Archive for March, 2009

Orlando On A Shoestring

March 25, 2009

What to do when your vacation money lives here

What to do when your vacation money lives here

Central Florida, with its world class theme parks, has become the vacation capitol of the world.

The major theme parks include the four at Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney-MGM Studios) and Animal Kingdom; Two at Universal Orlando:  Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure; Sea World and its sister park in Tampa, Busch Gardens.  In addition there is Discovery Cove, Cypress Gardens, Kennedy Space Center, Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon, Aquatica, Wet and Wild, Old Town and Fantasy of Flight.  This does not even include the plethora of mini golf courses; minor attractions such as WonderWorks, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum and the Water Ski Museum; or cultural venues such as the Orlando Science Center, Museum of Art, Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Mennello Museum of American Art and the list goes on from there…

But let’s face it, these places are EXPENSIVE.  Yes, they are worth the price of admission.  But when you have to pay $75 per person for one day in a theme park (not to mention all the food, souvenirs and beverages) it can take a huge chunk out of your vacation budget.

Yet, amidst the chatter and shouting of the major attractions, Central Florida has so much more to offer–And you might be surprised to learn how much of it is free or very low cost.

The primary purpose of this blog is to expose the underrated or off-the-beaten-path destinations that get drowned out in the clutter of the major attractions of Central Florida.  These are often wonderful vacation spots that many guests don’t find because of the sirens‘ calls of the big boys.  Still, you can vacation to this area on a shoestring if you want.  And since there are so many major attractions, it is relatively easy to have a fabulous vacation with world class accommodations and service on a very limited budget.

Here are just a few ideas of things to do.  There are many others.  And I have (or will) devote entire blog posts to most of these off-the-beaten-path attractions:

Rent a vacation Home with a private pool–No, I’m not just saying this because I own the vacation rental home company, I own the vacation rental home company because I sincerely believe it is the best way to vacation.  If I thought a hotel or RV park was better for my guests, I would sell this business and buy one of those.  Taking a day to relax by the pool in your own, private vacation home is a real treat and a real money saver!

Caladesi Island State Park–This pristine island beach is ranked as one of the top beaches in the entire USA!  Perhaps it retains its natural serenity because no vehicles are allowed on the island–It can only be reached by boat or ferry.  It is on the gulf coast, near Tampa, so there are not many waves.  But there are white sand beaches, kayak trails, picnic tables, shelters and Florida wildlife.

Ocala National Forest–Huge springs, twisting streams, lakes for fishing and water skiing plus you can walk the trails that will remind you of Gregory Peck’s classic role in The Yearling!

Cocoa Beach or Daytona Beach–Located on the Atlantic Ocean side of Florida, these popular tourist destinations are perfect for all the usual beach-loving activities (and better waves than you find on the gulf coast!)

Wekiwa Springs State Park–This huge spring provides the perfect, old fashioned watering hole for a cool dip in year round 72 degree water.  Or enjoy a kayak or canoe trip down the Wekiva River.

Spook Hill and Bok Tower–Spook Hill is a curious anomaly–An optical illusion makes it seem as though your car is rolling uphill.  Nearby Bok Tower is a beautiful Carillon built by Edward Bok and set in a colorful garden where peace seems to emanate from every corner.

Geohashing–This is not indigenous to Florida.  You can geohash anywhere.  But this link to my blog post will explain how I found an unexpected vacation that cost nothing and helped me to de-stress when Number One Son introduced me to the concept of geohashing.

West Orange Trail–This 22 mile “rails to trails” biking or walking trail goes from Clermont to Apopka passing through quaint towns, like Winter Garden.

These are only a few of the many excellent vacation choices available to the well-informed traveller, on a budget, who is looking for “more than a mouse!”™

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Fantasmic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

March 20, 2009

The Dragon Attacks

The Dragon Attacks

GUEST BLOG POST

My Number One Daughter, Amber, took a trip to Disney’s Hollywood Studios with her friends from school.  They decided they wanted to write a blog post about their trip.  Amber’s friend, Bryana, is pleased to provide her first professional blog post!–LanceAround

Fantasmic!

By Bryana

Fantasmic! is a spectacular show with tons of your favorite Disney characters. The show is somewhat based on PhilharMagic, a 3-D Disney attraction in Magic Kingdom. Mickey, who is first shown as a wizard and starts the show, is making all the magic happen.

There are different scenes from Disney movies that come to life right before your eyes. Just to name a few there is Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid, and more! There are fire works during the show that are phenomenal!

It’s a great family show and if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend that you do. This is one of the best live shows Disney has to offer!

Notes From LanceAround

Bryana is a great student and a good friend to Amber.  While it’s fun to read about Fantasmic from the eyes of a Middle School student, it also highlights the difficulty in trying to describe a show as varied and spectacular as Fantasmic.  How can you capture a show that includes a large lake featuring actors dancing on showboats and traveling in canoes; A large mountain that creates a backdrop for colorful characters of large flowers, giant neon snakes, battles on ladders and ropes, and a wicked witch that grows many stories before your very eyes.  Throw in a huge water spray that creates the screen which displays the animated movies, a lake of fire, multiple pyrotechnics, and a Mickey Mouse that disappears from the base of the mountain and reappears instantaneously on the summit and you begin to get the idea! (Click on link for videos and photos of Fantasmic on Disney’s website.)  When I asked my Disney Representative, “Just how many Mickey Mouse’s are there?” he gives an impish smile before giving the standard Disney reply, “Just one…” and before I can even ask, “how…,” he retorts, “It’s MAGIC!”

The Best Disney Souvenir

March 18, 2009
Wearing the Best Disney Souvenir

Wearing the Best Disney Souvenir

Number One Daughter has two good friends and the three of them are inseparable.  Unfortunately, one of them has to leave to go to her native Saudi Arabia tomorrow and will be gone for several months.

All three are so sad!

Last night, they decided to see the new Jonas Brother’s 3-D movie at the theatres in Downtown Disney.  Afterwards, Number One Daughter decided the three of them would create a personalized, custom T-Shirt at the Disney Design-a-Tee store for the friend who is leaving tomorrow.  Here’s how it works:

The Design Process

The Design Process

You begin at a computer kiosk with a monitor shaped like a T-shirt.  First, you choose the size, style and color of the T-shirt.  Then you select a picture.

There are several dozen images to choose from.  Most are famous Disney characters or a group of characters.  There are also designs celebrating major holidays, graduations, reunions, birthdays and so forth.

Number One’s friend picked a light blue shirt with “Class of ’09” on it to remind her of her first year in the Montessori School with Number One Daughter and her other friend.

After choosing a design, you can have up to four lines of text–One on top of the image and three below.  Disney reserves the right to edit any text you create.

In honor of the movie they just saw, they put “We Luv Da JB” where JB=Jonas Brothers.  (Actually, Number One Daughter HATES the Jonas Brothers, but we think the peer pressure got to her.)  Then, they each put their names as “Mrs. Jonas.”  They found that quite cute!

After creating your T-shirt, the computer spits out a bar code that you take to a counter to place your order, have one last opportunity to proofread and make your payment.

The shirt Number One Daughter and her friend selected for their other friend only cost $27–Making it one of the best and least expensive Disney souvenirs I have even seen!

The next day at school, the friend leaving for Saudi Arabia proudly wore her new T-shirt.  Number One Daughter, on the other hand, proudly wore her “Beatles” T-shirt; perhaps in protest of having created a shirt in honor of the Jonas Brothers or perhaps in remembrance of her mother’s crazed rock-n-roll fan days when she was the same age as Number One Daughter!

Woodlands Vegetarian Indian Restaurant

March 16, 2009
Mrs. LanceAround enjoying the Woodlands

Mrs. LanceAround enjoying the Woodlands

Everyone has a “favorite restaurant”, don’t they?

And doesn’t your “favorite restaurant” change from time to time?  (Not very often, but occasionally)

And, isn’t it a wonderful experience when you find a new “favorite restaurant?”

That’s what happened to Mrs. LanceAround and I this week.  Mrs. LanceAround needed to see a medical specialist who happened to be from South India.  We were talking about our mutual love of the South Indian dish known as Masala Dosas, when he recommended that we try the Woodlands Restaurant.

Woodlands  is located just north of the Florida Mall at 6040 S. Orange Blossom Trail.  We went there immediately after our visit to the Doctor.  It did not take long for us to realize that we both had a new favorite restaurant–Not just a “one of our favorites”–But a brand new “this is our absolute favorite restaurant in the whole world” favorite.

We really liked it!

We spoke with the owners, Ragavendra and Suma Sheregar.  They were born in Udupi in the Indian State of Karnataka, located on the western coast about halfway between Mumbai and the southern tip of India.  They had about 25 years experience in food service before starting the Woodlands restaurant around seven years ago.

According to their website, Woodlands has locations in Charlotte, NC and Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  I was not told if Ragavendra and Suma own all three locations, or just the Orlando one.  Their menu proudly states “Pure Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine” but their website does not mention that the restaurants are vegetarian.  Since Mrs. LanceAround and I are vegetarian, this was an added bonus of Woodlands.

But even the die hard carnivore will have a hard time not liking the plethora of Indian delicacies offered at Woodlands.  Masala Dosas are one of their specialties.  The one they made for us certainly was the best we had ever tasted.  From 11:30am to 3:00pm on Tuesday through Friday they have a hearty buffet that changes daily.  When we were there, we enjoyed daal, malabar adai, vegetable curry, avial, coconut-tamarind-mint chutneys, raita and some Gulab Jamoon for dessert.  We loved every single dish we tried.  Mrs. LanceAround was especially taken by the flavor of the potatoes in the vegetable curry.  They were scrumptious.  The buffet was only $7.95.

Also impressive was the personalized service.  When I told the owner that Mrs. LanceAround’s doctor recommended the Masala Dosas, they went into the kitchen and cooked up a batch.  After serving us one, they took a sample to every other table in the restaurant.

Wow!

Woodlands, 6040 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL  32809  Phone:  407.854.3330

Seeking Nothing in the Middle of Nowhere

March 3, 2009
The Spot

The Spot

I had a very rough day yesterday.

It was so rough, that early in the morning I finally just threw down my office phone, walked five miles home (Mrs. LanceAround had the car) and laid on my bed and cried.

After a few hours, I asked Number One Son if he could go out with me.  “Where?,” he asked.  “Don’t care,” I replied, “I just want to go on a walkabout.  You can take us wherever you want.”

Turns out Number One son has been reading about “geohashing.”

Geohashing was invented by Randall Monroe who writes a webcomic called xkcd.  Using a complex algorithm randomly based on the opening value of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, it creates a set of coordinates for each one degree by one degree graticule in the world.  (Wow, our Grammy didn’t understand any of those words at all!)

So, let me translate for Grammy:  Randall’s system gives you the geographic coordinates (longitude and latitude) for a single point somewhere within 50 square miles of where you live.  There are thousands of these specific points throughout the entire world.  So everyone is within 50 miles of a point.  This point changes every business day, based on the stock market opening.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to physically go to that geographical point within the graticule (50 square mile area) where you live.

What are you looking for?  Nothing.

Where are you going?  Often, to the middle of nowhere!

Using his trusted Tom Tom GPS, Number One Son drove us to a dirt road 30 miles from home and approximately one and a half miles from the location of the coordinates within our 50 Sq. mile graticule.  There, we encountered a locked gate.

Ignoring the geohashing’s guideline to not trespass, we climbed the gate and walked down the dirt road until the reference point was about three quarters of a mile due west through the wild.

We had to ford a stream, jump several barb wire fences, orienteer through cow pastures, through several wooded areas and past a lot of undergrowth.

Finally, the marker on the Tom Tom indicated that we had reached our coordinates.  We opened the bottles of water we brought along and toasted our success.  We had managed to get to nowhere and found nothing.  I was tired, hungry, sore and felt as though I was going to faint.

But I also felt better than I have in a long, long time.  Number One Son and I just smiled and laughed as we gazed around at the open pastures, woods and cow herds.

On the way back, we found truck tracks that made it easy to navigate to our van.  The adventure took so long that the sun was setting, sending pale streaks of vivid tangerine across the horizon and revealing the bright planet Venus in the southwestern sky.  We also encountered a roving skunk and heard the increasingly loud cow calls from the neighboring fields.

My business is to help people have the vacation of a lifetime.  But how do I vacation?

Usually, I don’t.  But thanks to Randall Monroe and Number One Son, I discovered a wonderful, quick and no cost vacation by seeking nothing in the middle of nowhere.

It was just what I needed.