Disney Doings

We visited Disney World twice in December for double the pleasure. First we visited Magic Kingdom. The magic got somewhat lost on our twenty-minute trek from the parking lot back in the wilds to the ticket and transportation center. No trams meant an unexpected hike. Then more walking until you get to the actual entrance. We decided to wait in line for the Jungle Cruise ride since we hadn’t been on the latest version, but after a crowded wait where we were packed into lines with no social distancing (we wore masks), we had to leave for our lunch reservation.

   Magic Kingdon        Jungle cruise

 

   

We had a delicious meal at Liberty Tree Tavern that’s essentially a turkey dinner with a gooey toffee dessert. This was almost worth the angst in getting there.

       

After lunch, the park was getting more crowded and the skies cloudier. We quit to head back to the parking lot. Naturally the monorail wasn’t working and we had to take the ferry. Finally made it back to our parking lot in the land of the forgotten and were rained on before reaching our car. Not the most magical experience this day. I will not return here until the trams are running again or else we’ll have to pay extra for preferred parking.

Our day at Disney Springs was better. We met our kids for an anniversary lunch at Paddlefish which was very enjoyable. Here’s my clam chowder and crab cake meal.

     

We strolled around to view the Christmas trees. There wasn’t any defined trail like in previous years. These were scattered among the stores.

         

We passed a concert by a band and watched our grandson on a train ride with his mom. Not sure which one of them loved it more.

       

Next trip, if we care to brave the crowds, will be Epcot for the food booths at the arts festival. I’d definitely get the preferred parking although it grates on my nerves to have to pay extra when the free trams should be running. The magic isn’t what it used to be.

Dining Around the World

We had a wonderful day at Disney World’s Epcot Food & Wine Festival as we strolled around World Showcase to sample the foods. My writer pal and critique partner, Ann Meier, accompanied us. It was a trek from the parking lot without the trams running and around the new construction obstacles past Planet Earth. We detoured to go on one of my favorite rides at The Land pavilion. I love the boats that glide through the plant and hydroponics gardens where you learn about new growing techniques.

Our first stop was for the Beer-Braised Beef with Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes at Belgium. This was a tasty dish, although the meat could have been more tender.

The Griddled Cheese with Pistachios and Honey at Greece was delicious. The flavors were unusual and reminded me of melted Brie with jam on top. The honey and chopped pistachios were inspirational.

Who wouldn’t like the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Tart at the Rotunda Bistro in the American Adventure? It was a perfect melding of sauteed mushrooms atop a puff pastry shell.

At the Alps, Richard had a wine flight, and I had the Blueberry and Almond Frangipane Tart. Since I love marzipan, this was a yummy dessert. The portion was large enough for us to share.

   

And how could I pass up the Traditional Macaroni and Cheese with Herbed Panko at Mac & Eats? If you’re a mac and cheese fan, you’ll want to make a stop there. Creamy with a slight crunch from the topping, this dish is the ultimate comfort food.

We were lucky to have perfect weather, partially cloudy in the low seventies, before a cold front came through the next day with heavy rain. It wasn’t terribly crowded at Epcot, which made for almost no waits in line anywhere. There were still other foods I might have liked to try but I got too full to eat anymore. The lower temperature and drier air made walking pleasant as we strolled around World Showcase. I achieved over 12,000 steps this day but counteracted it with all the extra calories consumed.

 

 

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Birthday Bounties

We were fortunate to have three family birthdays fall during Magical Dining month in Orlando. That makes it simple what to do to celebrate. Go out to eat! Here are the birthday dinners we attended and the delicious meals we consumed, along with one we did on our own. Never mind the added sugar and cholesterol consumption. I’ll deal with those later.

The Tap Room at Dubsdread
Buffalo Shrimp
10 oz. Herb Encrusted Prime Rib
Key Lime Pie

Buffalo Shrimp  Prime Rib  Key Lime Pie  

Le Coq Au Vin
Tarte l’Oignon

Beef Bourgignon
Crème Brulee

Tarte L'Oignon  Beef Borgignon  Creme Brulee         

Delaney’s Tavern
Roasted Mushroom and Burratta Flatbread

Almond Crusted Salmon
Bourbon Peach Cobbler

Mushroom and Burratta  Almond Crusted Salmon Peach Cobbler

Fig’s Prime
Goat Cheese Croquette
9 oz. Filet Mignon
Rum Chocolate Torte
Goat Cheese Croquette  Filet Mignon Rum Chocolate Torte

If you could wish for your favorite meal, what would be your appetizer, entrée and dessert?

Animal Kingdom Safari

We took a break and went to the Animal Kingdom at Disney World to make use of our annual passes. Our parking space was within easy walking distance of the entrance so we were lucky in that regard. We walked along the shady paths toward Africa.

Animal Kingdom

After stopping at Starbucks for some snacks to refuel our energy, we headed onto the Kilimanjaro Safari ride. No wait in the line, which we also saw later at Expedition Everest. The park is so spread out that it didn’t seem terribly crowded. We got front row seats in our safari vehicle.

   

The animals were strolling about or lazing in the heat. We viewed quite a few as you can see from these photos.

           

We lunched in Dinoland at a fast food place where we could sit indoors and enjoy the air-conditioning. On our way out, we browsed in the shops and then headed home tired but happy.

   

 

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Wekiwa Springs State Park

We enjoyed the trails at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Central Florida where you can picnic on the grass, eat at the concession stand, rent boats, hike along twenty-five miles of wooded paths or swim in the seventy-two degree natural springs.

   

Forty-two million gallons of water flow each day from Wekiwa Springs into Wekiwa Springs Run. The run joins with Rock Springs Run to form the upper Wekiva River. Since its discovery in the 1860s, Wekiwa Springs has attracted visitors. It had a hotel and bathhouse in the 1890s. The Apopka Sportsman Club bought the land in 1941 from the Wilson Cypress Company, which had logged the area. In 1969, the club sold the land to the state of Florida to become Wekiwa Springs State Park.

   

Near the main parking area, a grassy slope leads down to the crystal-clear water where the natural springs provide a swimming hole. Further along are boat rentals. The scenic beauty makes you pause to absorb the sights. It’s a popular place to visit with limited capacity, so get here early.

After viewing the springs, we followed a wet-to-dry trail through the tropical hammock and fortunately came out at a place we recognized. This was a lovely walk through the forest. It was an easy trail to follow.

We grabbed lunch at the concession stand and sat on the elevated deck overlooking the woods. It was a delightful setting for a meal while soaking in the scenery. Leafy trees provided shade and there weren’t many insects around this time of year before the summer humidity sets in.

 

The landscape here is very different from our former home in South Florida. The natural attractions of Central Florida have their own beauty with hills, tall trees with Spanish moss, lakes and fresh-water springs. It brings home how diverse Florida is with so many varied regions, from the sunny, sea-kissed Keys to the subterranean caves in the northern part of the state. Each area should be appreciated on its own. Look beyond the theme parks and come visit the natural springs and numerous lakes that grace the central part of this state.

 

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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.