the last week of September and the first days of October, the
gang went to Orlando for about a week. (That would be Terry and
I, along with Ellen, Richard, Mike and Louise.) This was a very
different trip for us.
start off, all six of us have been to Orlando several times. In
fact, in the past ten or so years alone, this would be the third
time that Terry, Ellen and I found ourselves in Disney theme parks
together… one time Richard wasn’t able to join us. And those visits
are not the only trips to the area for Terry and I. That matters
when it comes to a “Best of…” column and the way it is approached
here at the Backpack… especially for such a tourist destination
as Orlando… since I basically insist that when I write one, it
can only involve stuff we actually did (or wanted to do) on this
top of that, we made no plans for this visit. And that led to
some strange and aimless kinds of moments.
tell you how crazy things were… I don’t have many pictures at
all from the trip. Terry and I have been known for racking up
thousands of shots in incredibly short periods of time.
this trip I might have come close to one hundred.
in, I took less than that. Again… if you know how Terry and I
travel… that is amazingly unusual.)
the kind of trip this was. Amazingly unusual.
had designs of being good food, good drinks, and lots of cards.
There was talk of a theme park or two. And there was a familiarity
each of us has with Orlando that led to the belief this would
be a week off with nothing to worry about, no work to be done,
and any option on the table since we all knew where we were going.
the end, I was very surprised to find that people in Orlando don’t
buy peanut butter. Ahh… but that is for a
now it is time to share our regular post-trip column… the “Best
of…” feature that let’s you know what we did that you might find
yourself happy to know.
word of warning. As opposed to the normal answers I assemble for
these columns, we’ve all been so ridiculously busy since the trip
that I’m going from conversations and not direct answers. The
only written feedback I’ve received is… well… none. So… feel safe
assuming the thoughts here are mine.
were your favorite things that we did on this trip?
want to be different and stay away from the usual, easy answers.
That would include the theme parks. That would mean trying to
stick with restaurants I can’t find near my home. For this trip…
Lake – A great resort to stay at. We’ve had
the pleasure of enjoying the facilities here on multiple occasions,
and it just keeps getting better. I’ve stepped out of our suites
to watch fireworks at Disney. On this trip I saw a bald eagle
in flight. And a special note this time goes to the water day…
where we spent a few hours drifting along a 1,200-foot river on
tubes. I can not recommend this place highly enough. Incredibly
well-maintained. In the middle of everything, with amazing convenience
to restaurants, shopping and the parks. And incredibly self-contained
so that you could relax by the pool, play miniature golf, and
do dozens of other things while enjoying a great vacation without
really leaving the property.
Grill & Wings – One of the surprise finds
on this trip… and, as you’ll see over the course of this column,
we were not hurting for very good restaurants. I mention this
one specifically because in addition to all of us enjoying our
meals, I could see how much fun it could be for spending an afternoon
of football watching. This was it… Florida in a nutshell… with
fans of teams from across the country, relocated to Florida and
looking for a place to catch the game. (Whatever the game
happened to be.) Several televisions on different stations, and
all within good sight lines… an affordable menu, with some great
appetizer options… good stuff. Best meal of the trip? No. Greatest
restaurant we experienced? Probably not. But of all the places
we ate at for the first time on the trip, this is the one that
quickly comes to mind as fun, enjoyable and a place I would look
for in the future.
Town – This isn’t going to really qualify
as a true favorite, but I have to admit… in all of my trips to
see the Mouse, this may be one of the most unexplored locations
that I know about, would love to see more of, and routinely place
in the background so that I either not visit at all or barely
give it much thought. I’ve ridden go carts here. We stopped by
for a classic car show this time. And for some reason, I never
have seen the full, true Old Town. So… like the Hurricane Grill…
I’m listing it because it is something I really feel like I want
to do again, and not specifically because it was the very best
of the trip. Even so, I feel confident mentioning it to you for
were you most impressed by in Orlando?
visited two theme parks… and while that is
always fun, the word impressive doesn’t immediately come to mind
for one of them. (We’ll get to that.) Plus, I want to try and
find some new stuff for this column when I can.
went out for dinner and meals a few times, and enjoyed some fun
locations and good food. Again though… “impressed by” is not the
description I would first use.
allow me to toss some Irlo W. Bronson Highway magic at you here.
of you will require no introduction to the road itself. This is
it… I suppose you could call it the Mother Road of Disney. Sure,
that’s a bit dramatic. But when it comes to finding hotels, restaurants,
souvenirs, and honestly, for anything having to do with being
a tourist in Orlando, Irlo W. Bronson Highway is the location.
the home of discount ticket centers… the ones you should be very,
very skeptical of, since most of them are likely offering you
tickets that are no good… and most of the ones with valid tickets
want to sell you something. And while I would advise you to stay
away from them, it’s virtually impossible not to see them. (Over
and over and over again.)
almost like a mirror-image of itself. Many people can confirm
the naming of “Main Gate East” and “Main Gate West” used on the
road, which is based on which side of the Disney entrance of US
192 (the route number of Irlo W. Bronson) is being referred to.
And, for lack of a better description, almost everything located
on one side of that entrance is also located on the other.
as an east and west divider, consider… Disney actually owns land
at this point, so US 192 becomes a bit of a highway since at the
points closest to Disney, it is the Disney exits from the road
and the Disney main gates, and then there is literally nothing
built on the road.)
why is it impressive?
said… because it’s there.
the years, the road has changed so many times it’s virtually impossible
to keep track. And yet… it hasn’t changed at all. It looks and
feels virtually the same every time you visit it. From the fast
food locations to the family restaurants you may have frequented
for decades… from the time share cottages offering you days at
Disney to the t-shirts and merchandise centers with giraffes and
wizards and other identifying landmarks outside the building…
time marches on and the world remains remarkably the same.
once you get familiar with the road, you can find just about anything
you could ever want.
this one is for something unusual… Irlo W. Bronson Highway… the
Mother Road of Disney.
were you most impressed by outside of Orlando (Say in Tampa, Winter
how about the final night, just outside of Tampa, when we stopped
in Madeira Beach?
a way, finding
John’s Pass Boardwalk was an accident. We
were looking for some place to go… plans that evening were simple,
only pointing at musts of dinner and dropping off the van, and
an otherwise completely open afternoon.
we arrived in our room, we saw dolphins playing in the water near
our hotel. We were experiencing a beautiful day weather-wise.
As we tossed around ideas after lunch, we had this map of Tampa
and the area, and as I recall it Ellen just shouted out Madeira
that may not be completely accurate. Nearby and on that map was
Treasure Island (a name I recall from my childhood and had mentioned
as a possible destination, but honestly can’t tell you why I recall
it… and I still don’t know if the place on the map and the memory
from almost thirty years ago are of the same location). Mike was
looking over some maps and flyers and working with Mi Luv U. There
are plenty of beaches named and bridges mentioned that I hoped
to drive over and other things that could have gotten us to John’s
Pass… or a number of other locations.
I recall it being Ellen targeting Madeira Beach.
kicked back and walked around a bit on a slow-paced, late September
evening, I really would love to figure out a way to spend a full
some of the shops were kind of boring. Seemed like the pattern
of stores repeated at every fourth door. (Door number one… shells
and dolphin statues and discount t-shirts, none of which truly
captured the feeling of Madeira Beach but seemed more likely set
up to be just cheap enough and just beach-themed enough to take
a dollar or two out of your pocket. Door number two… perhaps a
restaurant or bar or store selling water. Door number three… something
amazing and different and unusual that really attracted you by
offering brilliant original stuff, plus the feeling that if you
didn’t pay attention and look at everything you were definitely
missing something. Door number four… shells and dolphin statues
and discount t-shirts, none of which truly captured the feeling
of Madeira Beach but seemed to be ordered from exactly the same
catalogue that was used at door number one (and I mean, exactly
the same catalogue). Door number five… perhaps a restaurant or
bar or store selling water… and you see how this is beginning
to repeat.) The goal was to get to as many door number three locations
we just didn’t have enough time.
thing we did…
I’m going to step away from the theme parks. And I want to step
away from the traditional ideas of chain restaurants (although
we did have a couple of great dinners).
enjoyed a trip to Lakeridge
Winery. This is our wine tasting group… the
six of us that had so loved northern California. It was different
for a trip to Florida to go here, while feeling quite comfortable.
Pass Boardwalk was alot of fun. Something
new… never experienced before… and ultimately relaxing.
reality is there was no breathtaking moment on this trip. I’ve
already mentioned some good things that we did and will have more
in the next few sections. But I’ll stick with two things we hadn’t
place to eat (overall)…
did have a couple of really good dinners either cooked in our
unit or out as a group. But I want to eliminate what I know as
chains around home. (The point being… I’m not listing Outback
here, though we enjoyed it. Do I get that the places below might
include a name or two that has several locations? Yes. But they
aren’t in Connecticut or Rhode Island, so for my purposes they
count as a vacation experience.) For me personally, I’m going
to offer four meals that I thought were good…
four – Lee
Roy Selmon’s in Tampa. Never would have known
to stop there if two things hadn’t happened… (1) The guy at the
counter of the car rental agency recommended it. (2) When using
Mi Luv U while waiting to wrap up the car rental, the name was
one of the first ones to pop up. A recommendation plus a GPS ready
to provide us with directions equals lunch destination. It was
a good meal… affordable… with nothing that stood out as insanely
awesome, but everything pretty decent (or better).
three – Hurricane
Grill & Wings. I know. Earlier I said
it was one of my favorite things. And it was. But I also noted
that it filled a funny place… not the best food… yet one of the
places I would look for on a future visit. During a day of house
hunting and visiting my uncle, we ended up here. Very good spot
for lunch. All of us really enjoyed our meals, the service was
friendly, the atmosphere was clean and upbeat… just solid all
two - La
Teresita Restaurant in Tampa. We’ll come back
to this location in a second.
one – Nine Dragons in China at EPCOT in
Disney World. Terry and I had lunch here during our visit to EPCOT.
We decided to order a few appetizers, share them, and create a
meal out of them. The funny thing was… getting out of the sun
on a very hot day and into some air conditioning, sitting down,
eating good food… the entire experience was simply amazing. It
wasn’t just the meal… it was everything. We left feeling fantastic.
Just a tremendous moment from this trip.
place to eat (inexpensive)…
zero to think about here… we are looking at Tampa and La
of the things Mike wanted to do on this trip was find a place
to eat Cuban food. As the days meandered along, he began to focus
on our return to Tampa for the final stop on our journey, and
ultimately his gaze landed upon La Teresita Restaurant.
six of us left blown away by the food, quite satisfied by the
service, and stunned by the low cost of our bills.
Town would qualify for consideration here.
I had flashbacks to the time the boys and I raced in go carts
years ago. I kept wondering why I never seem to spend much time
here. And, if I had the money, I wouldn’t have hesitated to buy
Terry the car of her dreams.
reality is… Tampa and La
Teresita Restaurant wins the prize again.
ordered a stuffed plantain dish. Called Platano Relleno, it is
a dish with grilled plantains and a ground beef stuffing. And
the combination was simply amazing.
I could recommend that they had to do this, regardless of expense,
I would recommend…
the time to do something you’ve never done in Orlando or the surrounding
that sounded stupid and vague… stay with me…
I mentioned earlier, our group of six have all been in this area
before. We may not have annual vacations planned for Orlando…
still… we aren’t first-timers. And that means not only do I have
certain things that I love to do on each and every visit, and
expectations that go along with those things, it means I like
finding new stuff to do.
funny part is, some times that new stuff may be a ride that has
been added… some times it might be a restaurant.
this particular trip, we really never outlined anything that we
had to do. It would be way too easy to tell you that you have
to see the Magic Kingdom. Heck, a listing of the annual visitor
numbers for theme parks would tell you that. Plus… for these articles
here at the Backpack… it has to be something we did, and on this
trip we didn’t go to the Magic Kingdom.
in the end, we didn’t do much outside our comfort zone.
I look at this section… one I’ve considered many times before,
and normally for places I was traveling to for the first time…
what occurred to me was that the places that seemed like the best
potential answers from this trip were days or events we kind of
tossed in and considered as relaxing, where we just wanted to
get outside and do something, and ended up finding something different.
Ridge Winery… drifting along on a tube at Orange Lake… driving
to Madeira Beach.
the only “must do” kind of thing I can recommend is the Soarin’
ride at EPCOT. It is unique, different, and brought us back for
a second ride during our visit to the park.
again… I tell you… explore the area and don’t be afraid to try
I could tell someone that they had to do this, but the expense
did matter (so go cheaper), I would recommend…
know… you’ve heard about it already.
in addition to this idea, I would cover segments about the people
that may have impressed me… an event that impressed me… things
I’m glad we did… and all sorts of other things. The reality is,
for this trip, La Teresita Restaurant pretty much was the unexpected
darling of the journey.
didn’t cost much at all. I mean, it was so inexpensive it almost
a few other businesses nearby, it became a bit of an event. For
instance, we walked out of the restaurant and into the bakery
next door. And, when we saw people selling fruit from the back
of their van, of course Mike went over to check it out.
a little bit of everything in a single location and a mid-afternoon
I wish we had done…
isn’t much to even consider.
had no intentions of swimming with dolphins, spending four days
in theme parks, wandering down to the Florida Keys, or finding
every Florida restaurant ever featured in any way on the Food
noted earlier, we did visit Old Town. Spending more time there
and looking around is definitely something I’ll consider for the
it comes to the Disney property, I have always wanted to look
around a bit more. I want to see some of the areas that aren’t
at the front of the line for any visit. For instance, on my first
ever visit we stayed in a camper at Fort Wilderness. Different
plans each time since then have never made it an option, but I
would like to get back there some day. And there are definitely
times when I would love to stay at or visit some of the resort
areas in Disney World. Again… that wasn’t part of this trip’s
from this experience…
is going to sound so stupid when it comes to a trip designed to
be relaxing and enjoyed without an agenda… and ultimately was
relaxing and enjoyed without an agenda… but I felt a bit lost
on this trip.
is a card-playing group. We never really had time to play cards.
can be a point-us-in-a-direction-and-we’ll-wander group. When
we did wander, we didn’t have much time to realize the promise
of the treasure we found. (See also: Old Town and John’s Pass
Village as noted in this article.)
had hoped to get Ellen and Richard some solid leads when it came
to finding a new home. And yet, during the trip we learned so
much strange or unexpected information that we sort of stopped
in our tracks, and I seriously felt like we were letting them
down because we weren’t out looking at more properties and areas.
(They are doing amazingly well as I write this, and probably couldn’t
be much happier about the way things have turned out with the
move to Florida. They would tell you I am crazy for thinking this
way. Still… at that time in late September… I felt like there
was something else I should have been doing with them or for them.)
I think about it now, I understand it a bit differently though.
The reality is… Orlando… Kissimmee… Disney… Universal… the area
is huge, the brand names as big as it gets, and the options border
on limitless. Go there without some planning and thoughts, and
you’re only asking to feel lost in the end… even if you consider
yourself a somewhat experienced and well-traveled Mouse visitor.
this will be set up as a best of column, but you should always
warn people about the bad, so here is something I think we need
want you to go and find an article from Joe Posnanski.
It involves a trip he made with his wife and daughters to visit
Harry Potter in Orlando. And, I dare say, I think it’s incredibly
important that you read it before I begin my answer here.
along. Go read it. I’ll wait.
main thing I need to mention in the bad of Florida in 2010 is
the Islands of Adventure theme park at Universal Studios.
know. Yes… yes… I know. I never expected it to happen either.
That’s what makes reading Joe’s article so important. Because
you need to know something… The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
is small, but it just may be, by design and visual appearance,
the most impressive area of a theme park I’ve ever set foot in.
The buildings are wonderful, and do a simply brilliant job of
bringing a fantasy world most of us know from books and movies
to reality. The Butter Beer is amazing. You honestly wish the
section was larger… and undoubtedly, there will be more of it
as the years pass and additions are made. In a word… phenomenal…
breathtaking… outstanding… pick the word, and it’s likely not
good enough in describing how impressive this area is.
even after setting foot in it and agreeing it looks wonderful,
Terry is just about 100% convinced she will never go to any Universal
Studios theme park ever again.
don’t blame her one bit.
back to our story…)
some amazing twist of fate and circumstance, we didn’t get hit
by the massive lines that Harry Potter has been swarmed with.
Yeah… it took forever to get in the theme park itself. (Our “VIP”
parking ticket was still at least fifteen minutes from
garage to gate, and no blessing. (The special parking zone was
so accessible and user-friendly that on the way back to the car,
fading quickly and wondering how much more could possibly be ahead,
I told the five others to sit on a bench, walked to the car myself,
and then doubled-back to pick them up.) And then, at the ticket
line, we waited well over thirty minutes for all six of us to
make our purchases and get inside.) For those of you that on other
days couldn’t get into the Wizarding World section… or found it
insanely packed… or have heard horror stories… that really never
happened to us. For those saying ride lines approached clocking
with a calendar instead of a watch… well… nope. The big ride was
accomplished for four of us in around an hour. All we ever saw
as far as unmanageable crowds in Mr. Potter’s World that proved
disappointing took place at the wand shop. The rest was just lots
and lots of people while the rest of Islands of Adventure was
bordering on empty.
insulting thing about Harry Potter and Islands of Adventure, and
the reason it earns such distinction here, was the ride restrictions
when it came to size. And that insult is delivered in two ways…
~ It’s not communicated well. Oh sure, they did have a disclaimer
on their web site. And there have been stories in the media. But
they don’t mention a word of it as you’re purchasing your tickets.
what? It’s not just Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It’s
another ride in the Wizarding World… Dragon Challenge. It’s Doctor
Doom’s Fearfall. Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is slightly different,
but offers no favors. This is not an isolated dilemma, and these
are not the only rides with problems.
short… and here I am making a vague, sweeping, blanket statement
that isn’t perfectly true, since Jurassic Park River Adventure
is one attraction that is pretty much fine for all riders… if
you’re overweight, every major attraction in this park is off
limits to you.
~ Ok… I hear you. Rides have always had some form of restrictions.
Could be height. May be head and neck problems, heart conditions,
and other medical situations that should be considered before
you step in line.
I’ve seen those kinds of signs before. Safety first. Right?
if this is a major deal in delivering safe experiences… how come
Disney doesn’t have these problems? Why is it that Universal is
unable to prepare and design for these situations?
this same trip, at Epcot, classics like Test Track and thrills
like Soarin’ were no problem at all. Barely months after this
day… different trip, back at Disney… the Magic Kingdom presented
no difficulties with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain,
Stitch’s Great Escape, or any other attraction.
went around the Disney web site, and as I type this none of their
thrill rides have restrictions like those found at Islands of
what I am left to conclude, by documentation and personal experience,
is that we are expected to believe a leader in the industry like
Universal Studios can’t plan or engineer their most exciting rides
to accommodate a significant number of adults. And yet, ten or
so miles away, another leader in the industry has no such difficulties
with any of their rides.
Universal Studios will be thrilled to take your money.