With so much happening in and Orlando the area you owe to yourself to discover what is out there beyond the big 3!
A lot of small businesses in heavily tourist-oriented areas have been successful by suggesting they are so good they also attract local residents. In other words:
Head to where the locals go, folks.
In the Orlando area, it’s Crane’s Roost.
The streets here are closed daily.
No, not for the birds, though they are there.
Walking around is the only way to travel here.
The attractive park is in the Orlando suburb of Altamonte Springs, a large, thriving city where there are year-round events that draw not only residents but visitors.
These events cater to all ages. And many of them are free.
There’s entertainment, games, activities, crafts, food and more.Big-name entertainers who have performed here include Jimmy Buffet. There’s also events that include wine tasting, concerts and free movies.
Everyday Events For Entire Family
A typical special event recently included a fishing derby on the boardwalk, a zoo animal and live animal exhibit, face painting, various kid and interactive games, and even drawings for various prizes, including free passes to LEGOLAND.
Even visitors unfamiliar with the area can’t miss Cranes Roost Park. It is right off and visible from I-4, the area’s major artery that also connects to the theme parks south of Orlando.
The park is encircled by one mile of continuous walkway with benches and covered seating areas. Within the 45-acre park is a European-style plaza which includes a choreographed fountain show and a 62-foot picturesque tower as well as the Eddie Rose Amphitheater with stadium-style seating and a floating stage. Walking the Park
The park itself is an attraction if for no other reason than just walking the one mile loop. There’s also a choreographed fountain show running nightly at 7, 8 and 9 p.m.
The park is pet-friendly in most areas with a free map detailing the pet walk.
Hours during the week are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., or on the weekends until midnight.
Restaurants at the area include Care Murano, which has received glowing ratings from diners. The pasta is recommended.
For visitors, there are a variety of nearby hotels with reduced prices because they are outside of the main tourist corridors of South Orlando
Other areas of interest to both residents and tourists include the Altamonte Mall, where the 165 stores and restaurants are within a walkable block. The mall also has the AMC Altamonte Mall, an 18-screen theatre. Everything in this area is about ten miles north of downtown Orlando. The theme parks are about an hour away.
For a schedule of events at Crane’s Roost, www.altamonte.org/calendar.
Care Murano, www.caremurano.comor 407/834/5880. 309 Crane’s Roost Blvd., Altamonte Springs.
Altamonte Mall, www.altamontemall.com.51 E. Altamonte Drive, Altamonte Springs. ###
Uh, oh. Somebody’s stealing Disney’s magic.
And they’re getting away with it.
Look for it at Orlando’s International Drive as often referred to as I-Drive.
Nothing left to experience in the area? No way.
If you have that illusion, Merlin will disprove it
Merlin Entertainment, that is.
You may not know of them. But you will. They are the second largest entertainment company in the country.
Behind only Disney. And still growing.
New Attractions Not Seen Before
They just announced three new attractions: The Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds Orlando and Sea Life Orlando
Nothing new about that. But what does it mean to you?
If you are one of the 62 million visitors a year here, you will get to do something you were not able to do before.
Here’s what is new:
See Orlando From High Above on The Orlando Eye
You can now see a swirling view of the entire area. It’s the tallest observation wheel on the US East Coast. The view includes downtown Orlando’s skyline, lakes and lush landscapes. And even the space shuttle at Cape Canaveral on clear days. There’s never before been anything like this. You have to go to London for something similar: the London eye. Here, you ride in air-conditioned comfort to a height of 425 feet above the ground. That is more than 100 feet taller than the Statute of Liberty. There are restaurants at the top. You can see Central Florida in all directions. It’s the new Orlando Eye.
Secondly, shoot “selfies” with you and Tiger woods or Dan Marino or even Juan Ponce de Leon (if you don’t know him, try your history book). Newly opened Madame Tussauds Orlando offers 800 wax figures.
Finally, see more than 5,000 sea creatures at the new Sea Life Orlando Aquarium. Sharks. Jellyfish. Sea horses. More. All found in a 12-foot deep ocean tank. That’s for adults. And for kids: a touch pool and discovery trail.
I-Drive is located at 8445 International Drive, near Kissimmee and all the major theme parks.
A Moderate Price Tag
Tickets to each attraction start at $25 ($20 for children 12 and under). However, combination tickets are available across multiple attractions and sister attraction LEGOLAND®Florida. Children age 12 and under will receive a $5 discount off of the adult ticket price, which is $25 for one attraction, $39 for two attractions and $49 for all three. For $99 ($94 for children 12 and under) adult guests will receive tickets to all three attractions as well as a ticket to nearby LEGOLAND Florida.
Wait, before you head off to buy tickets, we got Discount tickets to the IDrive 360 attractions!
Merlin Entertainments PLC is already known in the area for its ownership of nearby LEGOLAND Florida.
For more on attractions and activities in the International Drive resort area: internationaldrive.com. For maps and schedules of the International Drive Trolley: iridetrolley.com.
Maybe you thought there could not be anything else new here.
Predictions are that Merlin magic will continue to conjure up new tricks. And you’ll be hearing more from Merlin. ###
If there is one secret to the overall success of Disney, it has to be showmanship. And that extends not only to theme park rides and other entertainment, but also to food offerings. A perfect example: American Q and its new expanded menu.
The showmanship is already there in its buffet offerings from (of all places) a 1951 cherry-red-colored Ford FI pickup truck. The kids who dine here are also measured by a somewhat unusual standard: their height compared to a chicken.
Now offering “swine pig” on the surface does not sound appetizing. But both meat-lovers and vegetarians find food here to their taste. And new offerings at the modern barbeque concept at the B Resort & Spa make it even more on everyone’s menu. These include:
New Food Appeals to All Tastes
---Meatless Mondays. The flatbed buffet (on that cheery, cherry-colored red Ford truck) offers vegetarian style food such as tofu chili and Mac ‘n Cheese. The meatless buffet is a discounted price of $19.95.
---Prime Rib Tuesdays. For meat-lovers eating from the Flatbed Truck buffet. Smoked prime rib at no additional charge ($34.95 for adults and $10 for children). The spread includes unlimited table visits from the Brazilian steak house-style carvers who offer a parade of proteins such as smoked turkey drumstick with mahogany glaze and bacon wrapped boneless chicken thighs.
---“Swine & Spirits.” That is what the B Resort calls its Wednesday buffet offering, which includes a whole roasted pig. Described as a “Tangerine and Whiskey-Brined Suckling Pig” in addition to the regular 20+ offerings. A free “spirited” drink is also available.
Located inside B Resort & Spa at 1905 Hotel Plaza Boulevard in Lake Buena Vista, American Q is described as a modern take on classic barbecue. Many local items are made from scratch.
The restaurant is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Dinner is served from 5-10 p.m. The bar has a daily “Happy Hour” with drinks half off from 4-7 p.m.
The American Q Restaurant is within walking distance of Downtown Disney located in the the 394-room B Resort, just five miles from Walt Disney World. The hotel targets not only families but also business travelers (the Orange County Convention Center is just 10 minutes away).
The “Flatbed” buffet also has its own touches of showmanship. The bar menu, for example, offers “Swine Candy,” which is smoked bacon roasted with spices served in a glass jar.
And about those kid meals: the $10 price is good for anyone less than “seven chicken’s tall,” or (in case you don’t measure things that way) about 4 feet, 7 inches.
For more information, visit bhotelsandresorts.com or call 954-389-1919. ###
Simple. And cheap, sure. But also necessary.
Water rides, of course (though not the only reason).
Many theme parks have them (not bags, those you have to provide yourself). To protect your cell phones and any water-sensitive item, just get out the zip-sealed bags.
‘Bagging’ it is always a good policy
Of course, there are many other uses for a bag. Any type of bag.
Your wadded-up, no-longer-chewable-worn-out gum. Given up its elasticity (darn it, just when it got good) when you are not near a convenient trash can.
And even more common: melting ice cream wrappers. These are known for their kid connections, but are also suspiciously common among adults as well.
Just about any old bag of any type will do for the ice cream wrappers, but also for other types of storage in case you did not bring a backpack (slightly cumbersome) or a fanny pack (degrading to the cool-hand image).
But while we are on the subject of the importance of every-day objects when you are enjoying the dream-like magic of theme park make believe, here are some other things to consider:
Did you remember to bring these:
---Plastic, folding ponchos? (Not just for water but rain as well). Featherweight and easy to pack inside any bag.
---A water bottle. Refillable, of course. You never know when you can get dehydrated, particularly n brutally hot climates. Water fountains are not always nearby. And who wants to pay $4 or so for a concession-stand bottle of water, anyway? Remember: not all parks allows your bottle, so check beforehand.
---A money belt? Really old fashioned and dated, sure, and associated with a backpacker’s trip to a crowded Third World city known for its pickpockets. But wait. These usually inexpensive belts are great for safekeeping for any kind of driver’s license, ID cards, etc., even if you don’t use them for money. PS: Pickpockets are probably not much of a concern but the use of a belt might actually save you some money.
Two other suggestions:
You will probably want to keep your phone with you. Most people do. And there are good reasons. But might you consider leaving some stuff behind such as a hair brush or even a comb or even all those credit cards? They should be safe in your hotel room.
Or as an alternative, how about renting a locker? They are always around, and are certainly among the cheapest (read bargains) things you can buy at any theme park.
Did you ever go to Universal or Disney’s Magic Kingdom expecting to see live animals? Of course not. But there’s another smaller theme park here that might be a surprise. That’s because of the unexpected wildlife.
Would you go to a park called Gatorland to see the birds? Yes, for real.
Because the real stars here are not really the alligators.
They’re the birds. And they’re a very little-known attraction.
Whether or not you are a fan
So you’re not really a bird-watcher?
Maybe you are and don’t know it. Birds are so popular and common place in Florida that it’s no wonder tourists are commonly known not as visitors but “snowbirds.”
It does seem like a strange hobby for a few dedicated diehards.
Young People Among Biggest Fans
But there are 46 million people in the US who consider themselves bird watchers. The numbers are growing, particularly for younger people. And Florida is a central attraction.
By some counts, the state has 500 species of birds, 125 of them native to the Sunshine State.
It might surprise you, but birding is second only to beach-related activities as a form of outdoor recreation for both visitors and residents here.
The Gatorland rookery, which covers 10 acres and includes a winding boardwalk, was established in 1991. That was when Gatorland attraction dug the pond and began to breed alligators there. Over the years, more egrets, herons, wood storks, cormorants, anhingas and other birds flocked to it during breeding season.
No Binoculars Needed
You may already be familiar with the common mockingbird (a year-round Florida resident, and the state bird not only here but in Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas). You not only see him/her frequently here but also hear them since they sing all night long. But you can also see the common and familiar white-colored egrets, the great blue herons, wood storks and sand kill cranes. All kinds of hundreds of wading birds easily found here with the naked eye (no binoculars needed).
You perhaps wonder why they are here at a theme park instead of out in the wild?
Birds Figure it Out
“The birds figured out that the gators act like a security system,” said alligator wrestler Adam Hall, Gatorland’s resident bird expert. The roughly 150 gators in the pond keep out raccoons, snakes and other predators that might otherwise devour the eggs and chicks. As a result, there are now hundreds of birds nesting there.
“They have learned to endure shrieking kids and snapping photographers in exchange for the safety the rookery provides — boisterous humans apparently trump ravenous snakes,” said the Washington Post in a recent story.
“It’s like the Galapagos, as far as being able to get really close to the birds and their nests,” said Larry Rosen, president of the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society. And the Post newspaper account adds:
“And except for some savvy nature photographers, the rookery, which flourishes from February to early June, is still largely unknown, even by most visitors to the popular park, which features about 1,400 alligators in addition to many other attractions.”
The only other spot in the nation where birders can get reliably close to such a dense concentration of mating and nesting birds is the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. That’s about an hour and a half drive from Orlando. This is a smaller rookery and visitors say the birds here are not as chummy (often climbing aboard alligators) as they are in Orlando.
Where Else to Find Birds
One other place nearby to find great concentrations of birds: In Titusville, about 50 miles away, at the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, the largest event of its kind in January when birds flock to the area.
14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando
Hours: Gatorland is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Admission: Day passes for adults $26.99, children $18.99. A $10 upgrade buys an Early Access pass Thursdays-Sundays or a Late Access pass on Saturdays. (Season-long and combination photo packages are also available.
Save a few dollars, we got discount Gatorland tickets.