A Charlie Brown Christmas at ICE!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched a Charlie Brown Christmas story. It’s one of those TV shows that, if you’re my age, you watched every year without fail. ICE! at Gaylord Palms has a Charlie Brown Christmas as its theme, and the bucktoothed, blonde-haired little girl still inside of me couldn’t be happier.

ice-charlieThe magic begins even before you get to Charlie and his friends. In the beautiful glass atrium, Cirque Dreams puts on “Christmas Unwrapped.” I’ve seen the show a couple of times, and the talented performers never fail to impress!

ice-aerialistsFrom the exquisite violin player who lures you into the magical dream, to the aerialists, jugglers, and all the other mind-boggling performers, the people at cirque dreams will inspire you with every fiber of their well-trained bodies.

After the free lobby show (yes I said free), make your way to the Alpine Village and all that is ICE!

Walk through millions of pounds of ice carved by artisans from Harbin China. If you’ve never seen larger than life-sized characters carved in this way, you will be utterly amazed, not to mention you will be cold! Your journey begins when you put on your parka. I highly recommend you bring gloves, earmuffs, and a hat in addition to the cold weather gear that is provided with your ticket. The warmer you are, the longer you can withstand the 9° temperatures and enjoy inspecting every creative and thoughtful detail.

Just as in years previous, the tour through ICE! concludes with a winter white crystal-looking nativity. The ice is carved in such a way that they look likice-nativitye glass. It is something to behold.

After you are frozen, well nearly so, there are some fun things to thaw you out in the Alpine Village. My nine-year-old is especially fond of snow tubing. He also had to be pulled away from the snow throwing booth. Where else can a Florida boy throw snowballs? It is on the pricey side, but I’m guessing it takes special equipment to make those sticky Florida snowballs from scratch. (Mother Nature nature makes it look so easy!)

My best tip, since there is a parking fee when you go to ICE! or even to the Cirque Dreams show, is to factor in dining at the hotel so you can get your parking validated. We are particularly fond of MOOR and try to eat first before heading over to the winter wonderland.

When you work in time to eat, it also gives you a chance to perhaps check out the Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. For a nominal fee you get a booklet with all the details plus some fun activities. When you have successfully found all those sneaky elves, there is a prize at the end. We’ve gone on many a scavenger hunt at that hotel and it never gets old.

villa-flora-christmasAnother meal option is the character breakfast. I was hosted* to preview ICE! and treated to an incredible buffet breakfast at Villa de Flora where we met Charlie and Lucy.

Ice runs through the first weekend in January. For a fun family outing, I recommend you visit.

*Disclosure: As an ICE-pert ambassador I have been visiting Gaylord Palms on and off for months as part of a press group to watch the transformation from blocks of ice to well-loved characters. For opening weekend, my family was hosted to stay the night at Gaylord Palms in addition to receiving vouchers for food and admission to ICE! and accompanying holiday activities. I have attended as both a guest and  “regular” attendee. All opinions are 100% my own.

 

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Summer Fest Continues at Gaylord Palms Resort

Last month our family had the pleasure of being hosted for a night at Gaylord Palms Resort as part of the #GPSummerFest (we stayed another night as “regular” folk, as we wanted to make a weekend of it). We’re frequent visitors whether there’s a media event or not, so it’s no surprise we had a great time. The surprising part is that we got to play with pirates and princesses, and I got to be a mermaid! (No, really! Keep reading!)

skull crossbones braceletIf you’ve read my blog at all, you know how much I love a good theme, and Summer Fest has swashbuckling style from stem to stern! From Princess Priscilla’s Coronation Character Breakfast to Y’aaard Games, there’s something from sun up to sundown to enjoy.

Character Breakfast**

Princess Priscilla’s Coronation Character Breakfast is the ultimate matey’s morning meal. Held not-too-MOOR breakfastcoincidentally at MOOR, Gaylord Palms’ very own ship in a bottle (a restaurant that’s a ship in the atrium), this character breakfast is like “walking theater.” We met Captain Blackheart and his daughter, Princess Priscilla, who is to be the new ruler of the Pirate Kingdom. Along with their friend, Jonny Stranger their cabin boy, the pirates make their way to each table, granting guests their own pirate names, should they wish to join the crew. (I’m “Kill ‘Em All Kelly.” EEK!)

 

Some of my favorite items on the buffet include Steak and Eggs (NY strip, scrambled eggs, and salsa verde), and Shrimp and Grits that is made OH so good with andouille sausage and brown butter. (Yes. I ate more than one serving!) Also on deck are Treasure Chest Potatoes and Princess Toast (which is French toast with sprinkles).

Gluten Free Friends: There are items on the buffet that
can be made GF, no problem. Just ask your server.

There are assorted baked breads, fruits, cereal, oatmeal, granola, pastries, danishes (you MUST try the blueberry muffins!), and Creativity Stations where you can Build Your Own Waffle or decorate your dessert.

Be prepared to learn the Pirate Oath, or you may have to walk the plank. It’s much more fun, though, to walk to the next activity, or march.

Pirate Parade and Yaaard Games!

Pirate Parade and Yaaard Games!

Pirate Invasion Parade*

Thursday through Sunday at 5:00pm, march through the atrium in all your pirate finery. (What?! Don’t YOU have pirate attire?) Follow the flag and discover pieces from the Captain’s treasure hoard from Blackheart’s Treasure Hunt* along the route. Catch (by spying, that is) the gators along 15 juvenile alligators and 30 species of native turtles in a habitat reminiscent of Florida’s natural springs.***

Pirate Stories & Chanties Under the Stars**

Climb upon the Siren’s Song and listen to the tall tales of the seven seas. Join Princess Priscilla as she embarks upon the perils and smorespleasures of becoming the first female Pirate captain. This high energy show involves theatrics, chanties and s’mores under the stars. Times are Thursday through Saturday at 6:00pm, 6:45pm, 7:30pm. In case of inclement weather, the tales are taken indoors to the atrium fort. Shiver me timbers, it’s fun either way.

Did You Know: A chantey is a song sung by sailors,
usually while they did hard physical work.

AAArts and Crafts** are always fun, and kids can make their own sword or princess tiara Times: Thursday-Sunday 12:00pm – 4:00pm. Kids enjoy getting crafty, and they can bring their creations along for the next parade!

Merfolk Academy**

Here’s where things get “fishy.” If you’ve ever dreamed of swapping your feet for a fabulous mermaid shotfin and swimming beneath the sea, your dreams can (sort of) come true. At Merfolk Academy, guests of all ages can wear swimmable mermaid/merman tails and participate in an hour-long class and swimming experience. Shark fins are available, too.

My son and I took part in the experience: He wore the shark fin, while I got to be a mermaid! I thought Merfolk Academy was just for kids, but was happy to learn that I, too, could check off my bucket list item of playing Madison (the mermaid from Splash). Darryl Hannah, I’m not. But it was lots of fun pretending!

If you find yourself singing Under The Sea and would like to do this yourself or would like to give your kid(s) an underwater experience they’ll remember, call 844-308-5056 for reservations. Don’t forget your underwater camera.

  • Times: Select times on Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
  • Price: $30.00 for one-hour mermaid class | $20.00 for one-hour shark class
  • Location: Cypress Springs Family Waterpark

Gaylord Palms is a resort that’s great for a summer vacation, staycation, or corporate event (they have ample convention space!). Check out the Orlando resort, or their other locations. Summer Fest is happening through August 21, 2016. You can read more about the events here. Make reservations by calling 407-586-0000 or clicking this link.

If we have some free time this next month, I know I can yell “All hands on deck” and my crew will follow me back to the land of pirates, princesses… and mermaids.

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Events with a * are free while ** items are an added cost.

***Thanks Gatorland. They’re awesome!

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ICE! at Gaylord Palms

I was pretty sure Little Jack Frost moved out of Florida because we’ve just left what I call “fummer” (fall + a heavy dose of summer). It may be winter on the meteorological calendar, but I haven’t believed it because it hasn’t yet feel like it… UNTIL…

Until a visit to ICE! featuring ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas At Gaylord Palms!

Twas the night Gaylord Palms

From the moment you arrive at Gaylord Palms you know you’re in for a holiday treat. The building is draped in gorgeous lights and the sights and sounds on every corner welcome you to the season.

Glorious Tree at Gaylord PalmsThe atrium in Gaylord Palms is spectacular year-round, but for the holidays it literally drips with lights (over 2 million of them!). Guests enjoy a feast of festiveness centered around their glorious 54-foot tree.

Cascading white lights seem like snow falling all around it and, with a dose of holiday magic, the atrium really does “snow” nightly, turning the atrium into one gigantic snow globe!

More holiday magic unfolds with Cirque Dreams UnWrapped.” This fantastical nightly performance (free to the public) blends artistry, acrobatics, gymnastics, theatrics and a whole lot of holiday fun. Because of the performers rotate, each night the show is different, showcasing various incredible skills and feats.

trio of ICE performers Cirque Dreams sm

 

All around the resort, guests can participate in the Elf on the Shelf scavenger hunt. Kids (and big kids!) will delight seeing just where the mischievous little guy is perched. Get your “I Spy” skills working as you discover all of his spots.

The main attraction is ICE!

blocks of ice

Blocks of ice waiting to be carved into holiday creations. Frozen “diamonds in the rough.”

The first time I saw ICE! years ago, it almost didn’t seem real. Artisans carve towering blocks of ice into every imaginable shape. This year I was invited to be an “ice-pert” and enjoyed watching the spectacle progress from the day the team from Harbin China arrived through to the grand opening for the season.

The "blank canvas" blocks of ice are now ice slides and a tree with presents.

The blank canvas blocks of ice are now ice slides and a tree with presents.

For 2015, the theme is ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas. The classic story unfolds room by room.

Guests will marvel at the incredible detail of each piece, from reindeer horns to a plate of milk and cookies for Santa.

Not only are there amazing sights at every turn, but ice slides and even an ice bar!

My 8-year-old is particularly fond of one of the add-on activities: Alpine Rush Snow Tubing, an eight lane tubing hill that’s covered in REAL SNOW! While I enjoyed going down a few times, he’s been down probably 75 times now (we keep coming back!).

There’s no shortage of holiday happenings at Gaylord Palms Resort for the holidays, and since the days leading up to Christmas are forecast for upper 80s, a trip to Gaylord Palms Resort will give you a chance to not only delight in some of the most magical holiday events of the season, but will give you a wintry chill too!

Disclosure: Our family was invited to preview ICE! featuring ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas and received a night’s stay plus admission to holiday activities and food. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Swan Dolphin, Disney Springs, La Nouba & A Lot of Fine Dining

Contributing to various blogs in addition to writing for my own is a lot of fun. It’s great being on a team while still keeping my own point of view. Recently my friend Lee Allport asked me if I’d enjoy visiting Disney’s Swan and Dolphin as her representative at a weekend celebrating La Nouba’s 2,000th performance at Disney’s Springs.

In my first post I shared about the impeccable Swan and Dolphin hotels, some incredible food including Todd English’s Blue Zoo and Cib’s Smokehouse. I had a bit of adjectival inadequacy, however. There are only so many words for yummy (or beautiful as in the case of the resort).

“I’ve had the pleasure of staying at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort on a number of occasions, usually for conferences and family get-togethers, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been. While the resort exuded whimsy before, now—thanks to the multi-phase, multi-year, $125 million redesign project—guests are welcomed by classic, modern interiors with a nod to water-themed architecture. Sleek elegant lines and a color palate mirrored from the shore offers guests a serene and sophisticated atmosphere perfect for business travelers and family guests alike. The largest makeover in the history of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel does not disappoint!”

Continue reading all about my experiences at Walt Disney World Swan and Dophin, Blue Zoo and Cib’s Smokehouse here and join in on the (contributed) adventure!

 

 

Video Tour of Hyatt Regency Orlando

Recently our family was invited* to take a tour of the Hyatt Regency Orlando. Spacious rooms, impeccable grounds, a beautiful spa, and delicious dining add up to a wonderful place to stay when in Orlando!

 

 

Some of our favorite moments:

The 24-Hour B Diner — My husband swears if I make broccoli rabe like they do he’ll eat it every night. Their meatloaf is amazing. Don’t forget to try the blackened fish sandwich and pretty much ANY dessert in the huge case!

Pool — There’s a slide, waterfalls, and a splash pad, plus ample lounge chairs and cabanas in which to sit while the excellent staff from Coconuts Poolside Bar & Grill serve you tastes of the tropics. Relax with a Lounge Chair Lizard if you’re so inclined.

Event Space — I’m often asked about venue event spaces, and the Hyatt Regency Orlando does not disappoint. They have meeting space for groups of all sizes and configurations. The Give Kids The World Black and White Gala, which I attended there last year, was over-the-top. The staff did an excellent job. GKTW will be having the event there again this year, it has been so successful. (Buy your tickets for this year’s May 9 event.)

Spa — Though I didn’t get a chance to get any treatments personally, I was impressed with their spa and salon offerings and peaceful decor. I watched the staff interact with customers, and they were really attentive (without being obtrusive, if you know what I mean). I’d definitely suggest a ladies’ event there! There’s an outdoor spa section, and I can just see a bride and her maids relaxing together before the “big day.” Fun!

Whether planning a visit to one of Central Florida’s great theme parks or arranging a company-wide retreat or trade show, the Hyatt Regency Orlando should be on your list. Don’t forget to check out their Spring dining specials including some unique wine pairing events with world-renowned winemakers.

The Hyatt Regency Orlando is located at 9801 International Drive, Orlando, Florida, USA, 32819. Book now or call for more information: 407-284-1234.

*Disclosure: I have stayed at this property as a “regular” guest, an event patron, and
as a hosted guest to film the footage for this video . On that particular day,
the hotel provided our family with meals and the opportunity to enjoy the facility
we know and enjoy so much in exchange for an honest review.

Heart Your Family Vacation at Orange Lake

OrlangeLakeHeartIt’s no wonder why families flock to Central Florida for vacation. We have no shortage of excursions, activities, and fun all wrapped up in golden sunshine. The trick is figuring out where to stay and when to visit that ensures your family’s holiday goals are met. If that wish list includes a condo-like setting, plenty of on-property activities, free WiFi, and proximity to both the theme parks and major arteries to the rest the area has to offer, then Orange Lake by Holiday Inn Club Vacations may just fit the bill.

Recently our family had the pleasure of being hosted for a 3-day visit to Orange Lake in Kissimmee (and we’re already planning a trip back!). We got to see first-hand the amenities and activities that keep families coming back year after year.

Never one to shy away from introducing myself to strangers to find out how they really feel about a property, restaurant or attraction, I made a point to talk with fellow guests about their likes, suggestions, and thoughts and found the common thread was “loyalty.” Of the dozen families I spoke with, all but one had visited before, some had been “more than a few times”, and one family had been coming back since their now adult daughter with kids of her own was a child herself. That kind of devotion means a lot in the travel industry!

Orange Lake is a time share, but can also be booked like a “regular” hotel if you’re not ready to commit to pre-booking your vacations for years to come. Upon returning home I went through their website to check out the process and, as expected, it’s easy to book your stay in a unit that’s the right size for your group. (We’re thinking of getting some other friends and family involved for a joint trip, so all the kiddos can hang out together while the adults take turns having a little golf time or other time “alone,” and so we can have some great “all together” times with everyone participating.)

Speaking of golf, they have 4 distinct courses including the only Arnold Palmer Signature course in Central Florida open to the public (click here for more information or to book your tee time or call 407-239-1050). We didn’t get a chance to do the courses, but did enjoy shooting our bucket of balls on the driving range. Our son hits surprisingly far, for the record! He’s also pretty good at mini-golf, and Orange Lake has two courses, each with two sets of 18 holes. We putted on each and every one of them, a couple more than once! Guests can buy rounds on the mini courses “as you go” or through a multi-day Play Pass that can also include the Giant Hippo Slide. If you’re not doing the theme parks every day, I highly recommend getting a two-or three-day activity pass. We wore ours out on the mini golf and of course the Slide! (I kid you not: My son went down it no less than 30 times in one day alone!) Side note: The resort is a cashless environment. Everything from food to activities is charged through your room which really makes it easy!

Other activities include water sport rentals (we did the paddle boat), and others such as powered boats and jet skis.

OrangeLakeVideoStill

Click to open a video that shows the unit’s amenities. (The quote you hear is an excited little boy shouting, “This is the biggest bathroom I’ve EVER seen.”)

The unit we stayed in featured two bedrooms, two baths, and a full kitchen. Plates, dishes and all the basics are provided. On our next visit I’ll remember to bring prep helps like cooking spray, spices, etc., but when you’re used to hotel rooms with only a mini-fridge and microwave at most, a kitchen is great selling point for budget-minded families or those like friends of mine who have a laundry list of food allergies and home prep is a must. And on the subject of laundry, there’s a washer/dryer set in the unit, too, so it’s easy to stay on top of things while you’re there so mama (or dad, as the case may be) doesn’t have tons to do the moment you get back home. And if you don’t feel like cooking, there are 9 dining options on property.

The pools were, by far, the biggest “lets-go-back” factor for us. There are 6 to choose from with choices ranging from mild and relaxing to slip-sliding fun! (One guess on which ones my little man voted on!) There’s a winding “lazy river” one (with inner tubes available for rent) where we spent an inordinate amount of time, and ones with big slides, and twin kiddo slides. There was no shortage of group activities, and water volleyball games seemed to pop up all day long.

IMGP0462bIt was at the pool area where we said goodbye to Orange Lake. After checkout, we decided on one last swim that ended with one member of our party with a wet face not from the pool, but from tears shed for having to leave.

Click on “Book a Stay” at http://orangelake.com/ and plan your next fun-packed vacation in Central Florida.

Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by Holiday Inn Club Vacations, who provided a two-night stay in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Mother’s Day Elegance in Central Florida

Happy Mother's Day graphicMy first Mother’s Day was memorable to say the least. We wanted to go out for brunch, but since my little man was such a little baby, I thought “casual” would be the best plan of attack. Good thing, as we got more than we bargained for (and D got a full-bath experience, LOL). Long story short (you can read the long story here if you’d like). While it was somewhat lacking in elegance, it made up for it in humorous stories! Now that he’s older, my dream brunch involves being pampered, having sumptuous food (of course I love that every day!) and, if at all possible—champagne. (And if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!)

As I’ve looked through the options by hotels and my favorite restaurants, I find they’re not lacking in variety. From Winter Park and a once-a-year special coffee at Barnie’s Coffee Kitchen (recipe at end of post) to Orlando and some of the finest hotels, it seems that mama can be very happy. The only downside: Deciding where to go!

Fiorenzo Italian Steakhouse at the Hyatt Regency Orlando offers a full spread of all mom’s favorites, including sparkling wine, juice and tea. Of note to this foodie: Wild Atlantic Stripped Bass Barigoule. One: it’s seafood (that I adore), and two: there’s artichokes. What’s not to love? If seafood’s not your thing there are tons of carved meats, and some chef’s creations made to order including Eggs Benedict and Eggs Victor (a version of Eggs Benedict using ham, Swiss cheese and a Mornay sauce. I had to ask. Don’t judge.). They will also be whipping up pasta and risotto, too. And I have to say house-made vanilla and espresso chocolate gelato sound mighty nice….

Speaking of coffee, if you enjoy a quality cup now and again as I do, head over to Barnie’s Coffee Kitchen in Winter Park. Their Mother’s Day offering includes a special cuppa brewed and prepared exclusively on mom’s big day… The Vanilla Rose Latte! Those foam-swirled drinks always look too good to drink (but somehow I manage… and I think you might, as well).

Orlando hotelsRosen Shingle Creek is putting on their usual decadent spread! It’s taken me about 5 minutes to browse the entire menu. Pan Seared Veal with Wild Mushrooms, Red Watercress and Champagne Foam sounds mouth-watering, as does the seafood Station. Oh, and the Asian Soup and Peking Duck Crepes Station, and the French Style Flat Bread Station. And the Dim Sum and Sushi Station. Seriously. Mama might need a cart! Side note: How cute does a Brie Cheese Profiterole with Honey and Pistachio sound? I know. Brie…. (*Squeals with delight!*)

I’ve always enjoyed the buffet at Tradewinds at the Renaissance Hotel by SeaWorld. I’ve piled many a plate high with their made-to-order omelets and my son really “digs” the pancake station. (Chocolate chips IN the pancakes? Yes, please!) The Carving station (from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.) includes Winter Park Honey Glazed Ham and Prime Rib.

A few things stand out for me browsing the Rosen Centre menu: Artichoke & Mushroom Salad with Lemon & Basil (again: LOVE artichokes), and a Banshoo Sushi station featuring Chef Yoshi’s Signature Rolls, California Rolls and Spicy Tuna Rolls. Is it just me or is sushi just FUN to eat?! Also on the menu is Pinot Noir Braised Short Ribs with Julienne Vegetables (which makes me thirsty AND hungry at the same time). They’re also serving a specialty of Harry’s Poolside Bar & Grill: Chimichurri Crusted Flank Steak. So many options, so little time.

Hemingway’s champagne brunch at Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress features Hemingway’s signature island-inspired selections like Maryland Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes, Chilled Kobe Tenderloin, and Hibachi Style Sea Bass sound tempting, and “free-flowing champagne.” (I know… that got me, too!)

For a more laid-back Mother’s Day, visit Marlow’s Tavern in Winter Park. They’re known for their Sunday Brunch. On Mother’s Day they will have their regular menu items, plus a la carte brunch entrees. I’m kind of partial to the Bloody Mary bar they do so well, but on Mother’s Day perhaps one of their other specialty cocktails are worth a try while sitting out on their patio. Nah. Who am I kidding?! I love the Bloody Mary Bar! Oh, and did I mention Crab Cake Benedict?!

Another hotel option, is at Rosen Plaza. A hot buffet has a Mojo Spiked Pork Loin and Cornish Game Hen with Wild Rice and Forest Mushrooms to name a couple. Also available: an Antipasto and chilled salad bar, omelet station, and carving station with prime rib and glazed ham. All these options are making me hungry!

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to have a tough time deciding on where to go this Mother’s Day. Will it be a favorite? Or should we try something new? Or will my husband and wonderful son make me breakfast in bed (including a special Vanilla Rose Late and champagne)?

Browses through this small sampling of the offerings in and around Central Florida. Where will you go? Please post your ideas! And Mama… wherever you spend your day: Be Happy!

Hotel Brunch Details for Mother’s Day Sunday, May 11, 2014

Barnie’s Coffee Kitchen
118 South Park Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
407.629.0042
Sunday hours 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Spring Brunch Menu: $13.95 – food only – beverages a la carte; $19.95 – with choice of sparkling or still wine

Hyatt Regency Orlando
9801 International Dr., Orlando, FL, 32819
407.345.4570 or email orlando.regency.dining@hyatt.com.
Seating available 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
$64 per person, plus tax and gratuity; $32 children ages 5–12.

Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
One Grand Cypress Blvd., Orlando, Florida, 32836
407.239.3854 or make reservations online
Seating available 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
$69 per person, plus tax and gratuity; $34.50 per child ages 4–12.

Marlow’s Tavern
1008 S. Orlando Avenue (17-92); Winter Park, FL 32789
407.960.3670
Open Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Brunch a la carte

Marriott’s Renaissance Hotel by SeaWorld
6677 Sea Harbor Drive  Orlando  Florida  32821
407.351.5555
Brunch from 6:30 a.m.– 2:30 p.m.; Carving station from 8:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
$22 per person, plus tax and gratuity; $9.95 for children 12 and under

Rosen Centre
9840 International Dr, Orlando, FL 32819
407.996.8551 or make reservations online
Seating available 11 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
$41.95 per person, plus tax and gratuity; $16.95  per child ages  4–12

Rosen Plaza
407.996.0256 or or make reservations online
Seating available 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
$36.95 per person, plus tax and gratuity; $15.95 per child ages 4–10
(Visit website for a $3 off coupon!)

Rosen Shingle Creek
407.996.3663 or or make reservations online
Seating available 11:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
$65.95 per person, plus tax and gratuity; $29.95 per child ages 4–11

 

 vanillarose latteVanilla Rose Latte
Recipe courtesy
Barnie’s Coffee Kitchen

Delicate Vanilla Rose Essence:
1 Tbsp of rose water for every 1 cup of vanilla simple syrup. Mix with a wooden or plastic spoon not metal. (to be gentle with the flavoring). (Rose water can be found at your local natural food grocer, like Whole Foods, Fresh Market, etc.)

 Drink Recipe: 16oz
1oz vanilla-rose syrup2 shots espresso (or strongly brewed coffee)
Steamed milk of choice
Garnish with a whisper of brown sugar and a rose petal in the cup,
and petals on the place setting.

Real Kids Shades Stand Up to Real Kids

Shingle Creek Golf, Aquatica by SeaWorld, Real Kids Shades

Style: Flex Royal for ages 3-7

Kid models in magazines always look so polished (as do models of any age, I suppose). They’re smiling, never having a tantrum, and if they are running pell-mell in some sporting or roughhousing activity, they certainly have no accessory malfunction. If they are wearing cool shades, they are NOT falling off. Their glasses are chosen for looks and for style, with doubtful much consideration for practical things like UV rating, durability, or EEEK cost.

Thankfully Real Kids Shades has a line of children’s eyewear that takes a mom’s wish list into consideration and is not short on either form OR function.

Our family put the line of Real Kids Shades through a battery of tests. Some we liked more than others, and a couple we plain loved. Here is the breakdown:

Five Stars  
★★★★★ Flex Duo—The Flex Duo has 100% UVA/UVB sun protection as well as a wrap-around design that keeps peripheral sunlight to a minimum. Their extremely flexible frames in cool two-toned colors hold up to the abuse kids throw at them.

Dinosaur World

Style: Flex Duo, Black/red

We took our Flex Duos on our summer staycation in and around Central Florida. Our Flex Duos went to Busch Gardens in Tampa and Dinosaur World in Plant City, near Lakeland. Whether climbing on play equipment or scampering up dinosaur bones, they stayed put, which is key in our bright Florida sun. A neoprene strap is included which we found to be a vital accessory. How many kids sunglasses are lost because they are dropped or left behind? Despite having an issue with the strap being too snug to fit over the ends (the first one), we still give this style 5 stars, as the company quickly sent out a replacement.

Flex Duo Real Kids Shades

Style: Flex Duo, Black/red

Daniel, age 5, said they were comfortable to wear, and “didn’t hurt at all.” He thought the colors were “cool,” and even when he wasn’t wearing the band they stayed put through lots of play. He gives the Flex Duo two thumbs up.

★★★★★ Xtreme Sports—With shatterproof, impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, the Xtreme Sports model is ready for action! Our kiddo took them through their paces on his bike. The wraparound design with mesh back is perfect for wear with helmets. There are even anti-fog vents for sweaty kids (like mine) who don’t want to get all fogged up while pretending to be Evel Knievel (with, ahem, training wheels). “I don’t like it when my eyeballs are sweaty,” he said.

Shingle Creek Golf

Style: Xtreme Sport, Black/silver

“The pad on top is good,” said Daniel, referring to the foam-backed polycarbonate lenses. Not only does it cushion little active faces, but it keeps out more light and prevents sweat from dripping down into his eyes from his forehead.

He also wore them out on the golf course running after balls and into more than our fair share of sand traps at beautiful Shingle Creek. Out on the 14th hole he had the best of both worlds. He was protected. And he looked CUTE!

Four and a Half Stars
★★★★ ½  Xtreme Elements—Off to the beach, splash park, or waterpark? Then your kids need Xtreme Elements. These glasses protect kids eyes from the sun and the elements (i.e. water and sand). Note, however, that they are not goggles and therefore are not designed to be submerged in chlorinated water. Yes, they’re perfect for splash pads, waves, and sprays, but they’re not to be worn as your little guppy tries to see how long he can hold his breath in the pool! The foam protects eyes from water and other elements from rolling down into their eyes, but it doesn’t seal out water and is not meant to be used under water as extensive subjection to chlorine could break down the foam gasket. That said, Daniel thought they were “way cool” (we have the blue flame style) and he loved that the neoprene headband made them float (just like him!).  If the foam gasket were designed to withstand the summer pool and SeaWorld, Aquatica schedule a little longer, it would have received 5 stars. They are by far Daniel’s favorite to wear, despite the slight gasket issue.

Four Stars
★★★★ Flex—The bendable rubberized frames make the Flex glasses super comfortable to wear. The boy and girl versions have distinct lens styles. The boy frames are more sleek, while the girls have that big lens “movie stahhhh” vibe. Shatterproof polycarbonate lenses ensure safety along with that style. When worn with the included neoprene strap, they stay firmly in place. Our one caveat to these was that when not worn with the strap they were quite loose. Bendy is good, and my son wears these in the car, and on the beach. I do insist the strap is on, as I can see these coming off in hard play (and that’s the only kind we seem to have around here!).

Why Have Your Children Wear Sunglasses?
I started Daniel in sunglasses when he was a baby. My nephew had retinoblastoma and he lost one of his eyes. While glasses would not prevent this type of blindness, it made me start reading about how important it is to protect children’s eyes, if not for now, but for their future.

Eye damage from the sun is cumulative and can occur even on cloudy days. Kids who don’t wear protective eyewear are at greater risk for:

• Cataracts
• Age-related macular degeneration
• Pterygia – abnormal tissue grown on the whites of the eyes
• Skin cancer around the eyes
• Photokeratitis – sunburn of the cornea

Riding on water ride at Aquatica by SeaWorld.

Style: Xtreme Elements, Blue flame

At Aquatica
I interviewed a few lifeguards at Aquatica about kids and sunglasses. Adrian, from Jamaica, said he estimates only 6% of kids he sees each day wear sunglasses. “There are way more adults wearing sunglasses than kids,” he noted. In an unscientific tally I found a similar percentage of child usage, while about 40% of adults were protecting their eyes (although many were, no doubt, concentrating only on the style).

Parents I spoke with were either passionate about glasses (and their kids were wearing them) or didn’t really seem to be aware the sun could damage their kids’ eyes. Sam, a tourist with his family, said they forgot the kids’ glasses at home so they bought some on site. (Real Kids Shades cost around $14.99 and are available at their website.)

What to Look For
When selecting protective eyewear for your kids, be sure to look for a few key features:

  • Third-party verification of 100% UV-A/UV-B protection
  • No phthalates, lead or bisphenol A
  • Impact-resistant frames and lenses (acrylic lenses can shatter)

Set a good example for your kids and YOU wear sunglasses each and every day. While it doesn’t hurt to look stylish, focus on safety. Choose a brand that blocks block 100% of both types of ultraviolet rays, UV-A and UV-B. A UV 400 rating is best. Make it a habit to put them on your child, even if he (or she) doesn’t like it at first. It’s a habit to grow into. And if you get some of the great offerings sold at Real Kids Shades, they’ll not only be as safe as possible, they’ll look great on their closeup!

Note: I contacted Real Kids Shades about reviewing their product as it was “right up our alley” as a travel-loving family insistent on sun protection. I was provided samples which we evaluated during heavy use over the summer. This review was written after field testing and is my opinion. The 5-year-old reviewer was paid $1 to sit still long enough to tell me what he thought.