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I love Orlando theme parks. The best part of any Disney day comes at the end – the nightly fireworks and light show projected on Cinderella’s Castle. My favorite ride remains the Forbidden Journey through Harry Potter’s castle at Universal. Afterward, I like to grab a mug of Butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks. My holidays aren’t complete without strolling through ICE: the hand-carved frozen village at Gaylord Palms. For a romantic Orlando stay, I’d pick the Courtyard at Lake Lucerne, a historic B&B. My fave hip, piano bar is the Bösendorfer Lounge tucked into the Grand Bohemian- sip and browse their eclectic art, best Italian is Christini’s Ristorante Italiano, and for healthy gluten-free: EthosVegan Kitchen in nearby Winter Park.
Back in the days before On Demand viewing or even VCR recorders, Christmas specials came on one of three national television stations once a year. We waited for Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Frosty almost as much as we waited for Santa. TV watching in December was really special.
So, I have fond memories of Frosty and my children do, too. Today, my grandchildren know him well because they grew up watching the video over and over.
I live in Florida and there is no chance that Frosty or snowmen making is going to happen around here. And, don’t even think about those big inflatable creatures!
However, lucky for me, I was invited to Florida’s Gaylord Palms and ICE : a frozen fantasy within the hotel’s convention center. Every year 40 Chinese artisans from Harbin, China are brought to Kissimmee (near Orlando) to create ice sculptures. They make an entire village and huge ice slides. I have visited the attraction each year for the past three years and each time I grow fonder. It’s just plain cool.
ICE is a temperature controlled spectacle for kids and grown-ups. The attraction provides visitors with parkas, but remember to bring your own hats and gloves. The frosty air hovers around 10 degrees.
The hotel is a fabulous place for a multi-generational weekend or in my case, a girlfriend getaway. My girlfriend and I sat out by the pool to warm up after our tour through the frozen world of ICE. We ended up staying for lunch.
When we had enough sun, we headed back inside for the fun of decorating a gingerbread house. At ICE, you get a pre-built house and a container with all sorts of candy adornments. Simply apply frosting as glue and create your own masterpiece. We sang along with a rendition of “Gingy Bells” as we worked. Gingy is one of my favorite characters from the Shrek movies. She pops into the gingerbread decorating area from time to time.
Before dinner we enjoyed the musical and light spectacular performed at Gaylord a few times each day. The presentation includes stunning acrobatic routines and a drummer who plays music while suspended over the stage. If you like Mannheim Steamroller type of music, you will love this show. Best of all, it’s free.
That evening, we holed up in our wonderful room and sipped wine. That’s just what girls do on a girlfriend getaway!
Next morning, we ate breakfast with Shrek and his pals and went on a scavenger hunt trying to locate all the hidden reindeer with the immense Gaylord Palms interior. Immense is an understatement; the giant indoor arena feels like a botanical garden on steroids. I’ve written before that the hotel atrium reminds me of a biosphere; a place one could live inside of for days and never miss the outdoors. There’s even a pool of alligators in the atrium.
Gaylord Palms also has a fabulous top of the line spa. I toured the facility and wanted to try the “Fire and Ice “facial but unfortunately ran out of time. Guess I’m just going to have to return again!
If you are looking for a holiday treat that you’ll talk about for years to come, visit Florida’s Frosty and ICE or better yet stay overnight and take in all that Gaylord Palms has to offer.
Disclosure: I attended an event for media sponsored by Gaylord Palms.
Sometimes you look forward to visiting a place to the point that you’re disappointed when you finally arrive. Not so with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando. I entered Universal’s Islands of Adventure around 4:30 pm on a Saturday afternoon which turned out to be advantageous timing. Hoards of hot, dreary guests were leaving as I walked in. I headed straight back through the theme park, past colorful Seuss Landing, to the 20-acre complex of Hogsmeade.
The snow capped Victorian village feels exactly like stepping into the pages of J.K. Rowling’s famous books. The place is enchanting, even with throngs of tourists; you feel the author’s dreams and imagination come to life. HoneyDukes candy shoppe is a luscious allure of sweets, the florists shop window contains screaming mandrake plants and the owl post office sends mail with Hogsmeade stamps.
I didn’t tarry in town, rather high-tailed it to Hogswarts Castle for “the ride.” Signage noted a waiting time of 75 minutes, but I entered the singles line which cut the queue to about 35 minutes. (Hint- families can save time using this approach as long as they don’t mind splitting up for the ride.) While waiting within the castle, visitors are entertained by talking portraits, holograms and the profound sorting hat.
I spoke with Amy from Pennsylvania and her two daughters Elizabeth and Karen. They were repeating their third ride of the day. They’d also visited the park the day before and plan to return for spring break. Needless of say this family of experts cherish all things Harry Potter.
Finally, I was ready to sit down and ride my broomstick on the Forbidden Journey. Off I flew, up and down swooping to great heights and through narrow alley ways and castle towers. I followed Harry on his adventures, playing Quidditch, escaping from the Whomping Willow tree and immense spiders dangling down to my knees. A fire-spewing dragon roared hot breath at my face, I was squirted by plants, and saw eerie apparitions. The fast moving thrill was the best amusement park ride I’ve ever ridden: a mix of Disney’s Space Mountain, Haunted House and 3-D Star Wars effects. Just lovely.
I exited and stopped for a Butterbeer– a frozen drink to cool down from the overwhelming heat. Yum- tastes like a cream soda, sweet butterscotch, with a frothy head of a Guinness.
I spent about 25 minutes standing outside Ollivander’s wand shop. Upon entering, the costumed shop owner selects one lucky lad to find a wand from the vast collection. The first two offerings were failures, certainly not meant for him, but the third attempt united the wizard and spell caster. Very well done.
I ate dinner at The Three Boomsticks Restaurant, choosing the combo plate of chicken, ribs, roasted potatoes and corn on the cob instead of the more English fish and chips. Far better than anticipated for theme park food. I completed the meal with a Hogs Head brew, a Sam Adam’s like beer. Total cost of the meal and drink –$19.95. The quantity proved way more than I could eat.
I had a delightful ride on the Hippogriff, a roller coaster which passes by Hagrid’s cottage. Perfect for youngsters or those who wish a tamer experience. When I was nearing The Dragon Challenge, lightening crackled and the outdoor attractions closed. I meandered through the village, stopping to shop on my way out of the park. The young couple in front of me said they were visiting for the tenth time. The endearing place, built at the cost of $265 million, seems to put a spell on some folk.
In three and a half hours I had pretty well covered the Wizarding World but must confess I saw nothing else in Universal’s huge arena. That’s okay with me, this muggle wanted to step into Hermione’s shoes and couldn’t have danced through a happier eve.
While I received a free ticket to Universal as a paid attendee at The Travel Bloggers Show in Orlando, the pass in no way encouraged this blog. As was previously mentioned in an earlier post, I had planned to visit the park this fall. I do want to thank Universal for the special opportunity and will definitely return.