Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bands, Brew, & BBQ Sea World Orlando

courtesy of www.seaworldorlando.com
Bands, Brew, and BBQ is an annual spring festival held at Sea World Orlando that includes 5 weeks of outdoor fun that is unique to Central Florida.  Beginning February 1st and continuing until March 9th, this event begins at 11:30 AM each day while bands begin paying at 4:00PM.  The event is free with a regular admission.  Sea World teams up with numerous restaurants and caterers in the Orlando area to provide the best food in the south for a superb southern style festival that you can only get down here.

Unfortunately, this year's celebration is in danger of being a flop due to controversy created by an independent documentary film called "Blackfish" which was critical of Sea World's treatment of killer whales.  The film was inspired by the death of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Entertainers like Willie Nelson, Cheap Trick, Martina McBride, and 38 Special, have all withdrawn in recent weeks.  Not all claimed it was a result of the movie but it is widely speculated that they didn't want to be associated with the negative press.

Surprisingly, Sea World hasn't said much publicly about the withdrawals or the movie that prompted them.  All told, it seems the festival is still planned and they expect to go forward with the plans but something will have to bring all these acts back to invite the public to participate.  I will withhold my opinion about this turn of events but to say the least I think it's a sad image of a great organization.

Reference: DeWayne Bevil, Orlando Sentinel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Halloween at the Parks

courtesy of www.easywdw.com

Not surprisingly, all the major parks inn Orlando celebrate the festivities in their own style.  Walt Disney World, for example, presents the "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party" geared for the family but targeting the children specifically.  This is typical Disney so the entire family can enjoy themselves without somebody getting in over their heads. 

courtesy of UniversalOrlando.com

Universal Studios, Orlando, on the other hand, is in total control of your fear.  Using an "in your face approach" to preying on your fears, Universal flexes it's muscle by showing off why they make movies and have done so for over 100 years.  It's intense, it's scary, and it's awesome.  Might not be recommended for kids under 12 years old, but hey, they're your kids! Have fun.

Sea World and Busch Gardens do it more like Disney but add a more interactive twist for the kids.  Lighter and less scary, they are easier than Universal if it's the family experience you're looking for.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Halloween Horror Nights Wandering Souls - Universal Studios Orlando

                                                 (courtesy of Universal Studios)

Tonight begins the six week odyssey of Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida.  We've been going for several years and, while I can say all other Halloween celebrations are great, nobody can scare you like the people who make the movies.  Check out the web site for tickets and times.  Florida residents look for special pricing. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fun Spot Attractions - Orlando & Kissimmee

A good vacation day aside from all the mega theme parks is Fun Spot, a smaller amusement park with two locations:  International Drive across the highway from Universal Studios or on US Hwy 192 in Kissimmee. For $39.95 you can ride all the rides all day from 10:00 AM until midnight.  Since parking and entrance is free you can spend some time, go somewhere for lunch or dinner. and return to enjoy yourself until the park closes.

Fun Spot is more like a permanent county fair.  It has multiple roller coasters and midway rides. It also has several go kart courses that all ages can enjoy.  You'll notice right away that the park is clean - actually spotless- and the staff is very friendly and professional.  They have several concession stands that have great park style food and the prices aren't too extreme.  
The only ride that isn't included in the general pass is the Sky Coaster which is a two hundred fifty drop from the top of the structure you see above.  If you get the all day arm band it costs $25.00 each but if you come to the park just for the Coaster they charge $40.00.  My kids went on it and had a great experience.  I got some great shots of them flying through the air but it's not something I'm interested in.
This place is fun and affordable.  They have a nice family atmosphere there and the staff is nice to talk to.  We enjoyed it there and look forward to going back soon.  Visit their website for pricing and deals. You can save a few dollars by purchasing your tickets online and printing them before arriving.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sun Life Stadium - Miami Dolphins vs. Buccaneers

Last week a friend of mine took my son and me down to Miami to see the Dolphins play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I don't expect that anybody cares about my favorite teams but I thought the experience was worth sharing.
Sun Life Stadium is located just south of Miami right off the Florida Turnpike.  It was built and named after Joe Robbie who founded the Dolphins in 1966.  After his death the stadium was renamed Pro Player and again Sun Life Stadium by the current owner Stephen M. Ross.  The stadium is not very old but there are talks to replace it for something more modern. I noticed it was exceptionally well-staffed and maintained but it could use some upgrades.

We sat on the Club Level which gave us three seats on the 35 yard line, access to bars and restaurants, and lots of room to move around.  It was very comfortable and the employees were very professional and polished.  Service was good and food was excellent but don't look for bargains here.  A beer costs $7.00 and a jersey from the gift shop goes for $155.00. Seats are actually reasonable going from $45.00 to $700.00.  You can buy tickets on line or, if you have money to spend, call for Club Seating and really treat yourself to a fun time.

We enjoyed the day and they do everything to make it fun for all.  Parking is painless and getting to where you need to go is easy.  This is a big stadium. The parking areas hold over 24,00 vehicles and the stadium holds over 76,000. Sun Life Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium hosting Florida Marlins baseball and world-class concerts like the Rolling Stones, U2, Madonna, and more.

Even though Miami lost the game it was the experience of a lifetime. The showmanship and excitement was fantastic.  Nothing went wrong and we will remember it forever.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Walt Disney World Parks Before We Knew Them .........

I wanted to do something different so I found some old photos of Disney under construction.  The one above was a promotional flyer from 1969 when the Preview Center was opened on Buena Vista Drive.  The Preview Center is still there. It is now an AAU headquarters building.
          Cinderella's Castle

Below is the inside of the Contemporary Hotel.  If you've ever been there you recognize the monorail track just below the windows.

                                                   Expedition Everest - Animal Kingdom

Spaceship Earth - Epcot


Tower of Terror - Disney Hollywood Studios

Jungle Cruise - Magic Kingdom

Typhoon Lagoon

(All photos courtesy of Google and Walt Disney World properties)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Brevard Zoo - Melbourne

The Brevard Zoo is on Wickham Road in Viera just off I-95 east of Orlando.  As one of Florida's smaller zoos it host animals from Florida, Africa, South America, and Australia.  The zoo opened in the early 90's with the involvement of community and business leaders.  A. Duda & Sons donated the land and the Brevard Zoo was born.  Since then it has undergone various expansions, reconstructions, and today is one of the nicest zoological parks I have ever visited.

Animals from 4 continents live on seperate reserves in natural surroundings where they live comfortable but can still be seen by visitors.  There is a large bird aviary that you cn walk through and have a hands on experience with hundreds of species of tropical birds.  Take a train ride around the park and see the gibbon island or the masssive rhinos.  You can feed the giraffes and attend some of the wildlife experiences where you can lern about and touch some animals while the zoo staff educates you with animal facts and ecological knowledge.

Visit the concession stand for some very good food at not terrible prices.  If you want some added kick in your day take a kayak tour through the park or jump on the Zip Line where you rope your way over the swamps filled with alligators! Fun stuff!

There are also impressive fish and crocodile displays that show the ecological vastness of the tropics. The younger visitors can also hand out at Paws on Play where they can splash in shallow pools while the family can sit and have food and drinks from the concession stand.

Prices for adults are $15, seniors are $14,  2-12 are $11, and under 2 are Free. They also have group rates and membership packages for those who like to visit often. Hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM with last admission at 4:30 (although I don't know why you'd want to go in that late).  One nice perk about the Brevard Zoo is that since it's a tropical setting much of the park is under a canopy of trees.  Even when it's hot in the summer you don't have the sun beating on you the whole time you are there.

Come visit our zoo.  It's a great fun day for the family and I know you'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

P.F. Chang's - Mall at Millenia

So I' taking my daughter to the Mall at Millenia which isn't far from International Drive in Orlando to have dinner and she decides to try P.F. Chang's.  Didn't really know about except it has a good reputation and they sell a lot of frozen items at the grocery store so we decided to give it a try.
The atmosphere is typically Asian but really nice.  Very dark but I like dark restaurants so no problem.  We started with a shrimp appetizer and we each had sweat & sour pork with fried rice and sweet & sour chicken with chicken fried rice.  The food was delicious and the service was equally as good.

          Dynamite Shrimp

             Sweet & Sour Pork with Pork Fried Rice

P.F Chang's has three full service bars, one by the street, one upstairs outside and one inside. The can serve a lot of drinks! They have tables and half booths with full booths for larger parties and the dining room is very comfortable.  We enjoyed dinner there very much. Prices are typical for Chinese cuisine.  Dinners ranged from about $11 to $25.  We added more to our bill by ordering fried rice ($8) because we didn't want the white rice that comes with the dinner.  They also have a good dessert menu although we didn't get anything because we couldn't finish what was on our plates.  They also have a $39.95 four course dinner that includes soup, appetizer, entree, and dessert.  Seems a little high but if you like course dinners this may be for you.

I wanted to post the menu here but it is too long.  Visit www.PFChangs.com to view the menu and see for yourself. If you like Chinese food or are a fan of P.F. Chang's you'll enjoy this dining experience.  More of a date restaurant than a family restaurant, it really is more for occasions than routine eating out but it is a great experience either way. I give them an "A". Food, service, cleanliness, and atmosphere are all definitely up there. This is a dinner to enjoy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Splitsville - Bowling with a Twist

So today the kids and I went to Splitsville Bowling Center at Downtown Disney and had a great time.  Splitsville is a high end bowling alley and Disney does it up like they do everything else.  Multi-level bowling, three bars, live entertainment, pool tables, and good food.  The only thing missing is valet parking.

We had to wait for n hour to get a lane. That's how popular this place is.  hey give you your flashy thing and you go walk around for a while which isn't that hard.  When we got our lane we were escorted there by one of the employees who bagged our bowling shoes and menus then showed us where we were to sit.  You pay for an hour block of bowling for $20 each.  Three people get an hour and they add 15 minutes for each additional person.  No, it's not cheap but it's Disney.

After you start bowling a waiter comes and takes your order.  We had burgers, nachos, and chicken sandwiches but you can also get sushi and entree plates if you want to go fancy.  Ever heard of sushi at a bowling alley? I know I haven't.  Prices are definitely high and I can't afford to do it often but it was a fun afternoon. They have full liquor if you want and the place is piped with music.  The atmosphere is festive and thoroughly enjoyable.  Hats off to Disney for making such a cool place out of an American pastime! See my previous article for more photos.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. - City Walk

Looking for a good dinner and  a cool dining experience?  You'll find it at Bubba Gump's Shrimp at City Walk in Orlando.  Fashioned after the iconic movie starring Tom Hanks, Bubba Gump's is a fun place to eat and see movie memorabilia.

Jambalaya - Great stuff!

                                                                                 Cajun Shrimp

The atmosphere is awesome and the service is warm and friendly.  The menu has everything from shrimp and craw fish to burgers with fries.  The place is clean, well-attended to, and has two full-service bars.  Reservations are recommended but not required.  You will enjoy it for it's ambiance and overall quality.  We go there frequently and always come away feeling satisfied.  I give it an "A".  If you have annual passes to Universal Studios they give you a 15% discount.  Everything about Bubba Gump's is positive. I can't say enough about what a wonderful dining experience it is!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hard Rock Hotel - Orlando

There are Hard Rock hotels, clubs, and casinos all over the world but when you visit Orlando you get to stay in the middle of so much fun you can park your car and forget it your whole trip. Hard Rock Hotel in Orlando is located on the grounds of Universal Studios & Islands of Adventure.  You will stay in one of Florida's premium hotels and walk or ferry to you daily destination.

We recently stayed in a suite for the night and got the treatment: quality accommodations in an 800 sq. ft. suite with a king bed, bath, shower with 2 sinks, and  separate kids room with 2 double beds and their own TV.  The mini bar is full and room service is impeccable.  Walk the halls listening to rock music of all genres and see all the rock and roll memorabilia that covers the place.

 Check in time is 4:00 pm but if you arrive early they will check you in provided your room is ready.  Valet parking is $28.00/night and self-parking is $18.00/night whichever you choose.  Bellhops will take car of you either way and check-in is a breeze.  Staff courtesy and professionalism is the best and they make you feel welcome, not in a stuffy way, but in a cool rocker way.
We made our reservation at www.UniversalOrlando.com.  There they have rates for Florida residents, AAA, and a few other amenities.  Our night was $448.00 plus tax. A 2 double queen can be reserved for around $250.00 to $$350.00 but one has to check all the time because rates change regularly and different dates also dictate lower or higher rates. I also recommend checking with Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, and all the other reputable travel sites.  You can often get a better rate.

Take a trip to the pool that has everything from a sandy beach to a food bar, a drink bar, underwater music, and big screen TVs that you can sit and watch movies on. Sorry, I wasn't able to get a good photo because it was stormy the night we arrived and the pool was closed due to lightning warnings.  Welcome to the hurricane state in summer.  We did get to hit the jacuzzi for a little while though.

When you book at Hard Rock or any of the other on-site hotels you also get ExpressPass privilege that gets you past the general lines and onto the rides faster.  This is a valuable plus especially when in Florida in the summer with little kids.  You really avoid a lot of the stress of vacation and save  a great deal of your time.  Stay at the Hard Rock when you visit Orlando.  You will be glad you did.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Transformers The Ride 3-D Opens at Universal Studios Orlando

Transformers The Ride 3-D opened on Thursday to a lot of excitement and fanfare with a parade of villains, heroes, and Hummers touring down the street as crowds lined up to see the battle between Optimus Prime and the forces of evil.  Opening day was extravagant and the crowds stood in 90 degree heat to be the first inside one the red carpet rolled up. 

courtesy of Universal Studios
Famed director Steven Spielberg showed up for the Grand Opening of Transformers and the crowds turned out.  By noon the wait was 90 minutes and has wavered between 60-20 minutes for three days.  Transformers does have Express Pass if you have one.  You either add a charge to whatever pass you have or, if you stay at one of the on-site hotels (Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, or Royal Pacific) your room key gets you all day Express Pass. There is also a single riders line which can go much faster if you don't mind being separated from your party for the ride. On Friday the wait for the regular line was 120 minutes when we arrived.  We got in on Express Pass in 50 minutes. Not real "express" but better than standing 2 hours.

  The Transformer ride itself was really pretty awesome.  You sit in a car carrying 12 people and wind your way through streets in the middle of a war between Optimus Prime and the Bots.  The technology and effects are topnotch which you night expect from Universal.  This one will be a real hit with Transformers fans and everyone else as well.  It was really well done but I don't think it's opening will be as big as the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was. I also don't think Universal expects it to.  It was, however, a superb ride in every way.  

What I did notice is that even though the crowds were long there was plenty of rope set up as though expecting a bigger crowd.  The only flaw , if there was one, is that the ride is almost an exact copy of  Spiderman at Islands of Adventure.  It was like they took a template and copied it by just changing the characters and background.  Even the cars in the ride were almost identical. It didn't however, take away from the fun and excitement.  If you have never been on Spiderman I do believe you'll enjoy it more.  Judge for yourself but it was a great ride anyway.

courtesy of Universal Studios

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Texas de Brazil Churrascaria -International Drive

Photo courtesy of Texas de Brazil

When visiting Orlando and you're looking for a fine dining experience, Texas de Brazil Churrascaria (steakhouse) is definitely one you don't want to miss. Located at the east end of International Drive and right across Interstate 4 from Universal Studios, Texas de Brazil will make you go away and look for a place to lie down!

When you enter you are greeted by a first rate wait staff who greet you and escort you to your seat. You can start with a drink from the full service bar or order table drinks.  I like to get a few bottles of sparkling water and iced tea.
You'll enjoy the refrigerated salad bar with over 60 items such as salmon, bacon, home made hard bread along with gourmet soups, vegetables, cheese, and more.  Dinner will be a long event as you work your way through the salad bar.  You'll want to take a few minutes break before moving on to the entree specials.  You'll flip your table card and the carvers will come to your table slicing gourmet meats such as beef, lamb, pork, and Brazilian sausage

Also included with your dinner are traditional side items like mashed or Au gratin potatoes, rice, and and house-baked Brazilian cheese bread.  They have every type of wine you can imagine and if you still have room you can choose from assorted desserts.  Or you can have a cup of espresso and a fine cigar. Any way you do it you might want to skip lunch before trying to conquer this menu.

Your manager will visit you and the service is second to none.  Prices are a little more than a family of four usually spends.  Children under 2 are free, children 2-5 are $5.00, 6-12, half-price, and adults are $46.99.  They give 10% discount for folks over 65 and 15% for military and veterans.
If you join their E club you'll receive discounts for birthdays and anniversaries.  I rate the dining experience at Texas de Brazil an "A".  Service, atmosphere, and food quality make this an awesome dining experience. Prices are a little high but we only go there with coupons or rare special occasions.  It's always "spot on" for enjoyment and I know you'll have a great time.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Rain Forest Cafe Downtown Disney

The Rain Forest Cafe in Downtown Disney is always a good place to go and have lunch or dinner while enjoying some of the best dining atmosphere you can imagine.

 Located at the far east end of Downtown Disney in Orlando, Rain Forest appears in the form of a volcano that towers over the rest of the complex.  As you enter you are met with gorillas, giraffes, elephants, and monkeys, all animatronic, who come to life every 12 minutes as a rain storm moves through the restaurant and gives the kids a thrill.  Seating is on a waiting list but you can make reservations online as long as you do it 24-48 hours in advance.

The menu is varied with a great selection of burgers and sandwiches, seafood, steak, or combo plates, along with delicious pasta dishes.  My favorite is the jambalaya, which is well-prepared and perfect every time.  My kids enjoy the pasta and burgers.  I've only had the seafood there once and I cant remember what it was but I do remember it was good.  There is a full service bar you can sit and enjoy, and you are welcome to walk around taking pictures while you wait.

Pricing is a little on the high side.  If you stick to lunch items you can eat for about $65-$75 for a family of four. Dinner for four costs us between $95 and $100 without appetizer or dessert so it's a little more than the average family usually spends but if you only come to Orlando occasionally it is worth the experience. They do have a kids menu which has a good variety of choices.

Service is always fantastic and the wait staff is hospitable and efficient.  It's always a positive experience for us and I think you'll enjoy it.  I give the place an "A" for service, cleanliness, atmosphere, and food quality.  The only detractor is the high prices.  They do honor the Disney Dining Plan and every now and then they have specials but not often.  You are, however, guaranteed a fun dining experience so give it a try when you come down and I'm sure you'll enjoy it.