Monday, 24 December 2012

Checking out the Winter Park real estate

You already know I love shopping in Winter Park.

Once again, I got into my hire car, set the talking Garmin woman to Park Ave and "followed the highlighted route".

You already know I love driving my hire car. Especially an Alamo hire car

Remember last year - I booked a Toyota and ended up driving a bright red VW Jetta

My noble steed - waiting patiently outside Disney's Old Key West Resort
So this year I did the same - booked a Toyota Corolla - and guess what I scored??

Valets all over Central Florida had their hopes dashed by the low tipping from the scruffy Australian who crawled out of this in their driveways
So now that we have determined that the ladies at Alamo Car Hire are worthy upholders of Alamo customer service ....

.... we are off to Winter Park to experience the Scenic Boat Tour

Photos of Scenic Boat Tour, Winter Park
This photo of Scenic Boat Tour is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Yep a little pontoon holding a max 18 people leaves every hour, at $12 per head, and putters around the lake and canal system around which Winter Park's rich and famous live.

Not that they were particularly famous to me.

For over 50 years, the tour has followed this route

BUT - there are a couple of people worthy of a mention for their role in developing Winter Park.

One of the most famous and longest lasting families in Winter Park is the McKean family: Dr Hugh and his wife Jeanette. And Jeanette was the granddaughter of Charles Hosmer Morse. And this family is important to Winter Park as they are the family who established the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which houses the world's largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany works. Phew - are you still with me?

Their house is on the shore of  Lake Osceola - named Wind Song after the sound of chimes carried on the breeze. Apparently.  I obviously have to think up a name for my house. Meow Storm? Sun Purr?

On the direct opposite side of the lake is the Brewer estate from 1899. Edward Brewer made his money in carriages up in New York and this was his "winter cottage" of only 23 rooms.

The tour continues pottering around the lakes and down the narrow connecting canals - so narrow only as wide as the pontoon.

People are boarded in the order they bought their tickets. I had to sit up the back

The canals get one up close to the cyprus trees with their hanging spanish moss. Which is neither 'spanish', nor 'moss'
Coming out into the open lakes , I discover that  many of the key sights of Winter Park back onto the lakes. .

I believe there is the Kraft Azalea garden in under those cyprus somewhere.
The Rollins Liberal Arts College
Although not advertised this way, at it's heart, this tour is about looking at the real estate - taking a peek at how some live.

I do know of one Zontian who would rock up into towns and pretend to be relocating to the city, "due to husband's work" and ask the local real estate agent to show her houses in the $million plus bracket. A fun afternoon's past-time if you can pull it off.

If memory serves, this house was next to the Polasek Sculpture Garden

There is a short video on the Scenic Boat Tour website, or even faster, here is their 30 sec commercial:

Note for some: you need to be able to navigate a flight of stairs to get to and from the dock.

So what's your style when sight seeing? Would you enjoy such a gentle boatride? Or do you like to get more "hands on" and call an estate agent?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like gingymas, gingerbread everywhere

One thing associated with Christmas is gingerbread - the spices of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg - along with sugary treats all adds up to Christmassy goodness.

GN gingerbread-man lg.jpg
Remember Gingy from Shrek? the movie that poked fun at Disney ....

I know one Zonta Club in Sydney which runs an annual gingerbread house building day  - a fun, interactive activity that keeps them in touch with their local community and celebrates the season.

However, those ladies have never gone as big as anything in Orlando - and all the resorts do it - each aiming to be the one who has more sugar, more icing and more electronics than the next. Over this holiday season let's take a look at some of these constructions - oppan gingnam style!

Disney's Beach Club Resort

This was my first gingerbread experience - so I have a lot of photos, as I stood there in awe, amazed that the whole thing was technically edible. I use the word 'technically' because apparently the Disney gingerbread is about as edible as the roofing tiles they seek to emulate.

So the Beach Club does this delightful little lifesize carousel:

I like horsies but I couldn't eat a whole one
These horses are quite immaculate - with not a drop of icing out of place
Beware the zombie gingerbread men who want gingerbread BWAINNNSSSS
 And yes - Engineering made the whole go around and around and play plinky christmas musak

Not content with just a carousel, a few extras were also built

A gingerbread Sleeping Beauty's Castle!

Pirates! A mini, edible Jack Sparrow - just for my friend Penny!

Hidden Mickey was a misnomer

There was a lifesize gingerbread shop where one could buy gingerbread rocks roofing tiles to chock open doors enjoy as a snack.
The carousel set up was very neat - beautiful quality and very tidy - no drips or slips. And it fits beautifully in the centre of the lobby. When walking in, one was immediately with the gingerbread, spicy, chocolately scents filling the space.

enjoy this little video from WDW from several years ago - where they build the carousel in only 30 seconds!

There are more gingery constructions to show you. However as I saw more and more of them I was getting gingered out! So there are less photos. Wait till I show you the grandaddy at the Grand Floridian resort.

Oh and remember Gingy at the opening of this post?? Well - this year Mickey got revenge. Here is one of the souvenirs I bought:

Run, run as fast as you can ....
So what about you? Will you be baking gingerbread this Christmas season?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Quickie Food Porn - Teppan Edo

I'm here - in Orlando! Stuff's happening - I have soooo much to show you. Once again I am working on the tablet - but this time I have the little matching keyboard, and Blogger have updated their android version - BWAH HA HA HA HA HA There is no escape! I am meeting up with Zontians and other Disney Freakaphiles - my schedule is changing minute to minute - hopefully I get something up that has a semblance of cohesion. Here's a quickie food post to keep you going.
Day 3: Teppan Edo - the teppanyaki restaurant in Epcot's World Showcase.

There must be 20 teppanyaki tables in here, each of which seat 9 people. In a small attempt at authenticity, Disney run an international exchange program for hospitality students and graduates. These people are drawn specifically from the countries to man the corresponding country showcase. So all of the staff in Teppan Edo are Japanese. But all the food is very very safe for your average Disney customer. No unagi, no dried fish - and definitely no natto!

I was alone and was seated with a family - I know nothing about and cannot share anything - except the young girls you'll see in the photos were astonishingly quiet! Not a peep. Boy, the chef had to work hard just to get them to watch him!

were they pleased to be here, or what?
let's get on with the food.

The appetizer choices include a small dish of edamame, a "salad" which consisted on a plate of chopped iceberg lettuce with a sweet dressing. Sushi rolls and sashimi tuna. I had the Waku Ribs - pork ribs marinated in ginger, garlic and soy and reheated on the grill plate. This was BBQ heaven! They were very tender - fall off the bone - very tasty and moist. I was so pleased - and the 2 blokes sharing the table were also very impressed. I'm a real man.

For the main, everyone scores a bowl of rice, udon noodles which have been fried with onion and zucchini, and fried mushrooms. Your choice is the protein. You can mix and match or just have one. They offer fillet mignon, sirloin steak, chicken, prawns, and scallops. I chose to have half & half sirloin and prawns.
The prawns were fine - but nothing special. The steak was very good - moist, cooked to order (medium rare), very tender and had a meaty steaky taste.

The chef puts on a bit of a show whilst cooking - lots of spinning knifes and pepper shakers. The best part of the show is the onions. Of course, the onion rings are first used to make a mickey head!  And then the signature move - they are stacked and water poured in to form a steaming volcano - so much fun! (In the meantime - those girls are sitting there like zombies with their mother apologising profusely to the chef)

"is that all you've got?"

I didn't do dessert - this time. They do offer green tea pudding, chocolate and ginger cake, and ice cream. The cake is a very light sponge and has a very mild ginger teint to it. They could stick more in and make the flavour distinctive. The green tea pudding has so much sugar in it, the green colour is merely a nod to its design.

Teppan Edo is 2 Mr Creasotes - not too heavy - but more than I could finish.

And only 2 spoonfuls of sugar - nice and good fun but not a meal you'll rave about.

If only they threw the rice and prawn heads at me!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

And the high tide line rose half a metre when I got in....

So here I am in Florida, in my full body rubber suit, a million miles from home and from where anyone can ever find me, and I am hiding out in the Crystal River backwaters and springs ..... or maybe that's another story - "50 Shades Deeper: Into the Bayou".

The mighty hunter don's the appropriate clothing and shooting equipment
What mysteries lurk beneath the grey waters? Perhaps the Republicans' much feared 11% Latinos !

The first sighting! Grey rounded lumpy thing in water
Then it was time to get in and meet the dude
so here is a bit of time lapse photography - too many pictures to make for a great post, too few to make a movie ...

Out of the murky depths ...
The manatee approacheth...
With fear in his eyes, he wonders if he will have room to pass
rough and mossy - just how I like it
sidles back off into the distance
Thanks to Manatees in Paradise for the photos - Capt Stacy gets in the water with everyone and an underwater camera and snaps away.

Capt Stacy takes us to a variety of swimming spots. One is as crystal clear as a swimming pool in a glorious foresty setting.

They hang in the warm shallows for two reasons - it's where the sea grass can grow; and, despite their size, they have very little fat and need to stay warm in the sun. Unlike me. I have more blubbery insulation than a manatee! I was toasty!

The manatees are very placid and slow and practically swim head first into your boat propeller. As sharp as a box of hammers.
After 3 hours tootling about and jumping in and out of the water, we were all manatee'd out and headed back to shore. I think I had a cocktail making class to get to or something ......

And so we bade farewell to Mr Manatee with a "don't get hit by a boat on the way out", and am suddenly back in dock. Wetter but all the richer for this "once in a lifetime" experience. You certainly can't do this Australia. You have to get a permit just to get within 50 metres in Australia!

OK - so I STRONGLY recommend doing this - and doing it with Capt Stacy. There is no real physical exercise - as long as you can handle yourself floating in water and am comfortable using a snorkle. You could easily stand in most of the places we stopped.

It will be a blessed relief from the blazing June heat; it is cheap on the holiday finances; and Capt Stacy provides most things to make it easy.

How often do you get to go swimming with a manatee in the fancy schmancy housing estate waterfront canal system?!

Eye gouging - banned in most sports

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Chilling out

So what are your options when it is volcano heat in June in Orlando?

For many people there is nothing more refreshing than to refresh in a cool swimming pool.

The World Centre Marriott Pool
But what if sterilised concrete and chlorine is not really your thing? What if you want to get back to nature?

No - not Cypress Cove Resort - although if you are after that "special" experience....not that there's anything wrong with that ...
I mean - let's go swimming with the manatees!

So - Aussie's - what's the difference between a dugong and manatee?

Is this better to look at than the other photo above? Not that there's anything wrong with the way a dugong looks ...
So the first thing you need to do is head for the Gulf Coast!

So you are going to need that hire car and drive west for about 2 hours to Crystal River and Springs.

Door to door - just under 2 hours - just over if you stop at the Dunkin' Donuts
 Let's take a closer look at the territory:

All those red dots are the entry point to the reserve at Kings Bay. See all the inlets and springs - that's manatee territory
This area is all deep south US territory with spanish moss and shallow swampy spots and canals. Very different to Australia and easily just as beautiful.

(source: Florida Native Plant Society)
It is in these warm, shallow, crystal clear springs that the manatees bask in the sunlight and slowly munch away on the sea grass beds. Interestingly, manatees can live in both fresh and sea water so they move up and down the creeks and out to the Gulf to find food and maintain their temperature.

As a protected species, there are a mountain of regulations around boating and fishing in manatee environment and how to interact with the manatees. All of this information is readily available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

A good tour guide will adhere to these protections and will make sure you do too. And there are plenty such tour guides to choose from.

I went with Capt Stacy Dunn from Manatees in Paradise.

Capt Stacy runs small tours - there was only 3 of us on my tour off a small pontoon. Included in the tour was a wetsuit, flippers, snorkle and mask. I brought my towel and all snacks to keep me going! Tours cost around $50 plus gratuity.

So I'm on board, I've got my wetsuit, Capt Stacy has heaved off  and ......

.... in my next post I'll show you what we did!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

How to save $ hundreds on your USA car rental

When we last left our hero, she was driving around Orlando somewhat like this ....

 ........ in one of these....

Today I am going to share the mystery and secrets of car hire in the USA so you can do the same!

Whilst Disney provides free transport within the World, once you want to go outside the WDW boundary you pretty much need a car to get anywhere. Inside WDW I like the car so as not to waste time with slow buses, long queues and changes with boats, monorail and buses.

Let's use my upcoming trip so see how it works.

  • 11 days
  • pick up at Downtown Disney, drop off at Orlando Airport
  • Mid-sized category - "Toyota Corolla" (although last year I scored that red VW Jetta in this category)
Right now, I will not add GPS, fuel purchasing, personal products insurance, road toll card, kiddie seats or any of the myriad of discount codes and coupons you can access.

Now Orlando Airport is the largest car rental location in the world - averaging 5,500 cars per day! Every company, offering every type of car is there - and they also offer every range of pricing.

Here is my first look through some of the major companies

* US resident and "pay at counter" rate
So what's going on? Look at that Alamo pricing - both the cheapest AND the most expensive! For the SAME car - from the SAME OUTLET!

Let's keep looking at Alamo - except this time through the travel wholesavers:

Again - the same car - same pick up office - same dates - Expedia double the price of Traveljigsaw
So by now you are yelling for me to shut up! Either you know what is going on or you wanna find out!

Insurance wholesaling

I know precious little about how it works, but here is what I do know:
  1. Car rental companies operate like two separate businesses - there is the car rental part, and there is the insurance part.
  2. Unlike Australia, in the US, residents' comprehensive car insurance can cover rental cars. So car rental companies allow you to rent a car without buying any insurance.
  3. I'm freaked out by the idea of crashing a car or hitting something when in the US, so I want insurance.
  4. US Car rental insurance doesn't have the concept of "excess". So the "car excess insurance" offered in Australian travel insurance and on my credit card is useless. 
  5. If you book your car online in advance you can access a WAY better deal on the insurance, and so NEVER turn up at the counter without having organised the insurance before hand. You will always pay the most expensive rate of insurance if organised in the moment at the counter. (e.g. that Alamo rate of $1,248 up there).
Another option for you - and particularly of interest for our UK & European readers - is to buy your car rental insurance separately, and then rent the car without the insurance - like a lot of US residents do.

icarhireinsurance can sell you all inclusive car rental insurance for almost anywhere in the world. For the USA they charge a flat rate of around $10/day - which is far lower than the $25/day charged at the rental company counter.
Based in the UK and will sell to anyone for car hire almost anywhere.
Going this way gives you freedom to book one of those last minute deals most of the car rental companies offer. Alamo's current last minute rate for the Corolla is around $200/week. So add the icarhire insurance rate of $110, 11 days rental would cost roughly $400. Hmmm ..... roughly the same as that Traveljigsaw rate.

And who likes standing at a rental counter feeling pressured to buy strange insurance products - you'll have the peace of mind to know you are already covered.

For me - has offered the best deal for a major rental supplier. It's about as close as I can get to cheapest rental car rate going for Alamo. I don't have to hope for a last minute deal and I have all the insurance products included in the booking.

It is easy to part with a lot of money for your rental car hire. Do a bit of online research save yourself hundreds!