Thursday, February 18, 2016

Now Open - Disney Springs

The Disney Village in Orlando FL is no more and has been rebranded as Disney Springs. I could not imagine how they could improve on the shopping and dining experience that I've visited for decades... but then I'm not an Imagineer.


Yes you can ride the balloon. I did not on this trip but I have in the past. I will again when this project is complete. It was not all that long ago I visited when they broke ground. Now there are two massive parking garages and they are about half way through a major upgrade.


Everything is not just changed but completely re-imagined. I did not have a proper camera with me and I don't want to give away all the surprises. Best you walk into all the new buildings yourself and take it all in.


I'm all about new experiences but the Amphicar was a bit out of my price range. Apparently that's not the case for many others.  Once these cars started rolling,,floating,, there was a steady line and all of them were on the water. That's right! Your captain takes you and two friends right down to the water and around the lake. And yes - I'm saving up.


There is a lot to see already. There is a lot coming. I will be visiting from time to time trying out the new restaurants. On this trip I headed to the  Fulton Crab House. It's been there 30 years and it was my first visit for dinner. I have done the character breakfast many years ago when it was there. Just goes to show even a life long fan like me has not done everything.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Universal's City Walk and Cabana Beach Resort

You may have noticed I did not mention Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure in the title. As much as I enjoy themepark thrills, that was not in the plan for this trip. Add to that a poor choice of weekends due to miserable rain, this trip did not look promising right from the start.


Let's start with the first stop, Check in at the Cabana Beach Resort. We arrived in a steady downpour, but we were still greeted as we rolled in and invited to park in valet parking.  Check-in took less than five minutes, we drove over to the parking garage, and just took a short walk with our luggage to the hotel. For us Floridians, we hardly notice a sprinkle.


 As beautiful as the pool was, that was out. We decided to check out the lunch situation. The commissary was  practically empty. Seems strange on a rainy day but later we found out that rain didn't keep anybody out of the theme parks. Just us. We had a pretty decent lunch and decide to take a little walk around the facility. On the second floor we found a bowling alley. Perfect way to kill a couple hours. We had tickets for the Blue Man Group at 8 PM so we have plenty of time.


Part of the day's plan was to catch a meal before the show. The bus ride over was 5 minutes. I have walked (practically jogged) through City Walk on my way to the parks in the past. Since we had all the time in the world and modest crowds we took our time deciding. Around 7:00 PM the parks closed and thousands upon thousands of people came pouring out. Most it seemed were ready to eat rather than run for the parking lot. Not only that, huge crowds were pouring in. Apparently Universal fans do not care about the weather.


We managed to wander around a bit in the slack time and take photos. The sky cleared around 8:00 PM and the crowds came rushing back. It's been a long time since I've been here but I had no idea how popular it's become.


For a few more photos [click here].  I enjoyed this trip very much in spite of the poor weather. I will be back soon to hit the theme parks but I'm very glad to have taken a break and seen the other site Orlando has to offer.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Celebration, FL - My Personal "What If"

I didn't just dream of living in Disney's community of tomorrow (the real one - not EPCOT), I was obsessed. My first visit was before my daughter was born so more than 26 years ago. It was also before Celebration was born. They had not even turned a shovel full of dirt but there was a fanciful welcome center. A facade with a sales office and model inside. I was sold before I even got there.


I probably can't even count the number of visits I made in those early years. Touring model homes, eating and shopping at the downtown by the lake, mailing a letter to myself from the post office. Not to mention aggressively applying for jobs all over Disney.


Funny story, I went to what I thought was the office of the Disney Cruise Line to drop off a resume. A final desperate attempt of joining the Disney team.  I exited the elevator face to face with a receptionist at a gigantic desk. I asked if this was the cruise line and she indicated I missed my floor. As I turned to leave, the elevator opened and Michael Eisner exited. The one time CEO of Disney. Seemed like fate.


Unfortunately I never did land a job at Disney. For one thing I didn't live in Orlando but I did a lot of contract work in the area. I was working out a deal for an extended stay and had gone as far as to make a deposit on an apartment right in downtown Celebration. The unit was under construction and my contract expired before the apartment was finished. I was so sure I would pick up more work in the area. Didn't happen. I never got to live in Celebration so dream 2 shattered.


The last time I was there before this visit was 1993. The town has unfolded exactly as I had envisioned and I have little doubt I would have been happy there. My life however took a crazy and convoluted path instead. I like the way it turned out in the end but I always wonder... What if this was the place I was supposed to be. What if I was supposed to live the peaceful Disney dream instead of the five star rollercoaster life I actually lived.


While I was there I thought I might check out one of the apartments now finished. Thank goodness the real estate office was closed. Sometimes is best to let lost dreams lie.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Orlando Eye

What a difference a day makes in Florida. The day before this it was solid rain from sprinkle to deluge. A day later all blue skies and 20 degrees warmer. Yes - only Florida folks wear jackets when it's 70.


I've ridden the London Eye on two separate occasions and now the Orlando Eye. I have a quick comparison.

They both are about the same height, The London version is a little taller, has bigger cars, a terrifying cable system to support it, and breathtaking views of London.


The Orlando Eye is beautifully engineered, looks completely safe, has interactive screens, and the view...... nothing to write blogs about. To see my other photos [click here] and judge for yourself.


With a combo ticket at I-Drive 360  it's a pretty good deal, a great "I did that" moment, a way to impress a date kind of thing. Bring binoculars if you want to see the theme parks. Would I do it again? Yes - at night carefully timed to catch the fireworks at one of the parks. If anyone has done that - let me know.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Madame Tussauds - Orlando

It is rare to almost never that I get rained on when I take a vacation. Not the case on this particular trip. Normally on a visit to Orlando, about 2 hours up the road, I would just postpone but I had big plans and tickets to the Blue Man Group.

Jim Parsons and me at Madame Tussauds - Orlando

I knew the weather was going to be a problem and I had a half hearted backup plan. Madame Tussauds. It was in the same location as the Orlando Eye  I discovered, which was the real plan so ever hopeful, that's where I headed.


When I arrived I found myself in a wondrous place called I-Drive 360 in a steady downpour. I was a very frequent visitor to Orlando early in my career and none of this was here then. There are several museum type exhibits and a pretty nice collections of restaurants. Enough for me to return the next day with a sunnier attitude and spend half a day.


Some of the wax figures were more life like than some of the guests. There was one in particular that I apologized to for stepping in front of to get a photo. I am 90% sure he was wax. I have a few more photos so [click here] and judge for yourself.


The thing that astonished me the most was every one of these life sized models you could walk up to, pose, put your arm around them, take a selfie. How they maintain these figure with such close contact with the public is a bit of a mystery. For an exhibit that was way down on my to do list, I was pretty happy about the rain.