Orlando - Not Just Amusement Parks

This was a week long family reunion type vacation over the Thanksgiving Holiday. Sure Orlando is known for their amusement parks, but there is plenty to do w/o going to Disney, Universal Studios or Sea World.


Accommodating a Big Family Group

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MilwVon on December 11, 2009

I am typically partial to timeshare accommodations, but for a group that includes essentially four families that could have busted the bank . . . so my sister found this company that specialize in luxury vacation homes in the Disney area.

Their web site is http://www.funsavervacationhomes.com/ so I'm guessing the company name is Fun Savers Vacation Homes. Actually it would seem from all my sister told me, these homes are owned by a couple up in New York and they have a property management company handling the local details on the owners' behalf.

A little about the house we were in . . . 100 Acre Woods . . . a pretty strange name for a house that is on a postage stamp sized lot. That's OK, we weren't there to play in the yard. OK now I get it! There is a Winnie the Pooh theme going on. DUH. Can you tell I don't have kids?

The house had six bedrooms and four baths on two levels. With ample living and dining space, it was pretty comfortable except when everyone wanted to be in the living room to play Wii or watch DVD's of Dexter.

The bedrooms were each uniquely themed, including a couple of rooms clearly for the kids. Twin beds, Mickey/Minnie Mouse bedding, toy boxes all made for a nice escape for families bringing little ones with them. For us, we only had my nephew's son with us and as a toddler; he was in with his parents.

The kitchen was pretty well stocked although some of the items provided were not serviceable . . . a Mr. Coffee missing the carafe lid (which makes making coffee a challenge) . . . no blender, only the blender pitcher's lid . . . and a totally missing coffee grinder. Fortunately, the owner was willing to reimburse for the purchase of missing items. Unfortunately, that meant someone had to spend their holiday vacation time at Target.

The house came fully equipped with linens to include pool towels. Good thing since the house did have a fair sized pool and hot tub within the contained lanai. (Heat was at an extra fee of $30/day!) Out on the patio was a big gas grill, which was a great dinner plan during our stay. With a washer & dryer inside the house, we were able to stay a step ahead of the dirty towels.

Their garage had been converted into a "game area" although it was really more of a storage area with a pool table, foosball and air hockey game. The large TV was a nice place to escape to watch something by VHS (which they had in a small viewing library) or enjoy the DVD capabilities to include Playstation II. Because of all of the storage clutter, however, it was obvious that good cleaning was not happening out there. Mouse droppings and a dried up snake skin were found in the area.

As for other downsides of what probably sounds like a perfect find. The house itself has seen better days. Several of the rooms were showing wear and tear, and in need of a bit of TLC. While the furnishings seemed to be in good repair, there was a lot of dust throughout. Not just on the oversized couches and chairs, but also the knick-knacks and artificial plants. A couple of items up on the kitchen cabinets were noticeably "fuzzy" with dust. Under our bed there had been a dust bunny population explosion . . . probably the culprit of my allergy problems throughout our stay. The swimming pool and hot tub were also in need of some serious cleaning, which David took care of to at least clean up the surface stuff.

Ordinarily I would probably be kinder in a review such as this, but given the owner's general denial of an issue . . . or outright defense that "deep cleaning is expensive and was just done" it was a bit irritating to deal with. My sister did the best she could and then had to accept that no amount of constructive input was going to open the owner's eyes or mind to the issues.

All in all for eight adults and one toddler, the house worked out fine. We were able to prepare and serve a full Thanksgiving Dinner which included a couple from the UK who my sisters had met the week before on a cruise. It was a nice space for us all to be together, and yet with enough privacy to be able to get away for our own quiet time if desired.

For the week (7 nights) the house rented for just under $1,600 (including tax) plus the $210 for the pool/hot tub heat. In addition to the rental fees, there was a $300 deposit paid, which was promptly refunded after our departure. Had we been in a typical suite style hotel, we would have needed at least four and maybe five rooms which would have been more expensive and less roomy.

I would encourage visitors to Orlando to consider looking into private home rentals; something I didn't really even realize was a possibility. While I cannot really recommend this property ownership or management group, I'm sure there are others in the area that are of similar size and price.

Good Wholesome Family Fun

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 28, 2009

As we started planning bits and pieces of our family reunion vacation in Orlando, David and I thought it would be fun to take in a murder mystery at Sleuths. We had done one of their dinner mystery shows a few years ago in their former location (on Universal Drive) and had a great time so this seemed like something for everyone. Unfortunately Michael had to leave the day before so he missed out on this entertaining evening of "who done it."

With a 7:30p dinner show, they advise that doors open at 6:00p and encourage guests to arrive by 6:30p. Part of the reason for this is to handle last minute details like upgrading dining gift certificates for the prime rib dinner options . . . or to get you to mull around their rather small and tight gift shop. They also have a cash bar with decent prices. David's Jack Daniels & 7-Up was $7 and was really poured as a double.

At 6:50p the start seating groups by assigned table. Since we were a party of eight, we had our own table which was very nice. Tables were preset with salads and bread baskets so you were able to start your meal immediately. Our server Mike was there almost immediately for our drink orders. With all you can drink soft drinks, tea, beer and wine, he brought several pitchers of beverages and a carafe (or two?) of wine to our table. With group photos out of the way, we were ready to start eating.

As we were enjoying our salads, all of the cast members (five in total) were milling around and interacting with the guests. You could get a feel for each of them through this pre-show time. Of course, David already had a read on who would be killed and the motives why folks would want her dead.

The first act of the show "The Reunion" started as we finished our salads. By the end, we had our murder! The scene closed with a detective arriving on the scene, giving the dining guests instructions to come up with questions to interrogate all of the suspects. And with that, dinner was brought out and conversation surrounded the various motives each character might have for committing the crime.

Dinner choices were lasagna, cornish game hen or prime rib (for a $3 up-charge). We were split between the lasagna and prime rib, which I found to be much better than what I had remembered the last time we were at Sleuths. Accompanied by a baked potato and a mix of steamed veggies, I thought the meal was very good. The verdict was split on the lasagna, however.

After we ate our main course, it was time to ask questions of the cast. Each table had a spokesperson who was permitted one question of one suspect. The detective was very good as facilitating the discussion and getting more out of each character to help bring out all of the facts in the case.

Each table had their opportunity to ask questions and then it was time to figure out who did it . . . and dessert! Choices for dessert were chocolate cake, key lime pie and strawberry shortcake. By all accounts, the desserts were all outstanding. Twenty-two month old Noah really enjoyed sharing the key lime pie with Aunt Pam.

During dessert we were supposed to decide individually who the murderer was and what their motive was. There were plenty of plot twists and turns, but at the end of the day, it was almost too obvious for words and yet it seemed that less than 10% of the audience had the correct suspect as the killer.

Given that the show started at 7:30p and ended at 10:00p, they were spot-on with their advertised 2 1/2 hour show time. Our entire group had a wonderful time. The show was entertaining and our meals good. All in all, this was a great way to get out as a family.

About the dinner & show prices; if you buy your tickets direct from Sleuths, they run $52.95 (+ tax) for adults and $23.95 (+ tax) for kids ages three to 11. Toddlers like Noah under the age of three are free, but are expected to share from a parent's plate or have something brought in for them. This price does not include gratuity which is suggested at $5 to $8 per person.

If you look around in the local tourist magazines, you will frequently find 10% coupons available for Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show. I have found Maple Leaf Attractions Discount Ticket Center to be one of the best prices available; not only for Sleuths but also for the Pirates Dinner Adventure, Arabian Nights and Medieval Times dinner shows. Of course, if you want to take in a timeshare presentation, you may be able to score free tickets. For me, the $41.95 was a good deal as compared to the full price (with tax) of $56.39. For our group of eight (with Noah being free) the night out was a very affordable $400 including one cash bar cocktail and our souvenir 5x7 photo taken by their house photographer.

Sleuths has three theaters and during the high season has more than one show running in an evening (typically a 6:00p and 7:30p). They also rotate their offerings on a nightly basis so it is possible to go a couple of times in a week's stay and see other shows.

For more information including the featured shows and schedules check them out at www.sleuths.com.
Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows
8267 International Drive
Orlando, Florida
(407) 363-1985

Getting Discount Tickets in Orlando

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MilwVon on December 11, 2009

Well if you are reading this "tip" you are probably considering a trip to Orlando, Florida. One of the most frequented destinations in the USA, especially for international travelers, many come hoping to score a great deal on discounted attraction tickets.

One of the easiest ways to get free tickets is to allow yourself to be "body-snatched" (I just love that term) by any one of the dozens of timeshare marketing companies. Timeshare developers hire these marketing companies to snag you as you come out of breakfast (yes at Denny's and the IHOP) or as you are exiting an attraction at your favorite theme park. (We were snatched coming out of Shrek 4 a couple of years ago!)

While it seems easy enough . . . spend 90 -120 minutes touring and learning about timeshare ownership and you will be off on your way with a couple of free tickets or perhaps VISA gift cards that you can use to purchase tickets. Don't be fooled, however, these are not for those who find it difficult to say no.

And trust me, as a long-time timeshare owner (since the early 80's) I believe in timeshare ownership, just not when purchased from the developer at full mark up retail price. So be strong in your resolve and do not let them show you the math that will have you plunking down $1,000 now and signing a mortgage or promissory note for $1,000's more . . . ten fold more!

If you are afraid you might not have the ability to stay the course and avoid purchasing, I would encourage you to look into Maple Leaf Discount Ticket Center located right on US192 in Kissimmee. They have been in business for over 25 years, and I have personally been buying from them for nearly ten.

I have found that they have the absolutely best and most reliable prices for the non-theme park attractions. If you are interested in the Arabian Knights, Medieval Times, Pirate's Dinner Adventure or Sleuth's Mystery Dinner you cannot go wrong. We have been to each of these shows several times over the years and have thoroughly enjoyed it each time. (I have tied prior reviews on some of these activities to this trip report/journal to provide a little more info on each.)

They also have tickets available for Universal Studios, the Disney theme park conglomerate, Busch Gardens, Wet n Wild and Kennedy Space Center. I have not found their deals to be all that attractive so I have not purchased any of these from them. You may find they have decent pricing around the time of your vacation, however, so don't count them out too quickly.

They also have deals for Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, Holy Land, Ripley's Museum, Wet n Wild and WonderWorks. We do not have much interest in these activities so I have never had any reason to scope out the deals for comparison.

Maple Leaf Discount Ticket Center advertises that they will beat any valid local competitor's pricing . . . and they accept VISA, MC and Discover.

For more information you can look them up and their deals at www.mapleleaftickets.com or call them at 407-396-0300. If you do buy from them, you can have the tickets mailed to you or you can pick them up at their conveniently located office.

Arabian Nights – Dinner Show

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on May 15, 2005

You arrive approximately an hour in advance of the show. (Doors open 90 minutes before show time, so you can get there even earlier if you'd like.) You will first enter through a somewhat small gift shop that has all sorts of souveniors from the Arabian time period.

The next "room" where you will await show time is a large open area with a bar. Here we were treated to some very fun acrobatics and belly dancing. Bar drinks were very expensive, served in a "take home" plastic glass. HINT: If you buy one (nearly $10 each), take your souvenir glass back for any subsequent drinks that you buy, and they'll discount the price $3.50!

Once inside the show arena, you will have your choice of four dinner entrees (prime rib, chicken, chopped beef steak, or veggie lasagna). Dinner comes with salad, vegetables, and cake, plus free soft drinks, beer, and wine.

The show was very good, with lots of stunts and stories. The Arabian Nights theme is primarily focused on horses, some of the most beautiful animals I've ever seen. The actors were good and were very athletic. All in all, the show was outstanding!

Arabian Nights
6225 West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway
Orlando, Florida, 34742
(407) 239-9223

Pirate's Dinner Adventure

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on May 15, 2005

If you are looking for the one fun family night that includes dinner and a show, this is the one!! It provides a wonderful value and great show. Even the food is good.

Doors open 90 minutes before show time, and you'll want to arrive early! They provide complimentary appetizers in the main hall that also includes several shops and bars. Cocktails here are on the pricey side (approximately $6 each), but at least you're not forced to buy the souvenir glass.

During the time in the main hall, there are plenty of entertaining skits performed, including some that are audience participation (most for the kids).

Guests are divided into one of six groups identified by colors. Each audience group has their pirate, for whom they will cheer as he competes in several acrobatic and athletic competitions fitting the high seas. We were amazed at the talents and strengths of the pirates and all of the actors in the show.

Dinner included salad, roasted chicken quarter, veggies, and a yummy apple cobbler a la mode.

Pirate's Dinner Adventure
6400 Carrier Drive
Orlando, Florida, 32819
+1 407 248 0590

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j73426-Orlando-Orlando_-_Not_Just_Amusement_Parks.html

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