Archive for January, 2009

King O Falafel on Hwy. 192

January 30, 2009
Jamal and Ali are proud of their fresh Mediterranean food

Jamal and Ali are proud of their fresh Mediterranean food

A great falafel sandwich is always a treat.

Just over two miles east of Disney World on Highway 192, in the center of a small strip mall, is the new King O Falafel restaurant.  They feature excellent Mediterranean cuisine, all of it made fresh from scratch.

The owner, Jamal Blen, is from Palestine.  He was friendly and gregarious.  Most importantly, he was very open to feedback–Both the good and the bad.  And there was not much bad!  He was assisted by his kitchen helper Ali, who was from Morocco and who was jokingly referred to as the “Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee.”  Also behind the counter was a friend from Syria who was helping for a short time, making it a true melting pot of Mediterranean influences.

When I asked Jamal if I could blog about his restaurant, he asked me if I was going to write good things or bad.  I told him that I would not say until I either had or didn’t have his permission.  He said he would be happy to have me blog, even if the review was bad, because listening to bad feedback can only help him make improvements.  Boy, do I like and agree with that kind of attitude.

Mrs. LanceAround had the falafel sandwich and I had a falafel sandwich with potatoes.  We had an appetizer of hummus and a spinach pie.  Jamal went to great lengths to explain why his hummus tastes so good.  He uses a special tahini that costs a little more, but is not blended with other oils.

For dessert, we had ordered some rice pudding and kinafa.  In addition, we were presented with something that Jamal’s friend from Syria identified as “The King Special”.  He could not come up with an English word or description for it, unless, he said, it was something like “aarias,” a type of pastry or cake, that  appears to have some tradition revolving around women attempting to become brides.  He had trouble explaining what that meant and we just enjoyed the ambiguity and sincerity he expressed while trying to translate it for us.

Well, if this dessert does create new brides, it would have worked for me as it was also delicious.  Another great feature of the restaurant were the reasonable prices for such exceptional food.  The falafel sandwich, for example, was under four dollars!  The desserts were mostly less than two dollars.

King O Falafel is located at 5045 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy, Kissimmee, FL 34746.  407.979.4940.

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Discovery Cove

January 25, 2009

Today’s blog post was again guest written by our Dream Homes Office Manager, Anne,  who was given  a free trip to Discovery Cove by our Sea World Rep in the hopes that we would sell more tickets to this attraction, and a half day off from me in the hopes she would write about it.  Discovery Cove is a small, half day, attraction that is owned and located right beside Sea World.  There are no rides or slides–It is like spending a day on a tropical island beach.  You see the influence of Anne’s early childhood in Britain from the way she expresses herself in her writing.  However, we removed all the extraneous “u”s from her spelling so Spellchecker was happy.  Enjoy!-LanceAround

Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove

You don’t have to love the water to enjoy a day at Discovery Cove!

The whole park is a lush and tropical oasis where you can swim, snorkel, interact with the dolphins or just relax on a sun lounger or, if you are lucky, one of the hammocks.

After you arrive, You enter a reception area where they check you in and take your picture for your guest pass. There you also receive specially formulated sunscreen that is safe for all the sea critters, so don’t waste your time pre-applying sunscreen.  (This is all covered in a letter they send you when you book your Discovery Cove experience.) Then there is a complimentary photograph taken and you are escorted through the park.  Your guide shows you all the areas you will need–The restaurant, guest services, wet suit and snorkel area and locker/changing area.

You have a choice of wet suit or vest. My friend Bonnie and I chose the vest and we got our locker keys, changed, and picked up our snorkeling gear.

Our first stop was the stingray lagoon. The water was cool but comfortable once you were in. All the rays have had their barbs removed so you are completely safe. Feeding times  are posted and are a great time to be in the stingray lagoon. The marine handler, for want of a better word, was explaining about rays and pointing out the one male in the lagoon for the 30 something females – one of which was pregnant.

Swimming with the fish

Swimming with the fish

The next lagoon was tropical fish and included an underwater tank you could not enter but had windows that allowed you to see barracudas and a very large shark-looking fish. The underwater tank was shaped to look like a sunken ship and you can swim all the way around it. This lagoon is great for snorkeling.  There were some huge black spotted rays which kept mainly to the bottom and a large assortment of colorful fish swimming all around us.

The lazy river is not so much lazy!  The current flows one way, so make sure you go the right way! There are also some noodles for flotation which would have been greatly beneficial had my friend and I known to use them. We swam around and felt like we had gone miles by the time we got back to the beginning. The sun loungers were then a very wonderful sight.

The food is incredible! There were many choices from meat and potatoes to salads, desert and drink. All the food and drinks are complimentary (including beer–After all, this is an Anheuser-Busch park) and there are also huts in the park offering complimentary drinks and ice cream.

You can swim with the Dolphins for an additional fee on the regular ticket. We did not do this, although anyone is welcome to go over and watch others interacting with them.  As of 2008, the price for a day at Discovery Cove is $169 to $189 plus tax (depending on time of year) or $269 to $289 plus tax if you want to add a Dolphin Swim.  There is also a “Trainer For The Day” Option for $468 to $488 plus tax.

Other people swimming with the dolphins

Other people swimming with the dolphins

On the whole, this is a very well organized and guest friendly park. There is limited entry and this makes a welcome change from the usual packed theme parks.

Discovery Cove is a must see.

Anne

LanceAround Notes
Ever since Anne came back to work from her day at Discovery Cove she has been happier and has worked harder.  So I recommend you show this blog post to your boss and tell him or her that your company should send you on an all expense paid trip to Discovery Cove that is sure to increase your productivity so much, it will more than pay for itself!

The Front of the Monorail at Disney World

January 23, 2009

Here’s a little known tip that both the young and old alike can enjoy when you are visiting Disney World.

Ride with the pilot

Ride with the pilot

The next time you ride the monorail, ask one of the skycaps to let your party sit in the front.  They may tell you that there is already someone else in line.  That’s okay, tell them you’ll wait.  The monorails run every couple of minutes and it’s worth the extra time.

Only four people are allowed in the front.  If you have more than that in your party, pick the four who want it the most and the rest of you can ride with the herd in the regular compartments and take a turn on a later monorail ride.  The front is where the monorail “pilot” sits to drive the monorail.  (Yes, they are referred to as pilots.)  In front of the pilot are bench seats that converge right to the front nosecone of the monorail.  The windows give you a 180 degree view.

Riding from the Ticket and Transportation Center to Magic Kingdom has the advantage of going straight through the Contemporary Hotel.  Riding from the Ticket and Transportation Center to Epcot is a much longer ride and has the advantage of doing the circle through the middle of Future World in Epcot.  If you time it exactly right, you can enjoy the fireworks display on your way to Magic Kingdom or Illuminations on your way to Epcot.  The pilot might even give you a certificate or a pin.  Maybe.

Regardless of the time of day, it’s a fun treat for everyone to ride in the front of the monorail.

Want more info on monorails?  There’s plenty at the website of The Monorail Society!

The Coral Castle

January 19, 2009

A view of Coral Castle

During my graduate studies in Newton, MA, I would often go with my good friends Dave and Jay on many wonderful adventures.  We drove to New Hampshire to visit America’s Stonehenge, then to Vermont to see The Old Man Of The Mountain before it collapsed in 2003.  We designed a Live Action Role Playing game before LARPs had even been invented and we played it around the Bear Hill Tower on the Middlesex Fells Reservation just north of Boston.  Dave even got married in the old Hammond Castle on the shores of Gloucester, MA right next to the famous Motif #1 of Rockport, MA. 

And we talked about visiting the Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida

At the time, we did not know anything about the Coral Castle, except for its name and that it was in Florida, somewhere.  We had visions of a large, multi storied, medieval style edifice with sharp coral edges at every turn and lots of dark hallways and dank dungeons.  It was one of the few adventures of which we dreamed but never had the opportunity to act upon.  Last year, however, I finally got to visit the Coral Castle located just south of Miami in the Redland area.  It was nothing like I expected yet everything I’ve ever hoped for in an adventure. 

First, a little history.  Edward Leedskalnin was born in Latvia 1887.  At the age of 26 he was engaged to 16 year old Agnes Scuffs.  He used to call her his “sweet sixteen.” She jilted him just one day before their wedding.  Ed decided to create a monument to the only love of his life.

Without any outside assistance or large machinery, Ed built Rock Gate Park, which later came to be renamed Coral Castle. Ed never did anything the easy or normal way. He immigrated to Canada, then later moved to California and Texas before a bout of tuberculosis made him finally move to the subtropical climate of Florida City in 1918. He stayed there, creating his stone sculptures, until someone planned a subdivision right beside his property in 1936. Being a private person, over the next three years Ed moved his coral rocks 10 miles to a 10 acre plot of land he purchased in Homestead, FL. He would load his the large rocks, each weighing several tons, on an old truck chassis and a friend with a trailer would drive them the 10 miles. Ed himself never owned a car and would ride a bike 3.5 miles into town for food and supplies. He was just over five feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds.

Although many people saw the large carvings being moved along the Old Dixie Hwy., no one ever saw Ed load or unload the rocks. He did most of his work at night, by lantern light. The numerous lookouts on his walls attests to Ed’s desire for privacy. When asked how he was able to move such heavy structures, he would only reply that he understood the laws of weights and leverage well.

I am a skeptical person by nature. I believe that if it sounds too good to be true, or too fantastical, it probably is a hoax. I also have a strong inquisitive streak. Like the mythical Sherlock Holmes, when presented with a mystery I explore all possible avenues and try to solve it.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Ed created the Coral Castle.

Yes, there are crazy stories of Ed using magnetism, kids who claim they saw Ed hovering over the rocks and doing a mysterious chant as well as other tall tales of the supernatural. I just dismiss those out of hand. But how did Ed cut, carve, lift, place and stabilize all the walls and sculptures of his Rock Garden that is now known as the Coral Castle.

Large Coral Door

Large Coral Door

Coral weighs approx. 125 pounds per cubic foot. Each section of his wall is 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 3 feet thick. That’s 6 tons per section. After visiting the Coral Castle and examining the walls, carvings, castle and educational material in the gift shop, my Sherlock Holmes is completely befuddled. How did he do it? Holmes himself used to say that when you have eliminated the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the answer. Occam’s Razor also admonishes that, all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. In this case, I believe that it simply means what Ed says is true–He so fully understood the laws of weights and leverage that he was able to devise ropes, pulleys and tripods in such a way that he could literally move mountains. The ancient Egyptians and the creators of Stonehenge had nothing on Ed!

And what a garden he created! No, there were no large edifices, dank dungeons nor twisty passages. There is one two story structure approximately 10 feet square with turrets on top. This was Ed’s workshop and a place to sleep in inclement weather. In addition to the wall that surrounded the garden, the remaining items within the garden were sculptures and furniture all carved from coral and each with a unique story that only Ed could write.

Testing out the furniture

Testing out the furniture

There is a table shaped liked the state of Florida complete with a carved out section filled with water representing Lake Okeechobee and stone chairs surrounding the table. Here, Ed said, the politicians of Florida could sit around the table of Florida figuring out how to raise your taxes. There are large, crescent moon shaped monoliths, holes aligned to give views of stars and planets, bathtubs made of coral rock, chairs, sofas, kids areas and much more all carved out of coral. There is a rock gate that weighs several tons but is so perfectly balanced that even a child can spin it. Although it is interesting to look at the photos of this place, they do not do it justice. You really have to experience the Coral Castle.

Ed used to give tours of his masterpiece, but in a his typically eccentric way. There was a bell with instructions on how to ring it for a tour. Ring it correctly, and if Ed was around he would take your dime or quarter and give you a tour. Ring it incorrectly and you would get no answer, even if Ed was around.

One day, in 1951 at the age of 64, Ed was feeling sickly and hung a sign on the rock garden gate, “gone to hospital.” He took a bus trip to the nearest hospital and died in his sleep three days later.

But his monument to the love of his “sweet sixteen” remains and is a must see. Indeed, it was this Rock Garden masterpiece that inspired Billy Idol to pen the song “Sweet Sixteen”.  If you watch this video carefully, you’ll see it begins with a grainy image of Ed standing in his Rock Garden.

Florida Everglades National Park

January 15, 2009

 

Map of US National Parks

Map of US National Parks

Is the answer, “advertising?”

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to ask the question. The question is, “Why don’t I hear more people talking about taking a vacation to one of America’s National Parks?”

I often hear people talk about their trip to Disneyland, a theme park, a NASCAR event, a water park or some other touristy destination. But rarely do I hear someone talking about the incredible experience they had at one of our nation’s 380 plus national parks–These include the well known, large national parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, The Blue Ridge Parkway (the most visited national park), Yellowstone National Park (the granddaddy of them all), as well as the National Landmarks, National Historic Sites, National Battlefields, National Seashores and over 20 other national designations.

Did you know that at over 13 million acres, the Wrangll-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska is our nation’s largest National Park? At .02 acres our smallest National Park is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Pennsylvania? I grew up about 20 miles from this memorial and had never even heard of it until listening to an NPR special several months ago. I’ll let you follow the link to find out why we have a memorial to Thaddeous, a rare and remarkable person!

National Parks are truly one of the crown jewels of our nation. They provide a phenomenal, unique and educational experience for a modest cost. They are open and accessible to all and have something of interest for everyone of every age, physical ability or educational background. Their employees are knowledgeable and dedicated. Their facilities are top of the line. Their educational programs and displays rival the best museums and science centers of the world. So why don’t I hear more people talk about their trip to a national park?

Is the answer, “advertising?”

View of the Everglades

View of the Everglades

I don’t know about that, but I do know that the Florida Everglades National Park is a fantastic place for you to experience. Did you know that the Shark River Slough, that flows through the everglades, can be as wide as 20 miles? That the flat topography of Florida means that the river can flow as slowly as 1/4 mile in 24 hours? That it could take a drop of water over four years to go from the top of the Kissimmee chain of lakes to the southern tip of Florida?

The Everglades National Park is huge and has four different visitor centers. Mrs. LanceAround, Number One daughter and I visited the Ernest Coe and the Shark Valley visitor centers.

Observation Tower

Observation Tower

At Shark Valley, the main attraction is a 15 minute round trip tour that goes deep into the vast Shark River Slough. Since the water is so slow moving, this area is often misnamed as a marsh or swamp. You can walk, ride a bike (they have them for rent) or take a guided tram tour seven and a half miles to a very futuristic looking tower that allows you as much as an 18 mile 360 degree panoramic view of the wilderness river slough. It is easy to take in this view and imagine what it must have been like for the first native settlers of this land to encounter such a harsh wilderness.

Even Number One daughter, who had resumed her teenage angst after the exhilarating time we had snorkeling the coral reefs that morning, perked up considerably as she leaned out of our tram to grab a photo of the seven foot alligator sitting with mouth agape just in front of our tram.

Alligator on the side of the road

Alligator on the side of the road

Along the tour, you will see many alligators who use the macadam road to catch some additional heat, lots of bird species, and perhaps other wildlife such as a turtle or the elusive Florida bobcat. Yes, if you are on a bike you could even come face to face with a gator. You will discover that if you follow Florida law and do not feed or harass the gators and you stay at least 15 feet away, they are no trouble.

Forty miles away, The Ernest Coe visitor’s center is more like a museum. There is an excellent movie that teaches about the natural diversity of the Everglades but also gives a sobering picture of how man’s attempt to alter the Florida environment for the sake of development has almost destroyed this essential habitat and how we are now scrambling to save it. After the movie, you can take a short walk with an park ranger and view many of the diverse wildlife, including lots of gators and birds, while the ranger expertly teaches you about what you are seeing.

Mrs. LanceAround was not in the mood for the brief walk along the boardwalk pathway with the park ranger. She gamely went along anyway and by the end of the walk she and Number One daughter were excitedly snapping photos of the multiple alligators lying heaped upon one another in the wetlands below the boardwalk.

This blog tells only of our modest, car riding experiences within the park. For the more adventurous, there are multiple campsites, canoe or kayak routes, boat tours, walking paths and campfire programs.

National Parks don’t engage in flashy advertisements in an attempt to entice the almighty tourist dollar. But for the savvy traveller wanting a well rounded experience, they are worth putting on any travel itinerary.

Robert is Here Fruit Stand

January 11, 2009

Like many men, I don’t like to shop. I am blessed in that I married a wonderful woman, who also does not like to shop, providing one less opportunity for contention in our marriage. However, I have had two shopping experiences in my life that I have found astonishing.

Several years ago Mrs. LanceAround and I took a trip to London. I was dumb enough to order new shoes for the trip. When they were a wee bit too tight I was even dumber to believe that the leather would stretch. Walking around the Victoria & Albert Museum, however, my feet finally lost and the shoes won. We asked one of the guards where the nearest shoe store was. She told us that Harrods was just a few blocks down the road.

I painfully walked those few blocks, dreading the shopping more than the pain in my feet. I was not prepared for just how incredible a place Harrods was. We bought new shoes (actually walking sandals), browsed the bookstore, found the chocolate shop, marveled at the Egyptian department, ate at the cafe, bought souvenirs and even bumped into Mohamed Al Fayed and his bagpipe band in a back stairway.

Harrods was a remarkable place.

My second great shopping experience

My second great shopping experience

Turn the clock ahead to this year and we find ourselves with another remarkable shopping experience. This time we are driving down a back road to Everglade’s National Park when we encounter a building with the words “Robert is Here Fruit Stand” in large letters across the top.

About ten times larger than your typical roadside fruit stand, Robert is Here features large square tables piled high with fresh oranges, watermelons, avocados, papayas and other assorted fruits and vegetables. There is also a section of packaged foods such as rum cakes, honey, jellies and a wide selection of Robert is Here branded sauces. There is an enclosed section with a counter that makes fresh milkshakes in such exotic flavors as passion fruit, guava and their local favorite, key lime. And, reminiscent of a scene from the movie Pulp Fiction, every milkshake was priced at five dollars.

Look at the pretty bird

Look at the pretty bird

Walk out back and the store becomes a mini tourist attraction. There are large Macaws and parrots, some of which greet you with a “hello.” There is a free petting area featuring donkeys, emus, various other farm animals and a couple of roosters who frequently crow. Beyond the farm animals are cultivated farmland that appears to provide much of what is sold.

I asked one of the employees how much of what they sell is actually grown there. He noted that it is important to keep the store stocked, even in the off season, so they do need to frequently import items from far away. He did say, however, that their mission was to buy as much local food as possible to support the local farmers and they also grow a small amount of what they sell themselves.

The literature at the store notes that Robert was six years old when, approximately 50 years ago, he set up a stand to sell food at this very corner. Business was not good the first day, so his father made a big sign that said “Robert is Here” the next day and, as they say, the rest is history.

I did not see Robert on either occasion that I visited his stand. But I did note that whoever is in charge of the fruit stand has an incredible entrepreneurial knack for advertising. There are large, brightly colored signs everywhere that do a great job of making customers feel welcome, hungry and wanting to try the various items. Even the birds and the farm animals have wood carved signs telling you who they are. There are several old farm vehicles strategically placed around the building to give it a nostalgic, homey feeling. One tractor can be used to sit on to pose for pictures beneath a sign proclaiming, “Still plays with tractors.”

Petting Zoo Goat

Petting Zoo Goat

Mrs. LanceAround wondered if I was going to write a positive review of this place. I noted that I was and she was a little disappointed mainly because she felt as though the cage animals looked lonely and sad as they were put on display for the public. I agreed with her and said I would mention both that and the fact that this place may present an image of a small, local fruit stand, but the reality is that they are like most stores, stocking wares imported from all over the world.

Still, I found the place relaxing, entertaining, delicious and worthwhile. One thing I am certain of, however, is this:

This blog will be the only review in the entire world where a writer recommends two places for shopping and one is Harrods in London and the other is Robert is Here Fruit Stand just outside the Everglade’s National Park!

Thanks for visiting!

Thanks for visiting!