With so much happening in and Orlando the area you owe to yourself to discover what is out there beyond the big 3!
Spring training is again in the air for baseball. The state of Florida hosts seventeen spring training sites -- the most of any state -- an annual rite which began in 1888. But you don’t have to go far from Orlando to find the game.
Daytona Beach, 60 miles away, is well-known for the minor league’s Jackie Robinson ballpark located on City Island, about one block east of downtown. The park overlooks the water and a bridge. There’s also a picnic area. The atmosphere is similar to minor league ballparks everywhere, but prices are reasonable. There’s a $10 all-you-can eat package on Monday nights with typical not always-tasty ballpark food. Parking is free. Daytona’s famous Riverwalk features numerous plaques and activities dedicated to the first black player to crash the Big Leagues. A timeline of Robinson's accomplishments on and off the field can be found on the western wall of the Daytona Cubs clubhouse. The plaques touch on such subjects as his visit to Daytona Beach in 1946 and his meeting with Dodgers GM Branch Rickey. There’s also a Jackie Robinson Museum that is free to the public. Interactive displays allow visitors to compare their skills in basketball and track and field, sports in which Jackie Robinson competed and excelled in while attending Pasadena Junior College and UCLA.
Only about 90 miles away, the St. Petersburg Museum of History has designed two prime rooms to display what is known as the “World's Largest Collection of Autographed Baseballs” (something like 4,818 of them). It’s like a little Cooperstown here in Florida. Try naming almost anyone important to the sport and you'll find an autograph here. Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams among them. Not everyone represented here is associated closely with baseball, however. There’s a baseball signed by both Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio in 1952 (she gave it to him as a gift while they were dating). Another ball is signed by legendary aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart. Just not at the same time (there's no rule that a baseball gets autographed in one session -- some take decades to complete). Some names may surprise visitors. For example, many may not know the name William "Dummy" Hoy -- a deaf major league player from 1888-1902. The display around his autographed ball tells how Hoy was instrumental in teaching teammates’ sign language and making umpire "hand signals a part of the game." Autographed balls also help tell the story of the Negro Leagues, as well as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (fictionalized in the movie "A League of Their Own," but with real teams such as the Rockford Peaches, Racine Belles, and the Milwaukee Chicks.).
Alas, one local memorial to the past, Tinker Field in Orlando may be striking out at long last. Tinker - the man, not the stadium - is perhaps best known as a member of the double-play team of Tinker, Johnny Evers and Frank Chance. After a successful career in baseball, Tinker moved to Orlando in the 1920s to manage a team. He also got into real estate.
Tiinker died on his birthday in 1948 at age 68, and he’s buried less than five miles from Tinker Field at Greenwood Cemetery near downtown Orlando. Tinker Field was dedicated in his honor in 1963. Several Major League Baseball teams played their spring training games at the field. But those days are long gone. At this writing, city officials are planning to raze the field. ###
Orlando’s own user-friendly version of modern-day museums is bizarre enough to warrant being called an “Odditorium.” The 10,000 square feet of exhibits at “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” museum are advertised as the only place in the world where visitors find shrunken heads and an authentic vampire killing kit, not to mention the “legendary” Fertility Statues, which 2,500 women believed helped make them pregnant (“Touch them for free, if you dare!” suggests Ripley).
But you can take a quick, hour-and-a-half drive away to St. Augustine to find things that go bump in the night or even rattle your bones. Among them:
---The Pirate and Treasure Museum. As the oldest city in the US, this city used to be plundered by cutlass-swinging buccaneers who regularly sacked it. This tribute to that time is the result of the imagination of millionaire businessman Pat Croce who grew up fantasying about actor Errol Flynn in filmdom’s “Captain Blood.” The museum that opened in 2010 is easy to spot from the road since it flies not the Stars and Stripes but the “Jolly Roger.” Visitors find what may be the largest collection of pirate booty in the world with 800 artifacts including pearls, jewels, gold doubloons and even a real treasure chest. They are all relics dating back 400 years to the golden age of peg-legged pirates. Founder Croce says he likes pirates because they "practiced democracy" on board and were better employers than the merchant ships or navies of their day. But also just because they were real pirates. "You either surrendered or you died," he said of the luckless pirate victims, who are dramatized by a twitching corpse in an Execution Dock.
---A more modern-day version of the bizarre is offered at Wolf’s Museum of Mystery, put together by Wolfgang Von Mertz who as a kid idolized Elvis Presley and was very aware of legendary ax murderer Lizzie Borden. Both are on view in a Victorian St. Augustine home that also has as its oldest item a collage of risque Marilyn Monroe postcards. Oh, and don’t forget notorious murderer John Wayne Gacy. Visitors know what to expect when they see the front door of the museum, which lists "Exorcist Bathroom" and "Chef Agony's Slaughterhouse Kitchen"" among its attractions Among the most popular exhibits is Lizzie Borden’s “Bloody Boudoir, which displays framed photos of Lizzie's parents' battered skulls above a circular bed owned by a brothel madam; a Bigfoot room; galleries devoted to circus sideshows and voodoo; and a tribute to The Big Lebowski, one of Wolf's favorite films. Owner Wolf is a real practicing attorney who has represented famous clients. He advertises that everything in the museum -- and it includes a stillborn elephant, an Alligator Girl Monster and a human brain in resin -- is for sale. It’s known as a “full retail museum.” By making everything available for sale, the policy also serves as a way to add future funds for collecting. Visitors can expect even more eccentric items in the future.
---For a real “heads on” display, visitors can take in Potter’s Wax Museum. It was named after George Potter, well-known in the area during the start of the 20th century as a collector of the strange and unusual. Potter was clearly influenced by London’s Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. The local version became known as the second largest wax museum in the world. Herman Munster, George Washington, and Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn are the dummies that first greet visitors, conveying the smorgasbord of celebrity and historical figures found here. There’s also Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler (the later figure was hidden for years because it used to regularly be attacked by visitors) to represent the bad guys. In the "Famous Authors" exhibit, Mark Twain is bookended by the disembodied heads of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. A lengthy showcase of famous heads suggests the resources at Potter's disposal: Sandra Bullock, Moses, the cast of Seinfeld, a two-faced Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and a head simply labeled "Burnt Guy - Horror Victim." There’s also Princess Di, the comic book Phantom Menace, former president Bill Clinton and actor-turned politician Arnold Schwarzenegger. You never know who you will encounter here.
Just as the Orlando Magic basketball team is winding up its season, Major League Soccer starts here this Sunday. Though ticket sales may not have been as brusque as basketball, soccer here and throughout the world has been fast growing. In fact, overall, soccer in the US now averages more fans than the NBA. It’s the most played sport in the world and now it is coming to Orlando via the Lions.
While thousands of screaming fans will watch the Orlando Magic take on the Boston Celtics at the Amway Center, a sold out crowd of 60,000 Orlando Soccer fans will be on hand Sunday at the newly remodeled Citrus Bowl to watch their own team called the Lions play its first ever match in MLS.
The Orlando Eye, a 400-foot tall observation tower with a panoramic view of the tourist-rich surrounding area, will not officially open until May 4. But riders who want to see the attraction similar to the London Eye in England, can sign up for a newsletter offering earlier rides ahead of the grand opening.
Promoters of the Eye say it lets riders be “effortlessly lifted away in a capsule of calm and serenity to see Orlando in a way you’ve never seen it before.” The iconic 400-foot tall observation wheel is said to provide “breathtaking views of Central Florida in all directions, with sights of downtown Orlando’s skyline, theme parks, lakes and lush landscape, and on a clear day, views of Cape Canaveral on the east coast.”
Promoters say the ride is:
---Great for all ages.
---Features fully enclosed air-conditioned capsules
---Tickets include the “ultimate pre-flight 4D Cinema Experience.”
---It is located in the heart of International Drive at I-Drive 360.
The Orlando Eye is one of several new sky-high attractions coming to I-Drive. The observation wheel also will join the 420-foot StarFlyer swing ride at Vue 360, as well as the 570-foot Skyscraper roller coaster and the recently announced 460-foot Skyfall drop tower at the $250 Skyplex development.
FlipKey based its selections on affordability, customer service, location and the variety of services offered to families.
Here's what FlipKey had to say about the three attractions: