While in Orlando

Anna and her boys write about their favorite things to do when going back to their former home city, Orlando, Florida.

While in Orlando
Seaworld Orlando, ready for Christmas. 

Anna, the Mom

Orlando, Florida, is probably best known for its Disney World, the magical theme park that came into existence from the prolific imagination of the famous American animation industry pioneer, Walt Elias Disney. The City Beautiful as it is called was our home for a few years on and off.

Epcot, at Disney World a while ago.

When we lived in Orlando, we had Sea World passes, and after they expired we got Disney World passes, both of which were good deals for Florida residents that we were.

Petting a leopard stingray at Sea World.

When hubby worked for NBC, we were given tickets for a couple of times, so we were able to check out the Universal Studios theme park. We didn't make a pass to this particular park because it was a bit too intense for our young children, not to say that most of the movies that are featured there we never watched.

Men in black at Universal Studios.

What we used most, though, during our torrid and humid days in Orlando was our Aquatica pass. After we got tired of staying in line for the funnest rides in this park, we would just use the lazy river which was open to anyone, and you didn't have to stay in line for it.

Lazy River, Aquatica.

I was sad to leave Orlando behind, we made many happy memories there and met wonderful people. Growing up in a bustling city in Romania, I felt at home there among the hustle and bustle of tourists. When we got the theme parks out of the system, to the point of saturation, we would go there to see people walking on streets and to be around them, not so much for the rides.

Universal Studios, Orlando. 

Eventually, though, the kids started asking us to take them to a plain and simple playground where they could be off the leash to run around freely without us constantly having to keep them close. They resented having to wait in line for rides and the crowds of people rushing to and fro to cover as much entertainment as possible.

Happy at the playground in the monkey bars stage of life. :)

We understood, then, that it was the time for us to move on. We closed the theme parks' chapter of our lives when we left Orlando, and with it a new chapter closer to nature began. In the middle of God's creation, we soon realized we are happier and our relationships more harmonious.

Stone stepping in Smoky Mountains National Park, best park ever. 

We are still going back to Orlando from time to time, during winter when it is dry and not so hot there, just to take a break from the cold. Having had the experience of theme parks for so long, we avoid them entirely now, resuming ourselves to just enjoying the dry season weather taking advantage of the free or inexpensive treats our former home city has to offer.

Every time we go to Orlando now, we like to have a taste of the Florida experience that can be had there in abundance. Some free and fun things we do there are:

  1. Go for a walk at Disney Springs. It has free parking, and just walking there costs nothing. Disney Springs is like a giant open air mall with all things Disney, theme restaurants and souvenir shops.
By Lego store in Disney Springs, in the distance the “volcano” from the rainforest themed restaurant is erupting, 

From time to time, you can stop and listen to all sorts of street artists hired by the park or watch the reflection of the hot air balloon in the water. You get the feel of the theme park without really needing to go in it at Disney Springs.

The hot air balloon 

Universal Studio Park has a similar walking and shopping area in front of the entrance to the park, and it is also free to go there. Just like at Disney Springs, the shops and restaurants are located around a sizable lake. It is a good place to stretch your legs walking around the lake, and again you get an idea of this particular theme park without actually having to go in it.

The boys liked taking a picture with the surfboard at Universal Studios walk.

Personally, I would go to Disney Springs and Universal Studios Walk every time we go back to Orlando. I love to see people strolling on streets, shopping or sitting down to rest on the side of the streets where no cars are allowed, only people. But my boys are not so much into it because especially around any holidays these places become very crowded.

2. A much quieter place we go to when we are in Orlando is Wild Florida park. It is very much like a zoo that houses not so many animals and features a swamp walk. You have to pay to enter, but it is quite inexpensive, a fun place to walk and learn interesting things while walking.  We go there to see the swamp with the pretty cypress trees and the alligators.

Cypress trees. In the Florida swamps, the soil is made of clay that is very hard to be penetrated by the water, so the water stays above it. It takes some time to be absorbed.

These cypress trees in the swamp don't mind the water. They have an interesting root growth called knees that rise above the water to get much needed oxygen. Many of the cypress trees in Florida are not evergreen, they are deciduous conifers, meaning they lose their needles in the winter. Just before they lose their needles, they become golden brown.

Golden brown cypress trees

The alligators that were brought to Wild Florida Park are kept there for various reasons, the most frequent one being that they have become unafraid of people. They either have been fed by people while in the wild and as a result, associate people with food, or they did some mischief and now are deemed dangerous to be left around people.

Alligators are opportunistic hunters. Even if they are not hungry, they will pursue food that is dangled in front of their eyes. 

We went once to the Everglades (in the winter) to see the alligators in their natural habitat, in the wild, but have seen none there. In Orlando, they can be expected to be in any body of water, and there are lakes and ponds everywhere you go, in the residence areas, too. Usually, they keep their distance and want to be left alone. Not so when they see an opportunity to hunt or get food by any other means. It is better to stay away from lakes at nighttime and not feed alligators.

Alligators resting. There was a fence around them.:)

People who have fed alligators don't realize that they not only endanger the lives of other people but also the life of the alligator, condemning it to a life in captivity or death. If you are caught by an alligator, stick your fingers into its nostrils, that will make it open its mouth to breathe and so the prey can flee. That's what a 10-year-old did to escape the alligator jaws of doom.

Gatorland, the more expensive alligator themed park alternative to Wild Florida. We prefer Wild Florida because although we like watching these magnificent creatures from a distance with fences all around us, we are not so much into them. 

3. Another place where we like to go walking is a quaint suburb of Orlando, called Celebration. It is a beautiful residence area developed by Disney World Company, close to Disney World Resort.  It is located on a string of lakes populated by Floridian wild life. Once we saw an alligator resting on the shore of Lake Rianhard, close to the downtown.

Beautiful reflection of downtown Celebration in lake Rianhard.

As you come in Celebration from the 417 highway, you have to pay a small toll to enter the town, but apart from that, you can find free parking on the street close to downtown during the weekdays. While living in Orlando, we went to Celebration often just to walk on the nature trails around the lakes while enjoying the beauty of the town with its early 20th century New Classical architecture.  

The cinema in Celebration. 

4. Another inexpensive and fun activity we do when we go to Orlando is playing mini golf. A lot of fun mini golf courses can be found in Orlando. We went to a pirate themed one this last time and used the most difficult course. It was a walk in the park for the kids, not so for me. But I was graciously allowed to have three attempts at each hole, and the boys let me choose the best one from the three. At the end of the game, I managed to win the fourth place, the last one. But we had a great family time, it is one of those rare things we all enjoy doing together.

At the entrance to the mini golf course, some pirates getting ready to play mini golf.

Many other things can be done in Orlando and not far from it, these are a few of my favorite.

Mihai, 15

Palm trees waving in the wind, gasoline fumes of hundreds of passing cars, an unceasing rumble and roar of engines, and a golf ball I am extracting from a hole: this is what Orlando, the home of Disney World, feels like to me.

Palm trees thrive in Florida.

My favorite thing to do in Orlando was to go mini golfing at Pirate's Cove golf course. The course had eighteen holes of various difficulties and, true to its name, there were facts about pirates written on signs before each of the holes.

We have been playing mini golf for a long time now

We chose to go on the Blackbeard course because the clerk told us it was the more difficult one. Spoiler alert: it wasn't difficult. Most of the holes could be completed in two or three hits, and I even got a hole in one!

Celebration, ready for Christmas.

Another interesting thing to do was walking at Celebration, which is a town built by Disney to house their employees, but now it's a community of rich people. This area has a long walkway around a lake where you can find alligators (like everywhere else in Florida). We went walking around that lake twice, but saw no alligators this time.

Fun Spot America, another fun place to go with younger kids. 

Finally, another very interesting place near Orlando is the Wild Florida amusement park. The alligators are the main attraction in the park. Throughout the park, we could see hundreds of these creatures, even some very rare albino alligators! We also saw how the park keepers fed them with chicken legs.

Better do it. 

Paul, 12

The golf club in my hand feels as heavy as lead, I turn around, and prepare to shoot a hole in one. The first course looms in front of me, and I take the shot. The ball whizzes into the air, and lands spectacularly in front of the hole. I walk up to the ball and hit it into the hole, then I go to the next course and scout it out.

Saint Paul :) Halo made by the Orlando Eye in the distance.

The second hole is in a small mound that has a small path leading up it. I try many techniques, but none, except one, works: I hit the ball up the mound, and then get a hole in one.

Mini-golf is my favorite thing to do when I go to Orlando, Florida.

Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando is another fun place to walk. The main feature of this park is the lake. We rode paddle boats on it when the kids were younger. 

Another thing that I love doing when I visit Orlando is to go to Celebration, where we walk around a lake. The trail was so short that we had to go around it two times to get tired. The people at the recreational center were blasting really weird music out of loudspeakers, so we left without a moment's waste.

Celebration on a rainy day.

One night when we went to the pool, the staff of our hotel set up a giant projector, and played a movie. Until that day, I had never watched a movie from the pool. It was a peculiar experience because the giant plastic screen they were using rippled in the wind, and we also could not hear what the actors were saying. At the pool, we met a really nice kid, with whom we talked about video games.

Pools are a must in Orlando, Florida. 8 years ago, next to our apartment building, at the pool where we went every day in the summer days.