Tag Archives: Central Florida

Ice Men Cometh to Gaylord Palms

Chinese artisan carves Santa
A Chinese artisan carves Santa At Gaylord Palms

For the past ten years, Gaylord Palms Resort near Orlando has turned their convention center into the ‘Florida Fridge’. The event begins to take shape in October, when 40 Chinese artisans and their cook arrive from Harbin, China. The ice men cometh to carve two million pounds of frozen water into a frosty fantasyland. The job takes approximately one month to complete.

Originally only crystal-clear ice was used, created by filtering de-ionized water for three days. Then, colored ice blocks were developed by adding food coloring. The process is not as easy as it sounds; the mixture must be stirred constantly to obtain consistent color. Making white ice is easiest, just freeze quickly for a cloudy look.

In previously years, I’ve walked through the finished attraction and highly recommend it get into a holiday mood. However, this year I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes and see ICE under construction.

Sawing ice blocks
Sawing ice blocks
Working on ICE
Working on ICE


The themed project starts with detailed architectural blueprints. Measurements are transferred and marked off on the floor, like a home building site. Ice blocks start arriving from the factory at a rate of two truck loads a day for 15 days. Each block weighs 400 pounds, so must be moved around by a forklift.





Workers begin to assemble the blocks, adding special fluorescent lights between some of the pieces and cutting others with chain saws. I saw a small square block placed on a larger rectangular piece, which would eventually become a head on a body. The sculptors denote points to guide them as they work like Michelangelo. Each artist brings his own set of tools, akin to a chef and his knives, including a variety of rakes, chisels, picks and trowels.

ICE under construction at Gaylord Palms
ICE under construction at Gaylord Palms

The temperature in the room hovers around nine-degrees, so carvers wear warm boots, coats, hats and gloves. (You should, too, although Gaylord provides oversized parkas.) They grapple through four-hour shifts with a warm-up break outside. I was cold after half an hour, but the Chinese are rugged. Harbin temperatures’ average only two degrees in the winter and sometimes plummet to -36. No wonder these men enjoy Florida’s balmy weather.

This year’s theme is Merry Madagascar taken from the Dreamworks’ movie. All scenes and characters are constructed entirely from ice, even the popular interactive slides. No wooden supports or iron beams are used.

ICE! featuring DreamWorks' Merry Madagascar at Gaylord Palms Resort
ICE! featuring DreamWorks’ Merry Madagascar at Gaylord Palms Resort

The only scene to be repeated, since this event began, remains the magnificent life-size nativity, created from sparkling crystal-clear cubes. One artist, chosen by fellow sculptors, receives the honor of carving the largest angel.

If you haven’t seen ICE, make the drive to Orlando and treat yourselves and the kids to one ‘cool’ outing.

Crystal clear nativity figures at ICE
Crystal clear nativity figures at ICE


For further information and tickets: www.gaylordhotels.com

Read about my previous visit to ICE: Delicious Fun with Gingy at Gaylord Palms

Happy First Birthday LEGOLAND Florida

Legos, those small brightly colored interlocking bricks, were designed as a child’s toy but many adults consider them a hobby.  A stash of Lego’s can provide hours of stimulating creative fun for almost any age. In fact, the company name “Lego” was derived from the Danish phrase leg godt, which means “play well”. Perhaps that’s why they remain popular some 60 years after their debut.

Entrance to Legoland Florida
Entrance to Legoland Florida

Florida unveiled Legoland, its newest theme park, in October, 2011. The former grounds of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven were transformed into what I’d call “the ultimate world of Lego.” Visitors are greeted by life-sized Lego creations and entertained by an assortment of 50 family-friendly rides, shows and other attractions.

Big Lego Monsters
Big Lego Monsters

Miniland, a marvelous model village of landmarks and scenes from around the world, acts as the hub. The city layouts include buildings, bridges, lakes or famous structures made entirely from Lego’s–some with moveable parts like a parading band in front of the White House.

Miniland at Legoland Florida
Miniland at Legoland Florida

On October 15, 2012 Legoland is celebrating its first birthday and guests can join the party with a 50% off single day admission. In addition, a prize patrol will give away hundreds of gifts and free cupcakes for the first 5,000. Gifts include prizes such as: Meet a Master Model Builder, free Hero Passes for front-of-the-line access to rides, and free single day or annual passes to Legoland Florida.

Previous visitors to Cypress Gardens may remember the famous botanical gardens and Legoland wisely retained this beautiful serene space. (Hint to grandparents- sneak off here to get away from the crowds.)

Lego Southern Belle at the former Cypress Gardens
Lego Southern Belle at the former Cypress Gardens

The ever popular water ski show was rejuvenated and now features a Lego-Pirate themed performance. The chance to sit and watch under a covered amphitheater becomes a joy for tired feet. A forewarning — Legoland’s property covers 150-acres.

A few more tips:

The water park was added before the summer of 2012, but requires a higher priced ticket.

Tourists visiting nearby Orlando can take a $5 shuttle bus directly to the Legoland, eliminating the parking fee and drive after an exhausting day.

Purchasing tickets online saves money and avoids long lines at the entrance gate.

Gift shops sell all things Lego and I dare say every kid will leave with a new Lego product.

Legoland Florida has a free phone app for android and i-phones.

Debi Lander with Lego Darth Vader
Debi Lander with Lego Darth Vader

Park operating hours are 10am-5pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.legoland.com

Lego-Pirate Themed Water Ski Show

Lego-Pirate Themed Water Ski Show

Riding Camels Here and There


Camel riding isn’t a popular means of transportation in the United States, but a method I’ve always wanted to try. As luck goes, I was blessed with two diverse opportunities within one month.


The first came when I traveled to Jordan and spent two nights in a Bedouin tent camp. The  desert at Wadi Rum reigns as an ideal location for a camel trek. Lawrence of Arabia described the landscape as, “red sands that stretch like seas between mountains of crimson sandstone. The rock monoliths sculpted by nature resemble the drippings of candle wax on a monumental scale.”


On the morning of my ride, owners in long flowing robes crossed the dunes and walked alongside their herd. The scene looked like it a sepia-tinted photograph from a history book, except the two Bedouin were talking on cell phones.  Okay, I thought — digital age dromedaries.


They cushed the camels (lowered to a kneeling position) and covered their basic saddles with blankets. Stirrups are not part of a camel’s gear, so one grips the tufts of hair atop the hump. To get on, I flung one leg over the beast, feeling my yoga class stretches coming into use. I casually shimmied my butt into place and hunkered down.


Suddenly, my camel erupted upward nearly tossing me off its back as it leaped to its fore-knees. Then, in a two-stage process, its back legs extended, and I was nearly catapulted forward over its head. I then found myself riding at the height that would guarantee a slam dunk into a basketball net.  Woo-hoo!

Desert camel riders in Jordan

The first few minutes gave me a bumpy, disconcerting ride, as my body jostled to and fro. But soon I began to adapt and enjoy the feel of the gentle compression of my camel’s hooves into the sandy sea. The view on camelback is spectacular, you’re about twice as high as when riding a horse and the desert scenery gorgeous.


Later in the month, I found myself at the Safari Wilderness Ranch in Central Florida. Believe it or not, I mounted a camel here for another ride. They use an easier method to get of on and off, but honestly it’s not as much fun nor as hair-raising as my original.  Polk County camel riders step up onto a platform at the dromedary’s height. Then, riders simply toss a foot over. The camel does not rise or descend. In Florida, the saddles had metal frames which guarantee a secure ride.


Once beyond the loading zone, the sensation of riding is identical, except the safari traverses grass instead of sand. While riding through Wilderness Park I saw zebras, lemurs, wart hogs, cattle, deer, antelope and Water Buffalo. Safari Wilderness Ranch is not a zoo or theme park. There are no crowds and no lines; it’s a natural adventure with guides who explain the herds of exotic game. Safari vehicles fitted with shade canopies offer an alternative tour.


I highly recommend a trip to Jordan; the country is safe, the people are friendly and the archeological ruins outstanding. A camel ride across the desert is a cherished memory, but I have to admit, a three-hour car ride gave me a similar, close encounter with the humped beasts.


Wilderness Ranch Zebras



If you go:

Safari Wilderness Ranch:


Tours in Jordan:  www.jordantours-travel.com/cms/