Dine in Cinema – Fork & Screen

At Downtown Disney the AMC cineplex now includes 6 dine in auditoriums – where they serve meals and drinks while you watch!!  1 of the 6 dine in theatres also has upgraded seats.  In all there are 24 screens at the cinema and 6000 seats.  They also have an enhanced theatre experience which is a larger screen with 3D.

Called ‘Fork & Screen’ – the menu at the dine in theatre includes starters like wings, potato skins and onion rings, then there are salads, fish and chips, chicken pasta, sandwiches and burgers.  There are also desserts (our favourite is the New York cheesecake), alcohol – wine, beer and cocktails – all delivered at the push of a button.  Under 18s have to be accompanied by an adult for dine in theatre.

Ticket prices vary from $6 – $20 dependent on the show, food and drink.    Some films also charge extra for added features e.g. 3D, larger screens, enhanced sound.  A top tip though you can save $2 per adult on tickets by going before 3.55pm so if you are looking for something to do on a stormy afternoon, this could be just the ticket.


Christmas at Pinewood Holiday Home Tour

Bok Tower Gardens are a lovely place to visit in December.  The gardens are superb with lots of citrus fruits on the trees.  As always you are in with a good chance of seeing wildlife ranging from birds, tortoises, snakes and even wild turkeys.

Also at Christmas they host the Pinewood Holiday Home Tour – it is a tour of the 20-room, Mediterranean style mansion at the Pinewood Estate.  It is a really festive tour which will get you in the holiday spirit.  This year’s theme is “The Nature of the Holidays”.

Each room has a different focus decorated by a different designer.  Guests are given a programme detailing historical information about the mansion and also providing information about the room designs.

$20 adults. $9 children (5-12). Members: $7 adults. $6 children (5-12). Prices include general admission.

  • Monday – Saturday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Sunday: noon – 5 p.m.

The Holiday Home Tour will be open on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Christmas Day in Orlando

One year we flew out to Orlando on Christmas Day – we were worried that when we landed everything would be shut but we shouldn’t have worried.

We flew from Gatwick with BA and the flight was fabulous.  The crew really made an effort they had the seasonal headgear and the pilot gave a running commentary on how we were doing in our race with Santa.  On landing at Orlando International the airport staff and security were professional but in the holiday spirit and there was a fantastic Christmas tree in the terminal.

The roads were quiet but when we got to the 192 area there was plenty of life – most of the restaurants were open, gas stations and some gift shops.

Florida at Christmas is even more magical than usual – it is odd for us Brits taking in tinsel and Christmas trees in beautiful sunshine.

A word of warning though – Christmas week in Orlando is the busiest week of the year so there are queues – everywhere.  The roads are busy, the parks are extraordinarily busy – the car parks get full, the outlets are full – so my advice is go early – get to the parks before opening and go on your favourite rides before the park gets busy.

Don’t let it put you off though, it is a fantastic time to visit, just be prepared.

Driving in Florida (for the Brits!)

So there are quite a few differences between driving in the UK and driving in the States.  The majority of the cars in Florida will be automatic – so very easy to get used to driving – you have the gas pedal and the brake.  When you park the car you need to be in park before the key will come out of the ignition, because it is an automatic, you don’t generally have to worry about the handbrake.

You can turn right on red (unless it says not to on the traffic lights), so if you are sitting patiently waiting for the lights to change and someone hoots from behind it will be because you can go if it is safe to do so.

It is also common practice to overtake and to undertake, so you can find yourself in the middle lane being overtaken on both sides – bear this in mind it you are switching lanes to turn off the highway – check your mirror.

Most roads in the States are on a grid system – so as long as you know whether you need to head East, West, North or South you can’t really go wrong (honest) and most cars have a little compass on the dashboard somewhere.

Refueling – petrol stations or as they are known in Florida – gas stations are operated differently than at home.  Firstly , you need to go in and pay before you fill up.  Secondly, diesel is the green pump and petrol is the black pump – nearly all rentals are petrol.  Gas is relatively cheap compared to the UK.

Car parks have more space than in the UK really to accommodate the vehicles which also tend to be larger – you will see a few minis but not many, you will also see a lot of trucks – and some monster trucks.  We find that it is better to book a midsize SUV so you don’t feel swamped by all the other vehicles around you.

If you have a traffic accident you have to report it to the police.  We were unfortunately shunted from the back at some traffic lights on one visit – make sure you carry your full driving licence with you and also have your rental documents.  We found the officer of the Florida Highway Patrol to be very efficient and empathetic with us!  He took no stick from the other driver who was endited on the spot.

We find that a lot of visitors are quite nervous about driving in Florida, however, we would say don’t be – it is a lot easier than driving in the UK and it is a shame not to drive over there and not see more of this fantastic state.

Silver Springs – Festival of Lights

A few years ago now we were lucky enough to be in Florida for Thanksgiving which we spent in Ocala.  As well as the beautiful state park there is also a little traditional ‘theme’ park called Silver Springs.  We found that we were there on the first day of their Christmas ‘Festival of Lights’.   I’m not sure that I would have enjoyed our day at the park as much if we had not been there when the lights were on.

This year they are starting a bit later from 14th to 24th December and then 26th to 31st.   Beginning from 3pm (parking is free from 3pm too) they are on until 8pm.  The cost is $12.99 plus tax for all ages.    Santa arrives every evening by River Sleigh (until Christmas Eve) and apparently new for this year you can experience ‘real’ snow as you ride the Snow Toboggan Express (21st to 31st December)

It is an old-fashioned Christmas – with Miss Molly telling Holiday stories and Dickens Carolers performing.  We loved the Lighted Boat Parade the best and this is back again this year – on selected dates.

The evening is rounded off by fireworks at weekends and on Christmas and New Years Eve.

Go to http://www.silversprings.com/events.html to find out more.

Snows Nightly, Celebration

Another event that we love to attend when we are over in Florida in December is ‘Snows Nightly’ in Celebration.

During the afternoon, the ‘snow’ is pumped onto the street in preparation for the show starting.  There are , in fact, 4 shows a night – on the hour at 6, 7, 8 and 9pm.  On the hour the snow starts to fall from the Reindeer stations which are positioned on the lampposts.    There is something fascinating about standing under the stars, in your t-shirt, in the warmth while snowflakes float down and land on your nose.

As well as the snow, there are carolers, Santa, a train ride (not on railroad tracks) and horse-drawn carriage rides.

It runs through to New Years Eve – when there is also a firework show which I believe challenges Disney’s fireworks – it also snows nightly on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Go to http://celebrationtowncenter.com/events/now-snowing-nightly-2012 to find out more.


ICE – Gaylord Palms

A few years ago we were in Orlando November/December and we got to experience some of the Christmas activities.  We decided to visit ICE! at Gaylord Palms.

We bought our tickets on-line and read that ICE is kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit – as we are from the UK I didn’t really get how cold that would be (it’s actually -13 degrees Celsius) fortunately, we did take on board the recommendation to wear long trousers and sleeves and I am glad I did!  Hooded parka coats are provided – we didn’t have the hats and gloves as we hadn’t packed for winter weather!

The award-winning ICE! attraction is carved by a team of 40 artisans from Harbin, China. The talented artisans spend more than a month in Kissimmee/Orlando creating this one-of-a-kind attraction. Harbin is best known for its annual International Ice and Snow Festival, where more than 2,000 sculptors annually carve a 100-acre walk-through ice park, using ice from the nearby Songhua River.

This year the show is on until January 1, 2013 and the theme is Merry Madagascar.  The year we visited the sculptures were polar bears, reindeer, the Holy story.  There was  an ice slide too.  At the end of the tour we were given a hot chocolate and we took advantage to look round the shop and buy a couple of souvenirs for our Christmas tree at home.

Go to http://www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-palms/christmas-in-orlando/ice-experience/index.html to find out more about this year’s show.  We enjoyed it and it was great to see Floridian’s experiencing the cold!