Tag Archives: tourism

#TBT: What was Orange County, Florida like before Mr. Disney came to town?

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

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 known critic of having such a huge neighbor in our backyard 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 Members serve on boards of local nonprofit organizations.” Walt Disney World is 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

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.

ProTip: If you haven’t already been,

Feeling throwbacky Thursday nostalgic too? The Facebook group, “If you grew up in Orlando, FL… then you remember” is WONDERFUL online comfort food for these feels! (Take in a quick history lesson from real Florida native, Bess Auer, in her Top 5 guest post, “Orlando – Please don’t redefine us.“)

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…?

Review | Escapology: Locked in a room with 60 minutes left to live

Working in a highly secure US government research facility under Dr. Walter Brandt, a high-ranking chemical weapons specialist, to create a highly effective virus capable of eradicating enemy forces with swift pace and deadly accuracy, we discovered that Dr. Brandt went roage.

Orlando Escapology's Antidote Game

Dr. Brandt, like the hired guns of the west, has decided he would offer his virus to the highest bidder. With national security and the whole of humanity at stake we were tasked with discovering an antidote to the deadly virus.

While working in the laboratory one of our team members accidently knocked a vial of the deadly virus onto the floor. The vial crashes into the floor and plumes of green smoke fill the air.

The lab’s security system detected the breach and went into full lockdown. Alert sirens blare “60 minutes until total decontamination”.

A feeling of dread washed over me, I knew full decontamination meant no organic organism would survive.

The team panicked and rushed to create a suitable antidote, as we toiled away we discovered Dr. Brandt has left clues behind. Clues that could lead to an antidote?

We decided we had a better shot at following the clues than trying to create an antidote of our own.

Feverously we worked to solve one clue after the other, while time ticked away and decontamination drew nearer.

When I heard the lab’s security system announce 30 minutes to total decontamination I began to feel hopeless. How close were we to solving all of his clues? When we solved them, would we find the antidote in time to shut the decontamination down?

I did my best not to let the team see my fear as we all worked together to solve the next set of clues.

Time about to expire, we solved Dr. Brandt’s last clue and found the antidote. To my dismay it was not finished, we needed to complete the chemical reaction to cure ourselves and shut down the security system.

This is a concept that was adopted by a local company called Elitist Gaming which added a similar mini game to their website emulating this massive game.

Cutting it down to the wire our mixture worked! We narrowly escaped and now have an antidote to the deadly virus Dr. Brandt is peddling across the world.

The nation and the world would be safe because of us. If I could only shake the feeling that this was not over, perhaps I could sleep at night.

The lobby inside Escapology Orlando

Escapology’s Antidote game is the first escape room game that I have ever attempted. A lot of effort is put into the experience, and I can say I felt the pressure of having to solve the clues before time, and the rest of us, expired.

We’ve only got an hour! Can we make it out of @EscapologyOrl?! #escapeology

A video posted by Central Florida Top 5 (@centralfltop5) on

While some of the riddles were difficult, Escapology provides a game master to watch over your progress and nudge you in the right direction if you happen to find yourselves stuck along the way.

After successfully completing the escape room (with 13 minutes, 26 seconds to spare) we were greeted with some refreshments, no food or drink (or technology!) allowed in the escape rooms. I really felt this was a nice touch, offering us either coffee, soda, or water to quench our thirst.

I can’t give you any more details, if that’s what you are looking for, you are going to have to experience it for yourself.

Top 5 Animal Interactions

by Kelly Green, a.k.a. SeaWorld Mommy

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.

bobcat kittens

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!

5) Gatorland
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.

 

Nintendo Attractions Coming to Universal Orlando Resort!

In what is probably the most exciting news this year, Nintendo announced last week that it would be partnering with Universal Parks to bring its popular characters and worlds to life.  WOW!

As a longtime Nintendo fan I’m still trying to put into coherent words just how excited I am for this and based on the way my Facebook and Twitter blew up after this, I’m not alone.  No specific details have ben announced and the press release simply stated that “the immersive experiences will include major attractions at Universal’s theme parks and will feature Nintendo’s most famous characters and games.” 

Even though this is easily a few years off, fans can’t help but speculate about what’s to come.  Will it be a full land in the park or will it just be a couple of rides?  Will they build everything from the ground up or will they repurpose existing rides? What franchises will they use and how deep into their catalog will they go?  Will it be at Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure? Will different Universal parks around the world get exclusive attractions? If so, I will absolutely be traveling to as many as possible.

zelda1

Link from The Legend of Zelda is heading to Orlando now!

Their press release also states Nintendo has created remarkable and imaginative worlds filled with captivating stories and beloved characters. Now, for the first time, those stories and characters will be brought to life in entirely new ways – only at Universal theme parks.” To me that sounds like it’s going to be it’s own land. If so, take a second to think about the amazing job they did creating the world of Harry Potter or Springfield from The Simpsons.  Now take that and apply it to Nintendo properties. In a few years we could be walking around Mushroom Kingdom or Hyrule!

Cyberbullying towards Aspiring SeaWorld Trainers from Anticaps?

Cyberbullying towards Aspiring SeaWorld Trainers from Anticaps?

By: Kaylin Williams

Hard to believe? Think again. Kids from ages of 10 all the way to 18 and older kids who are aspiring to become SeaWorld trainers are receiving death threats from Anti-Caps on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc…

I’m an avid Instagram user and I’ve personally gotten multiple death threats like, “You want to work for PoolWorld? Well, you deserve to get dragged under and killed like Dawn Brancheau did.” I’ve also gotten attacked just for simply talking about SeaWorld at my own school. I also remember seeing a post to the Blackfish Film Facebook page of my article (Link to “The Truth About SeaWorld Parks:The Blackfish Backlash”) where an anti-cap said “The Kaylin Williams scribbling is quite insipid, it’s honestly depressing that kids and teens get sucked into the SeaWorld brainwashing epidemic”.

SeaWorldStoryCentralFloridatop5

People go to crazy extents just to tear a kid’s dreams apart. The idea that you have to be in your 20’s to know the truth about SeaWorld needs to be debunked. I’m here spreading the truth, and i’m only 16 years old! There are kids and teens who have done their own research and spread awareness about SeaWorld and the Blackfish backlash going around. People are misinformed, that is becoming more and more apparent. The other day I was talking about Blackfish with a kid that had seen it and wanted my input on the film, and from across the room this girl shouts “SeaWorld is awful! They beat the whales with buckets and they only use those whistles hurt their ears!” Where are these horrendous accusations coming from? These claims aren’t even made in Blackfish itself.

There was even an account I was following on instagram of this aspiring trainer, a young girl who had a HATE account made about her. The account was based around screenshots of pictures on the girl’s account and hating on her, including a long list of followers. This girl had to report that account, delete her own, start a new account and put her account on private! This is uncalled for.

Another incident happened over halloween. A woman dressed up like a zombie Dawn Brancheau, and her baby boy as a killer whale. How disrespectful is that? To glorify the death of someone like that? Unacceptable. Can you imagine how Dawn’s family would’ve felt seeing that? Disrespectful.

Kids, teens and adults should not be scrutinized, torn down or given death threats and wishes. Let kids be kids, teens be teens, and adults live their lives. These keyboard activists need to learn when they’ve gone too far. People shouldn’t be trashed like this, when chatting up SeaWorld with a pro-cap, anti-caps need to be respectful, don’t trash talk or use foul language. Be thoughtful, and courteous to others please. Make this world a friendly place.

Business inquiries: If there is anything you want me to be involved with, rather it be a class, workshop, internship, article or interview or anything please contact me through Instagram: @Blessedbytheorcas
Article I wrote for former SeaWorld trainer, Kyle Kittleson: http://marinemammaltrainer.com/seaworlds-history/
Articles I wrote for Central Florida Top5 can be found through this link to the first one I wrote: http://centralfloridatop5.com/2014/05/17/the-truth-about-seaworld-parks/
Thank you for your time and consideration! It means a lot!
And have a Whale of a day!