Therefore, in no particular order (because it’s the end of the year and we’re all laid-back and relaxed), here are our Top Ten Highlights from 2015:
American Music Machine: It’s no secret we love the creative talent that is American Music Machine. New at Epcot’s American Adventure pavilion in 2015, this a capella group rivals our other favourites, Voices of Liberty, for their gifted ability to make multi-layered music with nothing but their vocal cords. From modern pop-tunes to Disney classics, they nail it every time. Go see them. More than once.
The Viceroy Chipshop’s Curry Club: One of the most often-asked questions we get from readers is “Where can I find a great curry.” While Orlando has some decent Indian restaurants, our go-to choice is now Viceroy Chipshop’s Curry Club. Run by British couple Paul and Jennie Skingley, it isn’t a restaurant; instead, Paul and Jenny have worked out a clever alliance, taking over the kitchen at El Patron for one night every two weeks.
A rotating menu is posted prior to each event, offering selections such as korma, vindaloo, Jalfrazi, tikka masala, keema and Tikka DuPiaza. Each meal comes with Pilau rice, Bhajee, samosa, and naan bread. Full bar is available. Simply make your selection on their Facebook page (The Viceroy Chipshops Curry Club), then turn up on the night. It’s all very relaxed and casual, and many of the patrons are ex-pats who attend nearly every event, so it’s a taste of home in every sense. El Patron is on Apopka-Vineland Road, just up the street from the Disney Springs entry into Walt Disney World.
Escapology: Escape games were the big thing in Orlando this year in terms of minor attractions, and the best of the lot, in our opinion, is Escapology. The concept is simple: something bad is about to happen (you’ve been shanghaied and are about to be sold into slavery; a virus has been unleased on the world and only you can find the antidote; a shootout at the OK Corral is imminent and….you get the idea), and you have to prevent it. There are clues hidden everywhere, but you have to discover their locations and then solve them. None of them have obvious answers. Keys don’t necessarily fit where you think they’ll fit. And you’re on a time limit. Ready? GO! (Really, go. It’s fantastic fun, especially for ages 10 and up.)
Gulfport: You’ve been to Clearwater/St. Pete’s. You’ve been to Daytona. Maybe you’ve even driven down the coast to Sanibel or Naples. If you’re like us, and enjoy rummaging around interesting towns outside the main tourist centres, you’ll want to add Gulfport to your next holiday. On the western coast opposite St. Petersburg, it’s a tiny town (only about 3 city blocks, really), but it’s packed with interesting restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries, and funky bars, with a beautiful harbour as its backdrop.
Spend a day, or (ideally) an over-night, and to make it easy we’ll recommend staying at the fabulous Sea Breeze Manor bed-and-breakfast (huge rooms, a comfortable communal sitting area with complimentary port and sherry, and an excellent cooked breakfast). Make Pia’s Tratorria in the Historic Waterfront District your first evening’s dinner choice, then pop over to nearby O’Maddy’s for an after-dinner drink with the locals. Fit Peg’s Cantina and Brew Pub into your next-day’s schedule, with plenty of browsing in the shops along the main street of Beach Boulevard. Everything is within easy walking distance, and you may find yourself thinking, as we did, “This would be a great place to live”!
Morimoto Asia: Morimoto Spare Ribs. ‘Nuff said.
Okay, we’ll say a bit more, but no matter what you choose from Morimoto’s exceptional menu (we’ve tried much of it and every dish has been a hit), it would be sad and wrong to miss out on the ribs. In fact, they’re so addictive we don’t mind putting work aside and heading over just for a plate of them to split between us for lunch. If you can ignore the construction zone that is much of Disney Springs at the moment, it’s easy to see the area developing into something pretty special, and the quality of new restaurants like Morimoto’s is one reason why. Drop by Jock Lindsay’s Hangar Bar, the outdoor lounge at The Boathouse, or Lava Lounge at Rainforest Café for an after-dinner drink, lake-side. Bliss!
The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek: A major discovery, partly because it’s close to home, and partly because it’s just plain gorgeous, The Paddling Center is located along Shingle Creek in Kissimmee, with a terrific selection of boating activities for families. We lean toward kayaking (it helps burn off those ribs from Morimoto’s), but canoes, paddleboards (Simon’s new obsession) and an electric boat with a captain are also available. The river is relatively easy to paddle, and if you have several hours you can even head out into Lake Toho and perhaps have a picnic on pretty Makinson Island. Bicycles are available for hire, too, or book an Eco Tour by kayak or paddleboard.
Legoland Hotel: The only major hotel to open in 2015 was a real winner. Ideal for families, Legoland Hotel is literally on the doorstep of the Legoland park, and when you have small children in tow, it’s hard to beat that kind of convenience. But convenience is only the start. The resort is absolutely chock-full of fun little touches, such as the Disco lifts (don’t fight it, just go ahead and dance!); loads of Lego characters in the lobby, around the resort, and in your room; and a superb buffet that is as nutritionally friendly as it is youngster-friendly. We visited child-free, and still had a fantastic time, proving it’s too good JUST for kids!
Pop Up Launch Parties: The Space Shuttle programme may have ended, but that doesn’t mean launches from Kennedy Space Center have, and it’s pretty spectacular to see a rocket go up. It can be difficult to get launch-day tickets for the official viewing area, especially last-minute, and that’s where Pop Up Launch Parties come in. They’re free, anyone can attend, and it’s fun to be in a family-friendly crowd to build the excitement before a launch. There’s music, usually food and drink (for purchase), and games to keep the kiddies entertained. Because they just ‘pop up’, the location isn’t announced until 2 days in advance, so check out Facebook page Space Coast or @FLASpaceCoast on Twitter for party locations, and WeAreGoFl.com for launch dates.
Orlando City Soccer Club: This is Simon’s new obsession, our very own major league football team, playing at the wonderful Citrus Bowl close to downtown Orlando and the source of some fabulous entertainment. Not only is the team fun to watch, home games have become BIG occasions (drawing an average attendance of 33,000) with lots of pre-game festivities and other events to enjoy. The new season starts on March 6 and is well worth checking out the next time you’re here. Look up www.orlandocitysc.com for all the details.
SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration: From the Sea of Trees to strolling under-sea characters waiting to hug the kids, the build-up to Christmas at SeaWorld is second to none. We love the park-wide decorations, and the special seasonal shows have become an annual event for us. There is food, there is drink, there are live musicians and singers, and there is even an ice rink for the Winter Wonderland on Ice show. But the real reason we go (besides the twinkling lights in the trees and the warming adult beverages) is O Wondrous Night, the perfect show to get you in the mood for the season. Best part of the celebration? It’s free with park admission.
Tell us YOUR Orlando highlights for 2015, or share what you’re most excited to see when you visit in 2016, on Attraction Tickets Direct’s discussion forums. You’ll find the discussion thread here.
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