Throwback Thursday -Chalet Suzanne

Chalet Suzanne in Lake Wales was a fantastically eccentric inn and restaurant.  It was family run from 1931 and really had to be seen to be believed.

Recommended to us, we stopped once on the way home from Bok Tower Gardens.  The buildings reminded me of something from the fairytale Hansel and Gretel or from Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom.  As well as the inn and the restaurant, there was a soup cannery and swimming pool with a private lake.  There was also an airstrip.

For us, our reservations were allayed when we sampled the food – it was gourmet cuisine with the Romaine soup (fondly known as moon soup as Apollo 15 pilot James Irwin persuaded NASA to let the crew take it on their mission) our particular favourite.  I had one of the best burgers I’ve ever tasted at Chalet Suzanne and when I told our server she simply said “we get told that all the time!”.

We liked it so much we visited several times, including with our family when we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

Our trip was always finished off by asking the restaurant for any stale bread so we could go down to the lake and feed the turtles – a real Florida wildlife delight.

Sadly, on July 10, 2014, it was announced that with the retirement of the Hinshaw family, the Chalet would close on or about August 4 2014.

On 27 February 2015, it was reported that the auction drew more than 1,400 to Chalet Suzanne.  While owners were hoping one buyer would buy the 130-acre property, and deep-pocket bidders had expressed interest in the property, the land went to around 30 different buyers .

The property’s former owners (the Hinshaw family) say they plan to write a cookbook featuring recipes from the famed restaurant.  Now that’s a book I will look forward to buying.

 

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Reminders for UK visitors to Orlando

Some friends of ours recently visited our place in the sun and although they had been to Florida before they had forgotten some of the things that frequent visitors may take for granted so I thought I do a reminder blog.

PASSPORTS AND VISA WAIVER PROGRAMME

Firstly, your passport, officially it must be valid for the proposed duration of your stay. You don’t need any additional period of validity on your passport beyond this.  However, experience has shown us that US immigration still prefer that you have at least 6 months validity to travel to, and gain entry, to the US.

Most people will be able to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).  The VWP allows most British Citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days. The types of journey allowed under the VWP include tourism, certain types of business visit and transit to another country.  Additionally, from 1 April 2016, all travellers wishing to enter the US under the VWP will need to hold a passport with an integrated chip (an ePassport). If you are travelling under the VWP arriving by air or sea you will need to provide details online at least 72 hours before travel. This is known as an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation or ESTA. For more information, and to apply online, visit the official ESTA website.  https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

When you arrive in the USA you will need to be able to show that you have enough funds available to support yourself during your stay, even if you’re staying with family and friends.

CAR HIRE

That leads me to my next reminder – if you are going to hire a car and drive in the US please take a credit card with you – even if you don’t want to use it while you are abroad, you will be expected to present one for a ‘security deposit’ when you collect your car.  Our friends forgot and in the end had to lead $100 cash which was refunded on the safe return of the vehicle.

To hire a car in the US you will also need to obtain a driving licence check code.  On 8 June 2015, the paper counterpart to the photocard driving licence was abolished. The counterpart contained information such as any penalty points you have. Similarly, old-style paper licences, issued until 1998, are still valid but they won’t be updated with penalty points. Instead, you can now view all your up-to-date driving licence information using DVLA’s View Driving Licence service.  When collecting a vehicle from a hire company many only ask to see your photocard licence or your pre-1998 paper licence – but some also want to check whether you have any penalty points. They may ask for a code so that they can check your licence online or for a printout of your licence details.  You can go online to obtain a code to give to your hire company. Each code is valid for 21 days from the date you obtain it and it can only be used once.

Go to https://www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence to find out more

TOLL BOOTHS

Final reminder, you may need to go through some toll booths to get to your accommodation from the airport and while you are round and about.  It is a good idea to keep a toll kitty with quarters and dollar bills – some toll booths are unmanned and only accept coins.  There are cameras and you will be fined if you don’t pay so don’t risk it, be prepared.

ID

You will need to carry ID for both cheques and credit card purchases.

Flashback Friday – Bok Tower Gardens Weddings

In 2012 we decided to renew our wedding vows in Florida and the place that immediately sprang to mind was Bok Tower Gardens.

We emailed their wedding planner Rita and received lots of information before planning to meet her when we were next over in the States.

On the day that we met with Rita, we were given a guided tour (via a golf buggy) so we could review and choose our favourite Garden Ceremony location.  We knew it would just be a small do, however, we didn’t receive less service.  We chose the Round Garden which can host up to 50 attendees and has the tower in the background.  Rita also gave us some contacts for ministers to officiate and other information which we may or may not need.  We had decided just to hold the ceremony there and then to move on to a local restaurant for a celebratory meal.

On the day itself, we arrived with our 6 guests and were able to get changed at Olmstead House.  We were then collected by golf cart and taken up to our ceremony location.  Our minister – Michael performed a beautiful renewal ceremony.  Rita then gave us all a grand tour of the estate stopping at various top spots for some beautiful photographs.

The whole experience was fabulous – our guests all thoroughly enjoyed it and were converted to Bok Tower fans too.  Rita looked after every detail and everyone and in the course of the months before our ceremony found out details about us to better understand us and our likes/dislikes.

In the good news department, there was a special rate for the sort of renewal of vows ceremony we had (less than 10 in total).  We were able to choose any of the wedding gardens, except Pinewood Estate or Swan Point, for a very discounted ceremony only rate of just $350.00, instead of the regular rate of $695.00, and it included absolutely everything that comes with the $695.00 wedding ceremony.

It’s a fabulous place to visit with or without a wedding – go to https://boktowergardens.org for more information

The Orlando Eye

Back in June 2015 my friend and I decided to try The Orlando Eye.

We booked on line and saved 25% as it was more than 24 hours ahead.  Finding it was relatively easy – it’s on I Drive and it’s hard to miss.  We were very pleasantly surprised to find there was lots of parking and it was free!

On arrival, there are 3 attractions available – Madame Tussauds, The Sealife Aquarium and The Orlando Eye.  As you would expect there were also lots of school parties there, although they seemed to be mostly visiting the Aquarium.

We opted for the $20 just Orlando Eye experience (there is additional discount for Florida residents).

The experience begins with a ‘pre-flight’ 4D Cinema film – definitely written by the Florida tourist board, it is used to show both how the Orlando Eye was developed, designed and constructed while also showcasing other Florida attractions.

We then queued for a short time to enter our capsule.  There were only 3 other ladies in the capsule with us – a total of 5 which meant we had plenty of room to move around.  As the sun was shining (this is the Sunshine State) it was very welcome that the capsule is fully air conditioned.

It was a beautifully clear day (we went just after noon) and we had views of downtown Orlando, the theme parks, Cape Canaveral and a great view of the I4 and I Drive.  The observation wheel stands 400ft high and as I am not that keen on heights I did take a seat when we reached the summit.

We both enjoyed it and think that it is an attraction that would be great for all ages, however, as my friend pointed out it’s not The London Eye so you don’t get to see lots of historical buildings or points of interest.

I would definitely do it again – I think it would be amazing if you could time it for sunset as that is one thing that Orlando definitely excels at.

For more information go their website

where amongst other things you will now find a lighting calendar so you can see what colour the wheel will be when you visit.  See more at: https://www.officialorlandoeye.com

Throwback Thursday – How things have changed in the last 10 years

We bought our place in the sunshine state back in 2006 – there have been so many changes in the last 10 years it is hard to know where to start.

For this Throwback Thursday I’m going to focus on Disney’s Magic Kingdom.

Entry to the Magic Kingdom remains by Boat or Monorail – after you have paid the much increased car parking prices.

Magic Kingdom has been expanded.  Fantasyland now has grown taking over Toontown to add the Storybook Circus – there are now 2 Dumbo the Flying Elephants, The Barnstormer remains and there is the added Casey Jr’s Splash ‘n’ Soak Station plus Pete’s Silly Slideshow where you can line up to meet and greet Donald and Daisy Duck.

There is a new add on to Fantasyland called The Enchanted Forest – which hosts the Enchanted Tales with Belle, Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid, Ariel’s grotto and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  There is a ‘Tangled Village’ where you can see Rapunzel’s tower, there are new restrooms and picnic/rest areas where you can charge your electronics.  It’s a Small World remains, although even that is being updated with the ride being linked to the new magic bands to apparently enable the farewell signs to display your name.  The other old favourites are here with Peter Pan’s Flight, Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel.  An addition during the last 10 years is The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which is next to another old favourite the Mad Tea Party.  The Snow White ride has gone – replaced by the Princess Fairytale Hall where you can meet with the Disney Princesses, including Elsa and Anna, Cinderella, Aurora, Rapunzel and 1 other princess – either Snow White, Jasmine, Tiana.

As briefly touched on above, the old paper fast pass system is long gone.  Now you can book your fast passes on line before you even arrive, or book them on arrival in the park – linked to either your plastic entry ticket or the Disney magic bands.

Adventureland remains largely unchanged, although the Pineapple Dole whips have moved location and a new restaurant has been opened called the Jungle Navigation Skipper Canteen.  Liberty Square is also untouched.

In Tomorrowland, the old Alien ride has given way to Stitch’s Great Escape, Tomorrowland Transit, The Speedway, Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear and the Astro Orbiter are all still there along with the Monsters Inc Laugh In.  The Noodle station has given way to another burger bar though.

On the food side, gone are Churros and Turkey Legs.  Starbucks has arrived on the Main Street and always has long queues.

The remodelling of the area in front of the castle has been beautifully done with lawned areas and little fountains – it is a great place to take a break and have a little snack or nap!

So while definitely recognisable it is also definitely different, better and still magical.