By ATD’s Florida experts Susan & Simon Veness
Everyone knows Bonfire Night is one of THE great community celebrations of the year, but did you know it is also celebrated here in Florida, in the heart of tourist Kissimmee to be precise?
And not only has British Bonfire Night become something of a local institution hereabouts, it is now officially Florida’s biggest British event of any kind, so it makes sense for us to be involved on the organising committee, so we can bring you the full story – from the inside!
As with all good stories, let’s start at the beginning. It probably won’t surprise many visitors to Orlando – and its great array of theme parks – to know that there is a large British resident population here in Central Florida, and it is growing all the time.
From people who come out here on that ‘holiday of a lifetime’ and then end up falling in love with the place, to serious business entrepreneurs and even golfers like Sir Nick Faldo, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose, there is an enormous array of possibilities for living and working here.
It is also partly our story, too, as we both came here first as tourists and now find it our home and workplace, and we wouldn’t be anywhere else.
With all that British influence floating around in Central Florida, it makes sense that there is a British-America Chamber of Commerce (BACC) to help deal with it all, especially as we now have the largest British expat population anywhere in the world.
With that in mind, the BACC had the idea eight years ago to start our very own Bonfire Night tradition and it has quickly become a major event, not just for the resident Brits but for visiting tourists and locals alike. Last year it moved to a new, larger location on Formosa Gardens Boulevard in Kissimmee and this year it will be bigger still.
Now, on November 8 (the nearest Saturday to November 5), British Bonfire Night is officially the finale event for the very first BritWeek Visits Orlando, a five-day celebration of all things Anglo-American, from business to arts and entertainment.
BritWeek promises to be an amazing series of events, starting with a high-profile launch party at Orlando Aston Martin (featuring signature martinis – shaken, of course!), other presentations by the likes of Orlando City Soccer Club and Merlin Entertainments (the people behind LEGOLAND Florida and the fast-developing new I-Drive 360 project, which will feature the Orlando Eye, Madame Tussauds and Orlando SeaLife Aquarium), the entertainment-focused Full Sail University and the amazing Lake Nona Medical City, which is one of the world’s most cutting edge medical centres.
As you can imagine, there is a LOT of time and effort going into BritWeek to ensure it really catches the eye of the business community here (especially as not many people know how much British expertise went into the creation of Universal Orlando’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, among other things).
Most of BritWeek is business-orientated but the good news for those of us who like to promote all things tourist-related is that British Bonfire Night has been adopted by BritWeek as its signature sign-off celebration and is aimed primarily at the local community and all our visiting Brits.
It makes sense. Who doesn’t like traditional British fare, party games, a giant bonfire and a huge fireworks show?! They will ALL be part of this year’s event, and it gets even better as we will also have a special guest performance from none other than Off Kilter, the great Celtic bagpipe rockers who were a fixture at Walt Disney World’s Epcot park until very recently, when their 17-year run finally came to end.
Off Kilter have a huge local following and it is a major coup to have them playing at British Bonfire Night. In fact, Simon is even looking to see if he can borrow a kilt for the occasion!
For children, there is also plenty to have fun with, including the traditional bouncy castle, rock-climbing wall and other games, most of which are included with ticket entry (which is just $5 per person, as well as $2 to park).
For the grown-ups, there will be a beer tent, food trucks and other food and beverage outlets, as well as a Guy-judging contest (which Simon has been roped into – as a judge, not as a Guy, we hasten to add!). It all concludes at 9.45pm with the big fireworks finale, and we will both be there, along with our friends from Orlando Attractions magazine and other local media.
The event is also supported by Experience Kissimmee, the local tourist bureau, so you can sure it will be a big production in every sense.
So, if you’re going to be anywhere in the Orlando/Kissimmee/Davenport/Clermont area on November 8, this is definitely a date for your diary. From 5.30-10pm, it will be staged on the open field on Formosa Gardens Boulevard (just past the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant; parking on the right), and, while it should still be possible to get in on the night, you can buy tickets in advance (which might be highly advisable with Off Kilter playing!) on the website at www.britweek.org/orlando/ (just click on the ‘View all events’ link and go to Page 2).
We are really excited about the opportunity to showcase British Bonfire Night to both the local community and British visitors, hence we hope everyone will want to be here – if not this year then certainly in 2015, where are plans for an even bigger event!
And, unlike Bonfire Night events in the UK, hats, scarves and gloves will definitely NOT be required. Yes, it is still autumn here at that time of year, but that means temperatures in the 70s and 80sF (around 22-27C) during the day, falling into the low 60s at night (around 16C).
So, the scene is set, the pyrotechnics are in place and the Guys will be burnt! Off Kilter will play and Formosa Gardens will be totally rockin’. And the Union Jack will fly alongside the Stars-and-Stripes in the very best Anglo-American tradition, with hopes for even greater things for BritWeek and Bonfire Night in future.
Oh, and just in case you needed an extra bit of convincing, here is Simon doing the promo video for Experience Kissimmee (and yes, that is his favourite hat…!):
Take a look at the Attraction Tickets Direct range of Florida theme park tickets for your visit to the theme park capital of the world.