Hot Spot. Just as the two parks are closing, CityWalk comes alive. Many of the clubs and restaurants don't even open til 4 pm. Jammed into this three block stretch is quite a bit of excitement, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Some of the places, like the NBA and Blue Man, are appealing because of their theming and/or performances, and serve very marginal food. But there are some good and unique restaurants here. It's only a 30 minute drive from Disney World, and well worth an evening even if you don't go in the parks.

If anyone in your group was ever a Jimmy Buffet fan, you have to stop at Margaritaville for at least a drink or a cheeseburger. They've done a great job of theming here, with Jimmy's very own seaplane plus palm trees, beach, Tiki Bar, Volcano Bar (complete with Margarita erupting volcano), the Porch of Indecision, a live band outside, and Smugglers Hold gift shop with all the Buffett CDs and lots of Parrothead memorabilia. As for the food, the menu is limited but what they have is surprisingly good. If you order the Volcano Nachos you better really want Nachos because you get a mountainous serving, enough to feed four. Everyone we've ever known who ate here came away saying these were the best Margaritas, Cheeseburgers and Peanut Butter Pie they've ever had. The Salmon, Jambalaya, Conch Fritters and Key Lime Pie are well above average. As you can imagine, the noise level here is high with the music cranked up and people in a party mood. Don't expect to carry on much of a conversation. But definitely make it a point to watch the volcano erupt at least once. There have been several more of these opened, but this was the first and remains the best. They've kept their menu and the rest of the show simple and paid attention to details. It's not for kids, but for Parrotheads two hours here is worth all day in the parks.

If you enjoyed the movie Forrest Gump, you have to eat one meal at Bubba Gump's. You'll be surrounded by movie posters and artifacts. The film itself plays on several large screens while you eat. Your server quizzes you on the film before you can order. Despite all this theming, the food is pretty good. The Pear Berry Salad is unique : pears, raspberries, strawberries, walnuts, leaf lettuce and a sweet and tangy raspberry vinagrette. If you've spent the day in the park eating junk food, this could be a dinner in itself. The Clam Chowder is very good. The menu includes the usual seafood items, but they do their best shop with the Shrimp, so we highly recommend you order one of those entrees. Their signature items are the Shrimp Scampi, Kentucky Platter (shrimp & sausage), the Bourbon Skewers (shrimp, sausage, onions and peppers in a bourbon sauce), Shrimper's Heaven (for someone in your group with a big appetite who is starving after a day in the park), and Shrimp Kabobs With Veggies. For a slight variation, there is the Steamed Seafood. It includes every kind of seafood imaginable and comes in a bucket. One of these could feed at least a couple, and maybe a family. Service is kind of frantic; they keep moving at top speed. You have a flip sign on your table. If you flip it to Stop the next server coming by stops to see what you need and handles it immediately. As long as you have the Go sign up, they don't stop. More restaurants should try some variation on this.

Emeril's is the New Orleans restaurant made famous on his TV show. This one is not quite up to the high standards of the original, and its price range makes it more suitable for a special occasion than a frequent stop. But it is still elegant, with good service and good food. Among the appetizers, the stars are the Fried Green Tomatoes With Shrimp and the Flat Bread. As might be expected from a New Orleans heritage, the Gumbo is great. Their signature entrees are the Crab Cakes, Redfish, Smoked Mushroom Pasta, Pork Chops With Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Scallops in Peanut Sauce, Shrimp & Grits, and Quail. We think their Salmon and Steaks are a bit inconsistent, depending on who's handling them back in the kitchen. The steaks in particular tend to be a bit dry. Desserts, however, are spectacular : Banana Cream Pie and Praline Cheesecake. The wine list is extensive and very good. For a restaurant promoting an image of elegance, the noise level here is surprising. Conversation is difficult. The building, however, is beautiful, inside and out. You will have three waiters at your table, attending to your every need without being intrusive.

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