Archive for April, 2009

MANTA Coaster at Sea World Opens This Week

April 30, 2009

The much anticipated MANTA flying coaster at Sea World has its grand opening scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend–May 22, 2009.

But here’s an inside tip for readers of my blog.  Sea World is planning to do a “soft opening” of the ride beginning Tuesday at noon.

A soft opening essentially means that the ride will be up and running–It just won’t be advertised.  Of course, there is always the possibility that the ride will not be operational because of staffing or technical delays.  This is the reason to do a soft opening; it helps to work out all the bugs.  Most likely if you go to Sea World this week, you can be one of the first to experience MANTA.

MANTA is the first horizontal, head first flying coaster in the Orlando area.  passengers will be harnessed in a prone position, face down, giving the impression that they are flying through the air.  The ride is just over two and a half minutes long with speeds of over 55 mph and a longest drop of over 110 feet.  You have to be at least 52 inches tall to ride the MANTA.

Previews of the ride indicate there is at least one full loop and three corkscrews.  At one point, the ends of the fins slice through the water as you glide by.  This looks to be a thrilling coaster adventure.

Our office is scheduled to go to Sea World on  May 20 for a preview ride of MANTA.  Afterwards, I’ll do another post and let you know what our team thinks about the ride.

West Orange Trail–A “Rails to Trails”

April 19, 2009
Riding Through Winter Garden

Riding Through Winter Garden

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

Every now and again you encounter an idea that is so simple, yet so brilliant, you instantly know it is truly genius.

That’s how I felt several years ago when I first heard of the concept of “Rails to Trails.”  It’s a pretty simple idea–Many railroads are going out of business.  There are a huge number of railroad tracks that are being abandoned.  These tracks are already graded, level and designed so they skirt around obstructions as much as possible.  Wouldn’t they be perfect for walking or bike paths?  Since railroads have connected the entire country, wouldn’t it be possible to connect large portions of the country with bike or walking paths?

Unlike the Appalachian Trail, that intentionally provides a more rustic contiguous path from Georgia to Maine, rail trails can provide more locally interactive community experiences as rail lines were designed specifically to transport from one community to another.  Along the way, those utilizing these trails can get exercise and enjoy the great outdoors in environmentally friendly ways.

Slowly, quietly, communities–mostly in the Midwest at first–would begin converting the old rail lines into healthy, environmentally friendly trails.  In 1986 the rails to trails conservancy (RTC) was born.  Although it was co-founded by Peter Harnik and David Burwell, I had to do a lot of research to uncover these founders.  Instead, the RTC website identifies an expansive network of grassroots activism that worked together to develop the concept.

It’s an impressive website that seems to indicate an impressive organization.  One of their success stories is the West Orange Trail that connects the town of Clermont, FL to the town of Apopka, FL.

One of the essential underlying themes to my blog is that there is so much more to do in Central Florida than to simply visit our world class theme parks.  (which, by the way, are fabulous.)  As members of the LanceAroundOrlando community read and share about their Central Florida experiences, it is my dream that the little, “off-the-beaten-path” nooks & crannies will gain a measure of popularity among the well informed travelers.

One such place would be the West Orange Trail–a 22 mile rail trail that goes from Clermont, FL (just a few miles north of Disney) to the community of Apopka.  The trail features numerous “stations” and “outposts.”  A station is a full service facility offering restrooms, water fountains, benches and so forth.  An outpost  may simply offer access to the trail.

One end of the trailhead starts at Killarney Station, Clermont.  Here you can find bikes and blades rentals, a children’s play area and a covered picnic shelter.  Less than a mile later, the trail traverses the covered Old Rail Road Bridge across the Florida Turnpike.  In a short distance, you come to the xeriscape/butterfly garden about a mile east of the Oakland Outpost.

Winter Garden Wheel Works

Winter Garden Wheel Works

A few miles further along the way, the trail passes through the downtown medium on Plant Street in Winter Garden.  Here there are two bike stores, various restaurants and other small shops line a street reminiscent of a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The Winter Garden Historical Museum is another feature on this section of the trail.

A few miles further along is the Clarcona Horseman’s Park.  This public equestrian park offers show rings with bleachers, judging towers and horse stalls.  It is also a staging area for equestrians to link to the equestrian path of the West Orange Trail.

After the trail skirts some beautiful scenic views of Lake Apopka, it comes to the other trailhead at Welch Road in Apopka.

The trail has won several awards including one from the National Department of Transportation as one of 25 of America’s Best Enhancement Projects.  Someday, it will be part of what will be known as the Central Florida Loop–A 200 mile regional trail connection.

It’s just one of the many fantastic attractions in Central Florida that cost little or no money and are discovered only by well informed travelers looking for “more than a mouse!”™

Authentic French Bakery & Restaurant Near Orlando

April 17, 2009
Sweet Traditions

Sweet Traditions

By now, regular readers of my blog have come to understand that Number One Daughter attends the most unique, fantastic and fabulous Montessori School in Celebration, FL.

Indeed, many of my favorite posts come from unexpected experiences related to the school.  Today is no exception.  Her middle school is doing an internship with an animation and special effects company called Nth Degree Design and Visual FX in Winter Gardens, FL.  On Wednesday, Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son and I drove her class on the half hour trip to Winter Garden for the internship.  Since the students were going to be there for four hours, we had every intention of driving to a wonderful British Tea Room in Mt. Dora.

But we never expected to be enticed by the city of Winter Garden.

Feeling as though we had somehow been transported into a downtown scene from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  We drove around the town, enthralled by a town clock, gazebo and fountain in the wide median strip down the main street in town.  We saw an old fire truck, two caboose trains turned into an attraction, a welcome center, a museum and a bicycle shop just opening for business by putting out an antique bike where the front wheel is about five feet in diameter and the rear wheel only about one foot–A common prop you have undoubtedly seen in some old time movie.

And we discovered Sweet Traditions Bakery and Cafe, a French bakery and restaurant.

Located right in the middle of this quaint town, we found out that the wide sidewalk that meanders around the gazebo and fountain, then underneath the town clock archway is the West Orange Trail–A “rails to trails” bike path that currently connects the towns of Apopka and Clermont through Winter Garden.  It will be subject of a separate blog post.  Over 50,000 people per month ride this trail.

This helped to explain the enormous bakery display case containing hundreds of freshly baked french pastries and other desserts inside Sweet Traditions.

Mrs. LanceAround ordered a mushroom and cheese omelet, I ordered a spinach, egg and cheese croissant and Number One Son ordered the Chevre Chaude–A toasted baguette with goat cheese served on a bed of fresh greens and tomatoes.  For an appetizer, we shared a baked brie salad.  Everything was scrumptious.

We enjoyed it so much, that after the student’s internship was finished, we brought them back to the restaurant for dessert.  We all had tastes of ice cream, sherbet, a Napoleon, strawberry cheesecake, dark chocolate and pistachio truffle and, best of all, an authentic french strawberry crepe.  Delicious!

We chatted with Stephane and Christine Crocher, who founded the restaurant in April of 2008.  He was raised in Paris and she grew up near Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.  They ran a bakery in Wellesley, MA for four years before moving to France and opening a bakery near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Christine, who says her staff refers to her as “Anal Annie,” found life in Paris difficult.  She loved the country, but found the lack of personal space and the gruffness of the French people very intimidating.  After five years, she convinced her husband to move back to the USA.

At first, they were going to open a shop in Cary, NC.  But the demographics that looked perfect on paper did not feel right in person.  So they came to Orlando and within a few hours of experiencing Winter Garden knew they had the perfect location for their French Bakery and Cafe.

It’s a wonderful restaurant, definitely off the beaten path and just waiting to be discovered by the well informed traveler looking for “more than a mouse!”™

Spiritual Renewal During Vacation

April 12, 2009



Mrs. LanceAround and I have always thought that one’s Spirituality is the most important element of one’s life.  So while we believe that everyone needs and deserves a vacation from all the mundane routine of daily life–We never advocate that you take a vacation from your Spiritual life!  To help you with that, we are providing you with a list of places you can worship when you are in the Orlando Area.  Just as a vacation is a new experience from the routine, we encourage you to try out a new Spiritual experience during your vacation journey.  We have selected locations that are convenient to the mouse and this list is by no means exhaustive:

Roman Catholic–Mary Queen of the Universe Shrine, 8300 Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32821.  407.239.6600.  This is a beautiful church located right across the highway from Disney World and next to Orlando Premium Outlets.  It is not a parish church and is very accustomed to visitors from out of town.  You can see the bright red/orange tiled roof from Interstate 4.

Byzantine Catholic–St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic, 5135 Sand Lake Road, Orlando, FL  32819.  407.351.0133.

Presbyterian–Community Presbyterian Church–511 Celebration Avenue, Celebration, FL  34747.  407.566.1633.  Rumor has it that when the town of Celebration was being built, a relative of Walt’s purchased and donated three acres of land to build a Presbyterian Church in the heart of Celebration.  Mrs. LanceAround and I have visited this church many times.  I used to pitch for their softball team.

Jewish–Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation at Temple Ohalei Rivka, 11200 South Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32836.  407.239.5444.

Islamic–Islamic Center of Orlando-Jama Masjid-Lake Buena Vista, 11543 Ruby Lake Road, Orlando, FL  32836.  407.238.2700.  There is also an Islamic School on this property.  It is located just a stone’s throw down the road from the Jewish Temple.

Buddhist–Wat Florida Dhammaram, 2421 Old Vineland Road, Kissimmee, FL  34746.  407.397.9552.  One day I was driving through the touristville region of Kissimmee when I decided to take a detour on a back road.  (I’m like that.)  I was shocked to discover a beautiful Buddhist monastery just a few blocks from touristville, USA.  (That was 11 years ago.  Now, unfortunately, the monastery is totally engulfed by touristville housing tracts!)  I couldn’t resist–I got out of the car, took off my shoes, and walked into the Observance Day Hall just in time to listen to a dozen or so Buddhist monks engaging in a deep voiced chant.  Mesmerizing!  Now, whenever Mrs. LanceAround or I feel a need to get our zen adjusted, we’ll stop by the Temple and just sit quietly in the meditation area.  Sometimes we’ll be alone and sometimes there will be some kind of service.  Later, I will write a separate post about this remarkable place.

Church of the Nazarene–3705 N. Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32818.  407.293.2781.  At the time of this posting, this church is meeting in an elementary school cafeteria, but they have just poured the concrete foundation for a new church building.

Luthern–Salem Lutheran Church, 7900 S. Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32819.  407.876.4000.

Methodist–St. Lukes United Methodist Church, 4851 S. Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32819.  407.876.4991.

Greek Orthodox–Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Greater Orlando, 1217 Trinity Woods Lane, Maitland, FL  32751.  407.331.4687.  Orlando attracts and inspires some very impressive architecture and this church is no exception.

Latter Day Saints–Orlando Florida Temple, 9000 Windy Ridge Road, Windermere, FL  34786.  407.876.0022.,11204,1912-1-82-0,00.html.  Talk about beautiful architecture!  This Temple sits on a small hilltop on the road from Windermere to Apopka.  You can see it for miles.  Absolutely beautiful.  Guidelines for attending the Orlando Temple include:  Wear your Sunday best, clothing rental is available, vending food service is available, and remember to bring your recommend.

Episcopal–Church of the Ascension, 4950 South Apopka-Vineland Road, Orlando, FL  32819.  407.876.3480.

Baptist–First Baptist Church Windermere, 300 Main Street, Windermere, FL  34786.  407.876.2234.

Pentecostal–Indian Pentecostal Church, 11551 C. R. 535, Orlando, FL  32836.  407.239.1653.

Unitarian–First Unitarian Church of Orlando, 1901 East Robinson Street, Orlando, FL  32803.  407.898.3621.  For the amusement of those of you who have ever attended a Unitarian Church, here’s one of my favorite jokes:  Why does a Unitarian Church have such a hard time singing in unison?  Because they are always too busy reading ahead in the hymnal to make sure they agree with the words.  If you have never been to a Unitarian Church or you don’t know any Unitarians, trust me, even my Unitarian friends tell me that was very funny!

Jehovah’s Witness–Rio Grande Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witness, 2077 Honour Road, Orlando, FL  32839.  407.240.9773.

Seventh Day Adventist–South Orlando Seventh Day Adventist Church, 1112 W. Oak Ridge Road, Orlando, FL  32809.  407.855.8722.  There are a lot of Seventh Day Adventist Churches in the Orlando area, which makes it very easy to find vegetarian food stores.

If you have a chance to attend one of these places, please drop us a comment and let us know about your experience.  If you know of another place you would like for me to add to this list, just drop me a comment.

Free Fun While at Disney–Wekiwa Springs State Park

April 7, 2009


Wekiva Spring

Wekiva River at Wekiwa Springs State Park

When I was much younger–And much thinner–I used to enjoy hiking on the Appalachian Trail.

One of the real treats while hiking is a stop at a spring.  Often, this would be a thin pipe of fresh water spouting up out of the ground.  After a long hike, the cool, clear water is an oasis.  Sometimes the spring would be so large that the water was like a fountain pouring into a pool maybe two or three feet wide.  How refreshing!  I would dunk my entire head under the cool water and drink in gulps of refreshing liquid to cool my hike-weary body.

I have lived in Florida for a dozen years.  I have heard about Wekiwa Springs State Park.  In fact, my good friend Dave Scrivano and his wife Colleen were going to go backpacking there with my family in 1994, but we had to cancel at the last minute because Number One Son got sick.  Both Mrs. LanceAround and Colleen were pregnant and this turned out to be the last opportunity we would have had to enjoy a primitive camping experience as our subsequent domestication eliminated the further possibility of a camping hike together.  I feel so sad we could not go on that trip.  And, until yesterday, I had never been to the Wekiwa Spring.

So imagine my surprise when I go to the spring and find, not a fountain of water, but a huge body of water that is about 40 feet wide, pumps over forty million gallons into the Wekiva River every day, and maintains a cool, clear 72 degree temperature year round–The ultimate swimming hole!

[Ed Note:  The name of the river is “Wekiva” and the name of the spring is “Wekiwa.”  This is not a misspelling.  I never noticed this and my friend, LizTheFair, discovered I was misspelling the name of the spring.]

Perfect Picnic Spot at Wekiva

Perfect Picnic Spot at Wekiwa

This natural paradise comes complete, surrounded by large oak trees dripping with hanging moss; a smooth, sandy spring floor ranging in depth from one to five feet; one large rock in the center that is a excellent playground for the curious; a grassy hillside perfect for a family picnic; and, best of all, it feeds into the Wekiva River allowing one to go on a canoe, kayak or boat trip 30 miles northwards to the St. John River.  Disney could not have planned a better swimming hole!

All this for a cost of only $5–Per carload!

So many tourists come to Central Florida only to find that the cost of accommodations are the least of their expenses.  Tickets to theme parks, meals, small attractions and souvenirs run into the thousands of dollars.  Yet here, right on Disney’s doorstep, is a low cost alternative that allows visitors to experience the REAL Florida.  By packing a picnic lunch and buying a drab of suntan oil, you can have vacation paradise for just pennies.  It provides the perfect respite to a long, hot and tiring day in the theme parks.

Canoeing and Kayaking at Wekiva

Canoeing and Kayaking at Wekiwa

For just a little more money, you can rent a canoe or kayak for two hours, half day or full day.  You can even rent one for two days and camp overnight in the wilds of Florida.  There are guided canoe, kayak and pontoon boat options and guided horseback rides for additional fees.  There is a shuttle to a drop off location that allows you to canoe or kayak back to your car.  Most of these activities are much cheaper than spending a day with the mouse.

The state park has bicycle trails, full facility camping, RV camping, primitive camping, horseback trails, hiking trails and pets are welcome.

The reason for yesterday’s visit was the annual Wekiva Riverfest.  This event is produced by the “Friends of Wekiva.”  According to their website, “Since 1982 the Friends of the Wekiva River have worked to protect, preserve, and restore the natural functions and beauty of the Wekiva River system. As a result of our leadership and the cooperation of our river partners, the Wekiva is designated a Florida Outstanding Water, a Florida Canoe Trail, a Florida Wild and Scenic River, and a National Wild and Scenic River with over 70,000 acres of state-protected lands in the basin.”


Number One Daughter and friends enjoying Wekiva

Number One Daughter and friends enjoying Wekiwa

Number One Daughter’s Middle School provided community service at this event by helping to staff the Equinox Documentaries booth.  Their website states “Equinox Documentaries was created by veteran producers and writers who care deeply about our natural world—particularly Florida and the wider region in which we live.  We feel the best way to protect a wild place is to forge a connection with it, and to build an ethic from that connection. It’s our goal to bring viewers engaging images and thoughtful stories that allow that connection.”

Yesterday, as Number One Daughter, her two school chums and I were floating, fully clothed (we didn’t know we had to bring a swimsuit.), in the refreshing Wekiwa Spring, we understood what it meant to “forge a connection to a wild place.”

For the well informed traveler looking for “more than a mouse”™ Wekiwa Springs State Park brings the the best of the natural beauty of Florida that allows your family to also form such a connection.

C’mon in, the water’s fine!