Orlando Recreation

Looking for Orlando fun? We've got you covered.

Orlando's amazing weather enables countless outdoor activities for the active types. Whether it's water sports in the spring fed chains of lakes around town or biking on the beautiful trails or getting out in the untouched wild beauty of Wekiwa Springs State Park or spending years trying to golf at every local golf course, you'll always have a way to enjoy the Central Florida sunshine.

Looking for something more unusual? How about indoor skydiving or driving a race car? The options are endless. We will work to keep you in the loop of all the new ways you can have fun here in Orlando.

Orlando Birthday Party Ideas

Whether you’re throwing a birthday party for a child, teenager, young adult or seasoned adult, many Orlando birthday party ideas await here in Central Florida.

Upscale Birthday Party Ideas

If you’re looking for a an upscale way to celebrate a birthday, we’ve got you covered. There are a number of great restaurants locally that offer private and quiet spaces for a group of ten or so to dine. A few restaurants with small private rooms perfect for such a gathering include The Palm at the Hard Rock Hotel, Bice at the Portofino Bay Hotel, the brewery room at Cask & Larder, and the Barrel Room at Moonfish.

If you’re looking for an upscale restaurant option for a smaller group that might be a little out of the ordinary, or a little more special for a birthday dinner, consider Emeril’s Tchoup Chop at the Royal Pacific Resort or the California Grill on top of the Contemporary Resort at Disney (stay for the fireworks). For a special, purely local  option that you likely haven’t had before, check out Chatham’s in Dr. Phillips or Christini’s across the street. If you’re not a regular in the Winter Park area, the food and atmosphere at Prado is indeed tough to beat.

Orlando Birthday Party Ideas

If budget permits, a large birthday dinner at a resort restaurant like Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton followed by a night at the hotel is definitely a special way to spend a birthday. Wake up and enjoy the amazing pool facilities at the resort. Other similar options might include Blue Zoo and the Dolphin Resort at Disney or a downtown restaurant and the Grand Bohemian Hotel.

Casual and Fun Orlando Birthday Party Ideas

Two of the top restaurants in Orlando for a fun and casual birthday party are Cafe Tu Tu Tango on International Drive and Rocco’s Taco’s on Sand Lake Road. At Cafe Tu Tu Tango, if you have a group of 10-12, try to reserve the special wooden table with the chairs built into the tree trunk. It’s one of the more unique tables in all of Orlando. Cafe Tu Tu Tango is a great option for drinks and smaller, unique dishes, then combining dinner with something fun on International Drive like bowling or catching a movie.

Looking to get a little loose? Try Universal’s CityWalk. You can have dinner at Emeril’s, Margaritaville or the brand new Antojito’s and then stay and bar hop at the various clubs. Plenty of dancing can be had at Margaritaville with the house band or, if you’re looking for more of a club atmosphere, check out the groove. When you’ve built up enough courage, head to Rising Star and take a stab at the best karaoke in town.

Of course, heading downtown to catch an Orlando Magic game is also a great way to spend a birthday. With the new Amway arena, going to a Magic game is hardly about basketball anymore. The venue itself is half the fun, and the group is sure to have a blast even if several have no interest in basketball.

Family Oriented Orlando Birthday Party Ideas

Looking to have a family birthday dinner involving fun and festivities for both adults and kids? As we stated above, Cafe Tu Tu Tango can also work with kids and a nearby activity like miniature golf.  House of Blues or Bongos at Downtown Disney can be a fun venue for a family as well.  For families with little ones, consider Rainforest Cafe or the T-Rex restaurant. Follow up dinner at Downtown Disney with some fun at Splitsville.

Outdoor activities (more on these in the next section) can also be great for the family. A popular activity for families on special occasions is heading out to Wekiwa Springs State Park. Here you can do a picnic lunch followed up with either kayaking down the river or swimming in the spring.

Of course, enjoying some of the resort pools in town is also a great time for family fun. Some of the best pool resorts are the Hyatt Grand Cypress and Disney’s Dolphin Hotel. Spend a day poolside with some food and drinks while the kids splash around. Hotels like the JW Marriott Grande Lakes and the Hilton Bonnet Creek have lazy rivers if that’s more your style.

Outdoor Orlando Birthday Party Ideas

Orlando offers a number of outdoor activities. In the warmer times of the year, spending time on the many lakes in Central Florida is a great way to celebrate a birthday. The Sportsman’s Club in southwest Orlando is a common, lakefront venue for celebrating a birthday party. You can rent out one of the facilities or simply use the open picnic tables and/or spaces. The grounds include a playground, volleyball court, and of course the Butler Chain lakes for plenty of water fun.

If you’re in the mood for something different, check out one of the Orlando water parks such as SeaWorld’s Aquatica park. Setting up shop on the lounge chairs at Aquatica is a very fun day with some sun, food, drinks and water slides.

For the golf enthusiasts of course, Orlando offers a wide range of golf courses. Groups frequent the Orange County National facilities for golf and parties quite frequently. You can even stay the night if you plan to enjoy some adult beverages.

Lastly, you might consider heading out to Downtown Winter Garden and enjoying some time on the West Orange Trail followed up with a meal in the very underrated historic Downtown Winter Garden.

As you can tell, Orlando offers a myriad of birthday party ideas whether you’re looking to get dressed up or dressed down. We hope this was helpful in planning your next birthday party here in Orlando.

Become a Wilderness Explorer at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

For years, Animal Kingdom had this stigma in my family of being the most boring out of all the Disney parks: it had a few things to offer, like the Lion King Show and Everest, but just didn’t seem worth the ticket price – and they closed so early on top of it all! I hadn’t been back until I purchased my annual pass a few months ago, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered you could become a Wilderness Explorer.

If you haven’t seen the movie Up, my sheer joy may seem a little off.  I’ll give you a quick run-down: in the movie, a young boy named Russell is a Wilderness Explorer trying to earn his Helping the Elderly badge (this is how he meets Mr. Jefferson, the main protagonist of the story). He is sworn to help protect all life, “be it plants or fish or tiny mole,” which gets him and Mr. Jefferson into some hilarious situations, but ultimately becomes their greatest asset. It’s easy to understand then why Animal Kingdom – centered around conservation and wildlife education – was chosen to house this activity.

But I assure you, it was all fun and games. If you’re only in the park for a day, it’s best to use your full visit in order to budget wait times and general enjoyment of the park as you stroll along and earn your badges. If you’re an annual passholder like my fiancé and I, you could make the game a little more interesting, and set out to achieve the status of Senior Wilderness Explorer (which you achieve when you earn all 31 badges) as fast as possible.

The process of earning badges was adorable and exciting. If you decide to join a troop when you first enter the park, the first badge you’ll earn after being sworn in and handed your booklet is your “Wilderness Explorer Call Badge” – essentially making animal sounds as high pitched and excitedly as possible. Later you’ll earn your “Fossil Badge,” where the troop leader in Dinoland has you complete an activity centered on various dinosaur fossils with him (ours was centered around the untimely demise of Little Foot and his friends; I was sorely disappointed when I realized the little kids next to us didn’t understand the references).

But as much fun as we had, and the cast members had with us, the experience was also very educational. For one badge, you had to exchange currencies; another centered on why it’s so important humans don’t expose animals to food that isn’t part of their natural diet. Especially when the badges revolved in some way around animals, your “troop leaders” were extremely informative, well versed not because they memorized a speech, but because they legitimately knew a lot about the species they work with and have a passion for sharing that knowledge with others.

My favorites though were the ones where you had to talk to the cast members. Several badges centered around learning about cultures and beliefs of people around the world: in Indonesia, we chatted with a guy about how great their food was and how many islands there were; we spoke with one girl near the Everest ride about her hometown’s personal beliefs of the Yeti; and in Africa, we talked with a young man from Johannesburg who told us about the many languages spoken there (eleven) and how people tend to pick up more than the two languages they’re required to learn just by being in that environment (he himself knew four).

My fiancé and I were able to join the ranks of the Senior Wilderness Explorers in roughly three hours. The troop leader who gave us our last badge was all smiles and particularly surprised with the speed we completed them. He asked us about our day, which animals we had and hadn’t been able to see, and finally swore us in.

If you weren’t a fan of Up, don’t fret; the game can still be just as interesting. My fiancé is an Eagle Scout, and he was surprised with how much influence the Boy Scouts had on the creation of this fictional organization. If your sons are scouts, perhaps they’ll enjoy finding the signs in the booklet and around the park, too. If you love competition, this is a really great game to play with your friends with a “divide and conquer” mindset. If you just enjoy animals, pull any of the troop leaders aside and ask them a few questions; they love getting to know people and helping the less informed better understand wildlife and the consequences our actions tend to have on them.

Keep in mind, if you don’t want to rush like we did, or if you came in the summer and spent your entire day waiting in lines, you’re able to take your booklet home and save it for your next Disney trip. The badges never expire, and you’ll still have a ranking to show for all your efforts. Personally, we’re thinking about making a new game: how many times you can achieve Senior Wilderness Explorer status in one year.

Fun and unique Orlando bachelor party ideas

Are you planning some festivities to celebrate your buddy’s approaching wedding? No need to book airfare to Las Vegas as we’ve got you covered with some excellent Orlando bachelor party ideas. Sure, there’s always Downtown Orlando, but you’ve been there and done that. For your bud’s bachelor party, it’s time to get a little more creative and do something a little more out of the box and memorable.

Rocco’s Tacos and Corona Cigar

If you’re looking for festive food and drink, fewer places are more fun than Rocco’s Tacos on Sand Lake Rd. This rockin’ joint took the space of the old Samba Room adjacent to the Publix on Sand Lake Rd. If you’re heading here on a weekend night, be sure to put in a reservation (and you’ll likely still wait). This place gets utterly slammed on weekends. It’s an ideal mix of a loud, fun, energetic restaurant environment that serves good, inexpensive food and a plethora of libations. You’ll see groups ordering shots in the middle of dinner, and you’ll notice a handful of couples get up and dance in the middle of the restaurant. Get the guacamole and some drinks, then go light on actual dinner. You’ll be plenty full.

Follow up the dinner action with a low-key wind down in the manliest place in Orlando: Corona Cigar Co. Go inside and light up some stogies. Find some seats on the king chairs around the big screen TV and order some cold beers. Corona doesn’t serve liquor, so your options will be limited to beer and wine.

Be sure to take a taxi home, of course.

Orange County National golf overnight

Looking to integrate some golf action into a bachelor party event? Look no further than Orange County National. Orange County National has multiple golf courses and an onsite lodge. Golf two days in a row and do some eating and drinking at night at the lodge. No driving around town necessary as you’ve got everything you need on property.

As for the golf courses, they are in excellent shape and have enough variety to keep all golfers very interested.

Grande Lakes golf and pool 

If you’re looking for a more upscale overnight location in Orlando, consider the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton properties at Grande Lakes. Frankly, the JW Marriott is such a fantastic property, it’s not necessary paying a little more for the adjacent Ritz-Carlton. The pool at the JW Marriott will treat you well. It’s a lush tropical environment, not too crowded, and one that serves plenty of food and drink in the sunshine.

bachelor party ideas

The Grande Lakes golf course is a high end course. You’ll pay a little extra for it, but it’s a fantastic course.

Looking for something similar, but don’t want to head to Grande Lakes? Consider the Hilton and Waldorf-Astoria (near Disney) which has a very similar setup to Grande Lakes.

Texas De Brazil and Kings Bowl

If you’re looking to eat well and incorporate a fun activity into the bachelor party night, consider a tandem of Brazilian Steakhouse Texas De Brazil and nearby Kings Bowl. Texas De Brazil (or recently added Fogo de Chao) is a Brazilian Steakhouse on International Drive where meat lovers flock to. The variety and volume of meats available to consume will leave you stuffed.

After leaving with a full belly, head over to Kings Bowl (opened in 2013) which is a high-end bowling alley that is half night club, half bowling. If you have a group of 10-15 guests, consider the private room in front of the building which has your own lanes and even an adjacent outdoor bocce court on the patio – very cool. If not, get some lanes in the back room near the pool tables and shuffle board.

Orlando Grand Prix

Golf and bowling too tame for you? Consider getting the competitive juices and adrenaline flowing by heading over to the Orlando Grand Prix near the Florida Mall. This indoor go-kart facility allows extreme speeds on some killer indoor tracks. The facility can even time the racers and allow you to compete against your buddies. Orlando Grand Prix has two tracks and some basic food & beverage options. Plan on heading to dinner somewhere following the grand prix experience.

Want to get even more extreme? Consider heading out to Richard Petty Driving Experience and take a few laps riding shotgun in a real race car or an exotic Lamborghini at speeds topping 125 MPH.

Want to do something competitive and fun, but racing not your style? Check out Whirly Ball and the Whirly Dome on International Drive.

Conclusion

Bachelor parties are meant to bring you and your friends together to celebrate the upcoing wedding of a close friend. Don’t sell yourselves short by limiting your bachelor party event to some downtown Orlando bar or club hopping. Bring together a number of these Orlando bachelor party ideas to put together the ultimate night that you’ll remember for years to come.

Orlando City Soccer Club offers great sporting experience for locals

soccerThe worldwide soccer (should I say football?) season is quickly approaching. 4 years ago I watched the USA vanquish the unbeatable Spain in the semi-final match of the Confederations Cup. I was instantly invested and shed many tears as I watched them lose the next match to Brazil earning them a second place finish. The next year was spent feverishly reading every tidbit on the US national team, and all of a sudden, I realized I was into a sport for the first time in my entire life. Suddenly my head was filled with team formations, player names and stats, and new meaning to the term offside. I was hooked.

The time has once again come to qualify for the World Cup, and once again, I have soccer on the brain. Having never seen a soccer game in person, I was wracking my brain for an appropriate budget that would allow me to fly to Brazil and garner entrance into a match while still allowing me to eat and have shelter until then. My brother-in-law made a better suggestion, attend an Orlando City Soccer Game and watch the action while supporting the city I love so much.

Regular season tickets cost anywhere from $15 to $30, which I found to be an extremely reasonable price. Nonetheless, I scoured the Internet for coupons and was able to find a GroupOn for four midfield tickets at $49. Perfect! I tossed together a few friends and we all mentally prepared for a 7:30 pm game against the Charleston Battery. A few carefully worded searches informed me that the team’s colors were purple and red. I donned a bright red long-sleeved top with some shorts for the athletic look I so often see game attendees sporting and drove over to the Citrus Bowl for an evening of cheering on my hometown team.

The game was a blast. Our midfield seats afforded us a fantastic view of the parley between the opposing teams. Mind you, I have been watching national teams for the last 4 years, which includes the best players from each country with the best coaches and unparalleled organization. I enjoyed the match as it allowed me to view the simpler field dynamics. I could see the defensive and midfield line forming and the calculated move of the strikers as they tried to make their advance to victory. Both teams had definite flaws, possession was often foolishly relinquished and I wasn’t always quite sure to whom players were attempting to pass the ball to. Despite this, our team managed a lovely goal in the first half only to lose our lead to Charleston after one of those aforementioned sudden hang-ups. A timely foul in the penalty box allowed us a free shot that we took the utmost advantage of and we were back in the lead 2-1. The game was certainly thrilling and I was often on my feet shouting at the ref and casually disregarding our side’s occasional sneaky moves. I left satisfied and excited to attend another match given the chance. So the pros and the cons:

Pros: The fans. Over near the goal was a small, but obviously steadily attending group of fans with an organized cheering system that was quite the site to behold.  The two 45 minute halves provided no rest from their relentless singing and cheering. Not a section for children as there was plenty of cursing and rude signals no one needs to imitate. But they were a blast and lent a feverish excitement to the whole game. Our fantastic seats were also a definite pro as I was able to easily keep track of the ball without ever having to ask the fellows on each side what was happening.

Cons: The Citrus Bowl. It’s old. It’s way too big for the fan base. It’s really old. The bathrooms have a yellow tinge to the water that I would prefer not to dwell on and seats are uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Also, the food vendors left much to be desired. There was beer for the adults, lots of fried food, and an unnecessarily expensive glass of sour water parading as an Arnold Palmer.

Some halftime browsing of the program immediately addressed my biggest issue; the venue ill suited for a soccer match. Apparently, Orlando is vying to have the Orlando City Soccer club team upgraded to MLS status, which is essentially the NBA or NFL of soccer. The biggest setback is a lack of a proper field and location for their games. They have an online petition going at the site orlandobelievesinmls.com to allocate city funds toward working on making it happen! I signed it as soon as I made it home.

The Magic aren’t always around and if you aren’t particularly interested in some of the city’s football games consider trying out the original foot sport, soccer, and head on over to one of the matches before the season ends in August.

Photo Credit: orlandocitysoccer.com

Off The Beaten Path in Orlando: A Comic Shop & The Geek Easy

The Great Gatsby, the recently released film based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald has reignited the excitement of the prohibition era in my heart. Considering the increase in 20s themes parties, flapper costume sales, and alcohol consumption (does that ever decrease?) I’d say I’m not alone in finding the era’s appeal. I particularly enjoy the concept of the Speakeasy. A hidden bar in the back of unassuming stores has just enough rebellion and romance to inspire my unruly side. There are a few places in Orlando that have similar concept bars in their locations, but it’s rare and mostly unheard of. I also love comic books. That may seem like a non sequitur, but in fact, it is not!

A Comic Shop Orlando

Enter A Comic Shop in Winter Park. The established “it” location for all things cartoon strip in Orlando; find University Blvd and drive all the way down away from UCF until it converts into a neighborhood and Scarlett Road. Take a left and there, at the intersection of University and Semoran in a slightly run down shopping plaza you will find A Comic Shop. It is quite regular as far as these stores go. It extends far back and its walls carry a litany of graphic novels and comics depicting all sorts of superheroes, zombies, fairy tales, and more. As you marvel at the sheer assortment of story possibilities available you may note an unobtrusive door on the left wall. Should you step through you will find yourself in The Geek Easy.

The Geek Easy is the perfect haunt to pursue the cultural interests normally relegated to the nerdy of our community. A “safe place” not unlike the Speakeasy’s of days gone by but trade out the illegal alcohol for the less socially accepted geeky curiosities of the community. As you enter, the first view is of the bar. The walls have a variety of themes, one depicts a generic cityscape with skyscrapers and the silhouettes of heroes viewing the chaos below and another has decals recreating the classic Mario adventure. This place is set up to be a geek Mecca. The big screens littering the walls a la sports bar play episodes of Doctor Who as you sip on one of the interesting, reasonably priced beers they provide.

Fear no retribution if you’re not a geek. Unlike the aforementioned Speakeasy’s, there is no secret phrase or tricky question on the secret identity of an obscure hero needed to enter. Everyone is welcome to enjoy their free wifi, PS3 and Xbox 360 game consoles, arcade games, and board games available.

I went last Tuesday night and the one previous to that. A few friends invited me to join their team for the weekly trivia night that the Geek Easy hosts. The grand prize was a $50 bar tab. I walked in late, as did my entire team, having been under the impression the competition started at 8 in the evening as opposed to 7. Just for your information, the Tuesday night Trivia night at the Geek Easy in A Comic Shop begins at 7:00 pm, not 8:00 pm. In any case, in the typical laid back attitude of the bar we were happily accepted and allowed to join in.

My friends were munching on hot dogs and fries attempting to answer the half time question. I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a ordered a beer described as a two hearted ale. The second night, Sam Adams beers were buy 2 for $5.

Their food consists of options easily cooked in either a microwave or a plug-in stove top. For the sake of creating a true experience, I purchased a Philly Grilled Cheese. To be perfectly honest, it was delicious and was a lovely pairing with my Sam Adams. The whole environment reminds me of my nerdy friends college dorms, down to our main weeknight meal. The dim lighting and whispered conversations among the teams as they attempted to answer questions created the perfect laid back environment to chat about the day’s activities and our ideal superpower furthering the dorm room feel.

Thanks to the mix of science, gaming, and geeky questions, our team did not end up in last despite having entered late. Although to be perfectly honest, the trivia was not the reason I enjoyed my time there. Before leaving after our 8th place loss I browsed the impressive collection in the shop and chatted with some of the staff. Everyone was friendly and encouraged us to come back.

The Geek Easy is a great low-key bar to hang out with like minded peers, sipping on drinks, and playing some board games. If you are ever feeling particularly sneaky and in need of some nerdy chat consider heading over to this bar within a store. Add a few 20s costumes and it’s like you have stepped back in time!

Best Beaches Near Orlando

Orlando’s location in Central Florida means Orlando residents have excellent options to soak in the sun on the beach near Orlando. If you’re looking for the closest beach, taking the 528 Beach Line straight to Cocoa Beach will likely be the quickest option if you’re looking for immediate beach. Cocoa Beach doesn’t make the list for best beaches near Orlando, however, as you’ll see.

This list of best beaches near Orlando includes East Coast Atlantic and West Coast Gulf options and all can be reached in two hours or less. We’ll start with the East Coast…

New Smyrna Beach
Distance from Downtown Orlando: 56 miles
Est. Travel Time: 1 hour

New Smyrna Beach is one of the most frequent beaches near Orlando that we visit. It’s easily the most frequent beach I visit on the East Coast. Frankly, it’s the only (unless I’m in South Florida or near Jacksonville). If you’re in Orlando and want an East Coast beach, there’s no better option that New Smyrna Beach.

The beach itself is clean. On parts of the beach, you can drive on the beach. Driving on the beach is convenient, but can also be dangerous if you have little ones running around. Overall, the type of visitor at New Smyrna is decent. Like any beach, you get a mixed crowd, but it tends to be a notch above crowds at Daytona or Cocoa.

The town at New Smyrna Beach is excellent. It’s simply a great beach town whether you’re in to shopping, eating or drinking. New Smyrna has a lively bar scene and a great group of local eateries. For breakfast, hit up Bagel World. For lunch, get a sandwich from Mon Delice. At dinner time, head over to Spanish River.

If you’re looking for overnight options, check out VRBO for plenty condo and beachfront rental options. Want something a little more romantic? Check out the Black Dolphin Inn Bed & Breakfast.

Anna Maria Island
Distance from Downtown Orlando: 126 miles
Est. Travel Time: 2 hours

Best beaches

Looking for a world class beach near Orlando without the commercialization and noise of most beach towns? Anna Maria Island has you covered. One of my favorite destinations, Anna Maria Island is a small island town with little to do other than enjoy the pristine Gulf Coast beaches. The island is almost entirely residential with no high rise condos or buildings. It’s very different from the vast majority of Florida beach towns. If you’re looking to get away without having to fly to the Caribbean, Anna Maria is a great option to consider.

One of the unique features of the Anna Maria beaches are the sand dunes (see the above picture).  These dunes are gorgeous and offer some excellent backdrops for family photos!

If your thing is dining, Anna Maria has somewhat limited options – again, it’s very non-commercial – but that’s not to say it’s without great restaurants. Sandbar is probably the most well known restaurant on Anna Maria simply because of the view. You can literally sit in white powder sand while you eat your dinner and watch a gorgeous sunset. The food is fairly average, but you can’t beat the views. Go for the sunset, the drinks and enjoy some standard casual, “beachy” fare. If you’re looking for something nicer and more expensive, check out Beach Bistro down in Holmes Beach.

The main street area of the island is Pine Ave. There are some fun shops on the strip and of course, the pier on the end is a great place for photos and enjoying the water (on the bay side).

Lodging is almost entirely rentals – mostly homes. There are options ranging from super cheap to super expensive. Goto a vacation rental site and just start browsing. I would suggest staying either north of Pine Ave or no more than a few blocks south of it. Almost the entire island is walkable, but being able to walk to the north point (Bean Point) is fantastic. There are views across the opening of Tampa Bay including the Sunshine Skyway in the distance. The stretch of beaches down from the northern tip on the Gulf side stretches for miles. It’s tough to find better beaches than this stretch.

Siesta Key Beach
Distance from Downtown Orlando: 137 miles
Est. Travel Time: 2 hours

Looking for comparable beaches to Anna Maria but want a little more action? Head to Siesta Key – one of the islands off Sarasota, Florida. Sarasota and Siesta Key is just south of Anna Maria Island. Siesta Key has world famous beaches and is frequently on lists detailing the world’s best beaches.

Unlike Anna Maria, Siesta Key is definitely commercialized. There are a number of high rise condominium buildings on Siesta Key Beach. Specifically, the main beach on Siesta Key is known as Crescent Beach – named for the crescent shape of it. Just south of Crescent Beach, you’ll get into the area known as Turtle Beach. In my opinion, you’ll want to stick with Crescent Beach. On the northern part of Crescent Beach, you’ll find the public beach for Siesta Key.

Not only is Siesta Key one of the top beaches anywhere, but the Sarasota area is fantastic for dining, shopping and other activities. The gorgeous dining and shopping area of St. Armands Circle on Lido Key is about 20 minutes drive from Siesta Key. Go there late in the afternoon for shopping, then have dinner at the Columbia Restaurant. Nearby Sr. Armands, you’ll find the Chart House on Longboat Key – one of my favorite destinations in the Sarasota area.

For dining options closer to and on Siesta Key, I recommend the Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant & Oyster Bar – a much more casual, inexpensive seafood restaurant that is great fun. In the Siesta Key Village area, Siesta Key Oyster Bar is a famous spot for drinks and food (super casual). For breakfast, check out the Broken Egg in the Siesta Key Village.

Where should you stay? There are plenty of condo options right on the beach such as the Crystal Sands building. Like the other recommended beach options near Orlando, you can spend hours surfing the web looking at rental options at Siesta Key.

What about boating?

It’s also worth noting that if you’re a boater, there are many options where you can get a rental with beach access. On Anna Maria and in Siesta Key, there are a number of homes that are on the canals where you can have your boat parked literally in the back yard of the home and have access to the Gulf. Boating on the west coast is incredible. Launch from Anna Maria and head down into Sarasota – pull your boat up to Phillippi Creek Restaurant for example. Launch from Sarasota and head south to areas like Boca Grande or even keep going to Captiva.

Over in New Smyrna, you have a number of boating options as well. Plenty of boaters enjoy the intercoastal water ways. Research rentals that have drop in access or find rentals nearby public drop ins. Combining the best beaches in Florida with the boating lifestyle is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the Floridian lifestyle!

Finding a world class beach near Orlando is easy. Find some weekends in the future to enjoy each of the three beach options listed above. You’ll find things you love about each of them. Then, come back and let us know your favorite beach near Orlando!

Photo credit: Paigehenderson via Flickr

Date Night Orlando: Creative ideas for your next date

rosesDinner and a movie is the quintessential date night. I don’t know how many times my coupled friends tell me they are going to Chili’s and a film at Regal Cinemas. There are plenty of Regal Cinemas, AMCs, and dollar theatres to keep your date nights filled for the entire year albeit with the risk of a bromidic consistency.  Whether you’re in a date night rut, new to the Orlando scene and unaware of the doings, or just looking for some ideas to supplement your already satisfying repertoire of romantic plans, the following is a list of some of my favorite date night activities. Step up and upgrade your date night Orlando experience!

Dinner and a Movie upgrades:

For those evenings when you seek amusement apart from the dissipation your partner’s conversation can lead to, options abound away from viewing the latest blockbuster on a big screen.

Consider the Enzian in gorgeous Maitland, an alternative, not-for profit cinema that shows a variety of Indie films and has it’s own attached eatery, Eden Bar, with tasty morsels to nibble on.

Or check out Winter Garden’s aptly named Garden Theatre. They have an intriguing Summer Movie series screening classic and cult films at only $5 (fun and frugal) and a variety of local restaurants within walking distance (the grapevine has mentioned lovely reviews of The Attic Door, a café and wine bar).

Another affordable option is the occasional Date Night at Leu Gardens during which you can not only enjoy a fun movie outside, but also a romantic stroll through a garden with plenty of shady spots to sneak an embrace with your paramour.

Prefer live shows? Check out the article on local theatres! The Rusty Spoon for dinner and a performance at Mad Cow across the street is my absolute favorite go-to date night.

Interactive Dates:

I find that sparks soar when you and your significant others hands work together to create something. Think pottery making in the movie Ghost. There are plenty of hands-on date night activities to try in the area.

Farris and Fosters Chocolate Factory in Baldwin Park and Dr. Phillips have a Friday date night where you create tasty chocolate concoctions.

Consider one of the many cropping up art and wine classes where you can BYOW and drink as you spread your imagination on a canvas, such as Creative Canvas and Wine in Altamonte Springs.

If you’re still lingering on the aforementioned pottery example try All Fired Up in Winter Park, where you can paint your very own piece of pottery.

My absolute favorite experience with a beau is cooking a full meal for our enjoyment. Consider a cooking class! The Table, a fabulous small eating experience in itself, offers monthly cooking classes, or try Truffles and Trifles cooking classes for a more affordable experience.

Active Dates:

They say endorphins released with exercise act as an aphrodisiac, so consider convincing your inamorato to join you in a healthy and feel-good chemical releasing active date!

Dancing is a great way to jumpstart the blood flowing; try Latin Quarter in CityWalk, a restaurant that become a fun Latin nightclub on weekends. Salsa dancing is a great exercise and when your feet are too soar to go on I’m sure your partner won’t minding you leaning on them for support!

Bowling is a classic and the competition is sure to rile up the spirit, it’s not my favorite activity but Firkin and Kegler in Waterford Lakes has a Friday and Saturday night music night that adds to the experience, and if it become to prosaic you have the option of engaging in some fun arcade games. Or consider two new bowling options in Orlando.

If you really want to increase your heart rate consider an afternoon at Aiguille Rock Climbing Center; tired muscles are sure to follow but you’ll have a blast challenging yourselves to complete their numerous walls.

Educational Dates:

In my opinion, a knowledgeable date is a sexy date; why not embark on a night where you can both grow your minds and your attraction!

Try Cocktails and Cosmos, an occasional event at the Orlando Science Center for adults. Enjoy all the regular fun exhibits along with a cash bar and music.

Not exactly informational, but try Retro Game Night at the scholarly Orlando History Center.

Expand your artistic appreciation with 1st Thursdays at the Orlando museum of arts, an evening exhibition with works by local artists, live music, cash bars, and café offerings from local restaurants.

Looking for a challenge instead of a didactic night? Try Earth Triva, which according to them makes use of your useless knowledge. These fun trivia nights occur all around Orlando in different venues nightly, it’s free, just check their website for the location and head over for a night of testing your grasp of normally unprofitable information.

For an instruction in libation, head over to The Wine Room in Winter Park for one of their winery events held throughout the year. Check out their website for dates and pricing.

It’s time to upgrade your Date Night Orlando experience. Living in Orlando leaves you no excuse to involve you and your companion in the same prosaic excursions. Steer clear from the conventional evening, and try one of these fresh, romantic date ideas!

Photo courtesy of Jordan Almazan

Bowling Alley in Orlando Florida? Two new options to consider…

If you’re looking for a bowling alley in Orlando, Florida, we have two new options for you to consider. In fact, it’s probably a disservice to both of these venues to call them bowling alleys. The modern bowling alley is part bowling, part nightclub, part great food, and part great drinks. Kings Bowl on International Drive and Splitsville at Downtown Disney are two new options that both fit this description of modern bowling alleys.

Splitsville opened in late 2012 and took over the old Virgin Megastore that was a landmark at Downtown Disney’s West End adjacent to the AMC movie theater. The massive two story bowling complex is impressive, and you won’t be disappointed. The venue definitely caters to the  Downtown Disney guests which isn’t surprising as that’s part of what you sign up for when you lease Disney property. As such, the feel of the venue might not be as adult-oriented when compared to Kings.

The food might be slightly better at Splitsville, but I think the venue at Kings is better for locals. The upstairs of Splitsville is probably the better part of the venue. The gigantic outdoor patio on the 2nd level has a great bar and you can enjoy the breeze and people watching from up there. There are more pockets of lanes along with pool tables upstairs as well.

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Kings Bowl takes the place of the old Gooding’s supermarket location on International Drive in the same shopping plaza as Charley’s Steakhouse.

When you walk in, you’ll immediately see the great work they did in building out this venue. It has a more bar and upscale feel with a central bar and more television screens than you can count as main features of the venue.  The back portion of the venue includes pool tables and a shuffleboard table. The front part of the venue includes a semi-separate restaurant with booths that have built in beer taps that charge you by the ounce (very cool).

photo (2)For parties up to 30, the front private room is tough to beat. It comes with 4 lanes (see above picture) and a door to the patio that has a bocce court (shown to the right). Kings offers packages which let you rent the room in advance and purchase food & beverage on a per person basis. Great for birthday parties or other get togethers.

Like I said, it’s unfair to call these places “bowling alleys.”

Both Kings and Splitsville are fantastic new venues in town which are a great way to mix up Orlando nightlife. Rather than heading to another bar or club and hanging around with a drink in your hand, do the same but add some actual bowling to the outing. These venues are upscale and dressy, a far cry from other bowling alleys in town.

It’s worth noting that these places also come with a higher price. For a full night of bowling, drinks and food, it’s probably quite easy to spend $50 per person, and depending on what you drink, even higher.  If your goal is to practice your bowling stroke, you’re better off finding the traditional bowling alleys scattered around Orlando. If you enjoy bowling, but want to enjoy the venue itself at the same time, then Kings and Splitsville are great options.

Already seen Blue Man Group? Check out DRIP!

dripUs natives love our town. Orlando is fun, spunky town with tons to do. The downside? The occasional inundation of tourists that make many experiences less than enjoyable. Going to your favorite restaurant is no fun when there are 30 flip-flop families standing in front of you pushing the wait to hours. This is especially true for the vacationer mecca area of Disney, Universal, and International Drive. Normally I would tell you to steer clear of these areas during the summer and holiday weekends. Always try them in the first quarter of the year and especially September. Sweet, sweet September when all the kids go back to school and no one visits Florida.

However, there is one place on International Drive that is still hip enough to have very small crowds and an awesome time: Drip! What is Drip? Drip is a hole-in-the-wall, back alley, hidden gem of a rock concert, theatrical performance, and interactive paint show from the makers of Blue Man Group! It all takes place at a Dive Bar almost on I-Drive. Have you noticed Denny’s and especially Señor Frogs that are easily visible from the street? It’s behind both of them directly behind Denny’s. The entrance is easily missed, but look for it, and walk right in.  Well, make sure you have a ticket reserved JUST in case, but if you do, definitely walk right in. If you don’t you might still be fine.

Messy. You WILL get messy. You WILL get wet. The website says “might,” the website is lying. Repeat this mantra, otherwise you won’t know what hit you. It is a live action performance using sand, paint, water, and a variety of other mediums to enhance the visceral experience. Let me go ahead and walk you through my time there, so you can get the best picture of what the night will hold.

We went for a friend’s birthday. Tickets were reserved in advance online for $35 each. There are other options, which provide you with t-shirts, etc. We just wanted the basic package, entrance into the bar. We did all make sure to wear clothing we did not mind being ruined. We also wore white, to better create a canvas of our experience. Once we located the entrance, we entered the small, dark interior.

There is a misleading concrete hallway that provides no hint as to what lies inside. After check-in with the nice girl at the podium, we dropped off our stuff that might be ruined, and had another nice girl lead us into the bar. On our immediate right began the fun. Paint stations! We splattered, dripped, brushed, and all around drenched ourselves in a variety of brightly colored paint! Then we headed over to the bar for their incredibly affordable wine and beer. The beer by the way, it’s colored for your appreciation and in keeping with the theme.

We hung out, drank lots of beer (remember, affordable!), and chatted up the bartenders and our fellow attendees. It’s a tiny place and an even smaller crowd. Not long after began the show, and I won’t ruin it. Just know lots and lots of water was thrown over us, lots of sand, and lots of paint. We were drenched, cold, and thoroughly entertained the whole night. It’s a beautiful performance of a sweet boy-meets-girl storyline, with lots of drama, betrayal, and head bumping action. The spectacle was a total blast, and I did not see one people not enjoying themselves. The crowd was not just young people either, lots of older and younger folks there to enjoy a truly unique experience.  After the show, the incredibly amiable staff allowed us to hang around, take lots of pictures, and continue the fun.

Don’t take my word for it. If you are curious about the experience and looking for something truly unique to do on your weekend head to I-Drive. Performances are held Thursday through Saturday at 9:00 pm. Arrive early for paint; stay late for fun. This small show will lend your otherwise regular night with an unexpected twist. Try it out, and see what else the area has to offer.

 

Local’s Guide To Orlando Theater Shows

Orlando Theater ShowsTheater has always been a fascinating concept to me. Movies and television are fun. No way around it. Whether a drama, comedy, thriller, or romance there is something that appeals to everyone in the moving picture medium. The magic in movies is not in fact magic or even reality. The close-ups of the actor’s faces in those pivotal emotional moments, the perfectly executed explosion, even the clinking of glasses during a toast scene is all a result of talented individuals whose job it is to edit films into a concise package. Then we get to watch the outtakes in the special features of the DVD (Blu-Ray now I suppose, darn whippersnappers changing the viewing source all the time!). Theater has no such privilege. Theater occurs right in front of you after months of rehearsals and runs. The same show is recreated every night by a troupe of actors who have dedicated sweat and tears towards creating a clean and effortless entry into a whole other world via one set on one stage.

Great Orlando theater shows are not difficult to find. The Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre is the happy host of touring Broadway Across America Shows; a rare benefit not afforded to many cities. But you do not have to look so far (or spend so much) on great entertainment. I love plays and have seen plenty without ever having stepped inside the Bob Carr.

Apart from the numerous local schools and universities always hosting amateur performances (UCF has a building and a fantastic new season that is sure to delight!), there are two locations that are my absolute favorite for a quality experience: The Orlando Shakespeare Theater and the Mad Cow Theater.

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, located across from the Orlando Museum of Art, partners with UCF to provide a never fail season including a variety of Shakespeare and much much more. Originally just a troupe of students driving around to local schools performing scenes from Shakespeare, this is now an established professional theater. I attended my first show almost 2 years ago, a production of Pride and Prejudice and fell in love with the absorbing simplicity of the endeavor. With little pomp, but much talent, the story was engaging and beautifully acted. They have not disappointed since then.

The Orlando Shakespeare Theater caters to all sorts of cohorts via their classic and contemporary shows, along with ongoing children’s plays. Prices range wildly depending on the performance time and type. As part of their efforts to include anyone passionate in the experience, they provide Student Rush Tickets at an incredibly affordable price. No one is left out of the opportunity. Along with their plays they also offer educational classes and camps for fans wanting to develop their acting chops. Who knows, you could be the next Hamlet with their help! Their next show is Sleeping Beauty from June 20-July 28, be sure to check the website for times and pricing.

Then there is the Mad Cow Theater, which holds a special place in my heart. Two or three years ago my good friend Chris, a movie aficionado, acquired complimentary tickets from one of his film classes to a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe in a small locale in the middle of Orlando. In the midst of an obsession to become more cultured, I happily accepted his request for company. Lo and behold this was my first entry into the Mad Cow Theater. The brilliant acting, small stage, and beautiful set roped me in to the volatile lives of the dysfunctional family being portrayed. Since then they have moved to a new, permanent location on Church Street and they have never been better. I attended their first show in the new building, Sunday in the Park with George, and thought the stage was bigger the heart was the same. Mad Cow is perfect at turning a script into a small, intimate affair between the actors and the audience. It is my absolute favorite location to see a great show and I regularly attend their productions. They are currently showing Dreamgirls and I have heard great things in regards to it. On especially fancy weekends I’ll sit down for dinner across the street at The Rusty Spoon then head over to the Mad Cow for a show and a glass of wine. They do sell out, so don’t wait for the last minute!

Check out both of these venues’ Facebook pages, as they often update with new season information. Mad Cow Theater even hosts ticket giveaways once in awhile. I attended a performance of last year’s Cabaret Festival for free! Tickets are available online.

Should you find yourself entertaining the thought of spending $17.50 for an IMAX 3D film at a movie theater, consider adding a few more dollars to attend one of the unique options available for Orlando theater shows. You won’t find any special effects and close up shots of a tear cascading down someone’s cheek, but you will find incredible talent and moving performances along with the satisfaction of supporting local Orlando based companies. A definite bravo to that!