Fancy a Change?

Orlando is famed for its theme parks but there are other things to explore and even the themeparks occasionally have a surprise up their sleeve!

Christmas in the Summer?

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Meggysmum on January 22, 2011

Family miniature golf courses are a popular form of entertainment around Orlando Florida and as you would expect Disney has some brilliant examples to keep the family entertained. One of these golf centres is the Winter Summerland course which is located next door to Blizzard Beach Water Park.

The course is not signposted until you actually reach the car park so follow the Disney signs to Blizzard Beach. The free car park is very small but extra parking is available at the water park and there is a short footpath from there is the entrance.

The story of the courses is that Santa had his elves help build fun golf courses for them to play and since some of them loved the Florida sunshine and some revelled in the winter wonders of the North Pole that there would be two different courses so that all the elves would be happy.

On arrival you choose which course you want to do. The Christmas theming is really fun and there is fake snow and Christmas decorations all around the cabin as you enter to pay. When we visited it was about $12 for an adult to play one of the 18 hole courses including hire of clubs and balls. There was a discount offered on production of the receipt for another round at any of the Disney crazy golf courses.

We decided to play on the Winter course as it was such a contrast to the Florida heat. We had to wait a few minutes until we were allowed to tee-off as the courses were quite busy. Due to lots of reflection from all of the white surfaces we may have been wiser to choose the other course as the sun was very strong.

Each hole was an interesting challenge, there was music played and special scenes would pop-up when you got the ball in the right place. Each hole had elves or Disney characters to decorate them and there was a rhyme to give you a clue about what way to hit the ball. The ideas varied from having to wend your ball through a downhill slalom to finding your way through the Christmas presents and into the fireplace before Santa dropped from the chimney. Some of the holes were really easy but some proved tricky and we were there for quite some time on some holes. The final hole was quite complicated and you ended up being squirted with water by the snowman which was quite welcome on a hot day.

After the 18th hole you received a special message from Santa when you putted your ball.

The courses were very well maintained and all of the holes and features worked properly which was nice as we have been to some poor courses where lack of maintenance takes away the fun.

We had a quick look at the other course which seemed to be covered with surf-boards and palm trees so it had a really different look.

The courses are open daily from 10am until 11pm and I imagine they are good fun in the dark. The prices are quite high but they are certainly entertaining courses that add more Disney magic. As we handed in our clubs we were each given a Christmas candy cane and a golfball with a little picture of Tinkerbell on it.
Disney's Winter Summerland Miniature Golf

Orlando, Florida, 32830
(407) 560-3000

Beware of the Alligators

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Meggysmum on October 25, 2009

I have always had a yearning to visit the Florida Everglades and travel on an airboat. However as my family and I are Theme Park addicts we never seemed to have been able to afford the time for the journey to the Everglades. However before our last trip I read a guidebook which said that Boggy Creek Airboats were as good an experience as the Everglades. I don't know if this is true but I can give you a review of our trip.

There are quite a lot of Airboat companies operating around the Orlando area. I did some research before we travelled and I found the best recommendations, especially for safety, were for the Boggy Creek Company so that was where we headed.

The Boggy Creek Airboat company have been in business since 1994 and now run at two sites in Orlando. There is one at the East Lake Fish Camp and then there is one at South Park Road. When we visited the Fish camp was closed for refurbishment so we had to travel about 20miles to the Southpark road site. However I have heard that this does tend to have better wildlife so is worth the extra drive. The place opened at 9 and we arrived early as we had heard that is when you can see the most wildlife (except for nighttime).

When we arrived there was free parking and you had to go into the gift shop to buy the tickets. It was $25 for adults and children under 11 were $19 , we paid slightly less than this as we had vouchers that gave us a discount. (Voucher books can be picked up at any hotel or diner.) The staff were lovely and engaged my son in converstaion and showed him a joke bag of rattlesnake eggs which he thought was great fun.

The rides run every half an hour, this time starts from when the first customers arrive so you should never have to wait longer than 30 minutes. We were shown to our airboat which can seat up to 17 passengers. They cannot take wheelchairs on board but if a person can transfer they will do their best to accomodate their needs. Every passenger is given ear protectors which you have to wear all the time the engine is running as the noise is INCREDIBLE! Children under 6 must wear lifejackets and everyone else is told where the lifejackets are. You really need to wear glasses to protect your eyes from insects and waterspray, there were some people on our boat that spent the whole journey with their eyes closed as things kept blowing into them!

The airboat left the dock quite slowly and I was beginning to be disappointed but then the captain told us that there was a speed restriction near the lake shore. Once we got out into more open water the boat travels upto 45mph. The captain was very knowledgable. Every now and then he stopped the boat (so we could take off the ear-protectors and hear what he was saying!) and pointed out things to us. We saw a couple of alligators that I would never have spotted lurking amongst the grass. We also saw a Golden eagle which was very impressive and lots of water fowl. The lake is surrounded by cypress trees, it is a truely beautiful and incredible peaceful place (when the engines aren't running). Skimming quickly through the long grass was exhilarating. Unfortunately it began to rain on our trip which meant we couldn't see quite as much and the rain actually HURT when you were travelling fast!

When we got off the boat we were sent out via a "photo opportunity" spot where they let you handle a baby alligator and you could buy a photo as a donation to their protection fund. I usually find these things really annoying but actually the handler was very informative and there was no hassle. Both of my children held the alligator (I declined!) and when I said I didn't want the photo there was no hard sell and we were pleasently wished a nice day in true US fashion.

It is possible to go on Night rides but these have to be pre-booked. There are also 6 seater airboats which you can hire as a private excursion. It is wise to cover yourself in insect repellant before you go. We wore shorts which meant even though it rained we could just brush the water off and its much more comfortable than wet trousers! I felt that the whole operation was based on safety and although my son was scared to death at the start of going on an alligator he had such a good time he wants to do it again! I would certainly recommend this to anyone tarvelling to Orlando and my only regret is that I hadn't done it before!

Boggy Creek Ride
2001 E. Southport Rd.
Kissimmee, Florida, 34746
(407) 344-9550

Doing the Tour

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Meggysmum on November 3, 2010

Kennedy Space Centre is located on the East coast of Florida on Merritt Island and is an easy one hour drive from the tourist centre of Orlando. The current admission price is $41/ £25 and a ticket gives an additional days entry within a 7 day period and it also gives admission to the Astronauts Hall of Fame which is a separate attraction a few miles away from the main centre on the route back to Orlando.

This is government property and they are strict on security. Large bags are not allowed to be brought in and all bags are given a thorough search and you also have to go through a metal detector the same as you do at airports.

One of the newest additions to the Space Centre is the Shuttle Launch Experience ride. I had heard that this can get very busy so we headed straight for this attraction as soon as we arrived. No bags are allowed on board so they had to be placed in a locker at the entry point, I am sure that these were free, we used a Quarter to lock it but I am sure it was returned when we collected our stuff. We then proceeded to a Pre-launch room as there was no queue; here we watched a film about the launch of the Shuttles and Shuttle astronauts recounting their experiences. We then walked through to another room and had to stand on a spot whilst we waited for the doors to open. We seemed to wait a long time so I imagine queues must back up pretty quickly when the centre is busy. We were eventually led into a simulator which probably held about 50 people. I do tend to get a bit claustrophobic but I found that I was OK on this. We were then strapped in via a lap belt and were sent on our Shuttle Launch. The noise and the effects were good but when the forces came into play it really did become a unique experience, your seats were tilted back and you could feel the skin on your face moving under the pressure, truly bizarre but memorable! The simulator probably takes about 5 minutes but the whole process took about 40 minutes to get through. On the walk out there are plaques commemorating every shuttle launch and memorials to the two fatal missions.

At 10 o’clock the buses start leaving the Visitors Centre to take you around the whole complex. The centre runs a fleet of over 40 buses. They are wonderfully air-conditioned and since we visited when the temperature was well into the 90s we did appreciate that, they are also disabled accessible.

The first leg of the bus tour takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the LC-30 Observation Gantry. A film was shown on the bus about the workings of the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building that you drive past. The scale of everything at Kennedy takes some getting used to, the site is huge and the VAB is so tall that it could accommodate the Statue of Liberty. On the side of the building is a painting of the Stars and Stripes and each star is 6ft across. This building is where they put together the component tanks for the Space Shuttle; it is then loaded onto a crawler and taken the relatively short distance to the launch pads.

On arrival at the LC-39 Observation gallery there was a video presentation about how the various Shuttle parts are transported and put together and then moved. We then climbed to the top of the viewing gantry which was three stories high; there is a lift available as well. From the top there were magnificent views of the Florida countryside and the sea in the distance. The whole of Merritt Island is classed as a nature reserve which seems a little bizarre with all the high technology but a lot of care is taken of the area and we saw several alligators and even a Bald Eagle nest whilst we were there. The Shuttle Discovery was actually on the launch pad on the day we visited so we were just able to see the tip of the fuel tank above the launch apparatus. The main reason to stop at LC-39 is to appreciate the size and scale of the whole operation and to enjoy the views. Once you have had enough you can hop back on to the next bus that comes along to take you to the Apollo/Saturn V centre.

On arrival we were once again taken into a video presentation which lasted about 10 minutes in total about the first rockets and men in space. We then walked out into a massive display hall which contains a full size rocket which stretches over 350ft. I was amazed at the size of the thing and even more surprised when I saw how small the actual area the astronauts had to live and work in. There are lots of informative displays and even moon rock for you to touch. The centre has moved the original Apollo control centre fittings to the site and there is a recreation of an Apollo launch in one of the theatres. I was far more interested than I thought I would be as I looked at the antiquated equipment and computers and thought what they had accomplished. There is another theatre which tells the story of the first moon landing which is also interesting.

The Apollo centre also contains several other exhibits and also has a restaurant, shop and more restrooms. However like all of the US the place was air-conditioned but some parts were so fiercely air-conditioned I was not able to stay in them very long as it was almost painful, I would certainly recommend taking a jacket!

Hopping on one of the buses again we headed back to the visitors complex .The visitor’s complex is spread over quite a large area. Near the bus stop was a full-size mock-up of a shuttle and you can climb up to have a look at the living area and cargo bay. These are still cramped but are positively spacious compared to the Apollo missions.

There are two IMAX cinemas showing different 3D presentations. We only had time to see one so we ended up seeing Hubble 3D about the powerful space telescope. It started out ok and was talking about the launch and then it started showing pictures it had taken in space. At this point I think I started to nod off as the thought of looking at pictures of stars for half an hour was too boring to contemplate. However it then moved on to the mission to correct the problems with the telescope and that was really interesting, especially seeing how the astronauts were training. The 3D effect was very good too. The other film is about the Space station but we weren’t able to fit that in.

Even though the weather was almost unbearably hot we did take a walk around the Rocket garden which shows different rockets used on mans quest to visit the stars. There are several full size mock-up re-entry modules which you can try out for size; you certainly couldn’t be claustrophobic to be an astronaut. Behind the rocket garden there is an exhibition hall about early space exploration. This was quite interesting but once again it was excessively cold and after a quick photo call in a space buggy we had to leave to warm up.
The centre has a couple of shows running, we were unable to visit Exploration Space but we did get to Star Trek Live. It was a jolly interactive show and the highlight for us was my son being picked to be the "cadet". Ever the performer he entertained everyone by juggling Tribbles and hunting high and low for the enemy. At the end he was awarded a photograph as a memento which was nice.

Every day the centre organises an Astronaut Encounter where you have the chance to ask questions of someone who has been in space about their experiences. If you are lucky you may get a quiet time and it feels more like a chat than an interview.

The centre houses the world’s largest store devoted to Space merchandise. Compared to the products available at Disney I thought these were a reasonable price.

There is another restaurant, a snack bar and ice-cream vending around the main plaza. We had huge ice-creams in cups (these were small, there were large ones available too!).

Overall I would recommend visiting the Kennedy Space Centre. I know some people hate it and find it boring but I thought it was fascinating and also educational.

Kennedy Space Center
NASA Parkway East State Road 405
Orlando, Florida, 32899
(321) 452 2121

Miniature Golf with Mickey!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Meggysmum on January 24, 2011

Disney offer four miniature golf courses and two those can be found at Disney’s Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course.

Fantasia Gardens is located near the Swan and Dolphin hotels near EPCOT and it has a free car park. It is open every day from 10 in the morning until 11 at night so it is a nice way to round off a busy theme park day. It was $12 (2010) when we visited and if you buy one round you can keep your receipt and claim 50% off another round here or at Winter Summerland within a short time (24 hours I think).

The helpful staff gave us our clubs, balls and score sheet and then we were sent on the course. We visited on an exceptionally hot day and there was no-one else there so we could take as long as we liked as there was no-one behind us.

There are two courses here but Fantasia Gardens is a traditional Miniature Golf course with lots of excitement whilst Fantasia Fairways is also 18 hole but is based on a more traditional golf course so requires more skill.

Fantasia Gardens was really good fun. There were a lot of water elements which was great considering how hot it was as there is very little shade on the course itself. All of the holes are based around the award winning Fantasia film with Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There were rhymes at each hole and lots of recognisable features like the dancing broomsticks. None of the holes were frustratingly difficult but they were challenging enough to make the round last a reasonable time and to engender some competition between family members! The finale was at the 18th hole with Mickey providing a wonderful fountain and music for the successful golfer.

As you would expect from Disney the courses are well-maintained and all the staff members were very helpful. The Gardens course is fun but if I was playing again I would be more likely to return to Summer Winterland as it is probably more entertaining.

Walt Disney World Resort Fantasia Gardens Miniature Golf Course
Walt Disney World Resort
Orlando, Florida, 32830
(407) 560-8760

Water Fun

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Meggysmum on January 12, 2011

Downtown Disney offers something a little bit different by the way of Cap’n Jacks Marina. Here you are able to rent a variety of boats to enjoy exploring the enormous lake between Downtown Disney and some of the rest of the resort. You can take boats out for single people right up to larger vessels for 10 people. You can take them out for half an hour or a full hour.

The marina opens from 10am until 7.00pm but tends to be busiest in the late afternoon and evening.

You need to be over 18 to rent a boat but obviously adults can take children out with them.

You need to have either resort ID for WDW or a driving license or passport.
Prices start at about $25.

After paying you are given lifejackets which everyone has to wear. You are then given quick instructions on how to work your boat and then you are let off around the lake. The boats were easy enough to manoeuvre even for a complete novice. We took out the small boats which I think were called Sea Raycers, they didn’t go especially fast but they were great fun. We could go past the Disney resort at Saratoga Springs and we seemed to have a huge area to play in.

This fun activity certainly made a change from the hectic parks and it was one of the highlights of my son’s trip. The staff were pleasant and helpful as well.
Cap'n Jack's Marina
Downtown Disney Marketplace
Orlando, Florida

Mickeys Not So Scary Halloween Party!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Meggysmum on February 7, 2011

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is held on selected nights from September to the end of October at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. This is a separate ticketed event which means that even if you have a park entry ticket for the day you will need to leave the park by 7pm and will only be allowed to stay if you have purchased the extra ticket. If you don’t have a normal park ticket for that day you are usually allowed park entry from about 4.30 with your Halloween ticket.

On arrival you are issued with a coloured wristband to prove that you are a party guest, if you are already in the park you get one of these wristbands by showing your party ticket to a cast member at the Stitch attraction where they will also give you a programme of the evening’s entertainment and a map to show places to trick or Treat.

Many of the rarer Disney Characters can be found around the park at the character stops. Photographers are on hand to take your memorable photos which can be added to your Disney photo pass. We had a brilliant time seeing Snow White with all the Dwarfs, Cinderella in her glass carriage and Tarzan with his side-kick monkey. These characters are not normally available for photo opportunities so queues can build up but they are well managed.

Every guest at the party is given a Trick or Treat bag which is usually printed with the latest Disney release. However guests are also welcome to bring in their own bags. There are Candy trails all around the park and the cast members are very generous when handing out their treats, especially towards the end of the evening if they have lots left. We all returned home with more than 100 treats each which considering we didn’t even go to all the candy stops was quite impressive.

The highlight of the evening for us was the Boo To You Parade. This took place twice in the evening. We saw the second one as we had heard it was not quite as crowded as the first, considering how busy it was I am glad we had opted for the second one but we still had to stake out a good spot about an hour before hand. The parade was brilliant, all of the characters were dressed in their Halloween finery and there were lots of floats, it felt much longer than the daytime parade. The start of the parade was heralded by the ride of the Headless Horseman which some very young children found a little scary but most seemed to love. The dancing was excellent and the gravediggers with their sparking spades were something to behold. Once again bags were quickly filled with candy by cast members along the route.

After the parade were the fireworks. We have seen the Wishes display at Magic Kingdom many times and I have always thought it was fantastic but Hallowishes was absolutely stunning. It was a very long firework spectacular and it felt like fireworks were going off all around us as the Trick or Treat Halloween story centred around the castle was told in music. I have never experienced such a stunning display.

The atmosphere for the whole evening is lovely. We visited near the end of October and the vast majority of party goers, both adult and children, choose to dress up. Disney are quite strict and people are not allowed gruesome or very scary costumes and they are also not allowed to make themselves look like a proper Disney character as this would make it difficult to ensure guest safety if they were not sure if someone was an employee or not. This means that you can dress as your favourite Disney character if you wish but as an adult you must make it obvious that you are not impersonating that character. Costumes can be on any theme and we went as Star Trek characters and we were well received by everyone!

This was an expensive evening and I only purchased it as a special treat but we enjoyed it so much that it might become a regular thing for us. We loved everything about it, the atmosphere, the music, the characters and then the parade and fireworks; it was truly a night to remember.
Walt Disney World Resort Magic Kingdom
Interstate 4 At U.S. Highway 192
Orlando, Florida
(407) 824-4321

Finding Your Way

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Meggysmum on February 11, 2011

As a British tourist in Orlando it can be quite tricky to find your way around as we are not used to the road systems and it seems difficult to get your bearings. Your best bet is to invest in a good map before you go. We have worked our way through several maps over the years but we find most of them lack enough detail as we are only interested in quite a small area so before purchasing a map it is best to make sure that it is particularly relevant to the themepark cente of the world! An orlando tourist map is your best bet and some of them are coated so that they are a little tougher and withstand a lot of use. One of the best map companies now offers an iPhone app as well which I haven't tried but I imagine would be quite useful.

If you are taking your UK satnav with you it is best to be aware that even though many will be able to locate Orlando maps they do not all run succesfully in American cars so it is probably best to hire one with your rental car if you think that is an essential.

Remember if you do get lost, don't stop and study the map as you become vulnerable. Alays drive to a petrol station or busy shopping mall before you pull over to work out where you are.

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