A general update on some of our favourite places to visit in Florida and what you might find there in February.
Bok Tower Gardens – was in full bloom. Absolutely beautiful – the Azaleas were out, Orchids, Magnolias and bedding plants – colour as far as the eye could see. Beautiful. The cost is now $12 per adult (cheaper than parking a car at the theme parks!)
Blue Springs State Park – the manatees were in, there were approx 80 in the spring on the day we visited plus a couple of huge alligators, lots of birds, turtles, lizards – the price to enter is now $6 for the car and they have updated their gift and camp stores. The gift store now has a much larger range and the camp store provides supplies, including making up freshly made subs to order.
Strawberries – it is peak strawberry season and they are lovely and sweet – Plant City strawberries often sold at roadside, we bought some from the Zellwood farm when we visited Mount Dora.
Presidents Day – this means many things – a lot of people as it is a national holiday so the theme parks were really busy that weekend – we arrived at Hollywood Studios at opening and all the fast passes for the main rides were already for tea time hours and the stand by queues were already over 60 mins for Aerosmith, Tower of Terror and Toy Story – my worst value day @Waltdisneyworld to date. Presidents Day also means sales so many of the Malls and outlets have additional discounts and bonus offers on cosmetics etc.
NBA Allstars – this happened to be in Orlando this February and meant that an additional 50k tourists descended on Orlando. There was a special NBA Nike shoe release scheduled at midnight at the Florida Mall, people started camping out to make sure they were first in then there were concerns over the number of people attending so the released was postponed, leading to ‘disturbances’ at the Mall and riot police etc – we were not involved in the incident and watched it on TV but it was fascinating to us as Shoe releases don’t have this kind of following in the UK.
The weather was changeable but always better than the UK! The nights can be cooler so pack a hoodie/jacket and be prepared for an occasional shower – not a day passed when we didn’t see sunshine though.
If you are ever in Orlando on a @RunDisney weekend, enter a race, they really are the best organised and most fun (for running) that you can experience.
I have just completed my 3rd Disney Princess Half Marathon but my whole weekend experience began when I registered for my races on Friday at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Disney even make this mundane task fun – you are greeted by the coachmen and can have your picture taken with them by the Cinderella Pumpkin coach. There is an expo where you can browse, purchase, get a massage or speak to experts in all areas of running for free.
Then yesterday I ran my first Royal Family 5k event. Fantastic – you run around the world at Epcot (starting in the parking lot) from Mexico to Canada and then down past the fountains, under Planet Earth and back to the parking lot. It was a lovely event, with characters located in the different countries that you can stop and have your photo with if you choose. Everyone who enters gets a fab t-shirt and then on successful finish a matching fab medal.
Today was the Princess Half Marathon – it feels more like a marathon as you have to get up very early (3am) to be back at Epcot between 4-4.40am to then walk (before you’ve even started) to your starting corral by 5am! The corrals then have staggered starts – I was in corral F so we didn’t start until 6.15am. There is plenty of entertainment though and some amazing costumes to keep you occupied in the meantime. The Fairy Godmother rocks up to start the race for each corral – with a spell and some fireworks and then you are off. The course takes you from Epcot down World Drive and into the Magic Kingdom, you go through the Polynesian resort and then onto the Kingdom itself, running right a long Main Street USA, round Tomorrowland, into Fantasyland and then through Cinderella’s castle, into Adventureland and then exit Magic Kingdom to head back to Epcot. All along the route there are characters, live bands, entertainers (trampoliners, stilt walkers, firemen) and really well-marked out mile markers which are beautifully themed. 21.000 took part today. My hubby came to support me and the supporters are well catered for with good transport links between different viewing areas and then back to the finish line.
I am not a ‘happy’ runner – but this is my 3rd Disney half marathon so I guess that speaks for itself – give it a go, I defy you not to enjoy yourselves.
Yesterday was my birthday so being a Pisces where better to go for my birthday lunch than @PiscesRising in Mount Dora, Florida. We have been a few times now and introduced both friends and family to the restaurant and the little town, we have never been disappointed.
Yesterday our server was Steven – 3rd generation from Mount Dora. He took time to find out a little about ourselves and also to give us a little of the history of the restaurant which nobody had told us before – so the area where you dine is built onto an old 1900s property and the ‘add on’ is actually built onto what would have been the outside porch – once he told us it was so obvious but previously I hadn’t even thought about it. He explained that when you went up into the property you went through what would have been the front door and invited us to take time after the meal and feel free to have a look around.
Pisces Rising specialises in Seafood and Steak. Hubby is a vegetarian but he is always catered for and loves the food there too. Yesterday he chose the Portobello Paradise and I had my usual favourite crab cake with a beautiful mango salsa. As it was my birthday I also had a glass of crisp Pinot Grigio. The wine list is extensive and varied.
During lunch there was even some drama in the kitchen when the deep fat fryer caught fire – it was soon put out and there was no extra charge for the additional entertainment.
No room for dessert – they do have a great pudding menu though – my Dad loves their Key Lime Pie. (probably we were full though as we had already had elevenses at @CupcakeDelights)
In the summer/fall you can sit outside to eat and if you go at tea time you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the sunset over the lake.
Kilwins ice-cream parlour in Celebration is our favourite. Yesterday I had Dulce de Leche with a waffle cone and hubby had chocolate in a paper cup because he said he’s on a diet. The flavour with the lowest calorie count in the parlour?? Chocolate – I can’t believe it but it’s true.
For those who are calorie counting there are frozen yoghurt and sorbet also. As well as ice-cream they do a mean selection of fudges and chocolates and also stock sodas and jelly bellys.
It’s a must do when the sun is out and as this is Florida – that’s nearly every day.
Just a quick tip – something we didn’t know until this trip. When you get a disney fast pass and it gives you a 1 hour window to go back between, you don’t have to! You can’t go earlier but you can go after the latest time. We know because we were worried we were going to miss our slot on Soarin’ due to a long queue at Test Track and 2 Disney employees told us this and said don’t worry, you can go after the last time but just not earlier than the first time.
Today we have been behind the seeds at Epcot – something we have thought about for a while but have never got around to doing. There were 4 adults and our niece aged 8. It cost $18 per adult although we were given a 15% discount for being UK tourists!
The tour takes approx. 1 hour and takes you through the greenhouses in The Land – it is a walking tour. Our guide was Allison – an intern from Minnesota who was majoring in Biology.
We started behind the seeds in a lab looking at some of the common good and bad bugs that Disney deal with in the greenhouses. There was a great explanation and even a dvd to show up close what she had been describing. The children on the tour were given an opportunity to take a tube of ladybugs to release on a plant of their choice during our walking tour.
We then went into the greenhouses where we were shown all the different crops which are grown and were given thorough explanations of how they are grown and what ‘tools’ are used. We were also shown the tanks for the fish, shrimp, eels and alligators. Everyone was given the opportunity to feed the Tilapia which was very enjoyable.
Everyone in the party enjoyed the tour and gave it a thumbs up for a recommended extra pay activity.
An hour and a half drive from Orlando you will find Clearwater Beach. Beautiful white sands, equipped with cabanas and chairs to rent, extremely family friendly. The beach is lined with sidewalks with showers for when you leave the beach – signposted by turtles! The rental for the cabana and the chairs cost $20 and was good through to 5pm. Although it was not extremely hot – just in the 80s and did get cloudy in the afternoon the sun is still very strong, even in the cabana you do need some protection.
Lined with restaurants, surf shops and cafes you won’t go hungry or thirsty. There are also public restrooms and plenty of trash bins. \lifeguards are on duty and we even saw the police driving down the beach with their lights flashing.
We watched sail boats, the pirates ships, the screamer and wind surfers. In the afternoon the beach got busier – plenty of people watching to be done.
Everyone agreed that it was a lovely day out, a good relaxing day away from the parks – all ages 8 – 43 recommended it.