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Family Adventures in Orlando | The Commoner

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Hello fellow adventurists, it’s Houston Blogger #TVMATheTea with some exciting travel tea about how you can trade your winter blues in for some Florida sun!

Whether traveling during the holiday season or the long North American winter, millions of visitors are attracted to Florida’s warm climate. But did you know there are many other millions who visit Walt Disney World alone during the holidays?  As part of that growing visitor tally, we wanted to visit Disney but not for our entire stay. There is so much more to this amazing state, especially in the Orlando area, so our recent visit encompassed a few other things to do instead of Disney.

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Our Trip Specs:

  • Our excursion occurred over the Christmas and New Years holidays.
  • Our party included seven members of our family, including, 1 senior citizen (a some-what laid back “Nanna” ), 4 children ranging from nine to eighteen years old, my husband and myself.
  • Instead of flying, we decided to enjoy the 14-hour drive from Texas to Florida.
  • Our visit included a 7-day stay in Orlando in a spacious 2-bedroom Villa, at the very popular Resort at Orange Lake. Owned and operated by Holiday Inn, this property is open to those who presently own timeshares or to those who are looking for a short-term rental property. It is conveniently located about 12-20 minutes from the main gates of Walt Disney World.
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Trip Planning

It you are a frequent traveler like me, you’ll already know that planning is everything. And this is true of a couple going on a long weekend or a large family like ours traveling on a week long adventure.

I purposely planned this trip out well in advance, starting in March of 2019. I have found it  important to plan this far in advance, because the closer you wait to book your stay, the higher your chances that accommodations are not available.  Additionally, if you are flying anywhere, airlines typically sell their cheapest blocks of tickets first.  That said, you can usually get away with planning most of your ‘Things to Do’ closer to your arrival date.  Oftentimes, activity venues will offer deals if you are willing to wait a little bit.

Heed my words – planning is everything, so plan your excursion in advance!

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Magic Kingdom

As much as I love all things Disney, I must say our visit on Christmas Eve was pretty eye opening.
If Disney is anywhere on your ‘must do list’ and you plan to visit during a holiday season, plan to be there right when the gates open. Otherwise, you and yours will find yourself stuck outside the gate due to the dreaded MAXIMUM CAPACITY signage.

As a travel professional for Cruise Planners, I’m all too aware of this, so our family was there when the gates opened, early in the morning.  Magic Kingdom was packed, which caused longer lines at all of the attractions. Yet our choice to visit Magic Kingdom early eliminated a lot of the mishaps others faced from arriving too late.

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Since my mother (Nanna) is elderly, the park presented too much walking for her. Electric Conveyance Vehicles (ECV) and wheelchairs are available to rent per day for those in need. Instead of paying for these additional services, we elected to take more breaks in between attractions. Using the Disney FastPass+ also eliminated standing around for too long, and is highly recommended.  All-in-all, we left as a satisfied family!

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Rolled Ice Cream

We love ice cream and absolutely loved Rolled Ice Cream.  Located at 688 North Alafaya Trail, Rolled Ice Cream screams of warm and inviting colors from the moment you open the door. The decorations alone show their dedication to the passion of ice cream.  They are all about ice cream, but I must admit, it’s not just any ice cream.  The ice cream liquid base is poured out in a pan which freezes the ice cream and allows it to be rolled.

“This place is cool because they roll your ice cream – even if you mess it up, it still looks awesome!”
—Raymond, 9 year old son

The Rolled Ice Cream Menu

Rolled Ice Cream truly has something for everyone. They cater to vegan diets, individuals with a lactose intolerance, sugar-free diets, and, of course, your general ice cream foodies.  Their ice cream can be made from traditional dairy-based cream, as well as soy, almond, or coconut milk products.  Essentially, Rolled Ice Cream makes all of us ice cream connoisseurs, regardless of your dietary requirements.

The menu includes all the standards, like malts & shakes, banana splits, sundaes, and ice milk lattes.  A few of the more interesting items they offer are Taiyakis (a sweet waffle filled with chocolate Nutella, cream cheese, or any filling you can think of), Affogato (an Italian coffee-based dessert), and Korean ice cream, Patbingsu & Bingsu.  And not to be overlooked are the hot dogs – Coney Island style or Koegel / Nathan’s / Halal.

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The Process of Making Rolled Ice Cream

My family & I had the pleasure of meeting owner Louis Young, who taught us a lot about the history and the processes that make Rolled Ice Cream unique.  “Vegan ice cream can be made from vegan, soy, or coconut milk and that it’s very icy milk,” he shared.  “The consistency is a little bit different, making it unable to roll the ice cream due to the lack of buttercream, unless it is an almond milk.”

Our 12 year old daughter, Dawn, said “It was my first time there and I was shocked how my rolled ice cream was made.”  As a mother, I was happy to see that my own children were intrigued in learning the history of the company and the skill it takes to make rolled ice cream. They really enjoyed watching the chemical reaction of the cream with the pan at 0°F.   “I loved the flavor and the way it doesn’t look just like regular scooped ice cream… It’s something different,” exclaimed Anaiya, our 18 year old daughter.  If you’re an Instagramming foodie like her, this is the place to be!

Overall Travel Tea

Louis is so passionate about the community, which is the reason he got into the Rolled Ice Cream business. It just brings people together.  While interviewing Louis, I learned that during 2020, he is committed to working with local schools to give back, with a focus on educational engagements and other events.  Passion is a very important part in anything business owners do, especially those who cater to the community. Louis, we applaud you!

The hardest thing our children had to decide was what toppings they wanted on their ice cream and how long it was going to take them to eat it. Nevertheless, we truly enjoyed our experiences.  So next time you’re in Orlando, make plans to stop by for a nice sweet treat.

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BK Adventure at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge

My family and I decided to step outside the box for the holidays, and boy did we! While scouring the web for great ideas of things to do in Orlando, I came across this hidden jewel:  BK Adventure, which boasts hands-on experiences with not only wildlife, but bio-life.  I must admit, as a previous educator, I was intrigued at the idea from the start.

What is BK Adventure?

BK Adventure is Florida’s #1 Bioluminescence tour company. BK Adventure is part of a global adventure tour outfitter, whose local guides take you in the heart of wild Florida. They specialize in a variation of tours, with something for everyone and every budget.

After visiting the website, I soon learned BK stood for something much deeper than just tours.  Ram Bishwokarma, or ‘BK’, is a white water kayaking instructor and climbing guide from Nepal. As the owner of BK Adventure, Ram lives for adventure desires to share his experience in the natural world with everyone he meets.  Ram and his wife, Sandra, started BK Adventure Eco-Tours after they settled Sandra’s home state of Florida.  They love highlighting hidden gems and introducing others to unknown adventures.

I further found out that this group has a global mission:  Medical Trekk Nepal, for Volunteer Adventurists from all over the world.   These volunteers can offer their time in the medical  or educational professions in Nepal.  After learning so much about their philanthropy work, I knew we had to check them out.  I perused the tours and chose one that would be best for our family of 7, including Nanna. I was excited – this type of experience would be a first for the entire family.

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The Journey to Titusville

Our journey started out on a rainy evening, as we travelled from Orlando, FL to Titusville, FL.  The drive was about an hour and 40 minutes.

Once we arrived at the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, we met our Tour Guide, Jarrett.  In a short while, we found ourselves out at Merritt Island, in the rain. We had already prepared for the adventure as best we could, and we were going to make a marvelous evening out of it no matter what the weather did.

According to Jarrett, the most popular BK Adventure tours are the biking tours, dolphin & manatee kayaking tours, fat tire biking beach tours, bioluminescence tours of various types.  Which tour did we choose? You guessed it… I chose Bioluminescent Family Rafting – Bioluminescent Plankton (Dinoflagellates). After all, once an Educator, A-L-W-A-Y-S an Educator, right?

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Who Is Bioluminescence Rafting for?

I chose this particular tour because of a key phrase:  “great for families.”  According to BK Adventure, this tour is for people who, “want to experience the magnificence of Florida’s bio bay, but do not want to kayak.  It’s great for families with smaller children or those who feel more comfortable in a bigger boat than a kayak. Paddle rafts are very buoyant and sturdy, so they are fun for people of all ages and abilities.  The rafts are steered by our professional rafting guides, so you can leave the steering to us!”
Remember Nanna? She came along for the trip and can be a feisty one. So essentially, this was the perfect choice for our family.

In order to partake in this evening adventure I highly suggest that you outfit you and your family with the following items:

  • Insect repellent
  • Towels
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Drinking water
  • Warm activewear layers, for cooler weather
  • Water shoes, sandles, flip-flops, or an older pair of sneakers

You may even benefit from a change of clothes.  Better to be safe than sorry!

When Is The Best Time To See Bioluminescence?

If you want to see the Bioluminescent Plankton, BK Adventures suggest the best times to tour with them is mid to late summer, under a new moon.  According to their guides, “Bioluminescence looks different throughout the year […] It is harder to see when a full moon is shining on the water.”  But any time of year will offer an interesting view into this hidden world.

Florida is home to two types of Bioluminescent creatures – Bioluminescent Plankton (Dinoflagellates) and Glowing Comb Jellies.  Refer to BK Adventures for more details of these fascinating creatures.

My Overall Travel Tea

Even though our family was quite different in their individual reactions, Jarrett’s patience made all the difference – our 9 year old was very active and curious; Nanna was a bit timid; our teenage daughters loved every minute of it.  To hear the “ooh” and “ahhs” of wonder from the children, my husband, & myself,  assured me that I made the right choice with this tour.  If you have active little ones or teenagers, I’m sure they’d both enjoy something connected to the world of science. However, a non-active senior citizen may not be the best idea. I don’t think Nanna ever got used to the darkness.  Nevertheless, the rest of the family rated this tour with two thumbs up.

Be prepared that you will be out in complete darkness during the evening tours. Yet due to the light of the Kennedy Space Center from afar, our eyes began to naturally adjust in the darkness and we were able to make out islands while rafting.

“When you support BK Adventure, you help a global initiative too.”  We truly enjoyed BK Adventures & Jarret’s expertise Furthermore, we truly love the idea that BK stands for much more than an Adventure.

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Chocolate Kingdom

Another great experience for families is a visit to Chocolate Kingdom, located at 9901 Hawaiian Court.  Here you’ll learn about the process of making incredible chocolate creations.

About Chocolate Kingdom

Chocolate Kingdom is a three generation family business which has blessed Orlando for decades.  Our family had the pleasure of meeting with owner Edgar Schaked, whose grandfather started the business at just 18 years old.

In addition to Chocolate Kingdom, the owners have planted 14 stores across the United States called Schakolad Chocolate Factory, which are individually owned and operated. The brand started in Orlando 25 years ago, and focuses on teaching people how to make chocolate.  In Texas alone, there are stores located in downtown San Antonio and downtown Fort Worth.

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How Was the Concept Created?

Edgar has an educational background in Engineering. Edgar’s father is his partner, as well as his wife, who is an ex-Disney producer. Mrs. Schaked came up with the story line, which I must admit is highly engaging and interactively fun. In the story line, you will meet characters such as Prince Gordon & Meechu – a cute green dragon.  Meechu’s name was created after Edgar’s uncle, who had a funny way of greeting people when he would visit the United States from Argentina.  His joke was “Nice to meet you… Meet you… Meechu.”  It was a respectful way of paying homage to a valuable member of the family.

“Our tours are different [because] we have been in the chocolate business for so many years,” said Edgar. “We have been to chocolate tours all of over the world, from Europe, South America, Central America – different parts of the world. We saw a lacking. They are not catered to families, no interactivity, and in South America and Central America, you will see the cacao tree, but not the manufacturing.”  For Edgar, the process is just as important to the resulting confectionery.  “There is a disconnect from beginning to the end, so we try to do it right from the beginning to the end. We have everything from the tree on property, interactivity, and process of manufacturing.”

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The Chocolate Kingdom Experience

Upon entering the facility, you will be greeted with a variety of Chocolate Kingdom products.  Once your entry is squared away, you can take time to read up on the history of Chocolate Kingdom.  You’ll learn about the in-house cacao tree, which is grown in a climate controlled setting on site.

Once inside, enjoy the interactivity from your wonderful tour guides, partake on an exciting journey learning about the process of chocolate, and witnessing the Chocolate Kingdom production process. For a minute, you’ll think your behind the gates of Disney on some sort of exclusive adventure, but you’re not – it’s Chocolate Kingdom!

There is even an enclosed space available for those seeking private or special events. Chocolate Kingdom is very popular within the community, catering to student field trips from local schools.  They provide an educational piece that comes along with a field trip experience in the private section of the facility.

The private section at Chocolate Kingdom Orlando also caters to corporate meetings and other events too. Edgar even shared with me that Chocolate Wine is available for the adults. Now if that isn’t the icing on the chocolate, you can even customize your very own chocolate bar, and watch it being made from beginning to the end!

Overall Travel Tea

Be sure to list Chocolate Kingdom as a ‘must do’ while in Orlando.  My children truly enjoyed the pleasure of customizing their chocolate bars with coffee, mints, and marshmallows.  Shockingly, the chocolate bars didn’t make the drive back to our resort, as we noticed a healthy chocolate ring around my 9-year old’s mouth while driving back!  Edgar, keep inspiring the world through chocolate.

So yes, while Orlando is obviously home to Walt Disney World and other popular tourist destinations, there is a whole lot more that you just can’t miss!  Happy traveling!  ◊

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