Last weekend, I gave a talk at Jupiter library, but first, my husband and I drove around to explore the town.
We stopped at Dubois Park but it was Memorial Day weekend and the park was mobbed with picnickers. It looked to be impossible to get a parking spot so we drove on. We went next to Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, in service since 1860 with a museum and gift shop. Tours cost $7 but you can get a good photo from the parking lot. We took another photo from across the Intracoastal where we ate lunch at The Crab House. Another trendy restaurant, Guanabanas (http://www.guanabanas.com/), is down the street but self-parking is a few doors down and the skies were heavy with threatening rain clouds. We’ll have to try that one next time. I am grateful to my Internet Fan, Suzie Burrows, for traveling to the library to meet me, and the other authors who attended: Melissa Alvarez, Traci Hall, and Marilyn Campbell. Readers filled the other seats and we had a lively discussion. Thanks, too, to Classic Bookshop from Palm Beach for bringing my books to sell. You gotta love our libraries and indie bookstores!
Coming on Tuesday, June 8th: Interview with author Sandra Sookoo
We could spend a weekend every month in Orlando and not just for the theme parks. There’s a lot to do in this vibrant and growing Central Florida city. Next time you visit, leave time to explore beyond the usual tourist sites.
Re the Theme Parks: If you think of Walt Disney World as just the Magic Kingdom, think again. There’s Hollywood Studios with its behind-the-scenes glimpse into movie making and its own version of American Idol. Epcot showcases different countries and their wonderful restaurants along with Spaceship Earth and other fantastic rides. My favorite place is in The Land pavilion where you ride a boat and see the wondrous fruits and veggies growing in their hydroponics labs. The Animal Kingdom is the best, especially in Spring and Fall when the weather is warm with low humidity. It’s a habitat friendly zoo and rainforest mixed together with lush tropical foliage. They do animal conservation projects making this an eco-friendly park. Aside from Disney, Universal Studios has two parks including the brand new Harry Potter attraction. Seaworld and Aquatica and Dolphin Cove invite water-oriented exploration. You can spend a whole week at the theme parks, but then you’re missing the real Orlando. So keep your walking shoes on and venture beyond the theme park gates.
ORLANDO: THINGS TO DO
Copyright 2010 by Nancy J. Cohen
CHINATOWN: Asian markets and Vietnamese restaurants on E. Colonial Drive
COLLEGE PARK & BALDWIN PARK: Village Centers (shopping & dining)
DOWNTOWN DISNEY (shopping, dining, attractions, movies, free parking)
FARMER’S MARKETS: Winter Park (Sat.); Lake Eola (Sun.)
We spent a lovely day recently at Lake Eola in Orlando. Close to downtown, this peaceful lake hosted their annual Spring Festival. Vendors lined the walkways, selling jewelry, art works, and hand-crafted items, among other things. Smells of hot dogs, kettle popcorn, and barbecued chicken wafted our way as we strolled around the lake past the bandstand and swan boats. On Sundays, you can shop the Farmer’s Market here. We dined at Spice on their outdoor patio facing the tranquil lake. Just a few blocks away is trendy Thorton Park with Lake Eola Wine Company, Hues, Dexters, and other popular restaurants. Spanish moss drapes from the live oaks trees in this upscale neighborhood. We dodged mothers pushing baby strollers, people walking dogs, young couples, and families out for the day. So put this on your list of other things to do next time you’re in Orlando and get tired of the theme parks.
I awoke to the news there had been a home invasion robbery and murder in my town. Although we’re a western suburb of Fort Lauderdale, our city doesn’t experience violent crime all that often. So when it does occur, it’s scary. What’s even more scary is that I just got a call from a mystery writer friend of mine, and it happened right across the street from her. I hadn’t even connected the addresses. She can see the CSI folks out her front window.
This incident brings home the fact that a random act of violence can happen to anyone. All we need is somebody to follow us home because we drive a nice car, or a nutcase to obsess on us, or else we’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Often these cases end badly. No wonder we want to read crime novels where the villain is caught and justice is served. I’d say this is Reason #1 why we read this genre. Stories may reflect on social ills and grapple with weighty issues, but they still reach a satisfactory conclusion, unlike real life.
An HEA ending (i.e. Happy Ever After) makes us less afraid. These stories force us to confront our fears, especially in psychological thrillers or romantic suspense. In my case, I prefer to read lighter fare, humorous mysteries where no one likes the victim and the amateur sleuth catches the crook. I accept that these are fantasies, because in reality, murder is a somber and sad business. Survivors mourn the dead. The killer may never be caught. So what do you say? Do you get your thrills from gritty crime fiction, true crime, or stories rife with forensic details? Or would you rather confine reality to the news and read a book with an HEA that leaves you with a smile?
While researching book two for my proposed new mystery series, I came across the delightful town of Winter Garden, FL. This town, located west of Orlando, may be considered part of the greater metropolitan area, but its quaint historical buildings and small town atmosphere remain intact. While W. Plant Street, the main avenue, doesn’t last for long, you can visit the historic Edgewater Hoteloriginally opened in 1927 (and now a viable B&B), the Garden Theater dating from 1935, the Central Florida Railroad Museum, the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, and the West Orange Trail. If dining interests you, stop in at the French bakery on W. Plant Street for crepes and croissants, or stay for dinner at Thai Blossom or the elegant The Chef’s Table in the Edgewater Hotel.
The Garden Theater itself is worth a visit. Designed inside in Mediterranean Revival style like a scene out of Romeo and Juliet, it boasts a dark ceiling full of “stars” and plush seats with cup holders like a movie theater. We saw the hilarious play, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). Need I say that my second mystery takes place in an old theater? It’s a murder mystery involving the cast and crew of a community theater production and this restored theater serves as a model for my fictional creation. So if you get tired of the theme parks, take a drive to this historic small town for a taste of old Florida.
COMING NEXT: Author Allison Chase will offer “10 Tips forSuccessful Blog Touring.”
Harry P. Leu Gardens is one of my favorite haunts in Orlando. I modeled a location after it in my tenth Bad Hair Day mystery (yet to come), so I count a visit as part of my research.
There’s so much more to do in Greater Orlando than the theme parks. When you have a day to spare, consider spending it at Winter Park. Stroll Leu Gardens in the morning then drive over to Park Avenue and park on one of the side streets. Have lunch in one of the many cafes lining the popular thoroughfare. Shop in the boutiques. Visit a museum, or take an escorted boat ride on the lake. I like this little city so much that I centered my proposed new mystery series there.
Enjoy these photos from Leu Gardens and plan a visit next time you’re in Orlando. Founded by the Mizells in 1858, the park hosts a family cemetery among its attractions. The park covers fifty acres with over forty plant collections and is a favorite site for weddings. Besides a butterfly garden, vegetable garden, herb garden, and citrus grove, there are sections with flowering camellias, cycads, bamboo, camphor trees, and more. An indoor gift shop and catering hall are in the main building but there’s a bride’s cottage on the grounds for outdoor weddings.
We’ve been on tours here before so this time we just walked around, browsing in the stores. I picked up some 14k gold hoop earrings at Tropical Jewelers for my daughter cheaper than the ones I bought myself in a similar size in St. Thomas. From the pier, walk up Calle Tanca a couple of blocks to Calle Fortaleza, the main shopping street. Turn left and stroll along, ducking into any shops that strike your fancy. We got lured into Restaurant Barrachina, home of the famed Piña Colada drink created here in 1963. It’s a charming restaurant with a tempting appetizer menu or a place for lunch. No worries about the waiters; they speak English. The food is good and there’s a rest room in the back. As for the piña coladas, I’ve had better but it was fun to try one here. The waiter recommended Don Q Cristal for a white rum. There’s a store by the waterfront but it was closed on Thursdays and that’s the day we were in port. He also mentioned Ron del Barrilito for a golden rum. He said these are the rums used by the natives, not Baccardi brands.
After an early meal, we continued onward on Calle Fortaleza. At the far end toward Calle Christo is a barricade blocking access to the Governor’s mansion. Turn left and you’ll find yourself at a historical chapel. Go into Pigeon Park next to the chapel for a fabulous view of the harbor. Note the stone wall with all the pigeon holes where the birds live. It’s a fascinating glimpse of old San Juan. If you’ve never been to the island before, you can tour the forts or take a bus tour to the rainforest. A couple of hours patrolling the city streets is more than sufficient for shopping.
This is a fabulous beach party at RCCL’s private hideaway. Passengers haD the entire day to roam about this beautiful peninsula. It’s part of Haiti but is separated from the mainland by scenic mountains. Lush with green foliage and palm lined lagoons, this island-like setting offers something for everyone. You can lose yourself in bliss lying on a lounge chair and sipping a potent Labadoozee or rum punch while gazing at the sparkling turquoise waters. Go for a swim, stuff yourself at the BBQ lunch, or get a thrill riding on the zip line or rollercoaster. Shop for colorful Haitian paintings and wood carvings at the native market. Or rent a jet ski and zoom across the waves. Kayaking and floats are available as is an Aqua Park for kids. Whatever your pleasure, you can find it here. A tram ride can take you from one end to the other if you don’t feel like walking in the heat.
My camera broke so I don’t have any photos for these ports. A new camera became one of my holiday gifts upon our return. I hate learning new technology. Some features are better than my old camera, though, so it’s worth the effort.
Here we took RCCL’s Best of St. Thomas tour to see the St. Peter Greathouse which opened to the public fairly recently. Owned by a governor initially, the house passed into various hands before being turned into a tourist attraction and catering hall. Our open air bus made two stops along the way at scenic overlooks, but the view from this impressive estate surpassed them.
The house itself exudes tropical ambiance with its expansive windows and comfortable furnishings.
Along with a gift shop and snack bar, there’s a planked nature walk that I enjoyed the most. Surrounded by lush tropical foliage, you descend a boardwalk into the jungle via a series of steps and then climb back up. It’s not too strenuous, and the fruity rum punch we had beforehand fortified us. This is a worthwhile tour if you want to get a taste of St. Thomas’s lush beauty. It took about 3 hours, so if you book an early morning excursion, you’ll still have plenty of time for shopping in town.
Back at Charlotte Amalie, the port town, we had lunch at the Green House. I recommend this restaurant or Café Amici in an alley near A.H. Riise. Once fed, we trekked uphill about 3 blocks to visit the old Jewish synagogue. It’s a sturdy building that has been here since the 1700’s. Sand covers the floor, and there’s a small gift shop off to the side.
Back downhill, we stormed the shops along Main Street. My favorite stores are Imperial Jewelers, Cardow’s, Ballerina Jewelers, and Royal Caribbean (not related to cruise line). A.H. Riise still has the best liquor selection, cosmetics, perfumes, rum balls, hook bracelets, and more. If you dock near Havensight Mall, you have a chance for more last minute shopping before the ship sails.
We’ve been here before, so I already knew to take the water taxi for six dollars round trip from the pier into the center of Philipsburg. It’s good for travel all day and they put a plastic bracelet on your wrist. Vendors sell nice hats for $5 by the pier, and I added another one to my collection.
Our first stop was Diamonds International to pick up a charm bracelet. If you show this in the different ports, you get a charm to add for each island. It’s also a good shop to browse for jewelry. Outside facing the courthouse, we turned left on Front Street, but we didn’t care much for the stores at that end. We turned in the opposite direction and ended up in Shopper’s Haven where I bought a pair of dangling white gold earrings. They were expensive even for 14k gold but a unique design. The shopkeeper gave my friend Lynn and I each a glass of champagne to celebrate our purchases. This made us hungry so we headed to Holland House a few doors down to a delightful open air restaurant facing the beach. I ate a brie cheese sandwich while ceiling fans twirled lazily overhead.
Beyond the Boardwalk is a free beach if you ever go to the island so you don’t have to take any beach tours. A selection of restaurants face the water where you can sit and enjoy the view. It’s much more pleasant here than in Marigot, the French side of the island, where you get stuck in traffic going and coming from the port. Shops are expensive there and service at the restaurants takes a long time. The Philipsburg shops offer a selection of jewelry, cameras, Belgian chocolate, Guavaberry Liquor, and souvenirs. The old adage applies: If you see what you like, buy it.
8 nights to St. Maarten, St. Thomas, San Juan, and Labadee
RCCL ships have a signature interior Promenade like a city street lined with shops and bars. The Café Promenade, toward the aft end, serves pastries starting at 6am in the morning and sandwiches starting at 11:30. Coffee is available 24 hours. Their Seattle’s Best coffee is very good, flavorful taste. Creamer cups are about half the size of ones at home. I suggest bringing your own non-refrigerated Coffeemate creamer cups along. Since this ship was based in England (and will be returning there), instead of a coffee pot in the room, you get a hot water device with packets of instant coffee. Forget that and go to the Café. They serve fresh baked cookies here too. The fudge ones are the best. Re the pastries, normally I like croissants but their variety has a glazed coat that stuck to my teeth, so I preferred the cinnamon roll.
Sorrento’s, also on the Promenade on Deck 5 forward, serves pizza and mini desserts like tiramisu. They put out antipasto in the evening that can be a nice appetizer. Like the Café, the food here is free and included in your cruise price. Also on the Promenade you’ll find the Vintages Wine Bar with a sophisticated selection of wines and wine flights, but the menu tends to be pricey and confusing. The Dog & Badger Pub focuses more on ale but wine choices are more reasonable. People are allowed to smoke in a section here and the smoke drifted our way, making us disinclined to linger. We didn’t note any food menu in either of these lounges but then we didn’t ask for one either. Ben & Jerry’s has a shop on the Promenade, but why pay for ice cream when there’s a free frozen yogurt machine outside on the pool deck?
Up on Deck 14 is the signature Crown Viking Lounge, here called the Olive or Twist. Nice dance music here during evening hours. Daytime it’s a great getaway if you want solitude and a terrific view of the pool deck from up high. I may add that unlike other ships, you cannot sit outside and enjoy a view of the ship’s wake on the Independence, nor is there a lounge where you can enjoy a view of the ship forging ahead. Too much of the focus is on the interior Promenade, including evening parades and street parties. The Schooner Bar is a quieter spot but they often have trivia contests. Production shows occur in the Alhambra Theatre which has adequate tiered seating. The Pyramid Lounge at the opposite end holds art auctions and other events. There doesn’t seem to be any nightly entertainment other than the main show, shown twice at 7pm and 9pm. The Labyrinth is a disco but sometimes was reserved for private parties. There were no late night comedy acts like on other ships unless I missed notice of them.
A few other items were missing too, that used to be provided in the past. Chocolates on our pillow at night. Lotion in the bathrooms. All we got was bar soap and a shampoo dispenser in the minuscule shower.
The soundproofing was excellent in our cabin. Maybe we lucked out and had quiet neighbors, but we didn’t hear anyone next door. Our cabin was a comfortable size with a couch and console but limited storage space. The drawers are small, and only one tier of shelves fits into the closet. At least there were plenty of hangars. The shower is impossibly small and shaped like a round sewer cover. Ladies, forget shaving your legs in there. I suggest you bring an electric razor, preferably battery run. This applies to the sister ships as well. The shower doors kept the water contained very well and function much better than an old-fashioned curtain. There’s a European style hose spray that can be awkward until you get the hang of it.
Our balcony room gave a wonderful view, while a clear glass barrier under the railing guards against accidents. Cloudy glass partitions on either side of the balcony separate neighbors. Two chairs and a small table are provided. We heard the whoosh of waves in our room even on deck 8. Our room was towards the bow, starboard side forward. The bedding was very comfortable, hotel style white comforters, two pillows, cushy mattress. Flat screen TV by Samsung hung on the wall. A hair dryer is provided. Suitcases fit under the beds for storage. Bring a small packet of antiseptic wipes so when you first arrive, you can wipe down all door handles, tv remote, telephone, and light switches. People were ill on this cruise with symptoms of Norovirus. Load your purse and pockets with hand sanitizer and use it religiously. Hand sanitizer dispensers are located at each bar and eaterie and at the computer station but carry your own and don’t touch your face at all until you’ve washed your hands.
The weather in December was warm for our voyage. The ship isn’t freezing cold inside like some others so long sleeves can make you hot, although I was comfortable in the evenings with my dressy wardrobe. We had two formal nights and the rest were casual.You have your choice on this ship of any time dining or formal seating. We chose six o’clock dining. Our waiter, Handra, was a small statured guy from Indonesia. Some of the meals I ate were prime ribs, tiger shrimp, roast duck, lobster tail and garlic shrimp, lamb shank, shrimp and mahi mahi tempura. I do not judge this food as good as on the Princess line. Each night on the menu were also choices of an Indian dish, a vegetarian dish, a pasta dish. None of these appealed to me so that made limited selections. The pasta dishes were too ordinary, like cheese filled ravioli or spaghetti and meatballs. You can get those at home, so why order them here? We’ve been on other ships where the choices are more tempting. The buffets in the Windjammer Café didn’t seem to have much variety either. And they’ve done away with the late night Chocolate Buffet.
RCCL has an excellent program for children. This ship had activities for all ages. Athletic minded adults could surf on the Flowrider, play miniature golf or basketball, go rock climbing, work out in the gym, swim, or jog the deck. Kids had their own whimsical pool area with colorful fountains spraying water and music blaring in the background. I enjoyed listening to the steel band playing at the regular pool deck or sitting in the quieter solarium looking at the ocean.
The Captain greeted passengers on a bridge over the Promenade on our first formal night, Day 2 at sea. He said, “We’re sailing in the Bermuda Triangle. I’ve been coming here for XX years and nothing happened. Maybe tonight is the night.” We made it safely home so it appears we didn’t meet any anomalies. Now it’s time to plan the next trip.