Orlando Features

Here at Orlando Buzz, we don't just look to provide you with quality information on how to enjoy the Orlando lifestyle. We also look to feature some of the more interesting people and stories that fill Central Florida. Whether it's a local business success story or an in-depth look at a new trend taking Orlando by storm, here you can always learn a bit more about what is happening in Orlando.

How To Meet The Frozen Princesses at Orlando’s Disney World

Disney’s “Frozen” animated film has taken the world’s kids and adults alike by storm since its debut in 2013. While families flock to movie theaters and television screens to take in the instant classic film, there’s another way for fans to experience “Frozen”. In Orlando, at Disney World, fans can meet the Frozen princesses in person.

It is rare that a Disney film features two Disney princesses and depending on which child you ask, one’s favorite princess will differ between Elsa and Anna. Throw in the sister dynamic between the two main characters and millions of little girls have become enamored with the Frozen princesses. But, it’s not just little girls. Because of the film’s wide array of characters like Olaf and Kristoff, little boys love the film as well. Moreover, the extraordinary music helps draw in the adult fans.

Disney hit a home run with its Frozen movie and you can expect the company to continue to leverage the characters of Anna, Elsa and the others in many more ways to capitalize on the immense worldwide popularity of the film. Disney’s longtime model of leveraging their popular films to create theme park experiences will be fully visible with Frozen.

So, how can fans meet the Frozen princesses? Until recently, the way to meet Elsa and Anna was to head to Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. The experience was very difficult to get into with lines lasting all day. If you’re not staying at a Disney property, you can’t enter the park until 9:00am. Even if you’re the first into the park at this time and you sprint to the Norway pavilion, you’ll still encounter lines up to 6 and 7 hours in length. How? Because Disney allows the hotel guests into the park an hour early. If you’re staying at a Disney hotel, you had access into Epcot an hour early and of course, these guests went straight to Norway to meet Elsa and Anna.

As of April 2014, to meet the Frozen princesses, you will now have to head to Magic Kingdom. The princesses will be joining the other characters at Magic Kingdom’s Princess Fairytale Hall. So, can you expect a better experience as a result of the move from Epcot to Magic Kingdom? The answer is a resounding yes, and that is because the Disney FastPass is an option for the Princess Fairytale Hall. As such, rather than spending the entire day waiting in line to meet the princesses, you can obtain a FastPass and return at the designated time for entry into the experience. Fathers of little girls tasked with the responsibility of waiting in line for 6 hours will appreciate the ability to utilize Disney’s FastPass system now.

It’s likely that the Frozen princesses become as much of a main stay for the Disney brand as the historical characters of Sleeping Beauty, Ariel and Belle. Elsa and Anna are the obsessions of the next generation of Disney’s fans, and Disney indeed understands how to maximize the opportunity. You can expect kids to line up to meet the Frozen princesses for years to come. Maybe Disney will allow guests to meet Olaf as well at some point?

 

International Drive’s Biggest Attraction: The Orlando Eye

Orlando’s International Drive is getting a massive face lift for the years and decades ahead. Just south of Sand Lake Rd on International Drive, the Orlando Eye is being erected which will tower the city of Orlando in a similar fashion to the London Eye in England’s major city.

The Orlando Eye will be a 425-foot-tall observation wheel (for comparison purposes, the London Eye is roughly 443 feet in height). Yes, the Orlando observation wheel will be enormous, higher than the nearby Hyatt (formerly the Peabody) Hotel tower.

Where is the Orlando Eye?

The newly built complex is on the east side of International Drive, south of Sand Lake Rd, just north of Point Orlando. Heck, just look in the sky for it once you approach International Drive, and you’ll be able to see it!

What else will be at the Orlando Eye or nearby?

It will be a part of the Orlando Eye complex (originally named I-Drive Live) which will include a number of other attractions such as a Sea Life aquarium and a Madame Tussauds wax museum. These attractions along with the Orlando Eye  itself will all be operated by the international company Merlin Entertainments Group (the same group that operates the London Eye).

In addition to these major attractions, a number of restaurants such as Buffalo Wild Wings, Carrabba’s, Yard House and more will also be included in the complex. Additionally, the Titanic and Bodies Exhibit will possibly be tenants in the complex.

Lastly, the complex is adjacent to the Kings Bowl and Charley’s Steakhouse on International Drive, and is also just down the road from the Point Orlando complex.

What does it cost to ride the Orlando Eye?

This is yet to be determined, but for comparison purposes, the London Eye typically has ticket prices starting at roughly 26 pounds which is over $40 US. You can expect that the Orlando Eye ticket prices will be a minimum of $35.

When will it open?

The Orlando Eye is under construction and is scheduled to open by the end of 2014. The owners have a goal of having the attraction open in time for New Years Eve at the end of 2014.

Will the Orlando Eye be popular?

The attraction will be hugely popular. It will be a landmark attraction for the city and is perfectly located on International Drive, smack in the middle of the convention and resort area. International Drive also has quite a bit of foot traffic.

Ideally, the Orlando Eye will have a price point that is significantly less than attending a theme park (I believe it will). A ticket in the $35-40 range should do very well. Additionally, the Orlando Eye will be a great option for resiednts and tourists alike that are looking for unique activity be it daytime or nighttime.

The views itself from the Orlando Eye will undoubtedly be worth the price of admission. The gigantic observation wheel is actually a fairly unique attraction for a city full of attractions and known as the theme park capital of the world. The timing is good and the revitalization of International Drive will be a major success.

Orlando Eye Photos

The following photo shows the construction progress of the Orlando Eye. Notice the large parking garage adjacent to the new complex.

The Orlando Eye Construction

The Orlando Eye Under Construction

Volunteering in Orlando: New Hope for Kids

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Occasionally I find myself seeking some consistency to my free time. Deciding what restaurant, event, or shopping center to try out can often be exhausting and results in me sitting at home in my pajamas munching on Ruffles and writing articles on upcoming events instead of recently tried eateries. Despite this, I still seek activity from my afternoons. One of the easiest ways I have combated my lack of planning with my desperation to engage with the community is volunteering. Orlando, along with its world class cuisine and destination shopping, is also home to many fantastic non-profits that always need help. This is the first of a series of articles showcasing some of the most interesting volunteer locations in Central Florida.

Most volunteering involves helping the community in one way or another. One of my favorite spots that I have now been involved with for a year is New Hope for Kids, a non profit situated in Maitland dedicated to helping out children who have suffered great loss. Either as a result of a death close to them or serious illness, New Hope has a variety of ways to help. Since 1996, New Hope has been actively trying to improve the lives of children and families through healing groups and activities. Their funding is primarily through donations by individuals, corporations, with no government help. This is actually the first way to help, as a dollar to them can mean the difference between having the right paint colors for a child to express themselves or not.

I am involved with The Center for Grieving Children which helps children and families work through and cope with the despair resulting from the death of a loved one. The concept involves weekday groups in the afternoon after school, where children come and chat about their emotions. While the children are in their groups, parents are in their own session all together with a mental health counselor. It all takes place in a small house located on the intersection of Maitland Avenue and Maitland Boulevard. Entering the house is like entering a storybook heaven for children. Everything is in soft, bright colors but altogether the environment feels subdued and comforting. There are a series of rooms where the kids can spend their afternoon painting, crafting, playing games such as foosball, or even hitting a punching bag. Group sessions involve a few minutes of reflection and then an hour of uninterrupted play with the intention of allowing kids to be kids and have fun without the weight of the memories home and their regular environment can bring. Volunteer Grief Facilitators oversee the groups (that’s what I do!) and help the children work through ways to cope with grief through reflective conversation. In my year there I have seen many children walk in burdened by pain learn to work through it in their own manner and go back to their carefree, but perhaps more pensive, attitudes toward life. Should you be interested in volunteering all you need is a two day weekend training and a bi-weekly yearlong commitment. One of my favorite aspects of New Hope is that sessions are every other week, so I only need to be there every other Thursday afternoon. It is a completely manageable time span in comparison to more hefty volunteer locations elsewhere.

New Hope also has a Wish Program that grants wishes for children with chronic, life threatening disorders. The hardships resulting from chronic illness extend past the mental strain to often monetary and even time constraints. New Hope tries to help families provide children with the ability to engage in an activity they might not have been able to do otherwise.

The facility is in need of all sorts of volunteers so be sure to check out their website for any information on how to help. One of the ways that New Hope raises money is through fundraisers such as casino nights, auctions, and their yearly Art on the Vine wine and food tasting event. They have a monthly “Get Acquainted Lunch” in which you can reserve a spot to chat with some of the staff and learn more details on what they do.

New Hope for Kids is a wonderful non profit operating right out of Central Florida. Volunteers do so for many reasons, for experience on applications, to help out the community, or for the reason why I do. I simply enjoy working with kids and having a way to occupy my afternoons. Every Thursday I head out of my office lethargically after a long day working, upon my drive home after New Hope I always feel rejuvenated replaying the fun I had with the kids. Should you find yourself looking for a different manner to spend your time, consider contacting New Hope for Kids and signing up for their periodic training. If you stay involved, I guarantee you will not regret it.

Your Guide To The Best Universal Orlando Rides

While tourists from around the globe flock to the world class theme parks in Orlando, I know many locals that love to hit up the theme parks especially Universal Orlando. With less a “kiddie” focus than the Disney parks across town, I think locals prefer the Universal parks. Universal Orlando has been extremely busy in recent years upgrading the parks and building new attractions. We’re here today to discuss the best Universal Orlando rides and offer some tips in maximizing your experience at the Universal Orlando parks of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Let’s start with Universal Studios – the original Universal Orlando park.

While Studios started with iconic rides like King Kong, Jaws, Back to the Future and Earthquake, none of these attractions remain. They’ve been replaced with Simpsons, Twister, Revenge of the Mummy and others.

Universal Studios opened the Transformers ride in June 2013 which is a fantastic attraction and a take off the hugely popular trilogy of Transformers movies. The Transformers ride is a simulation based ride – similar to Spiderman at Islands of Adventure. You’re in a car that moves around with some medium jerking around, but overall, it will definitely appeal to the masses with regards to thrill level. It’s very, very well done. If you enjoyed the movies, you’ll love the ride. If you don’t care for the movies, you’ll probably still love the ride.

Universal Orlando Rides

Universal also made news in that they are expanding the enormously popular Harry Potter attraction into the Universal Studios theme park. The area that was Jaws is now closed and becoming the 2nd Harry Potter area. Interestingly, Universal is building a train themed after the train from the Harry Potter movies to transport guests from the Harry Potter area in Universal Studios to the Harry Potter area at Islands of Adventure. How’s that for a reason to buy multi-park tickets to Universal Orlando? The new Harry Potter attraction called Diagon Alley is scheduled for open in 2014. More on Harry Potter later…

The other excellent rides at Universal Studios are Revenge of the Mummy, Simpsons and the Rip Ride Rockit Rollercoaster. Sure, there are other fun attractions like Men In Black and Despicable Me, but the top rides at Studios are going to be Transformers, Revenge of the Mummy and Simpsons.

Revenge of the Mummy is an indoor roller coaster that is a notch above rides like Transformers and Simpsons on the thrill meter. There are some decent drops and speeds while in the darkness as you’re chased by the scary Mummy from the movies. It’s a great ride and very enjoyable.

The Simpsons ride took over the iconic Back to the Future ride basically by re-theming the existing ride. It’s a fantastically enjoyable ride. Universal recently announced that they are building up the area around the Simpsons attraction to become “Springfield” from the cartoons which will include the Kwik-E Mart and Moe’s Tavern. It’ll be a hit for Simpsons fans.

Lastly, Universal in an attempt to keep up with the “roller coaster wars” of Orlando built the Rip Ride Rockit a few years ago. It’s a massive thrill ride with a completely vertical drop. If you like roller coasters, you’ll love this ride.  It’s a nice addition to Universal Studios which typically has had rides that don’t appeal to the major thrill seekers.

The most impressive thing about Universal Orlando is how they’ve continued to keep Universal Studios fresh. They are unmatched in how they have kept the technology and attractions up-to-date to continue to attract guests.

Now, let’s look at Islands of Adventure (IOA) – the newer of the two parks for Universal Orlando.

For many years, the main focal point of IOA with regards to rides was Marvel Island. Marvel Island is home to Spiderman, Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall and the Hulk roller coaster. All three are great rides and have varying degrees of thrill level. Spiderman has been a classic ride with great technology, but sadly, now appears slightly dated compared to the newer rides of Harry Potter and Transformers. Nevertheless, it’s still a must ride if you hit up IOA. The Hulk coaster is also a must do if you’re into roller coasters.

Since opening Harry Potter, Islands of Adventure is now all about Harry Potter. Universal Orlando absolutely hit a home run with this addition to IOA. So much so that they’re adding Harry Potter to the Universal Studios side. The Forbidden Journey is the ride inside the iconic Hogwarts castle inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Islands of Adventure. It’s a simulation style ride but with some pretty large movements and spins. Some folks definitely feel it when they get off the ride, but it’s absolutely spectacular.

The Dragon Challenge is the roller coaster attraction inside Harry Potter that was formerly known as Dueling Dragons. It’s a bit old, but still a ton of fun for roller coaster fans.

Universal Orlando continues to offer tourists from every corner of the globe as well as local Orlando residents with more fun than you can imagine. While locals roll their eyes at the tourist attractions in town, having the option to drive 10 minutes and enjoy the world class attractions and rides of the Universal theme parks is indeed a blessing.

If you’re a local, time your visits with the non-peak seasons of tourism and you’re sure to enjoy the theme parks immensely. Also, don’t try hitting new attractions immediately upon opening as the queue lines can be obnoxiously long. As a local, you have the option to wait until the crowds die down; take that option!

The folks at Universal continue to invest in their attractions and parks, so we will continue to watch what they’re doing and update readers with news. More attractions are on the way, and we will indeed be looking to experience and review the new and best Universal Orlando rides upon their opening in the months and years ahead.

Family Fun: Kids Activities in Orlando

When it comes to kids activities in Orlando, a myriad of options awaits Orlando families. Free or expensive, indoor or outdoor, Orlando truly has much to offer kids in both the educational and entertaining arenas. Let’s take a look at a number of fun activities for your children and your family.

Free Activities

Whether you’re looking for something simple to fill your average afternoon or are trying to cut down on your expenses, there are plenty of free options for your kids – most of them involving some sort of outdoor activity.

With the Florida sunshine and warm summers, splash pads are very popular for kids. Shady Park in Winter Park, Downtown Winter Garden, Dr. P. Phillips Community Park, Downey Park, Lake Mary Splash Park and Capehart Park all have splash pads where your kids can run around in the sunshine and water.

Looking for something more dry? Consider many of the weekly farmers markets around town. These farmers markets can bring educational opportunities for your children as well as fun entertainment and yummy food. We took a look previously at a number of the Orlando area farmers markets.

If you’re willing to brave the touristy part of town, kids love walking around Downtown Disney. It’s free to get in, free to park, and spending money at stores and restaurants is optional. Our kids love walking around and simply looking at all the wild sights to see including the giant lego-built dragon coming out of the water! If you want to spend a few bucks, get yummy milkshakes at  Ghirardelli. Note that Downtown Disney gets extremely crowded at various times of the year, especially around holidays.

On the more calm and simple side, finding a local park to feed the ducks is a thrill for many young kids. We’ve done this a number of times at by the lake in Baldwin Park. The kids can be entertained for hours teasing and feeding bread to the ducks. Such opportunities also offer parents the chance to talk about wildlife and nature with their kids turning a fun experience into an educational moment. Lake Eola near downtown also offers similar opportunities.

Outdoor Activities

As we continue to explore outdoor kids activities in Orlando, there are a number of fun options that cost money. Orlando is obviously home to a number of world class theme parks, and there are ways to experience the parks with your kids without crushing your wallet. SeaWorld has a nice Florida resident annual pass option that will allow your family to use SeaWorld throughout the year.

SeaWorld is our favorite destination for our family as it brings together educational opportunities with the incredible wildlife, entertainment with the amazing shows and exhibits and also even some physical exercise at Shamu’s Happy Harbor which is likely the largest cargo net complex your kids will ever get to climb on. Throw in beautiful landscaping and excellent facilities and you have an absolute winner for a family activity. SeaWorld just opened their new penguin exhibit known as Antartica where your kids will get to encounter penguins face to face! SeaWorld gets very busy during spring break and holidays so plan accordingly.

If splash pads are getting old, your kids will love the Orlando area water parks. Wet n’ Wild on International Drive has been around for decades and welcomes the masses each sunny day. SeaWorld opened up their own water park known as Aquatica a few years ago. Comparing the two parks, Aquatica definitely has a newer feel simply because it was built just a couple of years back. It also has some elements of being a sister park of SeaWorld with wildlife, but it’s a bit overplayed as the wildlife is a very small part of the experience.

Lastly, if you’ve got money to spend, there are fewer experiences that your kids will remember more than swimming with the dolphins at Discovery Cove. Discovery Cove is the other SeaWorld park (located on the other side of Central Florida Parkway from SeaWorld) and is a lush, tropical experience centered around swimming with the dolphins. The cost can be several hundred dollars per person, and you need to make a reservation ahead of time.

Indoor Activities

The Orlando Science Center is fabulous destination for your kids. It’s relatively inexpensive, and you can leisurely walk around the Science Center on your own or sign up for classes and experiences that you think your kids will enjoy. Additionally, they always have small activities like painting going on during the day that your kids can enjoy without signing up beforehand. The educational value is extraordinary. Your kids can learn about alligators, physics, water, dinosaurs and much more.  The Science Center has a food court with a Subway, so feel free to bring your lunch or buy a sub onsite. Even better, there’s a covered bridge connecting the Science Center with a parking garage so it’s an ideal destination on a rainy afternoon.

For more physical, indoor activities, consider options such as My Gym or Sky Zone (located in Clermont). As we’ve discussed previously, My Gym offers fun and energetic indoor classes that combine games, gymnastics and fun play. My Gym is a great way to incorporate physical kids activities into your routine without having the risk of Central Florida’s  regular inclement weather.

Sky Zone in Clermont is an indoor trampoline park. Kids typically experience Sky Zone during birthday parties or other planned events, but you can call ahead and ask about coming in on an individual basis. They have different areas for different ages so even your two year old can have fun without the risk of getting run over by an older child.

Other Activities

Once you’ve exhausted these options, you can always defer to your local community options for kids activities like YMCA leagues, dance classes and play groups. It can be difficult for mommy to take her kids to the Science Center twice a week, so be sure to have neighborhood fun as a regular part of your family’s routine. There are a plethora of kids activities in Orlando city-wide but sometimes a neighborhood playgroup is the best thing for your little ones.

West Orange 5: An Orlando movie theater focused on family

West Orange Cinema, often referred to as West Orange 5, is a small, family-owned movie theater just north of Windermere on Maguire Rd in Ocoee. Many southwest Orlando residents are familiar with the movie theater, and Windermere and Ocoee residents mostly refuse to go elsewhere.

The movie theater is known as a locally owned business with inexpensive movie tickets and a simple, straight forward way to go see the latest flick. To learn more about the theater and its history, I interviewed the owners and managers of West Orange 5:

OB: How did West Orange 5 get started? Has it been the same ownership since then? What was the vision back then?

WO5: The theater opened in December 1988, built by Nathan & Martha Dykgraaf, and was originally called Orange Tree Cinema, and had only one screen. At the time, there were no other theaters around (the closest was in Pine Hills). They added four more screens in 1990. They sold the theater in 1994 to their son-in-law and his business partner, and they changed the name to West Orange 5. The business partner bought out the son-in-law the next year. Then he sold the theater in 1996 to his nephew and son, who are the current owners now.

OB: How has the movie theater industry changed since getting into the business?

WO5: The industry has grown immensely, with many large chains and multi-plex theaters opening in the past 2 decades… and recently, everything has gone digital…

OB: How has West Orange 5 stayed successful despite these changes?

WO5: We have continually renovated over the years, and upgraded to digital sound and projectors. We also expanded our lobby and added a sixth screen a year and a half ago. We have a very loyal crowd, and we have always appealed to being family-oriented.

OB: West Orange 5 recently underwent an expansion. Was that the first time? What drove the decision to expand after all these years? Any future expansion plans?

WO5: As mentioned earlier, this was not the first expansion. We decided to expand because when they added the four screens in 1990, they kept the lobby and bathrooms the same, and we wanted to make these areas, as well as the kitchen, bigger so we could serve our customers better. We don’t have any plans for any more expansions at this time.

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OB: What type of community events do you do at West Orange 5 and why is that important?

WO5: We are Partners in Education with all of the nearby schools, and support as many local charitable events as possible. We love our community and the people in it, and want to support them as much as they support us! We also host the Central Florida Film Festival every September (over Labor Day Weekend).

OB: West Orange 5 is significantly less expensive than some other theaters in town. Is this out of necessity or because you want to offer a more reasonable offering to patrons?

WO5: We try to keep our prices reasonable so that families can afford to come and enjoy a night out without spending a small fortune.

OB: How many members of your family work at the theater? Any interesting stories regarding this?

WO5: We are family run… as I mentioned, the current owners are cousins. But all of our employees are like family to us, and many of them are family- we have 6 sets of siblings that work at the theater! And both of our managers have been with us since they were in high school (10 years)! And the wife of one of the owners has been at the theater since 1991 (she worked for the original owners and has been there through all the transitions).

OB: What does the future look like for West Orange 5?

We hope that we can continue to serve our community for many years to come!!

Looking for a relaxed atmosphere to watch a movie with tickets and refreshments significantly less than most movie theaters in town? I suggest checking out West Orange 5 located at 1575 Maguire Rd. See map below:

History of Orlando

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The city of Orlando was not originally named Orlando. On the contrary, our dear city was once named “Jernigan” after the first family that settled here. However in 1857, the name changed to Orlando. Why?

No one really knows exactly. But there are four competing stories that try to make sense of where the name “Orlando” came from.

The first story is that Judge James Speer, who helped Orlando gain the county seat, named the city after a friend of his. The second story is that Judge James Speer named the city for a character in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. The third story is that Mr. Orlando was on his way to Tampa with a caravan of ox and he died of a sickness. He was buried here therefore people would come through this area and say “Here lies Orlando”, and the name stuck.

The final story is that there was  a group of soldiers battling Indians during the Seminole Wars. The soldiers battled the Indians to the swamps on the east side of Lake Minnie and the soldiers decided to settle for the night. Sentinel Orlando Reeves was guarding the camp and saw a log floating toward him. Orlando noticed this was an Indian disguise and so he fired his gun to warn his fellow soldiers. The Indians ambushed the camp and took Orlando down with arrows. After the group of soldiers battled the Indians back into the swamps, they buried Orlando Reeves on the south side of Lake Eola.

We’re not sure why it’s called Orlando, but we are glad it isn’t still Jernigan.  Just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  In any case, we hope you enjoyed a little history about the city we love!