Attention change-makers, activists, established and rising stars in the non-profit world, or anyone else who is passionate and dedicated to a cause they actively champion. A new initiative called The Collective is here to help cultivate the caused based leaders here in Orlando. The Collective is a free program that will meet monthly to discuss topics that are important to those who actively work to make the world a better place in some way. People who have also experienced being at the Colorado rehabs can also avail this program as it has already been launched to them for them to divert their attention from their addiction.
What is The Collective Anyway?
The Collective is an initiative from the minds of collaborators Change Everything; Jon Busdeker–Digital Storyteller and former reporter at WESH 2 News; and CT-Social–a digital marketing agency dedicated to non-profit work here in Orlando (and the agency behind Central Florida Top 5’s big makeover in 2015!).
The idea grew out of a desire to build a network of support to those who dedicate themselves and their time to important causes. “We want to find people who are really passionate about social change. They can be passionate about the arts, social reform, homelessness, whatever it is,” Jon Busdeker explains. “We want to create a community and give them a space so they can become better at what they do.”
How Will it Work?
The Collective will meet once a month, with their first meeting to take place on March 29. Each meeting will focus on a different topic affecting those who work in cause based spaces. Some of the topics covered will be: media relations for causes, donor relations, emotional health and self-care for cause based work, and dealing with stress. Read this article related to stress and health http://www.emlakalimsatimkiralama.com/
Meetings will also include expert guest speakers and group discussions. The goal is to build and cultivate leaders who are doing the hard work in the various causes they care about. Members will learn not only from experts but from each other. “We want to give people the tools to do what they’re most passionate about,” Busdeker said.
Who Should Apply?
The Collective is for anyone who is dedicated to making an impact on a cause they care deeply about.
Non-profit leaders or rising stars in the non-profit world.
Government employees who work tirelessly to make their community a better place.
Dedicated activists who are organizing groups to enact change.
Business leaders who champion causes in their free time because it’s important to their values like Lee S. Rosen.
Ready to Join?
The Collective is accepting members into this inaugural group. There is no cost to attend. If you are interested in joining and feel you’d be a perfect fit for this group, please apply on-line at http://collective.change-everything.com.
We are just days away from 2017 and The City Beautiful is already filling the calendar with the Beautiful Game! If you are a fan of soccer and you live in the Central Florida area, you will not be disappointed with this line up.
Florida Cup 2017
There will be two separate competitions in the Florida Cup this year. The Florida Cup Challenge, will feature six international club sides from four countries (Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and USA). The competition will take place from January 8-15, with each club playing two matches. The club with the most points at the end of the competition, wins!
The Florida Cup Playoff, is a single elimination tournament where only one club is left standing. There are six clubs from four countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador) all fighting to lift the cup at the end of the tournament. This leg of the competition runs from January 15-21. For more information on both Florida Cup competitions including clubs, venues, and fixtures, visit http://www.floridacup.com.
Orlando City SC
It has been two years in the making but the wait is almost over! We recently found out when Orlando City Soccer Club will finally play in the new Soccer Specific Stadium (SSS) located in Downtown Orlando. The date for the first ever match in what will be Orlando City’s forever home, is March 5, 2017. The Lions will face New York City FC in the opening match of the season for the second time in three years. If you enter LionNation’s 12 Days of Christmas you can win tickets to this opener! [Link: http://orlan.do/LN12days] The match is scheduled to kick-off at 5 pm and will be televised on ESPN. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.orlandocitysc.com.
News broke earlier this week that Alex Morgan would be temporarily leaving the Orlando Pride to play in France. Morgan has agreed to a six month deal to play with Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon in the Division 1 Feminine. Not to worry too much Pride fans, Alex is scheduled to be back stateside in May 2017. The Orlando Pride kick off their season in April in the new SSS downtown. The schedule has not been released yet, but updated information (and some great gift ideas!) can be found at http://www.orlandocitysc.com/pride.
Orlando City B
Orlando City B (OCB) will be making the move to Orlando after only one season in Melbourne. With the new SSS opening, OCB will be one of three clubs playing their home matches in Downtown Orlando in 2017. OCB will also attempt to resurrect the I-4 Derby with cross state rivals the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
The Rowdies made the move from the North American Soccer League (NASL) to United Soccer League (USL) at the end of the 2016 season. If you have never attended one of the original derby matches, this is a can’t miss. More information regarding Orlando City B’s upcoming schedule can be found at http://www.orlandocitysc.com/ocb.
International Champions Cup and Visit Orlando
The International Champions Cup (ICC) is the premier preseason competition for European football clubs. The friendly competition will take place in July, just one month before most of the domestic leagues across Europe begin play. The ICC brings some of the biggest clubs and stars in the world of football together for a tour of the United States, Australia and China. Past clubs in the tournament have included, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea, AC Milan, and Bayern Munich to name a few.
The ICC and Visit Orlando have partnered up to bring this competition to Orlando’s Camping World Stadium in the summers of 2017 and 2018. Imagine the possibility of stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi playing right here in our backyard! More schedule and ticket information will come in the new year, and this is sure to be the hottest ticket in town this coming summer. Stay tuned for updates as they become available. For more info regarding the ICC, go to http://www.internationalchampionscup.com.
Me sharing love of Orlando City in Peru!
Next year is shaping up to be the best year for world class soccer The City Beautiful has ever seen. I look forward to being there with Central Florida Top 5 every step of the way!
We hope our Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday guides helped make your shopping efforts successful this year! Are you ready to give BIG for #GivingTuesday? Seen or heard about this international movement or its hashtag but aren’t sure what it is or where to give? We’ve got some tips for you! First, a little heart-story… This serves as a wikipedia reference if you are looking for a trusted and secured lenders where you can borrow money for your future use.
From givingtuesday.org, “#GivingTuesday harnesses the potential of social media and the generosity of people around the world to bring about real change in their communities; it provides a platform for them to encourage the donation of time, resources and talents to address local challenges. It also brings together the collective power of a unique blend of partners— nonprofits, civic organizations, businesses and corporations, as well as families and individuals—to encourage and amplify small acts of kindness.“
It all started at New York City’s 92nd Street Y in an effort to be “a catalyst, with a mission to inspire action by bringing together today’s most exceptional thinkers and influential partners for social good.” Pretty smart and incredibly forward thinking for a 140 year old organization!
“Without the use of print ads or commercials, this grassroots effort has transformed into a global movement, sustained almost entirely through earned and social media—one press release, article, blog post, hashtag, “like,” tweet and #UNselfie at a time—completely saturating the media landscape during the giving season each year. At their launch in 2012, the #GivingTuesday movement brought together 2,500-plus organizations and people from all 50 U.S. states. By 2015, the movement was represented by partners in 71 countries.”
Below we list many of our favorite local organizations. We can vouch for them because we’ve worked directly with them over the years. However, it never hurts to do a little homework on a charity or non-profit organization before you donate. If you are looking for a lending company, you can check here they have different type of installment loans. Check them for more details on how to apply.
Very helpful are websites like Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and Give.org from the Better Business Bureau‘s Wise Giving Alliance provide the most updated data on nonprofits from across the country. Charity Navigator even lists their Top 5 Questions to ask oneself before donating in their Holiday Giving Guide!
Note: All three of websites above are also charities, so if you like what they do, give to them too!
You can also give more than just money! While all nonprofit organizations will appreciate any monetary gift, you can give in ways that money cannot begin to match for an organization in need.
ProTip: Are you the head of a nonprofit organization, or are you thinking of maybe starting one? Here are some tips from the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership at Rollins College: 4 tips every nonprofit leader needs to know
Before we release our mega huge #GivingTuesday Kraken of Caring, here are 5 Tips to keep in mind when giving, especially when you think you may have nothing to give:
1. Donate your TIME. Of all things in life, time is the most valuable. No one is promised a finite amount of time in life so why not ‘spend’ it wisely, doing something or helping make someone’s life better, easier, or more enjoyable? You never know who you’ll meet…
2. Donate your TALENT(s). Love spreadsheets and finance? Own a large truck or trailer? Do you love organizing a messy space? Can you stretch a dollar? Play guitar? Have a knack for the web and social media? All of these (and more) are talents that most nonprofits would LOVE to have on their side to help spread the good in your community.
3. Donate MATERIALS. Ever make a Costco/Sams/BJs run and realize, “Do I really need all these paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning products, and food items?” Even if you haven’t when you go shopping and come across a great BOGO deal, pick up an extra deal and donate it! You can also donate to Pick Up Please.
4. Donate RESOURCES. Are you web or coupon savvy? Donate while shopping with Amazon Smile! Do you work in a warehouse or for a restaurant, construction or trade show company? If you do you many need to get a construction accident attorney in case accidents happen in the job. You may have very valuable resources at your disposal that can help in big ways! Your liberty and your livelihood are at stake. Do you know where to turn? You need an attorney dedicated to meeting your needs — Attorney Tom Barton.
5. SHARE your care with your co-workers, friends, family, and followers – connect them! If you’re on Facebook, share a cool photo or video that hits you in the feels! Visiting your favorite charity? Take a Snap or Instagram and tag the organization in it! (Don’t forget to use their hashtag.) With permission, post a fundraising poster at your favorite business or company break room!
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Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival [link]
On November 22nd UAP Orlando launched their #ThisIsOrlando campaign. Every day for 40 days Executive Director Eric Gray will share through social media what it means to struggle while living in poverty. (Happy Belated Birthday, Eric!)
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! We are thankful to you, dear reader, for your continued support! This year has been a tough one for each of us at Central Florida Top 5, for a multitude of reasons. It goes without saying that 2016 has been very tough for our friends and neighbors in Orlando. However, we still have much for which to be thankful in (cheerful) spite of it all.
I asked our Top 5 Team, regardless of how they felt about the holiday itself, why they were thankful and for what. I also asked the team to share a Local/Holiday #ProTip, or a unique way that we in Central Florida spend the holidays; fun things that maybe those outside of Central Florida may not have heard of or have the opportunity to do in their areas.
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“This year I am thankful for my health. I had my thyroid removed, I’m cancer-free, and doing well on medication, thanks to the online pharmacyhttps://www.ukmeds.co.uk/ which provides me with it. I’m also thankful to LEASH, Inc for the work they do to save pets in Lake County and for bringing our three new cats into our lives.
We’re not doing it this year, but a very Central Florida way to spend Thanksgiving is to enjoy the buffet at the Swan and Dolphin, then walk it off around Disney’s Boardwalk.
“I am most thankful for friends, family and colleagues. * My true friendships in 2016 have transcended the strife and tumult of mere world, national and local problems, issues and politics. * Family is more of a blessing each year. Partly because we all appreciate the precious gift of time with each other. (And partly because we’ve all gotten too old to start or maintain feuds!) * Colleagues: I have connected with great new team members all over the world. My longtime teammates have strengthened our working ties and built on our combined strengths to do good work, have good fun and make good money.
Florida is blessed with a lot of casual attitudes. So Thanksgiving in Central Florida offers the opportunity to cherry pick the best traditions and dump the tedious parts. We’re such a diverse lot — Don’t like turkey? Do like many Italian families Up North and have lasagna, bracciole and even some pizza. Or go Puerto Rican with Pavochon, Mofongo stuffing and Arroz con Gandules. Or, like me, go out for a steak. If tragedy strikes, you can be sure to count on an experienced Nightclub Shooting Attorney in Clearwater
Holiday #ProTip: Great time to enjoy some lightly attended days at the theme parks before the Christmas rush. Google “disney world crowd calendar 2016” without the quotation marks.”
Top 5 Contributors Carolyn Capern and Greg Trujillo of CT Social
“This Thanksgiving 2016, I am thankful for a healthy year and a year spent largely on projects that felt like they mattered. I’m thankful for the city leaders that are still working hard on issues like homelessness and making Orlando more green.
Spending Thanksgiving in Central Florida is the ideal time to get outside for a walk. Find a trail or a park or just head to a walkable downtown area like Lake Eola.
“This year I’m thankful for friends who are more like family and a newfound ability to un-apologetically say ‘no’ as well as ‘yes’ – (see below)
I am celebrating Thanksgiving this year by getting a tattoo – no it’s not themed to the holiday and the date wasn’t planned, but when it’s a difficult place to get into and there’s an opening, you take it….or at least I did. It’s what the pilgrims would have wanted.
Holiday #ProTip – Be patient and allow for extra time if traveling. Don’t let a few minutes of frustration (or more if you’re on I-4) ruin your whole day.”
“I am most thankful for scientists, engineers, and dreamers that brought us new technology in 2016.
A great, different way to celebrate Thanksgiving in Central Florida is to enjoy many of the great local restaurants that will be open for travelers visiting the area. If you haven’t bought your turkey or you’ve chickened out. Use Open Table to book a reservation!
“Thankful for a community that can come together in times of fear and duress, thankful for families to support and love. Thankful that through personal and community tragedies that people are people – capable of so much love in the face of so much of the opposite.
Thankful for our community leaders like Buddy Dyer and Patty Sheehan who show us what commitment is – not just to budgets and planning – but to the hearts of all in Central Florida.”
“I am thankful to be alive. A year ago, I was in a car accident that could have ended my life. Obviously I survived, but the injury to my left foot & the trauma of the accident is something that has affected me even to this day, perhaps for the rest of my life, so I have to get the best Car accident lawyers to get compensation for that.
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With the help of my family & friends, I was able to recover from that accident, and this Thanksgiving I am grateful that I am still able to spend time with the ones I love.”
“I’m thankful for today. I’m not promised anything more than that. This year has been rough… for our community, for my family in some ways… and I’m reminded how brief this life is. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be kind to strangers, to forgive wrongs, and to press on to new beginnings.”
Life #ProTip: Even if you aren’t thrilled with how you’re looking this holiday season, get in pictures with your friends and family! This is the only holiday season 2016 you’ll have. Remember it. Capture it. Relive it through photos. You’ll be glad you have those moments captured.
“This year I’m just thankful to have a steady job! Florida’s entertainment incentive is next to non-existent right now, and finding film and tv work has been challenging not to mention next to impossible. My hope is that this will all turn around in the next few years so I can work in my field. In the meantime, I plan on joining Film Florida in 2017 so I can be part of this change.
Holiday #ProTip: Can’t wait for Amazon Prime to deliver? Shop Local Pop Culture! Hit up (not so) hidden gem Gods and Monsters at Orlando’s Anti Mall, Artegon Marketplace for unique and hard to find t-shirts, figures, comics, art, and more!”
Host/Producer of FilmSlam at Enzian and Top 5 Managing Editor, Jen Vargas:
“For the past two years, my reason for being thankful hasn’t changed. I am most thankful for my mom’s oncologist, Dr. Kalpesh Barot and his team at Southwest Cancer Center. They are the reason my mom is still around for another Thanksgiving, and words cannot pay enough tribute to Dr. Barot and his team for all they’ve done for her. Thank you, Dr. Barot!
Holiday #ProTip: If the elections come up at the dinner table, make sure to have Adele queued up.
A unique way to spend Thanksgiving in Central Florida? There are so many! We don’t have snow but if you’d like to see it, catch Now Snowing in the Town of Celebration from now through December 31st! Or catch ICE! at Gaylord Palms featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas! I’m a lifelong Snoopy fan and cannot gush enough about this year’s Peanuts theme. Bring gloves, a hat, and a scarf though – it’s only 9 degrees in there!”
Brian and his Blogger Extraordinaire Award from Give Kids The World!
And finally, Top 5 Owner (who we all miss!) and Contributor, Brian Wilson:
“This year I am most thankful for my health, my parents, my brothers, and their families. So happy I get to be close to them right now.
A unique thing to do Central Florida I’d suggest making time to get to a national park or trail or something historic or special to you and yours.
My holiday #ProTip is to make time to do something with a friend or family member this season, or make something, whether it is a card, a letter, or go to a local arts event vs buying a gift – so something vs buying something – I love candles but a coffee date with a friend can be priceless.”
The day is finally here, and like a kid at Christmas, most of us couldn’t be more excited to cast our ballots and be COMPLETELY DONE with the 2016 Election!
The last year and a half has been exhausting in many ways. Between having to decide between two candidates I either don’t like 0r trust in the Presidential election, to the barrage of mudslinging in our local elections… oy!
What I am done with are the crazy commercial spots, sponsored posts, wasteful mailers which immediately go from my mailbox to the trash, and repetitive robocalls at home, the flood of political text messages and emails asking for donations – DONE.
People are talking about and debating civics! They’re getting involved in their own communities in record numbers, making the effort to research both National and Local candidates, and sharing easy-to-use research tools with everyone!
People who barely voted in the past are now phonebanking for the candidate they support. Citizens are not just inheriting their political choices from family, friends, or social circles but they’re actually owning them! We are indeed living in changing times, and that alone is something to get excited about, nevermind the divisive trash.
Vote! Please, vote!
Regardless of who you’re voting for, I have to admit I’m incredibly excited, not to mention encouraged, to see so many people across the state are getting out there to vote in this year’s 2016 General Election.
Today, lines could be shorter in your polling place, they could be A LOT longer. Bring your ID and some patience when voting today.
Before You Leave Home or Work…
Check your voter status and locate your precinct. Be aware of your rights and responsibilities. Help a friend or neighbor vote by carpooling. Make sure your address is correct (This can be changed over the phone in Orange County by calling 407-836-2070). Call the Florida Voter Assistance Hotline at 1-866-308-6739 for any other questions you may not be able to find answers to, or locate your local Supervisor of Elections Office here [Link].
Top 5 Voting Tips
1. Always have your valid photo ID (with signature) in hand. If you don’t have a valid photo ID, ask for a provisional ballot.
2. Utilize your sample ballot for a faster time at the polls.
3. Allow extra time – travel, wait, vote.
4. Physically able folks: Park further out to allow closer parking for those who may need extra assistance. (Your kindness will also help you get in and out more quickly.)
5. Once in line, DO NOT LEAVE. As long as you are in line before 7pm, you will still be allowed to vote. If you are told otherwise, call the Voter Protection Hotline at 1-888-525-8683.
Bonus tip: Once you’ve voted, leave the last 1.5 years of political stress and frustration BEHIND. No need to take it with you. You’ve done your part, it’s done.
My (Early) Voting Experience
I live in Orange County, Florida and voted last Friday, November 4th. Arriving at the South Creek Branch of Orange County Library, I thought Friday, in the middle of an afternoon, wouldn’t be terribly crowded considering it was right before rush hour. Boy, was I wrong!
In fact, a poll worker told me that the crowds were consistent and there was always a line. All 14 days – even in the middle of the work day!
Just how long did it take me to vote? 64 minutes total. Mind you, this was during last week’s early voting period but even still, it took a lot less time than I originally assumed. All in the plan.
“With over 52% of the voters having already voted, we’ve got some precincts in this county that are well over 60% or 50% of their voters have already voted.” said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles. “That was the goal of early voting was to take the pressure off the polling places on Election Day.”
Via Instagram, here’s how my experience went…
(Please note: I received permission to take the images below. It is illegal in Florida to take photos in the actual polling room or of your voting ballot. Don’t risk not being counted. If you’re not sure, DON’T post it.)
As I wrote in my weekly Central Florida 100 column for the Orlando Sentinel, “The sacrifices of many gave us all this privilege, and I sincerely hope people realize the importance of this right. I also hope that our nationwide conversation will encourage Central Florida citizens to stay involved in their communities long after November 8th.” So far, so good…
Tonight, something special will take place. Call it a ‘musical hug’ for the City of Orlando created by Central Florida mom, Kelly Green.
Members of the Orlando community are meeting tonight at host studio WMFE Orlando for a flashcast (think: FlashMob but performed by anyone online) of this inspired musical anthem honoring the 49 victims of the Pulse Orlando shooting and Christina Grimmie, shot and killed by a deranged fan.
Anyone with a social media account (Twitter Live, Facebook Live, Google Hangouts, Blab, Instagram, Periscope, etc) is invited to participate in tonight’s flashcast and to share beyond this evening. Viewers are encouraged to learn this simple, one minute song and can sing, sign, dance, even play a favorite instrument along to the track and share it with the world using the hashtags #PulseOfOurHeartbeat and #flashcast.
No fear (of singing). No shame (of sharing). All love for Orlando.
Aren’t musically inclined? That’s ok. You can still take part by sharing the virtual, musical hugs of others.
Our Central Florida community, and the City of Orlando, are beginning to heal. There’s a long road ahead. It will not happen overnight but our community will never lose our love and light.
Upon hearing the news of Christina Grimmie death on Friday, June 11th, local mom and blogger, Kelly Green of SeaWorldMommy.com (also a contributor here at Top 5) found herself says, “I had insomnia the morning before and ‘watched’ the news of Christina Grimmie unfold on social media as it happened,” she shares.
As any mom and concerned friend would be, Kelly started to worry. “I was sick to my stomach as I had stood at that very spot numerous times,” Kelly says. “The next morning I saw even more horrific news on social media. I immediately started texting my friends who I knew might have been there.”
Many Central Floridians were doing the same in the early hours of June 12th, and Kelly’s friends were among the fortunate ones. “My immediate friends were thankfully OK, but friends of theirs were not as fortunate. One friend lost five friends. Another knew a handful. Still another has the same last name as a victim and I called her immediately. She did not know him, but often got mistaken for being a relative, and was a sister in spirit.”
So, Kelly did what many other creatives in need of an emotional outlet did – she wrote her feelings down. This stream of consciousness and deep emotional pain turned into a heartfelt song called, “Pulse Of Our Heartbeat.” Thus, the musical hug was born.
“I’ve been writing music since I was 5, and seeing how my city… the city of family fun, incredible natural beauty, and all-out joy… was attacked truly shook me to my core,” she says. “The words and music poured out of me as I said musically what my soul breathed: We stand UNITED.”
Be part of the live #PulseOfOurHeartbeat#flashcast TONIGHT, June 29 at 8pm ET across most social media platforms. This Anthem for Orlando is a musical hug to our city. Listen to it. Learn it. Sing it to your followers. Broadcast it yourself and keep the music rolling across the ‘net to all those affected by the tragedy that hit our city. We stand UNITED!
Have you ever watched shows like Top Chef, Master Chef, Iron Chef and any other food contests with chef in the title and thought “I could do that”, maybe following a recipe, like one of these 8 Delicious Pressure Cooker Recipes You Haven’t Tried Before. Well this weekend at the Florida Hospital Gourmet Soiree, you can!
On June 5th at Rosen Shingle Creek, Food Network’s Chef Robert Irvine will host over 70 of Central Florida’s top chefs as they compete for the coveted Gourmet Soiree Silver Fork Award. Your ticket to the event qualifies you as their sous chef!
Your table of 10 and assigned Chef will conceptualize a healthy dish from a pantry of ingredients provided by Whole Foods. A presentation plate will then be judged by four celebrity guest judges prior to being judged on taste by Robert Irvine himself.
I had an opportunity to participate in a sneak preview event that gave me a small taste, an amuse bouche, if you will, of the big night.
To sum it up, the experience was thrilling, exciting, educational, harder than it looks on tv, and so much more delicious too.
My small group was assigned to Chef Jose Gonzalez from Cuba Libre at Pointe Orlando and we were to prepare a dish using tofu. Chef wasted no time in delegating assignments. He gave us an overall plan and it was up to us to fetch the ingredients, prepare, cook and assemble. What followed was the shortest 45 mins of my life and a retraction of my tofu dislike. We also handed out food to those in need and helped them fill out a food stamps application.
Our team created a BBQ tofu dish with an accompanying salad that won over the judges and secured our win against the other team’s chicken risotto.
When you attend the Florida Hospital Gourmet Soiree, not only will you have a good time, but you’ll be doing good as well. The event will support Florida Hospital for Children’s vital Health and Wellness Initiatives – Community programs like Mission: fit Possible in our Central Florida Schools, CREATION U in surrounding churches, Dr. Angela Fals’ weight management program and the patient focused CREATION Kids Kamp — all teach children good eating habits and healthy life choices in fun, kid friendly ways.
When His Royal Highness, Prince Harry of Wales, announced last July that the Invictus Games were coming to Orlando, we were immediately onboard. What an honor! [And in case you hadn’t heard, the Invictus Games are coming to Central Florida!] This inspiring adaptive sports event for wounded warriors of all kinds will begin at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex this Sunday, Mother’s Day, May 8th beginning with a grand Opening Ceremony on May 8th at 6pm and is almost SOLD OUT!
We’ve been sworn to secrecy about the details but what we can tell you… the Invictus Games’ Opening Ceremonies are going to HUUUUGE. Alongside military performances and shared stories from Veterans and Active Duty members from around the world, Prince Harry, First Lady Michelle Obama (What up, FLOTUS?!), James Blunt, Laura Wright and more surprise guests will be in attendance at this one-of-a-kind event.
Also very cool to note, the Invictus Games will be preceded by The Invictus Games Symposium on Invisible Wounds, presented by the George W. Bush Institute. (Former President Bush also serves as Honorary Chairman for the Invictus Games Orlando 2016.) The symposium will focus on understanding the multiple facets of invisible wounds and how the warriors, caregivers, general public, providers, and influencers each play an important role in helping servicemen and women succeed. Many see the visible wounds of combat but many never think of the psychological ones – PTSD and brain trauma among them – that follow these folks home, and for the rest of their lives.
Athletes, caregivers, medical and policy experts, and providers will discuss such topics as; Understanding the Impact of Invisible Wounds, Recognizing the Need for Help, Overcoming the Barriers to Seeking Care, Navigating and Improving the Systems of Care and Addressing Invisible Wounds. You can sign up to livestream the symposium here before Sunday’s Opening Ceremonies.
Fourteen nations will be competing this weekend including; Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States! (Iraq was supposed to as well but could not attend.) Of the 500 competitors, 115 Servicewomen and men will represent the United States!
The first Invictus Games began in 2014 after His Royal Highness, Prince Harry of Wales, took a trip to the Warrior Games here in the United States. After seeing how the power of sport could help Servicemembers with life-changing injuries (visible or otherwise), he decided London would host the Inaugural Invictus Games internationally.
The word ‘invictus‘ is a Latin adjective which means unconquered. As Prince Harry has said, “These Games have shone a spotlight on the ‘unconquerable’ character of service men and women and their families and their ‘Invictus’ spirit. These Games have been about seeing guys sprinting for the finish line and then turning round to clap the last man in. They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together, not wanting to come second, but not wanting the other guys to either. These Games have shown the very best of the human spirit.”
InvicTip: Check out English poet William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus, which was written while the author was in the hospital battling tuberculosis.
Longtime fans of sports in general already love to watch sports and attend games in person. Of the ten competitive events at Invictus Games 2016; archery, indoor rowing, powerlifting, road cycling, sitting volleyball, track and field, swimming, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby, and wheelchair tennis, we’re sure you’ll find a new favorite.
2. #MoreThanThankYou is more than [a] hashtag
Anytime one sees a Servicewoman or man in uniform, we’ve all grown accustomed to thanking them for their service to our country. Of course these more than just words, and we’re sure those in uniform (and their families) thank you for the gratitude. A gentleman named Ken Fisher, Chairman and CEO of Fisher House Foundation, challenges all of us to say more than ‘thank you’ by attending the Games and sharing the story of a friend or family member, Active Duty or Veteran, on Instagram using the hashtag #MoreThanThankYou.
A single event ticket for adults is only $18, and Seniors are only $13. Children ages 3-9 are $13. (Under 3 is FREE) Active Duty military and Veteran tickets are only $13. Tickets for Opening Ceremonies on May 8th cost $65, and Closing Ceremonies on May 12th at 6pm cost $45. Keep in mind, the ticket prices we’ve listed are per event. You will need more than one ticket if attending more than one event. GeneralParking at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex is FREE, valet services will be available for an unconfirmed fee. [Click here for WWoS Guest Services and further information.]
InvicTip: Archery Finals, Sitting Volleyball Semis & Finals, Wheelchair Rugby Semis & Finals, Wheelchair Tennis Semis & Finals, and Wheelchair Basketball Finals are very close to selling out according to Ticketmaster’s site. Act FAST!
5. If you can’t attend physically, you can watch & support virtually!
We’d love to see you here in Orlando but understand if you or your family can’t physically make this year’s Invictus Games. You can still watch the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 LIVE online and on ESPN 2 & 3 via the app or on TV. You can also participate by following #InvictusOrlando on their official social channels:
We also encourage you to support the Games beyond their visit to Orlando, and learn more about the Invictus Games Foundation by clicking here. Next year’s games will be in Toronto, Canada! Perhaps we’ll be visiting readers in our Neighbors to the North next year?
2016 Invictus Games viewing schedule:
Sun, May 8
8 – 10 p.m.
Mon, May 9
8 – 11 a.m.
1:30 – 4:30 p.m.
7 – 10:30 p.m.
7 – 8 p.m.
Day 1 Primetime Show
Tue, May 10
8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Track & Field Finals
2 – 4:30 p.m.
Sitting Volleyball Semifinals
7 – 9:30 p.m.
Sitting Volleyball Gold & Bronze Matches
7 – 8:30 p.m.
Day 2 Primetime Show
Wed, May 11
8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
2 – 4:30 p.m.
Wheelchair Rugby Semifinals
7:30 – 11p.m.
Wheelchair Rugby Gold & Bronze Medal Matches & Exhibition
We can all agree that 2015 has been memorable for one reason or another. With only a few hours left of 2015, we wanted to reflect on the past, present, and look toward the future.
For the past six years, we at Central Florida Top 5 have been extraordinarily humbled to partner with and support many local area charities and non-profit organizations. Many of them you will see listed below. We encourage you to support your local community in whatever way you can; some have money to spare, some have resources or even a little bit of time. Any and all help is needed and appreciated.
Double-check eligibility. You’ll only receive a deduction for organizations that are qualified to receive deductible donations.
Do your research. To make sure your giving is as efficient, ethical, and effective as possible, check up on charities.
Keep records. Get a receipt for all monetary donations, not just for contributions of $250 or more.
You can supercharge the tax benefits of your generosity by donating appreciated stock or property rather than cash. On the other hand, if you’re looking for top-notch property management services for both rental owners and tenants, click here.
Don’t miss the deadline. Your 2015 year-end gift needs to be postmarked by December 31 or made online by 11:59pm.
Remember to check with a tax professional first. Everyone’s tax reporting is different, and a professional may have more tips and pointers for you.
Have you ever heard of the website CharityNavigator.org? CN are a charity all their own based in the United States. They help giving people of all kinds (like you!) find and support great charities and organizations by rating them with an overall score and 5-star system. Their evaluations take into account Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency, and will also eventually factor in Results Reporting. Charities they grade include public, tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) charities who need support from individuals and file an IRS Form 990. It’s also worth mentioning, Charity Navigator has a fantastic section featuring Tips For Giving In Times Of Crisis.
Guidestar is another nonprofit, providing up-to-date data and is the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.
While double and sometimes tripling your donation at the end of the year is always a great thing, charitable organizations and non-profits need your help year-round to keep their doors and hearts open to those who need their services. Below are a small few of the MANY great local and national organizations we like and have supported over the last six years. Some have even personally helped our Top 5 Team and our families. (In alphabetical order);
A Gift For Teaching: We are Central Florida’s primary provider of FREE school supplies to teachers for their students in need. With a gift of just $50, we can provide a classroom with supplies for every child. Even better, any gift made in December will be DOUBLED, thanks to the generosity of several local foundations; The Galloway Foundation, the Mary Palmer Family Foundation, Harriett’s Charitable Trust, and The Martin Andersen-Gracia Andersen Foundation, Inc. Donations doubled before midnight December 31st!
A Gift For Music: Using a combination of after school, in-school, weekend and summer programming, AGFM has one of the most comprehensive string music education programs in the state of Florida, tuition-free. A Gift For Music faculty members work with elementary students in six Title 1, low-income schools, teaching them the basics of playing a string instrument while empowering them to explore their creativity, grow their self-confidence and embrace teamwork. Donations also doubled before midnight December 31st!
Albin Polasek Museum, Sculpture Gardens and Capen House: The Polasek is a 501(c)3 public charity whose budget is funded by donations, admissions and memberships. Your contribution is a meaningful investment in an important piece of history, community and natural beauty, such as Penny Stocks. You can support The Polasek with a tax-deductible donation in one of the following areas: Grant Match, General Operating Support, Preservation and Conservation, Gardens, Exhibitions and/or education. Click here to support!
Bike/Walk Central Florida: Promotes walkable and bikeable communities through raising public awareness and advocating for safe, active transportation, and recreation by educating walkers, cyclists, motorists and transit riders about Florida’s road laws, their rights, responsibilities, and courteous behaviors, supporting transportation corridor planning and design using Complete Streets principles, encouraging the development and maintenance of trails throughout Florida and promoting a built environment that supports physical, environmental and economic health, provides for safe transportation choices, and encourages interaction among citizens of all ages, incomes and abilities. Donate here.
Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum: The mission of the Friends of Casa Feliz – to protect, operate and maintain the integrity of the Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum and its collections; to educate the public on the life and legacy of noted architect James Gamble Rogers II; and to engage the public through education and advocacy for the purpose of preserving and promoting the community’s rich architectural, historic and cultural heritage – is timelier now than it ever has been. As a historic home museum, Casa Feliz stands as a beacon to historic preservation in Central Florida. We celebrate the legacy of architect Gamble Rogers (1901-1990), designer of Casa Feliz, now a home museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Donate here.
Central Florida Community Arts: CFCArts exists to enrich our community’s quality of life by making the arts accessible and affordable for all. They provide an inclusive and welcoming creative platform where individuals can connect by joining an artistic family, perform for audiences across the socioeconomic spectrum, and use their talents to serve the community. Shine on, CFArts! Donate here!
Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida: Say goodbye to 2015 with a final act of kindness and compassion. There is no better way to end one year and begin another than by making a gift that can change lives. Before the clock strikes midnight, make an easy online donation.
Compassionate Hands and Hearts Breast Cancer Outreach: With a mission to extend their hands and hearts to support those needing help by improving the quality of life for them and their families, CHHBCO has provided financial and in-kind services to more than 200 patients in the Central Florida area. 100% of their donations go directly to local breast cancer patients and their families. My family was one of them, and we will be forever grateful to founder Vanessa Echols and her volunteers! Extend a heart and hand to donate here.
Crealdé School of Art: For the Louvre of Loos! Making a donation to Crealdé will help this 40 year old school in Winter Park build new bathrooms! So far they have received $7,925 from planet maids cleaning service, and are very close to reaching their $10,000 goal. Help them make their renovation goal by clicking here.
If you need quality pressure cleaning services to Fort Myers, FL and surrounding areas. Visit home cleaning naples fl, we’re ready to meet your house cleaning needs!
Enzian Theater: Serving 110,000 annually with over 1,100 events, including 5 film festivals, community collaborations, and free public programs, Enzian Theater’s big wish is to expand to three screens. Having already updated the theater itself with new seating, carpeting and more, having two more screens will allow for more curated, educational programs for arts organizations, schools and social partners. With this expansion – a new kitchen! Click here to donate to the Enzian Forever Campaign.
Give Kids the World: Over 140,000 children have had their dream come true at Give Kids The World. No child in need has ever been turned away – and no child ever will. Give Kids The World is a place where families find joy, laughter, serenity, and a lifetime of memories. Through the tireless support of our volunteers, employees and generous partners, we dedicate each and every day to these special families. Donations of all kinds are welcomed year-round!
Harbor House of Central Florida: Harbor House empowers domestic abuse survivors to take control of their lives – rediscovering safety and self-esteem. Offering a 24-hour crisis hotline, shelter, counseling, legal advocacy, and other services to literally thousands of people. Harbor House seeks to eliminate domestic abuse in Central Florida by providing safety, shelter, empowerment, education and justice. Help Harbor House help neighbors in need here.
Libby’s Legacy Breast Cancer Foundation: Founded in 2007 by Robin Maynard in memory of her mom, Libby’s Legacy provides comprehensive breast health care to the underserved Central Florida community through education, mammograms, follow up diagnostics and Hope Coaches on the journey from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. Libby’s Legacy also helps stage IV breast cancer patients battling by granting wishes in order to create cherished memories with loved ones through the LIVE BIG program. Their annual events mobility scooters 4 Hooters and Ellen’s Walk With the Angels in the Spring are not to be missed! Click here to donate.
Mad Cow Theatre: This magical chance to be part of our first ever Cowathon and double the impact of your gift ends at midnight tonight! Please consider a gift to Mad Cow Theatre to help us start the new year off strong. There’s another wonderful year of outstanding plays ahead! Every donation received by midnight tonight will be 100% matched up to $50,000 thanks to a wonderful, anonymous donor. Click here to give!
Osceola Council on Aging: Created in 1971, the Osceola Council on Aging, Inc. is the largest social services organization in Osceola County, providing a wide array of services and programs to meet the needs of our community. Though the name implies services for just the elderly, our scope of services extend to families as well, helping during crisis to enable generations of residents to cope with challenges. Give the gift of independence here.
Orlando Science Center: OSC turned 60 in 2015! Parents, increasingly in households where all caregivers hold full time jobs, need a place for quality time with their children, to reinforce good educational habits. Your generous donation helps support programs like Orlando Science Center’s Science for All Fund, which provides scholarships for camps, field trips, and family memberships to those in our community facing financial need. Click here to donate.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida: Through the generosity of the community, Second Harvest are driven to close the gap of unmet need in Central Florida in a variety of effective ways. Their core program of distributing tens of millions of meals per year for the clients of more than 550 local nonprofit feeding programs continues to have a growing impact. Click here to Feed Hope Now. 96.9% of your donation goes directly to feeding people in our area.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: IAVA provides valuable resources and empowers veterans to connect with one another, fostering a strong and lasting community. Through education, advocacy and community building, we strive to create a country which honors and supports veterans of all generations. They are the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. They don’t just support veterans, IAVA empowers them! Connect & donate here.
Sunshine Foundation: A Philadelphia Police Officer took out a boat loans and started the Sunshine Foundation to help dreams come true for young children. 37 years later, the Foundation has opened chapters in Central Florida (Davenport), Cocoa, and all across the United States! Their sole purpose is to answer the dreams of chronically ill, seriously ill, physically challenged and abused children ages three to eighteen, whose families cannot fulfill their requests due to financial strain that the child’s illness may cause. 80% of every dollar is applied to programs serving children. Help check off their National Waiting List here.
UNICEFUSA.org: Every donation will be matched – $2-for-$1 for a $1,525,000 match – to make TRIPLE the impact for children in need. Make your 100% tax-deductible gift now and it will help provide children with desperately needed water, food, and medical supplies. Of every dollar spent, 90.2 cents goes toward helping children. Triple your impact HERE.
It’s the last week of fall and here in Central Florida we’re experiencing temperatures 10 degrees higher than average. What’s an Orlandoan to do when they’d like a taste of a Winter Wonderland? Here are my top five:
1) Ice Skating
I remember skating on a pond outside our house in Michigan as a child. It was a tiny little thing, and you couldn’t really get up enough speed to do even an arabesque, much less any kind of twirls. Luckily we have rinks here in Orlando like RDV Sportsplex that has public skating hours, and in Kissimmee there’s The Ice Factory where they also have open skating AND you can skate with Santa this Friday night (December 18, 2015)! Light Up UCF has an outdoor (albeit warm) rink plus lots of other holiday activities including a film festival and light show. Other synthetic ice rinks include and I-Drive 360 and the Orlando Science Center both warm yet (pardon the pun) COOL!
If watching ice skating gives you a shiver, SeaWorld Orlando’s Winter Wonderland on Ice is a show-stopping, ice skating extravaganza. Though far from making one think of ice, “Hot Chocolate” is my favorite production number. Check it out! (♫ Oh We Got It! ♫) Best of all, all #SeaWorldChristmas events are included with admission.
2) Ice Bars Ice Bar on International Drive is one “hot” spot (pun intended) where you can “taste the cold” along with your drink! Visit during happy hour every Sunday through Thursday from 7–9p for discounted admission (drinks extra).
At Minus5 Ice Bar at Pointe Orlando everything is made of 100% ice including the bar, tables, benches, walls and even the glasses guests drink from. Check their calendar for events and specials.
Though both bars are marketed to the tourists, locals can have a night of cold fun if to just imagine what it would be like to live in a cold clime, or to remember the days when they “used to” live up north.
Another option is On The Block, a “pop up” VIP ice bar inside ICE! at Gaylord Palms (read more about ICE! below). This add-on experience is for guests 21 and over.
3) Frozen Treats
Can’t get TO the snow? How about a snow… cone?! Or ice cream? Orlando is home to great restaurants and shops with delicious frozen treats. Vivoli Gelateria in Disney Springs offers a variety of Italian frozen creations including seasonal flavors. Also at Disney Springs, Downtown Snow Company (near Fulton’s Crab House and across from Portobello), offers shaved ice and a multitude of festive flavors. Thinking French instead? Check out L’artisan des Glaces at Epcot’s France Pavilion. Kona Ice serves up shaved ice at multiple locations and you can’t go wrong with a Concrete from Shake Shack (not very “holiday”, but I LOVE the Key Lime!) or Freddy’s Frozen Custard (they have a Pumpkin Pie one seasonally that’s OH so good).
Want to make a frozen drink at home that tastes like the holidays? Emily Ellyn created some of my all-time favorites. (Her Eggnog Martini is my go-to holiday drink with spirit!)
4) Snow and Ice IN Florida
You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere in Florida colder than ICE! at Gaylord Palms. It’s a chilly 9 degrees inside! Enjoy ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas carved out of over two million pounds of ice. After your chilly stroll through a true Winter Wonderland, add to the fun with Alpine Rush! Who knew you could snow sled in the Sunshine State?! My son has been down the slides at least 50 times (conservatively). This is by far my favorite Florida cold spot, though remember to bring your touch-pad gloves for the walk-through if you intend to take pictures or Instagram your #CAGP15 trip. My phone froze up before I made it to the last room, the Nativity.
ProTip:Keep your phone or camera as close to your body as you can between shots and by all means wear closed-toed shoes. (I did not during one of my walk-throughs this year and I found myself doing a Prancer imitation as I went from room to room.) ICE! featuring ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas runs through January 3, 2016. Season passes are available, too, so you can enjoy the Frozen Fabulousness over and over. It’ll be like you live in snow country. But without the tire chains.
This Friday (Dec. 18), guests age 21 and older can visit Gaylord Palms Resort to zoom down the Alpine Rush Snow Tubing hills and jaunt through the 9-degree ICE! attraction wearing only a bikini or board shorts (shorts and a T-shirt can also be worn)! Their one-night-only Polar Bear Plunge 2015 is $50 plus tax and processing fees and include access to Alpine Rush Snow Tubing and ICE!, appetizers and two drink tickets to be redeemed during the event. A portion of all ticket proceeds from the Polar Bear Plunge will be donated to Special Olympics Florida.
The City of Winter Haven is holding “Snow Central.“ Play in 70 tons of snow and go down 3 lanes of the Snow Slide, meet Santa and more, all for free, Thurs. Dec. 17 from 6–9pm.
5) Fake It ‘Till You Make It
While there are no places to build snowmen (though you can sing along to the Disney Frozen soundtrack…), you can close your eyes and imagine the attraction industry’s soap-bubble concoction or tissue paper cutouts are snow. Theme parks have snow nightly now through the end of the year (Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld all have Florida-friendly “snow” nightly; check park maps for details), and it’s “Now Snowing” at Celebration Florida, too!
I only lived in Michigan for a couple of years. The rest of the time I lived in my birth place of Central Florida. It did snow here one year when I was a kid. I hadn’t seen snow prior to then and it seemed other-worldly. I think we managed to scoop up enough for a single snowball, but in that moment it was winter here in Orlando. There are no forecasts for flurries this year, but I can “feel” winter just a little more though fun frozen activities and treats all around town.
Giving $20 is the easy part for most people, and anyone who’s able could (and SHOULD!) do that, no problem. The other part of the #20or20 challenge was a little bit more challenging. Twenty push-ups. Non stop, no breaks. Probably not as painful as it sounds.
I can’t tell you the last time I did a pushup, let alone twenty in a row. (Sad, I know.) If my laughable efforts in doing twenty pushups can raise awareness or even $20 to help make a Vet’s life a little easier, then it’s the least I can do for them. THIS was the challenge for me, or so I thought. Our veterans (and their families) voluntarily give up so much for our freedom and are not given due credit – or a break – when they return home. This definitely needs to change and NOW.
I’m totally out of shape but still, arguably, strong and… youngish. To hold myself accountable I decided to take the Push-up Challenge even further and tripled the challenge;
Do said push-up challenge in the middle of your driveway where all of your neighbors – who are mostly gone at this time of the afternoon – are ALL conveniently home and ALL outside. With their kids. And their dogs.
Dedicate each push-up to Veteran. Twenty Push-ups, Twenty Veterans.
Number Two was more of a challenge than I thought initially. I mean, I know a bunch of Veterans including two of our Central Florida Top 5 writers and contributors, Nando Torres and Gerald Clark, but for some reason I blanked after nine?
So I posted on Facebook, asking my military friends (female, male and canine) for their branch of service and rank but didn’t tell them what I was doing, other than they’d get a laugh in the end. Not with me but at me – and I’m totally fine with this!
Heart of Florida United Way is hoping Mission United will be a sort of hub for veterans and their families to dial and locate services. A simple call to 2-1-1 “serves as a central contact for veterans to access community support, ensuring that service members and their families are never more than two steps from the help they need,” says the website.
Also, according to local stats on the Mission United site, 118,000 veterans call Central Florida home, where a staggering third of the homeless population in Florida is made up of homeless male veterans.The State of Florida also has the third largest population of veterans, after California and Texas.
Listed below, in no particular order, are twenty Veterans I dedicated my (pathetic yet slightly comical) push-ups to in the video above;
(My Grandfather) Private First Class Walter Steib, United States Army, World War II (even though I said WWI)
(My Uncle) David Steib, United States Air Force
(My Great Uncle) Private First Class Clay Cain, United States Marine Corps
E5 Sergeant 82nd Airborne and Cancer Survivor Roland Seidel, United States Army
Robert Spar, United States Navy Medical Core
United States Navy Captain and International Space Station Commander Scott Kelly
(CFLT5!) Specialist Gerald Clark, United States Army Reserve
Lieutenant Colonel Donald Briere, 82nd Airborne, 5th Special Forces Group & Founding Member of Delta Force
Sergeant First Class Robert E Dolim, United States Army and United States Air Force
If I can do twenty push-ups, you certainly can! Do a quick video, share it on social media and challenge others using the hashtags; #MissionUnited #PushupChallenge #20or20. Make sure to tag @HFUW too on Twitter!
October is the month when, if you’re not a fan of blood, guts, and gore you might have a hard time finding ways to avoid them. It seems like every TV channel and event has some tie-in to the macabre (Phantasmagoria!) and, if you like that sort of thing, you’re in LUCK (check out Howl-O-Scream, The Shallow Grave or Halloween Horror Nights at Universal)!
Parents wanting a kinder, gentler fall season, however, might want a few suggestions for scare-free kid zones through October and (in some cases) beyond.
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party
Photo Credit: Kent Phillips, Walt Disney World
Disney Magic with a big dash of Hocus Pocus surrounds you at this separately-ticketed special event select dates through November 1. While officially from 7 to midnight, the party can be entered at 4 p.m., and affords families the opportunity to enjoy a few rides before the festivities begin. Enjoy Mickey’s Boo To You Parade (8:35 and 11:15 p.m.), Trick-or-Treating, meet-and-greets with Jack and Sally from “Nightmare Before Christmas” and others, plus special shows including the “Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular.” Download the free My Disney Experience app to explore event-only entertainment using the “Here and Now” feature. Bring your treat bag and costumes (adults, too!, though no masks allowed). Happy Hallowishes fireworks will round out your #NotSoScary good time. Dates sell out, so purchase yours as soon possible.
An ocean of fun awaits weekends through October 31. Trick or Treat along the pathway where under-sea creatures and sea-inspired “fantasia” characters can be found at every turn. Join Count von Count and his friends Elmo, Abby Cadaby and friends at Sesame Street’s Countdown to Halloween (reserved seating is available). Add on Dine With Shamu Halloween Spooktacular Brunch while you’re there, and don’t forget to get your jam on with a live DJ at Penelope’s Party Zone in Bayside Stadium for stories, activities, bubbles galore, and a pumpkinfish or two! Stop when you see a special silly Spooktacular street performance pop up. You may find the Longshoremen yucking it up Three Stooges-style scooping out pumpkin guts! Wear a costume, or not. All are welcome (adults included!) to enjoy #SeaWorldSpooktacular!
Photo Credit: Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo
Fear not! Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is focusing on the FUN with ZooBoo Kids. Fear-free activities include a crazy corn maze, Scaredy Cat’s Fun House, Pumpkin Toss Animal Enrichments, Trick-or-treat stations and more. Little boys and “ghouls” (age 11 & under) will enjoy fright-free festivities (no haunted houses) starting at 1 p.m. with extended Zoo hours until 7 p.m. This daytime Halloween celebration features candy, bats and scaredy cats! Happier Halloween ZooBoo activities are included with paid Zoo admission or Zoo membership. ZooBoo KIDS dates are October 10-11, 17-18, 23-26, 30-31 and Nov. 1.
Scott’s Maze Adventures
Credit: Long & Scott Farms
Get lost in Scott’s Maze Adventures at Long & Scott Farms, a fall tradition with 7-acres of good, clean fun. Bring your friends and family to test their navigational skills as they wind through the maze with game stops along the way. Bring your sense of adventure (and comfortable shoes!) for an old-fashioned fall phenomenon. J General Public Days are Saturdays and Sundays October 3 through December 13. Check their website for details, prices, and map to the farm.
Photo Credit: LEGOLAND Florida
Brick-or-Treat at LEGOLAND is for kids of all ages (just like LEGOs!, though only kids 12 and under can trick-or-treat along the Pirates’ Cove Trail). There’s a Spider Scavenger Hunt in Miniland, Special appearances by Frankenstein & Mad Scientist, and if your kids love a little friendly competition, enter the “Everything is Awesome” Costume Contest at FunTown Theater. Enjoy LEGO Halloween Character Meet-and-Greets and special builds including an 8’ ghost and take part in building the world’s largest LEGO Vampyre! Take photos with the 13 foot-long LEGO Hearse built brick by brick and LEGO Pumpkins and stay for the all-new nightly Brick-tastic Fireworks show. Want more? VIP Upgrade Packages are available. Brick or Treat runs October 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 23-25, 30, 31. Find out more online.
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Summer may be on its way out but, does it ever really leave? Not here!
For the past seven years I’ve also asked this question; Why does the 48 Hour Film Project Orlando have to take place in August? It’s in the dead of summer, humidity’s at it’s highest. In case your aircon is not working and it’s summer time, read the blog about tips to stay cool when the AC breaks here advancedhc.com. Even when properly hydrated (it’s IMPORTANT, folks!), it’s an absolutely miserable time to spend extended time outdoors.
Director TL Westgate with some familiar faces; Actor Nando Luis Torres and camera op Jay De Los Santos on set of our short film, “Resolution.”
On film shoots, days are long. Depending on the setting and length of your script, you can spend anywhere from eight to sixteen hours on set. When shooting a scene set in the outdoors (aka: an exterior), it can be particularly brutal in the summertime. Here in Central Florida, we don’t have the privilege of the wondrous phenomenon known as “seasons,” like most of you see. Aside from rainy days, we enjoy “Hot” and “Not as Hot” changes in weather. This Central Florida summer was particularly sweltering until mid-August, where I pulled out what will become a dedicated friend for years to come.
Ever hear of evaporative cooling? It’s a concept where air is cooled by added water vapor, unlike an air conditioner which alters the temperature of a space, basically, by refrigerating it in cycles. Confusing?
Think of when you sweat and drink a cold glass of water. Yeah, it’s gross and our involuntary brand of sweat is always unwelcome, but it serves a purpose. The cold water keeps you hydrated and your sweat cools your body. This is kind of how Portacool’s products work except the unit doesn’t ‘sweat’ like your skin. In fact, there’s no liquid mist expelled at all. Just cool air, and enough to cool a 700 square foot area!
Instead of changing his shirt (again), Jay stepped in front of the Cyclone 3200 instead!
Since we were run and gun the weekend of The 48, we didn’t have a whole lot of time to or between setups. We shot in a park, in a parking lot and inside a private residence, and we only had the bulk of Saturday to complete principle photography (aka: get everything shot).
When we landed at our ‘home’ location, I quickly set up the Cyclone in the garage which served as our holding area for actors, crew, craft service (aka: food, drink), babies, etc. I locked the castor wheels, threw on a stinger (extension cord) and the nearest water hose and let the 3200 fill up a bit. Here’s where it got interesting…
Our camera operator (and Central Florida Top 5 contributor) Jay was in direct sunlight most of the shoot, had already drenched one t-shirt and was sweating profusely. According to my smartphone’s thermometer, the temperature got as high as 112 degrees with the Heat Index and humidity this particular location. We took a small break to step into the garage that we luckily had just fixed by http://365GarageDoorRepair.com, and the temperature change was remarkable.
Where the temperature was well over 100 degrees, within a minute of stepping into our Portacooled ‘trailer,’ if you will, the temperature had immediately dropped to the 90s. By the end of the video above, the temperature dropped to a much cooler 85 degrees! That’s a pretty huge difference, and by the end of the break, Jay’s shirt was nearly dry!
Also in the video above, I mention sound. Of course on set during a take, no one talks, so of course it’s probably not best to run the unit then. However, I stood directly in front of the Cyclone 3200 on its higher fan setting and could be heard in the same area just fine by the crew. So for instance, at a pool party or get together, your guests will be louder – guaranteed!
Conclusion: I love this unit!!! For our outdoor filmmaking purposes, Portacool’s Cyclone 3200 was a WONDERFUL addition to our shoot! Setup was a breeze – pun intended. Cooling down an area took very little time, especially in a time crunch. The unit itself weights about 100 pounds (empty) and fit snugly into the back hatch of my mid-sized SUV with room to spare on the left and right sides. I will say though, more side grips are needed. Ideally you’d want two sets of hands to load and unload this into a vehicle. It gets a little tricky solo, especially with my short arms and small hands.
The ‘cool’ kids over at Portacool provided me one of their Cyclone 3200 for this post. All opinions expressed in this post were written by me and are of my own, semi-conscious mind. Thank you Portacool!
Food glorious food. It warms the heart and soul, brings friends and family together. Food gives strangers a reason to sit around a common space sharing meals and stories, making new friends in the process, some lasting a lifetime.
I was recently invited to dinner at Ocean Prime Orlandoas part of a bloggers meet-up to preview their selections for Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month.When I drove up to Ocean Prime for the event I realized I’d driven by their location many times and sadly had never noticed it was there. That was definitely my loss, because the food was spectacular, the staff friendly and the atmosphere soothing. Ocean Prime won’t go unnoticed any longer, and I will definitely be back!
Orlando’s Magical Dining Month started August 24th and runs throughout the month of September. You’ll find more than 75 Orlando area restaurants participating, offering 3 courses for $33. That’s quite an amazing offer at some of the best restaurants in Central Florida.
One of the menu items I sampled was the Teriyaki Salmon. The Salmon was served on a bed of Shiitake Sticky Rice with an outrageously delicious Soy Butter Sauce and a melange of vegetables.
The Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with a sweet corn cream and succotash was my personal favorite from the many entrees we were served. We also got to try the Lobster Mashed Potatoes and Chop House Corn, both excellent side dishes. Ocean Prime also has an amazing sushi menu and offers a unique sampling of cocktails. The Bubbles and Berries pictured at the top of this post was not only delicious but fun to drink.
And then there was dessert… sigh. They called it Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, I called it Heaven on a Plate. The chef at Ocean Prime Orlandostarted with an Oreo cookie crust base, added a sinfully rich peanut butter mousse and wrapped it in a bittersweet chocolate ganache… sigh. Can you say OMG?
But what impressed me the most about Ocean Prime was the level of service we received and the atmosphere of the restaurant. There was live music that was so good, I thought it was recorded and a thoughtful, friendly staff throughout the building to serve you.
Ocean Prime is an ideal place to socialize, talk business, celebrate and indulge. In this day and age you don’t often see a dress code in place, and I appreciate the fact that Ocean Prime suggests stylish attire. They let their guests know that jackets and gorgeous high heels always welcome. So please don’t show up in athletic apparel or baseball caps! Dress to impress and the meal will be even more delicious and the evening even more special.
Ocean Prime Orlando can be found at the Rialto at Sand Lake at 7339 West Sand Lake Road, Orlando, FL 32819. You can make reservations by calling (407) 781-4880. Dinner is available Monday – Thursday 5-10pm; Friday – Saturday 5-11pm; Sunday 5pm-close.
Barnie’s is also excited to announce that Blue Bird Bake Shop is their official bakery partner. An assortment of Blue Bird’s scones, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and cakes will be available at all times.
To celebrate their 35th Anniversary, one classic flavor from the Barnie’s Coffee vault will be brought back and YOU get to decide! Vote for your favorite on the Barnie’s website from the following 4 favorites: Coffee Cake, Decadent Dark Chocolate, Amaretto or Tiramisu.
Not only does this year mark Barnie’s anniversary, but this holiday season marks the 20th anniversary of the ever popular Santa’s White Christmas. Stay tuned, as the season gets closer, celebratory deals, gifts, and events will be announced.
Oh but wait, there’s more! Starting mid-August, Rollins College students, faculty and staff will now receive a 20% discount on all food and beverages (excluding beer and wine).
Of course we can’t forget the coffee! Did you know the pictures that line the walls of the Winter Park location are made using real Barnie’s Coffee? Artist Steven Mikel has created gorgeously detailed monochromatic paintings using nothing but the beverage. He got the idea from seeing a coffee cup stain on a piece of paper!?!
Barnie’s has extended their weekday hours to 5pm, Friday and Saturday until 8pm and Sunday Brunch (the longest running brunch hours in town) from 7:30am – 6pm.
Today this incredibly cinematic music video premieres online and we’ve got your first peek!
You may recognize some familiar faces. local and otherwise, including actor J. LaRose (Saw III & IV), local actor and comedian AJ Nickell and cosplay model, actress and host, LeeAnna Vamp. (If you look really close, you’ll see a cameo by yours truly!)
What did Director Steven Shea and Ms. Vamp think about the experience?
LeeAnna Vamp: “It was like creepy awesome amazingness all day long! It was great!”
Steven Shea: “We shot in a funeral home, an embalming room, we shot in a cemetery, so you can imagine…”
Vamp: “Things get super creepy!”
Shea: “The party was… pretty dead.”
Watch our exclusive on set interview with Steven and LeeAnna below:
From the press release:
Central Florida based horror/folk act The Bloody Jug Band would like for you to meet the “Beautiful Corpse”. Based on the latest single from the recently released album, ‘Rope Burn’, music fans can see the band’s newest music video, for one of the albums most ground-breaking songs.
Drawing inspiration from historic JUG bands of the 1920’s and 30’s as well as the darker side of Blues and Rock n’ Roll, the Bloody Jug Band carves out its own niche in a genre of music that has never seen such a bloody incarnation. They have teamed up again with Steven Shea and Abyssmal Entertainment for the 3rd time with this video outing.
The video was directed and edited by Steven Shea, produced by Randy Molnar and Melissa Gruver and shot by Chris McDaniel.
The project was produced by Abyssmal Entertainment and shot in Orlando, FL. Company Info: Abyssmal Entertainment was founded in 2002 by Beautiful Corpse Director Steven Shea, with the aspirations of making an impact on the independent horror market. Abyssmal Entertainment has produced feature films “Hoodoo For Voodoo”, “Andre the Butcher”, “Deadly Weekend”, “Doomsday County” and “Rockabilly Zombie Weekend.” They have produced Music Videos for acts such as The Crazy Carls, Of Valleys, Prita Chhabra, The Attack, Stiletto Red, Summer Day Rescue, and of course, the Bloody Jug Band. More information can be found at their Official Website http://www.abyssmal.com
Enzian and Eden Bar have added twenty new food items to their existing menus, and as long as there are still truffle fries to be had, we’re supportive and pumped to try the new dishes.
“We are excited to provide new food items for our guests and the new items offer a broad range of delicious and affordable dishes,” said Veronica Jaramillo, Food & Beverage Manager. “We always aim to locally source our ingredients and make everything in-house, which is what we’ve done with these new items.”
So, head over to the Enzian to see “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” then check their calendar and pencil a few more films into your schedule (“The Human Centipede III,” anyone!? Maybe “Annie” is more your speed…), then make a few dates to meet at Eden Bar so you can try all of the new offerings. Appetizers, salads, sandwiches, pizzas, main courses and desserts are all getting an update.
We’ve got the scoop on all of the new items for you, so you can plan ahead. It’s hard to decide what to eat under the pressure of the lights dimming in the theatre. Enjoy!
Pickled Beet Hummus
Cream Cheese Stuffed Pretzels – Served with spicy mustard and raspberry sauce (or nacho cheese sauce for a little extra)
Pickled Beet Hummus – Topped with bleu cheese crumbles & pine nuts, served with pita
Fried Oysters – Breaded and fried served with sweet and spicy sauce, tartar sauce, and hot sauce
SALADS: Turkey Artichoke Salad – Spring mix, sliced turkey, pine nuts, black olives, banana peppers, marinated artichokes, smoked gouda, basil, & grape tomatoes, served with oil and red wine vinegar
Beef Taco Salad – Mixed greens, beef chili, black beans, grapes tomatoes, mixed cheese, salsa, & sour cream, served in a crispy tortilla shell
Margarita Shrimp Salad – Mixed greens, margarita shrimp, Monterey jack cheese, grape tomatoes, red onion, & cilantro lime vinaigrette served in a crispy tortilla shell
Turkey Club B.L.T – Sliced turkey, smoked gouda, Applewood smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato, & pepper mayo served on Texas toast
Blackened Mahi Tacos – Served on corn tortillas with coleslaw, & avocado, with beans, & rice
Steak Diane – Sliced steak topped with mushroom & onion gravy, served potatoes au gratin and broccoli
Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich – Peanut butter ice cream served between chocolate chip cookies dipped in chocolate
White Chocolate Bread Pudding – Served with bourbon cream sauce
Raspberry Beignets – Dusted with powdered sugar, & drizzled with raspberry sauce
Enzian is Central Florida’s only full-time, not-for-profit cinema for first-run independent and international film, classic revivals, documentary features, and select family entertainment. Enzian, a member-supported organization serving the community for more than 30 years, is home to the Florida Film Festival and Eden Bar. For additional information, visit Enzian.org or call general information at (407) 629-1088.
It’s Throwback Thursday and we saved an interesting snapshot of Orange County’s yesteryear just for you, courtesy of news legend Mike Wallace and CBS’s long running news magazine, 60 Minutes!
Central Florida natives (yes, they exist!) will know of an Orange County before Mr. Disney and his magical world of characters and adventure became neighbors. Nowadays, like cassette tapes, pagers and pay phones, this concept is completely alien to most visiting, and yes even living here, but not all.
Courtesy: Life Magazine
I am not a Florida native (nor was I alive in 1972) but my family has a long standing history in Orange County and they, as residents, have seen a lot of changes firsthand.
In the late 1950s my grandfather, Walter Steib, was recruited by Martin Marietta, now Lockheed Martin (still located on Sand Lake Road). He worked for American Bridge Company and helped build Disney’s Contemporary Resort, which Walt Disney World’s website still describes as ultra-modern!
[Fun Fact: My grandfather was also one of the first Presidents of the Tangelo Park Civic Association, which was MUCH different in the 1960s but is growing again thanks to the help of another longtime Orlando resident and philanthropist, Mr. Harris Rosen.]
On June 18th, 1972, Mike Wallace filed a report on Orange County, Florida called “Will Mickey Mouse Eat Up Orange County?” The headline may seem a bit foreboding however, the report itself shared how, $400 million dollars later life was drastically changing in Central Florida.
In the report below, you’ll get a glimpse of a fledgling yet mature Orange County – and some really nifty fashion trends of the time.
In 1972, Walt Disney World was a year old and, as Mike Wallace reported, “It will be the most prosperous summer that Orange County Florida has ever known. Hotels are booked solid for months ahead, land prices are soaring there and more new tourist attractions are on the way.”
Here, Mr. Wallace describes a pre-Disney era Orange County as a quiet town. “He could sail slowly through the unspoiled wilderness of its inland waters and not have to see a soul all day. It was the kind of place the chamber of commerce used to tout as ‘the perfect retirement community.’ Ranch country, orange groves, cheap living, ideal weather and best of all it hadn’t really caught on the way that beach resorts and retirement towns had.”
He goes on to foreshadow an Central Florida we are all familiar with, forty four years before the fact. “But then in the early sixties, a fella named Walt Disney began to buy up land in this part of Central Florida,” he reported. “It was going to be the biggest Disney enterprise of all, dwarfing the famous Disneyland out in California. Twenty seven thousand acres of Florida Scrub Pine to be transformed into the world’s largest resort complex. It would put Orange County, Florida on the map.”
And it DID.
According to a Walt Disney World 2014 fact sheet, “Disney is the largest taxpayer in Central Florida, paying approximately $566 million in state and local taxes each year.”
However back in 1972, from residents to politicians, not everyone was excited about this venture. Unending traffic and delays, lack of hotel rooms for visiting families, tax increases for locals were all unfortunate headaches.
Orange County Commissioner Paul Pickett, a customer of H&R Block himself said, “I have to speak for ‘Mrs. Smith,’ meaning that hypothetical taxpayer who’s been here for fifteen or twenty years minding their own business in a little house she owns, going to work every morning and just paying a lot of taxes.” A valid argument, especially for the time.
Then Orlando Salvation Army head, Major Sydney Lynch, also shared concerns. Despite being only a year old, Major Lynch felt Walt Disney World wasn’t doing enough for the local community.
When Mr. Wallace asked him, “Has the Disney dollar reached you?” Major Lynch replied, “The answer is no. I understand their policy is they’re going to make contributions to local charities such as ourselves.” Major Lynch went on to surmise, “I’m sure this may change as they get into their profit situation a little bit better.” Remember, this was 1972.
Now, in 2015, Disney is heavily embedded in our Central Florida community, from a philanthropic standpoint and more. According to their website, “approximately 100 Disney Cast Membersserve on boards of local nonprofit organizations.” Walt Disney Worldis also “the largest corporate contributor to the Heart of Florida United Way,” which serves Orange, Osceola and Seminole county residents.
Former Orlando Mayor Carl Langford, seen in the video sitting quite smugly in front of a Mickey Mouse clock, said, “I will tell you, the chambers of commerce in Florida for fifty years have had paid executives who have gone out and said to people up north, ‘Come on down!’ What I’m telling you, they all got here at one time. So, we don’t need to send paid executives to have to tell people to come on down. They’re here in droves and they bring money, and they bring happiness – and they bring jobs – and they bring opportunities for people.”
And he was, and is, correct. Forty four years later, visitors to Orlando still ‘come on down.’ Over 62 million of them in fact!
Photo Courtesy: Mayor Jacobs
In April, Orlando set a new record for tourism in the US, becoming the first destination to surpass 60 million visitors. Current Orange County Mayor, Teresa Jacobs, said, “The impact of tourism on our community is remarkable, and in fact, the travel and tourism industry is the largest generator of jobs and economic impact of our region.”
Orlando and Central Florida are historic for many reasons, good and not so, with tourism having lead the way for a long time. Nipping at the heels of tourism is Orlando’s tech scene, which will continue to grow and evolve in huge ways over the next few years!
And, even though my personal history doesn’t go back as far as my grandfather’s, there are things I genuinely miss like, Polar Cup frozen lemonade near Conway! And the smell of eclairs and pumpernickel bread from the bakery at Ronnie’s Restaurant in Colonial Plaza Mall.
I believe longtime Orange County Agricultural advocate Henry “Green Belt” Swanson, who died in 2012 with more than thirty years of service with Orange County, wins cheekiest anecdote. He said, “For years Orlando was known as ‘The City Beautiful.’ It’s changed it’s title to ‘The Action Center.” If you want a piece of the action, this is where to come.”
I wonder what Mr. Swanson, Commissioner Pickett and Mayor Lynch would think of Central Florida now…?
Earlier this week, Goodwill Industries of Central Florida went green by unveiling a solar array installed on the roof of its Oviedo retail store. As part of Goodwill’s “Solar for Good” initiative, the 140-kW, 12,000-square-foot array will generate cost savings to benefit job training and placement programs.
Orlando-based NovaSol Energy was the project’s developer, and Duke Energy supported the project with a SunSense grant. The 423-panel system will offset an estimated 80 percent of the store’s annual electricity needs. It is also part of Goodwill’s “Made in America” initiative and was manufactured by Suniva in the U.S.
Goodwill plans to compare electricity suppliers and install solar arrays at nine of its locations across Central Florida. There are some practical tips for solar installation. Over the next 25 years, the installations are expected to save nearly $5.4 million and divert nearly 59,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Defraying these costs will allow the nonprofit to provide job training and placement to an estimated 42,000 more Central Floridians.
“Sustainability is something we practice every day at Goodwill – turning generous donations from our community into job training and placement opportunities for Central Floridians,” said Bill Oakley, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. “Generating renewable energy with Solar for Good is the next natural step, and we look forward to serving more job-seekers in our community through this initiative.”
Goodwill CEO Bill Oakley addresses the crowd at the Oviedo retail store
The Oviedo array is Goodwill’s second Solar for Good project. In April 2014, Goodwill installed a 14,000-square-foot rooftop array on its Waterford Lakes Retail Store. Since then, the array has offset approximately 76 percent of the store’s total energy. Between the Waterford Lakes and Oviedo stores, Goodwill’s combined solar panels capacity is now 293 kW, enough to power over 28 average Floridian homes annually.
“We’re proud to take part in this project and help advance Goodwill’s mission,” said Haseeb Qadri, president and CEO of NovaSol Energy, the project’s developer. “When organizations like Goodwill invest in their own solar resources, it not only benefits their own bottom line, it also lessens the burden on the energy infrastructure, which benefits the entire community.”
NovaSol Energy also installs its solar arrays at no cost to qualifying large-scale commercial clients under a long-term leasing arrangement that provides for relatively flat monthly energy bills. Consider a solar hot water installation in Perth and save some money on your bills.
Duke Energy Florida state president Alex Glenn added, “At Duke Energy, we are looking for ways to help our customers meet their sustainability goals and expand their use of renewable energy. The $130,000 grant we provided will help cover the cost of the solar array and allow the nonprofit to focus more of its funds on its important mission – helping people. We are honored to play a small role in that.”
Want to have a wild time in Central Florida? Get up close and personal with some of the natives (and transplants) who live here.
1) Discovery Cove, Orlando
There are so many unique interactions inside Discovery Cove by SeaWorld, we’re calling this a five within a five!
Snorkel with the fish & rays! Grab your best snorkeling set and dive into a reef-like oasis. For those who aren’t scuba-certified, it’s a chance to rub “elbows” with huge sting rays as they gracefully glide past you, swimming in and out of the schools of tropical fish. Little kids, too, can enjoy swimming in the Grand Reef, though squeals have been heard when a big, dark cartilaginous fish glides by. OK, adults have been known to jump a bit the first time, too!
Swim with a dolphin! There are only a handful of places where you can swim with dolphins, that don’t require a cruise ship first. Visitors can add on this experience which includes some interaction time, a “ride” where, to be precise, the dolphin swims, and you pretty much just hold on, and a kiss!
SeaVenture! Ever see those iconic underwater diving helmets? At SeaVenture they hoist those bad boys onto your head, and you descend the ladder for your walk-through underwater tour. Divers hand you a variety of cool creatures to examine (I held a sea urchin), and you “walk” up to the glass with sharks on the other side. Bring your underwater camera. Because of the angle, it looks like you’re right in there with them!
Bird Aviary! Speaking of photo ops, the birds perched atop a loved-ones arm (or head!), is a must-see/do. Three separate chambers are home to birds of every color and description. Tip: Go when you first arrive when you’re in your street clothes. The birds are ready for breakfast, and you’ll be able to take photos of the family before you’re all in matching dive suits. Spoonbill selfie, anyone?
River Otters! You can’t actually swim alongside the river otters (and if you take a close look at their sharp little claws as they speed through the water, you’ll realize this is a good thing!), but you can swim next to them with a glass wall between you that sure makes it LOOK like they’re right next to you!
Discovery Cove is SeaWorld’s boutique water park. Listed are the five within a five, but trust me… There are loads more!
2) Safari Wilderness, Lakeland
Since Safari Wilderness is right here in Central Florida you might not think it’s possible to have a little piece of Africa or Asia in our midst, but off the beaten I-4 path is a bumpy jeep ride where you’ll see zedonks, kudu, AND water buffalo that will eat right out of your hand! Note: Don’t freak out watching your small child’s hand so close to that enormous mouth! The tour lasts about 90 minutes, and if you’re so inclined, you can add on the lemur experience and take a stroll inside their habitat, too. You’ll also have the option of a camel ride! Seriously! Right here in Central Florida!
3) Wild Florida, Kenansville
Wild Florida hopes visitors see Florida the way it used to be 1,000 years ago… in its natural un-developed condition. Being “out in the middle of nowhere” sure makes that easy, yet surprisingly they’re only 45 minutes from Orlando’s theme park central. Guests can take an airboat ride to view Florida’s natural ecosystem , then explore the park where you’ll find a petting zoo (we saw a goat about 2-minutes old on our visit) as well as both Florida native and world-famous animal species. Some animals even wander around (like the peacock that seemed overly-interested in our afternoon ice cream).
Through the end of this summer you can add on an interaction with baby bobcats that will be the highlight of your visit, I guarantee! Duke and Duchess are two of the cutest kittens I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Just like their domesticated cousins they like to tousle with their friends, pounce on bystanders in their way, and pat their paws hesitantly into pools of water (then saunter RIGHT over you with their wet paws!). For $20 per person you can add on this experience, that’s not to be missed.
Other exciting animal encounters include visiting with the Two-Toed Sloths, Porcupines, or the Silver Fox. How often do you get to say you’ve pet a porcupine?!
Want more? Sign up for Keeper For A Day where you get to actively participate in preparing food for the animals, plus enjoy private interactions, or maybe the Half-Day Adventure Package that includes an airboat ride, tours, lunch, hands-on alligator demonstrations.
4) Busch Gardens, Tampa
Though giraffes have the same number of neck vertebrates as humans, their surprisingly large ones allow them to tower above guests on the Seringetti Safari at Busch Gardens, even over the guests riding on the open- air jeep-type vehicle. We recently took the tour and couldn’t get over how friendly they were. I have fed them before, so I DID remember how loooong their purple tongues are! Bring your appetite for adventure. The giraffes will bring their appetites for lettuce. Note: Have gobs of space on your camera to take pics, or just buy the ones their skilled photographers take. You’re going to want lots!
Want to hold the state’s iconic reptile? You know, without the threat of being nibbled on, I mean? Gatorland is home to over 1550 gators and crocodiles, and guests have the option of holding one or, as part of the “Adventure Hour” experience even feed them while standing a few scant feet from their enormous jaws. Beware: You might be surprised HOW close your child was to them when inspecting your photos later!
Want to combine gator holding with go cart/amusement fun? Visit FunSpot on International Drive, where Gatorland has opened a mini-version of their attraction right inside called Gator Spot (admission is just $6 per person). They showcase alligators up to 12 feet including the extremely rare leucistic (white) alligator. Critter holding ops are available. Last time I was there I had a snake around my neck and a gator in my arms while my son held both a baby gator and a lizard!
Would you like to interact with the gators from afar without leaving your hotel? That can be done, too. Gaylord Palms Resort features the “Best of Florida” exhibit, home to 15 juvenile alligators and 30 native species of turtles as part of a 10-year partnership with Gatorland. We’ve been there when the handlers were out so we got to hold a baby alligator before hoping off to Cypress Springs Water Park. Insider tip: All summer long (2015) Kids eat free at Villa de Flora, MOOR, Wreckers, Sora and Old Hickory.