Kelly Park

Kelly Park is a 355-acre site in Apopka, Florida originally donated by Dr. Howard A. Kelly in 1927. It holds picnic pavilions, a playground, walking trails, a concession stand, volleyball courts, and the famous Rock Springs Run that is approximately three-quarters of a mile long. If you’re looking for a campsite, that’s available, too. There was a $3.00 fee for us to enter.

        

We started out meandering from the parking lot to find our bearings. Gentle slopes are graced by tall oaks with Spanish moss and other shrubbery to provide an oasis from civilization. Trails appear to be numerous, although we didn’t venture too far. Even with a map, I was afraid we’d get lost.

         

We followed people holding tube floats toward a breathtaking grotto. The natural spring flows at an average of 26,000 gallons per minute with a temperature around 68 degrees. This chilly prospect didn’t deter the crowds of people splashing in the water. The spring in this spot was shallow and crystal clear. It travels nine miles to join the Wekiva River.

        

       

At the other end in this park is a beach area with a deeper pool that’s even more popular.

     

We completed our exploration by getting ice cream sandwiches at the concession building that also houses restrooms. You can get lunch here with burgers and hot dogs on the menu along with other goodies. Picnic tables provide outdoor seating on the deck.

     

If you’re looking for peace and tranquility, to commune with nature, or to admire the magnificent natural springs in a lush green setting, this is the place to go. Kelly Park is located at 400 East Kelly Park Rd in Apopka, FL.

 

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Southern Hill Farms

A visit to Southern Hill Farms requires good tires as you have to drive several miles over a bumpy dirt road to get there. It seems like you’re driving in the boonies and heaven forbid you get a flat tire. But other cars are also rumbling along toward this popular location.

If it’s your first visit, you’ll be surprised by the crowd. There’s lots to do beside picking strawberries, blueberries or sunflowers. We saw these peach trees near the entrance.

But the fields of crops are only one of the attractions. You can see this big covered space where they hold farmer’s markets or other festivities on different occasions.

  

There’s a gift shop, food trucks, homemade strawberry donuts for sale, and a kids’ playground. A live band was playing while we were there.

If you’re in the area, watch their website for special events. I know next time I come, I want to try the peach cobbler.

A Trio of Florida Parks

Recently we visited a trio of parks all within walking distance of each other in Maitland, Florida. Our excursion began at Minnehaha Park. This seven and a half acre facility overlooks a lake with a scenic boardwalk through a wetland forest. A playground, exercise stations and picnic tables dot the open landscape. Restrooms are available.

 

A side path takes you to a tunnel that dives under the road and crosses to Covered Bridge Park. Here is the tunnel view from the Minnehaha side.

   

Here is the view from the Covered Bridge side looking back at the other park. This park doesn’t have much except a walking path in a viewable loop and the bridge. But if you cross this bridge, you come to the Jim Houser Azalea Garden.

This oasis offers bushes in full bloom during season, which unfortunately we’d just missed. Still, the winding path made from recycled tires was pleasantly relaxing.

We’d also visited Sanlando Park in Altamonte Springs on another excursion. This offers a nature walk through forested land, also with picnic pavilions, a playground and restrooms.

Harry P. Leu Gardens Revisited

Harry P. Leu Gardens is one of my favorite spots for a nature walk in the Orlando area. Located at 1920 North Forest Avenue in Orlando, FL, this botanical oasis offers a delightful stroll through its fifty acres as well as a historical home. It’s the site for many weddings and was the model for Orchid Isle in my mystery novel, Shear Murder.

   

My favorite section is the Tropical Stream Garden with shady paths and tropical plants like in a rainforest. The sounds of a trickling brook follow you as you continue along toward Lake Rowena for scenic water views. Across the way in the photo below and on the left is the Orlando Science Center, a trip for another day.

     

As we continued along, we admired the flowering azaleas, camellias and other colorful blooms. The temperature was comfortable in the low seventies with sunny skies. We peered at the rose garden with a fountain at its center and bypassed the vegetable, herb and butterfly gardens that we’d seen on previous visits.

 

The Dinosaur Invasion exhibit was in force as were many children squealing with joy over the life-sized displays. The creatures are scattered around the park and look natural in their habitats.

The only thing missing from this park is a café. They have a gift shop with interesting garden-themed items but nowhere to buy a cool drink and a snack or to sit outside and view the gardens while eating lunch.

For more photos, visit my earlier post on Harry P. Leu Gardens.

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Epcot Festival of the Arts

We visited Epcot International Festival of the Arts at Disney World in Orlando. The tram let us off directly in front at the entrance instead of making us detour like last time due to construction. There was plenty of that going on inside the park. I liked how the baggage inspection is now in a shadier location with fans and multiple personnel so the process goes quicker. Spaceship Earth was open but the whole rest of the central portion of Future World was sectioned off due to remodeling.

We made our way around to the Land and watched the new film Awesome Planet. The scenery depicted was awesome indeed, including simulated flashes of light in the auditorium to accompany lightning on the screen and a sprinkle of water on my wrist when the screen showed rain. The film made me want to go right out and sign up for a conservation effort. We need to preserve our beautiful home planet so it’s safe for future generations.

At World Showcase, we turned left toward Mexico. Along the way, we stopped at the Pop Eats booth and sampled the sous-vide chicken roulade ($6.75). The dish was artistically presented and very tasty.

sous vide chicken

Next we tried the red wine-braised beef short ribs ($8.00) at Germany. The meat was very tender, accompanied by a dollop of mashed potatoes and broccolini. It was really good but didn’t leave much room in our stomachs for more.

braised beef short ribs   Germany pavilion

I’d seen a dessert I wanted back at Pop Eats, so we returned there after making a full rotation around the lake. My husband got the cookie with strawberry filling ($4.50). I had the almond frangipane cake ($4.50) as I’m a fan of rainbow cakes. This was nice and moist. I’d ordered the popping bubbles cocktail as well. This champagne drink has gel pearls that burst in your mouth with extra flavor ($10.50).

desserts

There were other dishes I might have liked to try, but I got too full. Plus, it was hot out with temps in the eighties, and I was beginning to wilt. After a very long walk to the exit, we boarded the tram to the parking lot and headed home to relax in our air-conditioned condo.

Adventures in Dining Orlando

This year for my birthday dinner, I chose to eat at Boma, the African buffet restaurant inside the Animal Kingdom Lodge at Disney World. The lobby is impressively massive with a huge Christmas tree at this season.

Animal Kingdom Lodge

We arrived early to stroll outside and view the animals roaming the plains within range of our cameras.

Then we headed to the check-in desk at Boma. After reaching our seats, we gave drink orders before heading to the buffet. What an amazing array of choices! I started with a salad, a corn muffin and a spoonful of hummus on pita bread. Since I’d had soup for lunch, I bypassed this selection.

Next I joined the line for a slice of carved prime ribs and a piece of barbecued chicken. I skipped the turkey since we’d be eating this soon for Thanksgiving. Although I’d eaten shrimp recently, I couldn’t help a few of the peel and eat shrimps on display.

The accompaniments were varied and with an African theme. I had mashed sweet potatoes, a corn pudding, corn and peas, macaroni and cheese, a pearl couscous dish, rice with coconut milk and peanut sauce, a mushroom egg soufflé, and more that I can’t remember. It was SO good that I would definitely return, although the $49 per person price is a bit steep. You do get a 10% discount as a Disney passholder.

Desserts are the to-die-for variety. Here’s a sampling of what we had. Bread pudding with vanilla sauce was one dish, plus all the brownies or cookies you could eat. I liked the novelty items, which tasted divine.

It’s not a meal you can have too often, though. I probably gained a few pounds this night. The pumpkin pancakes I ate for breakfast the next day at KeKe’s didn’t help, either. Now we are home and I am eating healthy until our next trip to Orlando.

Orlando Dining Revisited

Our dining adventures in Orlando continue with a visit to Epcot Food and Wine Festival and Magical Dining Month. Now is not the time to reduce your calorie intake.

Since I can never pass up the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, we had to go for a tasting. I didn’t plan to go far in the 90+ degree heat. We killed time until 11am when World Showcase opened by going on the Living with the Land and the Imagination rides. I still love to see the vegetables and fruits growing in their experimental environment and the fish in the aquaponics tanks.

Our first food stop was Flavors from Fire for the Steakhouse Blended Burger, a blend of beef and mushrooms in a slider on a brioche bun with melted Brie cheese, arugula, and a blue cheese potato chip. It was a gooey dish but satisfying and tasty. We passed by a few other marketplaces to stop at Thailand for their Marinated Chicken with peanut sauce and stir-fried vegetables. This was good enough to make at home.

We got no farther on either side of Showcase Plaza, by now being overheated and worn out, so we left at noon. A word of warning – the main entry is under construction, so you have to walk a long stretch to get to the security bag check. Nor does the tram from the parking lot let you off in front anymore. You still have to walk around the construction site. It makes for an extra-long hike before you get anywhere.

Vines Grille and Wine Bar

We celebrated my husband’s birthday at Vines Grille and Wine Bar on Restaurant Row at W. Sand Lake Road in Orlando. On the Magical Dining menu, I chose the Vines Salad with mixed greens, pistachio, heirloom tomato, goat cheese, and citrus vinaigrette. Next came Faroe Island Salmon with fingerling potatoes, asparagus, confit tomatoes, and lemon-dill sauce. For dessert, I selected crème brulee. It was a memorable dinner with excellent food and service. I’d definitely make a return visit here.

The Tap Room at Dubsdread

The cozy atmosphere at this country club restaurant with its enticing golf course view in Winter Park invites you to linger with friends and family. However, I’m thinking it might be better for lunch. Prices are reasonable for either lunch or dinner, but our experience at the latter was less than stellar. We asked for the Magical Dining menu. I ordered the Buffalo Cauliflower topped with blue cheese crumbs and served with ranch dressing for an appetizer. Either the topping or the sauce was too spicy for my taste, but I couldn’t finish this dish. As an entrée, I’d chosen crab cakes with yellow rice and asparagus. They were out of asparagus. I selected broccoli as an alternative. It was served raw. Besides asking to replace it with a cooked portion, I had to ask for the rice since mashed potatoes had come with my meal. As for dessert, the Key lime pie came in a jar but looked tasty. My brownie sundae was okay, but I’ve had moister and fudgier brownie sundaes at the Red Lobster. This one satisfied my sweet tooth but wasn’t anything exceptional.

cauliflower

Crabcakes

sundae

Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill

This meal at Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill in Disney Springs was worthy of a return visit. Unfortunately, the items I chose are not part of the regular menu but were among the Magical Dining selections. The Late Summer Tomato Soup with garlic pecorino croutons and basil oil was savory and just the right consistency. The Braised Beef Short Ribs came with sunchoke purée and wild mushrooms ragu. The boneless meat was tender and shredded easily. For dessert, the mango tart with toasted almond crumble and coconut tapioca was lip-smacking delicious. The lively atmosphere and modern décor proved popular as there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. I saw standards like meatloaf on the regular menu that would bring me back. While a bit pricey for a normal dinner, this full-service restaurant is worth a visit on your list.

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Coronado Springs Resort Dining

Continuing our tradition of trying new places to eat in Orlando, we dined at Toledo, the new rooftop restaurant inside Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. A magical elevator takes you to the top floor where you emerge into a spacious lounge area. You can come for drinks and the view if you don’t care to stay for dinner. Here we are gazing toward Hollywood Studios. You can see the new Star Wars land under construction and the Tower of Terror.

View from Toledo

Inside the restaurant, we were led to a quiet table among the bustle. We began our meal with an olive medley and flatbread with melted cheese for appetizers.

I ordered tilefish for my entrée and was pleasantly surprised by the tasty dish. Dessert was the best, a couple of chocolate concoctions that we all shared.

Dessert at Toledo

Our other days in Orlando were taken up with family visits. On this night, we were celebrating our son’s birthday. We’ll soon have a lot more to celebrate as my husband and I become grandparents for the first time later this year.

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Epcot Flower Festival

We spent a couple hours at the Epcot Flower & Garden Festival the other weekend. Construction is going on at the front entrance, so we veered around the barriers to the package inspection station. From here, we headed into one of my favorite spots, the building with free cola drinks from around the world. I like the raspberry-flavored one the best.

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

Next we ventured outside and to the right toward Canada. One of our party had the Citrus-Poached Salmon at the Flavor Full Kitchen. I tried the Roasted Beets with Cashew Cheese. It was delicious. Between this dish and the beets we ate recently at a Publix cooking class, I could make a meal from this vegetable.

salmon

At the Honey Bee-Stro, we sampled the Roasted Cauliflower with Carrot Puree, Rice Pilaf and Asparagus. It was good, but I like my roasted cauliflower recipe better. Also from this booth, a member of our group had the Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread. It looked good, although maybe not as crispy as I like flatbreads.

flatbread

Our kids sampled the Fruit Sushi called Frushi from Hanama in Japan and a few other items. By now, I was too hot to eat any of the meat dishes and the heat had sapped my appetite. We finished our rounds and left for the day.

fruit sushi

Later, my husband and I visited Disney Springs. We had lunch at Paddlefish. While enjoying a lovely view of the lake, we ate New England Clam Chowder and the Crabcake appetizer with corn relish that was more than enough for a meal. We watched the amphicars glide past from the Boathouse Restaurant.

clam chowder

amphicar

Others meals we had were at Seasons 52 and Bahama Breeze. And now that we’re home, it’s time to go back on our healthful diets.

Seasons 52   Bahama Breeze

Christmas Day in Disney Springs

On Christmas Day, we saw the Aquaman movie at Disney Springs, followed the Christmas Tree Trail, and ate dinner at the House of Blues. It was a magical day. Here are some photos:
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House of Blues
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We celebrated New Year’s Eve with dinner at Buca di Beppo in Davie.
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Our Florida weather continues to be mild, so we are enjoying the parks.
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Check out my personal goal-setting guidelines for this year and enter our Booklover’s Bench contest for a $25 Amazon/BN gift card while there: https://bookloversbench.com/lets-talk-with-nancy-j-cohen-29/