Discovering a great way to vacation in Central Florida

Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)

Pools and golf courses at Omni Orlando resort. J Jacobs photo)

 

Sometimes my family stayed on a Disney property. Other times we stayed at a nearby  resort but rented a car. This time, I decided to accompany a small group whose aim was to check out a variety of attractions and travel options in the Kissimmee area.

 

The result was one surprise after another.

 

This was to be a no-car rental vacation. Yes, renting a car will likely be an option for some families and couples but we wanted to see what could work without that choice.

 

We stayed at the Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate, supposedly about 25 minutes from the Orlando airpor (MCO). When we took an MCO limo to the hotel we could see why some visitors would prefer the limo or Lyft to renting a car because the highways seem worse than the LA Freeway during rush hour.

 

Who really wants to put up with traffic when vacationing. It took our experienced driver 40 minutes, not 25, but we could relax.

 

The second good choice was choosing a hotel that had a free shuttle to and from the Disney properties.

 

We  went to EPCOT because the annual International Food & Wine Festival was going on. Loved it. Good small bites, fun entertainment and a good way to see the theme park’s major exhibits and countries.

 

Even October can be hot, hot, hot here. So time after a few hours of eating we decided to catch the shuttle back even though there were still more places to see and food to try.

 

However, what we saw when waiting for the Omni shuttle at a transportation hub attached to EPCOT were signs for Disney shuttle buses to other properties such as Hollywood Studios where Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge just opened.  So, still no need for a car rental.

 

Back at the hotel, we went in different directions. One person went to check out the spa. I needed a refreshing swim so headed to the adult pool. It was late afternoon so we agreed to join the other two in our group in the David’s Club, a sports bar

 

I wished my back still let me play 18 holes because it had two Greg Norman championship courses calling my name for the next day. Oh well.

 

The world of Harry Potter at Universal. (J Jacobs photo)

The world of Harry Potter at Universal. (J Jacobs photo)

 

But what I still wanted to do was see the Harry Potter sections of Universal and visit other area attractions such as the Celebration, an unincorporated “town” in Kissimmee and take a Boggy Creek Airboat also in Kissimmee.

 

So I took LYFT to Universal. It’s further from our hotel than Disney World but I had excellent drivers  going and coming. The rate each way was under $30 and I didn’t have to worry about highway traffic or parking costs.

 

To really do Harry Potter right I needed a Park to Park ticket because half of it was in Universal Studios where I found Diagon Alley and half was in Island of Adventure where I found Hogsmeade.  To go from one to the other I took the Hogwarts Express. What fun!

 

Tips: Best choice here is to get an Express Pass. You really do get into the park faster, on the rides faster and so have more time to enjoy the parks or go back to accommodations to relax.

 

Sp;otted a couple of alligators while doing a Boggy Creek Airboat ride in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo

Sp;otted a couple of alligators while doing a Boggy Creek Airboat ride in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo

 

But a vacation to Central Florida’s Orlando-Kissimmee area isn’t just about theme parks.  Kissimmee waterways feed into the Everglades so the area is a good place to take a safe ride through the natural vegetation past alligators, great blue herons, eagles and osprey.

 

So we took the Boggy Creek Airboat Rides because of its reputation for safety. Plus it has a good snack hut that has marvelous baked beans and there is a nice Indian Village at the back of the property where visitors hear about local tribes. Tips: Early morning is best to see alligators who like to sleep in the mud in the middle of the day.

 

On to Celebration for another surprise.

 

Built on property formerly owned by The Walt Disney Company, Celebration is a planned community within Kissimmee where the houses on some streets resemble once-upon-a-time, small-town USA and on other streets appear to be mansions.

 

To me, the whole town was a surprise and seemed related to the satirical science fiction story of Stepford Wives or, as someone in our group pointed out, The Truman Show.

 

The community has schools, parks and recreational facilities plus a cute downtown of restaurants shops and the Bohemian Hotel for visitors.

 

To see the town some visitors drive, others go to Celebration Bike Rental. Given how hot it was when we were there, instead of each renting a bike,  we opted for a ride in an old-fashioned roadster look-alike with a shady top,

 

Taking an old-fashioned roadster ride through the community of Celebration in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo)

Taking an old-fashioned roadster ride through the community of Celebration in Kissimmee. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Our driver was a member of an early Celebration family so knew all about the town, its advantages, its rules for changing house colors or curb-side flowers and how good the schools were.

 

The restaurants and bakeries all looked inviting but our lunch was at Boggy Creek.

 

I recommend getting a guide to talk about the town, its growth, its restrictions and where to eat if there during meal and snack time.

 

Back again at our hotel we thought we’d explore the property. The resort’s pools make this a great place for youngsters. Aside from the Adult Pool, there is a Lazy River, a zero –entry Family Pool, a Kids Pool with slides and a 7,338 square-foot Wave Pool.

 

I appreciate good sushi and sake so my fave dining spot at the hotel was Zen but mostly we hung out ad David’s where the Select Guests’ hotel cards given us when we signed in were good for drinks at any of the restaurants, coffee shop or deli but we used them mostly at the sports bar.

 

Ballooning over the Orlando Kissimmee area of Central Florida. (Kyle Johnson photo)

Ballooning over the Orlando Kissimmee area of Central Florida. (Kyle Johnson photo)

 

One other activity we tried was hot-air ballooning. The meeting site was nearby at Showcase of Citrus in Clermont, but the landing location was near the hotel. I and another member of our group happily watched while two people in our group and other visitors who signed up took off in two balloons. A third balloon held a couple we learned afterwards at a champagne ceremony became engaged while up in the air. Wow.

 

Given parking fees and rental costs I found MCO limos, LYFT and shuttles to be a realistic option and happily didn’t worry about traffic.

 

By the way, there are several accommodation options in the area. For more information go to Experience Kissimmee/visitor

 

 

 

A Wisconsin fall getaway

 

Fall in Ephraim, (Photo by John Nienhuis and Door County)

Fall in Ephraim, (Photo by John Nienhuis and Door County)

 

Picture a small town where goats on a restaurant roof can cause a traffic jam in a county where visitors to its scenic towns often gather around huge outdoor pots to watch traditional fish boils.

 

It is Door County, a peninsula that separates the calm waters of Green Bay from turbulent waves of Lake Michigan and where the must-take-home items are chocolate covered cherries or cherry pies and the must-visit time of year is fall.

 

An easy drive from Green Bay’s airport, the route on the way to the Sturgeon Bay, the first vacation town on the peninsula, is dotted with the crimsons, golds and pinksm of changing leaves. And, as TV ads say, “But wait.” The colors keep intensifying, driving northwest along curving roads through picturesque villages.

 

Sunsets over the harbors, bay side, are phenomenal. This is from the Sister Bay Yacht Club where stayed in September. (JJacobs photo)

Sunsets over the harbors, bay side, are phenomenal. This is from the Sister Bay Yacht Club where stayed in September. (JJacobs photo)

 

That restaurant with the goats is up in Sister Bay.  The fish boils are in Fish Creek, Ephraim and a couple of other villages. But Door County’s famed cherry items are everywhere from farm and orchard markets such as Seaquist Orchards Market and gas stations to wineries such as Door Peninsula Winery in Carlsville.

 

However, a trip to “The Door” means you can leave the car at your B&B, inn or condo. This is a great place to bike, hike or walk.

 

I’ve biked the great trails in Peninsula State Park  on the bay side and the back roads across fields and woods.. My place had loaner bikes but there are bike shops including one near the south entrance to the park. I also loved walking around the harbors and hiking Dunes State Park on the lake side.

 

The reward is ice cream sundaes at Wilson’s or fudge  and cherry/chocolate cookies from Seaquist Orchards‘ market.

 

But not everything here is horizontal.

 

If the Cana Island Lighthouse near Bailey’s Harbor on the lake side is open, do the 97 stairs up. The view is spectacular, particularly in fall. But I also loved taking a fall cruise out of Sister Bay to see the park from the water.

 

At Hands On Studio visitors can make jewelry, do ceramics, work with stained glass to to frame as sculptures and work with metal. (J Jacobs photo)

At Hands On Studio visitors can make jewelry, do ceramics, work with stained glass to to frame as sculptures and work with metal. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Colors here are not just outside. Door County is an artists’ colony.

 

Potters, painters and photographers have studios and shops in every town. Artists from across the country go there to participate in the Peninsula School of Art’s annual prestigious July Plein Air Festival.

 

Edgewood Orchard Gallery in Fish creek has an amazing sculpture park.  Or you can also do your own thing, from stained glass and sculpture to jewelry and ceramics at Hands On.Art Studio, up the road from Edgewood.

 

Take a Door County Trolley tour to see part of the peninsula or for a haunting experience. (J Jacobs photo

Take a Door County Trolley tour to see part of the peninsula or for a haunting experience. (J Jacobs photo

 

Oh, and if here in October take the  Trolley Ghost Tour or the Haunted Pub Crawl. I think I saw a strange face in a mirror at a haunted house and felt shivers when visiting a haunted lighted house.

 

Just remember to charge your phone each night so you are camera-ready for fall.

 

For accommodations and other help visit Door County Visitor Bureau or call (800) 527-3529.

 

 

 

Where to keep travel notes

 

My Travel Journal illustrated by Katie Vernon. (Photo by J Jacobs)

My Travel Journal illustrated by Katie Vernon. (Photo by J Jacobs)

 

Just cleaned out the cabinet over my kitchen desk and found a travel journal I used years ago when going around Spain, later what was then (Josip Broz) Tito’s Yugoslavia, and even later, around Italy and Switzerland..

 

There was no way I could go back to my computer to finish a current travel article I started until I read through the whole journal.

 

From delightful Spanish Paradores (restored castles, monasteries) where we stayed to fascinating town of Rondo on a scary drive up a precipitous mountain road and from driving around the Kotor fijord in Montenegro to meandering through ancient walled city of Dubrovnik, reminiscing past adventures took up the rest of the day. And that was not counting reliving the Italy-Switzerland trip.

 

But once I went back to my career as a journalist, ironically enough, I stopped writing in personal travel journals. Instead, photos captured the views, but not thoughts.

 

However, that is about to change. I just came across “My Travel Journal.”

 

Put out by Fox Chapel Publishing and Quiet Fox Designs, it has spaces and lines, pages and  notes for everything you know you need to some things you might not have thought of such as vaccines, credit card phone numbers (yes wallets are stolen, mine was in Prague), what was spent so you have a declaration record and lots of room for personal notes on people met, places stayed, food tried  and sights you loved or wondered about.

 

It also has charming illustrations by Katie Vernon that may encourage adding your own sketches or taping in a menu or ticket stub.

 

The journal can start out as a helpful trip planner and then be a record you will want to go back to years later when you too, clean out that cabinet.

 

“My Travel Journal,” Quiet Fox Designs, May 14, 2019. Has a suggested retail price of $12.99.

 

The Wright trip for stage and scenery

Peck's Farm Market is a definite stop when visiting Spring Green in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)

Peck’s Farm Market is a definite stop when visiting Spring Green in Wisconsin. (J Jacobs photo)

A fall vacation that is not the same-old, same-old awaits 189 miles (about 3 hrs., 20 min.) northwest of Chicago in Spring Green, WI.

 

Water bottles, check. pillow ( I like mine), check. Phone, cords and bathing suit, check. Well, there is a lap pool at The House on the Rock Resort, my weekend retreat.

 

On the agenda is see a show at American Players Theatre which everyone calls APT,  tour Wright’s Taliesin, explore the hilly countryside and stop at Peck’s Farm Market East on the way home for yummy, fresh corn. The town is surrounded by farmland so visitors will be treated to true farm-to-table products that are not just a nod to today’s popular menu phrases.

 

Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center near Spring Green Wisconsin. (Photo by Jodie Jacobs)

Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center near Spring Green Wisconsin. (Photo by Jodie Jacobs)

For Chicagoans and west suburbanites, I90 to US 12/14 around Madison is arguably the shortest, quickest route. Coming from the northern suburbs, I mosey west over to US 12 because I94 is under construction and it means I can stop at Anderson’s Candy Shop in Richmond, IL  for chocolate and Kindfolk Coffee inside a boutique center in Cambridge, WI, for a latte.

 

Fortunately, my room is ready even though I arrive closer to lunch than the 3 p.m. check-in. So after dropping my bags, I get directions to the Spring Green General Store for lunch. GPS is fine but I also like to know ahead of time where I’m going.

 

I heard that the Genera Store, alone, is a destination experience. Wow! Can’t believe all the stuff crammed on the shelves and down the aisles. But lunch first. Hmm, heard the soups are good however, I’m going to do a chicken salad sandwich on whole grain ciabatta and wash it down with peach iced tea.

 

After ordering at the counter and receiving a flag from Mexico (lots of countries represented) to ID my order, I find a table on the indoor porch. Totally stuffed, I walk off lunch, peering into boutiques and stopping in Arcadia Books.

 

Outside Freddie Valentine's restaurant in Spring Green. (J Jacobs photo)

Outside Freddie Valentine’s restaurant in Spring Green. (J Jacobs photo)

Then back to the resort to unpack, call Taliesin to book a tour for tomorrow and relax. I get lucky because I should have reserved a tour before leaving home. Fortunately someone had just canceled for the Highlights Tour that goes to Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and his studio.

 

APT is also tomorrow and where I plan to do dinner. I ordered a picnic supper when I bought my show ticket.

 

So tonight will try  Freddy Valentine’s Public House in the historic State Bank of Spring Green. Imagine chowing down on great ribs in a bank. I was told by owner David Owen who named it after his dad, that everything on the menu was really fresh.

 

In its seven years, the restaurant has picked up several mentions as one of the best small town restaurants in Wisconsin worth the drive

 

BTW, in this town almost every building is historic. The General Store is in a converted cheese storage building dating to about 1919 that was other things before becoming the store and café in the 1980s. The bank, built in 1915 was listed on Register of Historic Places in 2007.

 

Pool at House on the Rock Resort. (J Jacobs photo)

Pool at House on the Rock Resort. (J Jacobs photo)

It will seem funny going to Wright’s organic, Prairie School style of architecture at Taliesin tomorrow after seeing old, small-town buildings of the same period, today, just a six-minute drive away.

 

Wright first built Taliesin on his family’s large farm in 1911. Then he rebuilt it after fires in 1914 and 1925. It was listed as a Historic Landmark in 1974 and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2019.

 

The visitor’s center with its great view of the Wisconsin River and where Taliesin tours start and end, is perfect for lunch. Going on the tour was a great way not just to see the inside of his home and studio but also take in breathtaking views of the Wisconsin River Valley in the fall.

 

Back at the resort to relax, I have time before the APT show to fit in some laps in a really attractive indoor pool where high ceilings and glass walls make it feel connected to the outdoors.

 

Refreshed, I drive less than a mile from the resort to the American Players’ campus, pick up my pre-ordered dinner, then picnic at a table before taking a shuttle up the hill. I will be seeing Lauren Gunderson’s “The Book of Will” in the outdoor amphitheater.

 

American Players Theatre outdoor venue. (J Jacobs photo)

American Players Theatre outdoor venue. (J Jacobs photo)

As the sun sets behind the trees, the seats start to fill with people more inclined to trekking up the hill than I was. Surprised by the many people who seemed to know each other, my seatmates explained that Apt audiences return every year like they do.

 

Not surprising, was that the show turned out to be every bit as good as the version I saw in Chicago a few years ago because APT attracts actors, directors and choreographers from TV, film and regional theaters.

 

Now I’m thinking I should come back next year.

 

For more restaurants, places to stay and things to do visit SpringGreen.

 

 

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