Islands of Adventure – Universal, Orlando

Next door to Universal Studios you will find Islands of Adventure.  This is a really great theme park – particularly for teens and adults, the best park for roller coasters and now home to the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

We usually go left straight into Marvel Super Hero Island and get straight on The Incredible Hulk “This time, I think we are going to make it!”  Just next to the entrance/exit to this ride is the Storm Force Acceleration – a waltzer ride – ok for later in the day if the queues are long on the other rides.  Next you will see Dr Doom’s Fearfall – I can’t say too much about this because I’ve never ridden it!  Moving round you come to Spiderman – a brilliant ride and apparently currently closed for improvements – can’t wait to try it when we are next over.  If you time your visit right you might also get to see Spiderman in person (you can have photos) and/or Captain America (nice!!)

From here you move round to Toon Lagoon where you will find Plutos bilge rat barges and Dudley Do Rights Ripsaw Falls – the best ever water ride – I laugh so much on this ride and you get absolutely drenched – awesome.  Next it’s on to Jurassic Park.  Opposite this ride there is the Pteranadon Flyers – I’ve never been able to go on these because I haven’t had a small child to ride with.  From here over the draw bridge and you arrive at Harry Potter land!!

Harry Potter has 3 rides – a more junior roller coaster – Flight of the Hippogriff, the old dueling dragons – now called the Dragon Challenge – a leg dangler!! and of course the main attraction Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.  I wouldn’t want to spoil the ride but it is fair to say it is a unique ride – you can go single rider and avoid some queues, and the queues are still fairly long unless you get there first thing.  To me this ride is like a cross between Spiderman and Soarin’.  There is much much more in Harry Potter land – the theming is breathtaking – down to the snow on the roof tops, you can sample some good British fare including Shepherd’s Pie, you can also sample Butter beer and you can go to Ollivanders and choose your very own wand – a fantastic addition to an already brilliant park and now a reason why many visitors are going for the first time.

You finish your circuit in Seuss land.  Another extremely well themed area, very popular with younger children as it is full of rides for them and is often visited by the Cat in the Hat himself.  In this area there is a carousel, a trolley ride in the sky, a fish ride (similar to Dumbo) and the cat in the hat ride.

As well as the rides there are some shows including Sinbad and Poseidon’s Fury.  There are lots of places to eat and souvenirs to buy but essentially this park is all about  the rides.

We usually manage to cover both parks in one day and therefore buy a 2 park, 1 day ticket.  You will be tired and exhilarated at the end of the day!

Universal Studios, Orlando

Universal Studios is the best movie studios park on offer in my opinion.  There are some great rides, good shows and attractions that really show you some of the tricks of the trade and some offering  you the opportunity to be the star!

Even before you enter the park you have the opportunity to have your photo taken in front of the iconic Universal Globe and then often a character opportunity – we have seen Dora the Explorer and the Simpsons for autographs and photos here.

After you have passed through the entrance gates you have a few options of which way to go, we usually head straight towards Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit to avoid the queues that build up during the day.  This roller coaster allows you to pick your own music to ride to and if you are a serious coaster nut you can also buy the film of your own ride!  Don’t be fooled watching the ride – it looks quite gentle and slow – the reality is that it is a very smooth, fast ride with quite a scary start where you are convinced that you may fall out of the car!

Very nearby you have the Shrek 4D show – a really good show, very amusing and with hidden adult humour as well – entertaining for the whole family.  Also on exit there is an opportunity to have photos with Shrek and Donkey – more humour – I love Donkey!

Moving on you’ll come to Twister (ok but don’t queue for ages!) and then Revenge of the Mummy.  You can’t take any carry on to this ride, you need to use the free lockers to store your goods.  This is a good ride – popular with all our family – I personally am happy to avoid the ride and just stay outside enjoying the Egyptians!

Just near here there is also a Baskin Robbins ice-cream parlour – a good bribe for children too young to ride!

Next you will come to Disaster – a show/attraction/ride – members of the audience are chosen to take parts in different demonstrations before the big finale ride.

Next you will come to Jaws – one of my hubby’s favourites.  The narrator on your journey is very well versed and it is quite amusing – you will probably get wet though.

Just over the bridge you come to possibly my favourite ride in Orlando – Men in Black, Alien attack – I just love it, shooting aliens, twisting and turning.  It can get busy but you have the option to single rider which we often do and you often still get to ride in the same car – love, love, love it – suitable for all the family.

Around the circuit you will then come to The Simpsons – this is a really well themed simulator ride.  I loved the theming but unfortunately I don’t really agree with simulators – I felt really sick and dizzy afterwards – my friend Kathryn had to sit for half an hour with a full fat drink to recover!

After the Simpsons you move round to the children friendly area – Woody Woodpecker’s Nutty Rollercoaster, Animal Actors and Barney shows, Curious George’s Playground (a great place for kids to cool down (bring spare clothes)) and ET – an absolute gorgeous ride, where when queuing you get the real feel of the film and can smell the fir trees – before boarding your bikes – brilliant.

Moving on you can view the Terminator 2 3D film.

It is a great park – there are lots of food opportunities, shopping opportunities, character opportunities – it’s quite funky and cool, easy to navigate and worth a visit.

 

Lake Louisa State Park

Another State Park that we love to visit is just along the US27.  The park is full of beautiful lakes, Lake Louisa is the main lake and is the largest in a chain of 13 lakes.  The other lakes we have visited are Lake Hammond and Lake Dixie.  There are more than 25 miles of trails for hiking.

There are also 7 miles of paved roads and over 20 miles of unpaved multi use trails which you can cycle on.

You can canoe and kayak on the lakes – Dixie Lake has a fishing pier which you can launch from, Lake Louisa doesn’t have a launch area.  You can rent a canoe or kayak at the park, you need to visit the ranger station to organise.  We find it a really great way to view the wildlife and to relax and enjoy the surroundings.

My hubby loves to fish and has had some really enjoyable days at both Dixie and Hammond Lakes.  You can fish at 4 of the 6 lakes within the park.  I prefer Hammond Lake as it has a canopy where you can find some shade.  We obtained a Florida fishing licence online before we left the UK – the tricky thing is that you need to state the date that you are fishing so if your plans change you are scuppered!

Of course, my favourite part of the park is wildlife spotting – we have seen armadillos, deer (which just strolled across the road in front of our car) and also the Gopher tortoises – I was particularly pleased to see them.

You pay per vehicle – I think the last time we visited it cost $5, an absolute bargain for a wonderful day to relax after all the rushing around at the theme parks.  We stopped on our way to the Park at Walmart and bought our picnic lunch and fishing bait!

Spook Hill, Lake Wales

I’ve mentioned Bok Tower Gardens and Chalet Suzanne in previous blogs – there is another ‘attraction’ that you can visit while in the Lake Wales area called Spook Hill.

Spook Hill is free!  The “thrill” of the attraction is your vehicle seems to coast uphill. Is it a weird phenomenon, optical illusion or the unrest of spooky spirits? Well, the legend is that it’s spooky spirits.
The Legend of Spook Hill
After the Seminoles left the Cherokee nation, they settled in Central Florida. One legendary chief, Cufcowellax, settled on the lake which is now known as Lake Wales. It was close to Iron Mountain (home of Bok Tower), which as the highest point in Florida, was sacred to the Indians’ Sun God.

After several years living in peace, a bull alligator began harassing the tribe and soon began nightly raids on the village, causing fear among the tribe. The brave chief set out to conquer the evil spirt. When he did, the tribe noticed a small lake had formed near the big one. They named it Lake Ticowa.

Eventually, the Indians lost their camping grounds to the encroaching white settlers. Circuit riders carrying mail between the coasts used the old trial around Lake Ticowa until they noticed their horses laboring downhill. It was those circuit riders that first called the place Spook Hill.

As the area developed and the citrus industry grew, the hills around Lake Ticowa were covered with citrus groves. As workers would drive their wagons around the lake, they would find their mule teams struggling downhill with a load.

The road was paved years later and residents found their cars would roll uphill by themselves. Word spread and others came to test this phenomenon. Soon it became a major attraction for visitors.

At the site there is now a sign telling the story, “Many years ago an Indian village on Lake Wales was plagued by raids of a huge gator. The Chief, a great warrior, killed the gator in a battle that created a small lake. The chief was buried on the north side. Pioneer mail riders first discovered their horses laboring down hill, thus naming it “Spook Hill.” When the road was paved, cars coasted up hill. Is this the gator seeking revenge, or the chief still trying to protect his land?

So one day on the way to Bok we stopped and tried out the legend.  We pulled up at the white line, which marks the spot to stop and put your vehicle into neutral – then you wait for your call to roll uphill…..   I have to be honest, the legend was way better than the actual experience, but we were going to Bok anyway so no real time wasted and it was entertaining!

Spook Hill is located on Dr. J A Wiltshire Avenue East, Lake Wales.

Lakeridge Winery

A great free place to visit – the Lakeridge Winery situated off the US27 at Clermont, Florida sits on a 127-acre estate in gently rolling countryside.  Lakeridge ranks as Florida’s largest premium winery, and remains a pioneer in the development of table and sparkling wines from muscadine and hybrid grapes.

Complimentary Winery tours and wine tasting are offered 7 days a week; Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 5 p.m.  Our tour lasted for approx 20 minutes, beginning with a film showing the growing of the Florida grapes to the wine making process and the finishing with the bottling and labeling.  Our tour guide then took us round the production area and showed us the vineyards where the grapes are grown and harvested.  It was really scenic with great views down across the vineyards.  The tour finishes with a wine tasting at a big bar/counter – there were quite a number to try so make sure you have a nominated driver!  There is no pressure to buy although we saw many visitors who did and many locals who called in to buy cases of their favourite wines.  The wine wasn’t particularly to my taste although I did enjoy the sparkling wine.

I also enjoyed browsing the gift shop afterwards which has a lot more in stock than just the wine, we bought a sparkling wine cork puller and a wine reference guide for a gift.

The winery also hosts many events during the year, sadly when we visited there were none on but have a look at the website to see if there are any when you are over.  I hope one year to make the annual harvest stomp!

Although the wine wasn’t to my taste I would definitely recommend a visit – its educational, free and another ‘real’ Florida experience.  http://www.lakeridgewinery.com

Sweet Tomatoes

A new addition to our dining options last time we visited as a new Sweet Tomatoes had just opened at Rolling Oaks, Kissimmee.  I had read that it was a good option for Vegetarians and as hubby is a Veggie we thought we would give it a try.

We weren’t disappointed, it was so nice to be faced with all these healthy, green, fresh salad items to choose from – we both got a big plate of salad with greens, corn, beetroot, seeds, olives etc.  We were then spoiled for choice with up to 8 different varieties of freshly made soups – not all vegetarian but clearly labelled what was and what wasn’t.  A choice of freshly made breads to go with it.  Jacket potatoes.  There was also a far array of drinks to choose from – many non fizzy which made a refreshing change.   I was also delighted to see some freshly made chocolate muffins with whippy yoghurt ice-cream and a selection of sauces.  Absolutely delicious.  We did return again before we flew home and I have since signed up to get there voucher/coupon deals sent to my email – ready for our next visit.

Definitely a recommendation from us – a veggie & a non veggie.  Visit http://www.souplantation.com for more information.

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center feels worlds apart from Orlando’s theme parks – but it really is just a short drive away – about 45 mins.

As a child born the year man set foot on the moon, I have always been fascinated to know more and at Kennedy Visitor Complex, you get the unique chance to tour – up close – NASA’s launch and landing facilities, experience interactive simulators, enjoy live shows and have jaw-dropping encounters with massive rockets.

Included in your admission is the Kennedy Space Center Tour.  This is a bus tour taking you to the space shuttle launch pads at the LC-39 Observation Gantry, then on to the historic Apollo 8 launch and finally to the  Apollo/Saturn V Center (my favourite) where you get to stand under a massive 363-foot-long Saturn V moon rocket (awesome). The Tour is included departs every 15 minutes from the Visitor Complex, it’s self-guided, allowing you to get on and off the bus as you wish and spend as much time as desired at each location.

My second favourite part of the day was the Astronaut Encounter.  You get to meet a veteran astronaut, ask questions and have a photo with them – I loved this!  I also really loved the Rocket garden – fascinating.

We were fortunate enough to see too Shuttle launches when we were over – one from Kennedy which was absolutely fantastic and very emotional which I hadn’t expected and the 2nd time from Cocoa Beach which was a different experience, and will go down in history as we managed to wait for hours on the beach, facing the wrong way and then got stuck in a 6 hour (I kid you not) traffic jam back to the Orlando area!!

My kid brother who is a way bigger space nut than me, has also enjoyed lunch with an astronaut at the space center – he really enjoyed it and recommends it.

That said Kennedy is an absolutely fabulous place to visit, they are always updating their exhibits and introducing more features to visit.  Although the shuttle launches have finished, there are still rocket launches and the website has a calendar to check for launches, special events etc plus it provides loads more detail on the other attractions at the center.

http://kennedyspacecenter.com