ICE! at Gaylord Palms

Who says we can’t sustain a freeze in Florida?! Gaylord Palms defies that myth with a magical winter wonderland called ICE! November 15, 2014 – January 4, 2015.

ICE backgroundThe lavish holiday displays includes more than 2 million twinkling lights and acres of festive décor.

Our family loves going to ICE! Last year we marveled at the Frosty the Snowman theme. It reimagined a childhood Christmas favorite and we were in awe at how many scenes from a beloved show came to “life.” This year the theme is The Nutcracker, and I can’t wait to see all they have in store! How will they portray Clara and all her many friends? I, for one, can’t wait to find out.

In addition to the wintery extravaganza, guests can enjoy heartwarming visits with Santa and NEW for 2014 are experiences such as Alpine Rush Snow Tubing, Milk & Cookies with Mrs. Claus, and other exclusive holiday events to get you in the spirit of the season!

Ticket prices are as follows*:

Online & Advance                                                Box Office
$28.99 Adults                                                       $29.99 Adults
$26.99 Seniors (ages 55+)                                  $28.99 Seniors (ages 55+)
$14.99 Children (ages 4 – 12)                             $16.99 Children (ages 4 – 12)

ICE collage Kelly GreenDeals and Offers

  • Florida Residents, use code FLR14 when you book to save $3 per ticket.
  • Charity Day** (for attendance only on 11/23/14) use code GKTW to get adult tickets for $18 and Children’s tickets (ages 4-12) for $8.99. ICE! and Snow Tubing Combo Ticket: adults, $35.95; children $25.94.
  • Marriott Rewards Members, use code MRICE14 when you book your tickets. Discount varies by date selected.
  • Cyber Monday Deal, Tickets valid for purchase Monday, Dec. 1 – Wednesday Dec. 3 ONLY; Adult   $19.00*; Senior (ages 55+)  $19.00*; Child (ages 4 – 12)  $9.00*
    Click this link for deal.

To purchase tickets, visit: ChristmasAtGaylordPalms.com or call
(407) 586-4423

Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of the event.

*Tickets are subject to taxes and $2.00 facility fee per ticket. ICE! TICKET PAYMENT IS NON-REFUNDABLE. Children ages 3 and under are free.

**Prices exclusive of sales tax and processing fees. $5 from each adult ticket for 11/23 ONLY with the GKTW promo code will be donated to Give Kids The World Village.

Get in The Nutcracker mood
with these activities for kids/kids at heart/families/educators/homeschoolers:

Read about the three types of ice at ICE! (click here).

Read all about the ballet, The Nutcracker, from the San Fransisco Ballet (click here).

Become a puppeteer (click here).

Do your homework (click here).

Enjoy this free tune to get you in The Nutcracker mood (click here).

Get crafty (click here).

Get cooking some sugarplums (click here).

Spooktacular at SeaWorld Orlando is Coming Soon

I love Halloween. I love dressing up. I love getting the house all “decked out” for a night of family-friendly fun. I’m not much into getting scared. For me, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular is right up my alley, and is one of the most fun events of the year. It seems to get better and better all the time.

Starting October 4, SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular takes place from 12 to 8 p.m. October: 4-5, 11-12, 18-19 and 25-26.

spooktacular2013bNew this year is a Dine With Shamu Halloween Spooktacular Brunch. In what’s being called “an immersive and memorable brunch experience,” families will enjoy a seasonal menu while being up close and personal with SeaWorld’s majestic killer whales. Plus, Halloween surprises are promised including a family photo with a Spooktacular frame, a free cookie decorating kit (something my 7-year-old loves!), and a trick-or-treat bag with goodies.

This year’s candy line-up in “Waves of Trick-or-Treat Fun” includes Tootsie Rolls, jelly beans, Airheads… just to name a few. The great fun is not only in getting to indulge in lots of yummy treats (aka “sometimes foods in our house, LOL), but stopping by all the themed characters and stop points. There is SO much to see.

Insider tip: Most guests enter the trick-or-treat line from the entrance closest to the
park entrance. To get in with less waiting, position yourself near the “other” end of
the trick-or-treat pathway, on the other side of the park… past the arcade, area
near the underwater viewing side of Shamu Stadium.

Make sure you check out Penelope’s Party Zone over in the Bayside area. There you’ll find craft stations, bubbles galore, fun music including a live DJ, and the most adorable sea-themed characters you can imagine!

Keep that dancing idea going into the night at an hour before closing. Princess Penelope and all her undersea friends can “get down” in the Village Square at the front of the park. It’s always a blast.

Admission to SeaWorld’s Halloween Spooktacular is included with SeaWorld admission, whether you have a day pass, fun card, or annual pass!

Add-ons include: Sweet Treat Decorating, and the Dine with Shamu Spooktacular Brunch.

See you there. (I’ll be the one in costume!)

O-Town MacDown is Cheesy Family FUN

macdown logo smO-Town MacDown, the “cheesiest” food festival in town, will be held Saturday, August 23 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. Benefiting Give Kids The World Village, “Where Happiness Inspires Hope”, O-Town MacDown presented by SeaWorld will pit professional chefs, restaurant chefs, and home cooks in a competition to see who has the best mac-n-cheese in Central Florida.

Not only will guests enjoy all the macaroni and cheese they could possibly want, but there will be a kids zone, crafts (macaroni arts and crafts, of course), live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and a live cooking competition.

The Orlando Science Center got a jump start on all the cheesy fun when they invited science campers to make “extreme macaroni-and-cheese.” What’s the recipe? Take a group of fun-loving kids and add blocks of delicious cheese. Center a large vat of noodles in a field, then introduce the Science Center’s catapults! Kids took turns launching the cheese up into the air with the goal of landing *splat* into the noodles. Their high-flying fun helped spread the word about O-Town MacDown!

 

O-Town MacDown is a family-fun event that will also include cooking demonstrations, live entertainment including appearances by the SeaWorld “Groove Chefs.” Magician/Comedian Tony Brent from the WonderWorks Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show will be performing, as well as local acoustic guitarist Islay Rodriguez.

Fans of cooking demos will love watching Retro Rad Chef Emily Ellyn, Jillycakes owner and Cupcake Wars winner Chef Jillian Hopke, Chef Maira Isabel cookbook author and Executive Chef at Disney World Golf Courses, and fourth-generation world-class chef Jody McLeod.

Kids will have fun at three bounce houses, face-painting station, the Mad Scientist Show with Professor Al Chemy, plus character meet and greets and performances by Elevate LIVE!, The Bumbles and The Honey Bees Too®, The Literacy Alliance: Scrambled Fairy Tales, The Orlando Improv All-Stars, and The Magic and Mayhem Comedy Magic Show

Advance purchase tickets are just $10 for adults and $5 for children and are available at http://www.otownmacdown.org/.

It’s gonna be Gouda!

 

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.

Renaissance Hotel at SeaWorld

Whether you’re in Orlando for a family vacation to SeaWorld, or in need of a conference venue (or if you’re looking for both in the same place), consider the Renaissance Hotel at SeaWorld.

When you walk in the door you’re immediately welcomed by the sights and sounds of the seas. (And a complementary glass of champagne, too.) It’s an open atrium with tranquil sounds and gorgeous views of a waterfall, large-screen “views into the oceans,” and colorful decor that evokes a Florida vibe.

Guest rooms range from family-sized rooms overlooking the atrium, to enormous suites with SeaWorld views.

Conference guests report attentive customer service and good food. Those with families were happy to learn how many activities were available hotel-wide, especially the pools and new splash area with Aquatica-worthy slides. Our family zigged, zagged, and splashed our way down each slide and in each water-gun zone. We’ve always loved the large pool, kiddie pool, and hot tubs, but the R Aqua Zone was a great surprise and welcome addition!

While I didn’t get to sample the spa services, I did interview Mary Anne from the Seattle area who said it was downright dreamy. She enjoyed the 1-hour massage, a pomegranate treatment, and a “cooling foot masque” that she continued to enjoy an hour later. “It was all quite relaxing,” she reports.

I did my relaxation by the pools and in the hot tubs, but when conference work was done, our family enjoyed one of the nice “Partner Hotel” perks, SeaWorld Quick Queue Passes. Yes, we enjoy SeaWorld a LOT as pass holders, but we rarely get the treat of front-of-the-line access and unlimited Sky Tower and Flamingo Paddle Boats. I can only imagine how great that is for out-of-towners who only have a single day to take in all of SeaWorld.

Click on the photo below to see my quick tour of the Renaissance Hotel.

Discovery Cove at SeaWorld Takes Your Breath Away

Discovery CoveMy 4-year-old, Daniel, is used to being up close and personal with marine life. As a visitor to SeaWorld and Bush Gardens well over 100 times in his short life (not to mention countless visits to zoos and other animal-themed attractions) he’s pretty much a pro when it comes to interactions. Our visit to Discovery Cove, however, has raised the bar so much so that I fear his expectation of “normal” is forever altered!

Walking into the check-in/lobby building, Daniel first noticed the incredible art. He bent over to examine the mosaic floor. “Look, Mom. It’s like waves,” he said as he then proceeded to show me how many shades of green were represented, and how many blue. His neck craned up: “Look, Mom, at the dolphins!” Above us graceful dolphins appeared to be floating, breathtaking fiberglass on steel crafted by artist Michael Linenbroker. He looked at it from multiple angles, checking out the white fish “swimming” with them. Our feast for the eyes had begun, and we’d only arrived minutes before.

Once our entire group had arrived, our guide walked us out of the main building toward the Reef. “This is a magical path” my son informs me as we make our way along the nature path past Serenity Bay and Dolphin Lagoon. He knows he’s going to see tons of sea life, and is thrilled to find a corded “fish I.D.” card he can take with us for the day. I was happy to find it, too, as he’s extremely curious on specifics. (I can no longer get away with: “It’s a bird, or a plant, or an airplane.” It’s a Toucan, a Dusty Miller, and a Cessna!)

After donning our wetsuits (sans Spanx, dang it), our little band made tracks for the shore. We easily found a locker for our gear and a chair for our towels. Despite being at capacity for the grand opening of the new attraction, we didn’t feel crowded. Even  “full” was not shoulder-to-shoulder like some places. We felt free and easy, with plenty of “elbow room.”

After our guides gave us the lay of the land we walked into the water, snorkeling gear in hand. A cow-nose stingray swam past us at about “knee deep,” causing aforementioned 4-year-old a moment’s hesitation. Initial fear melted into an ear-to-ear grin followed by wild expressions of delight. Great big eyes looked up at me as he asked, “Can we go way out there?!”

I knew he’d fall in love with Discovery Cove, but I had no idea it would be so hard and so complete. Everywhere he looked there were birds, tropical fish, marine mammals… you name it. At the center of his fascination was the brand new Grand Reef.

With a footprint of 2.5 acres and close to a million gallons of water and 5 million pounds of pristine, sifted beach sand, the Grand Reef is home to thousands of tropical fish and dozens of rays including spotted eagle rays that have a 5-foot wingspan! Behind glass we found eels and, holy moly, sharks!

We balanced on rock formations (man made, like the removable coral so as not to be sharp) and bobbed and floated and swam to points near and far checking out the abundant marine species, and marveling at this unprecedented view into their world.

We did attempt the snorkeling gear, LOL!

I would have loved it if my little man could have used the mask and snorkel to better see the curious and colorful creatures in our midst, but he may be a little young… this trip. He couldn’t quite get it into his head that something covering his eyes and nose (and being tight and pressing on his face) was a good thing. His mom, however, put the gear to good use (with dad nearby to watch the boy). Swimming nose to nose with a stingray whose eyes were larger than mine was awe-inspiring, I can assure you.

“I don’t see how I could ever return to common life after this,” thought we all (quoting “Anne of Green Gables”).

Sure you may have gotten goose bumps at SeaWorld interacting with the marine life and riding the awesome rides. And OK, your family has giggled with delight while whooshing down the slides at Aquatica…. But if you’re ready for your next BIG close encounter with all you love from the marine parks, do not miss Discovery Cove. I’m already counting the days until I, too, can return.