Christmas in Orlando: Which Theme Park Offers More Magic This Holiday Season?

Many guests to Central Florida’s two major theme parks this season are in agreement that the 2020 holiday displays at Universal Orlando rivals that of Disney. In some cases, Universal even beats Disney for the best of 2020.

How does the Universal Holiday Tree Hunt compare to Disney’s Tree Trail?

Universal has many extravagantly themed Christmas Trees this year worthy of a visit. Guests have rated the Harry Potter, Grinch, and Hello Kitty Trees in their top favorites. Universal’s tree designers seemed to be determined to beat Disney this year.

When compared to Disney’s Tree Trail in Disney Springs, Universal clearly comes out the winner.

But what about snacks and other holiday food and experiences? Read on to see what AllAboutEars.Com has to say about who wins Christmas this year.

These Are the 8 Best Eats You’re Going to Want to Try at EPCOT’s Festival of the Holidays! – AllEars.Net

If you’re heading to the Festival of the Holidays soon in EPCOT, you’re going to want to try these 8 items from the food booths during your visit!
— Read on

High-Speed Train Coming to Disney Springs?

Brightline Railway to add a stop at Disney Springs 

Visitors and locals alike are welcoming the news of a high-speed train service making its way to Disney World. This new rail service will open up high-speed travel between Orlando and other Florida cities.

Designs of other stations can offer a clue into the scale and design of a Disney Springs depot, such as the one shown here in West Palm Beach:

Photo Credit: Artistic rendering of West Palm Beach Station
– Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Architects

What connections can a Disney train station offer?

It’s looking like travelers to Disney World, with incoming flights to Orlando International, will be able to hop on a train that will take them from the airport directly to a transportation hub in Disney Springs. There they can find transport to all Walt Disney World locations.

A train station in Disney Springs can open up other connections as well, such as access to the cruise terminals in Miami, Tampa, and Cape Canaveral.

Photo Credit: Brightline

Brightline High-Speed Railway is currently completing 170 miles of new track and the coordinating stations from Miami to Orlando International Airport. Stops along the route include Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. 

The private rail system was launched in 2018 and is currently moving its way north with plans set for multiple stations along the route to Central Florida that will eventually include a station at Disney Springs and beyond to Tampa. 

When will high-speed train service arrive at Disney?

The Brightline station at the Orlando International Airport plans to open in 2022, allowing construction on the line to Disney and Tampa to begin. The timeline for the completion of phase 3 is likely 2 to 3 years.

The Orlando Brightline Station
Photo Credit: Brightline

While Central Florida locals are used to endless public road construction projects, Brightline, as a private company, can boast quick turn around times from start to completion. We can anticipate a high-speed rail station in Disney Springs to be complete by 2025.

Photo Credit: Brightline

Disney Celebrates National Gingerbread Day

Image Credit Disney Parks Blog

In honor of National Gingerbread Day, Food and Beverage Content Relations Manager, Karen McClintock, shared this recipe for Disney’s Gingerbread-Cream Cheese Muffins today on the Disney Parks Blog:

“Let’s face it, the scent and taste of freshly baked gingerbread screams HOLIDAY, and this spiced gingerbread muffin with cream cheese filling is the perfect bundle of holiday goodness!”

Time to add some ground ginger and a jar of molasses to your shopping list and your kitchen will be smelling magical in under an hour.

Or, you can find these gingerbread muffins in Animal Kingdom at two Quick Service locations. The first spot being the Isle of Java, next to the Flame Tree Grill, which sits just before the bridge to DinoLand. There’s an abundance of outdoor seating nearby on the terrace to take a seat and enjoy your holiday treat.

The second location is Harambe Fruit Market, located directly in front of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Book a fast pass for the Safari and snack on the muffins while you wait, or enjoy them seated on one of the umbrella tables next to Harambe if you can grab a spot. 

These seasonal Gingerbread-Cream Cheese Muffins are available in Animal Kingdom from December 1st through January 2nd or in your own kitchen any time you wish!

Kraft Azalea Gardens, Winter Park, Florida

Surprised by owls

This public garden, seated on the shores of Lake Maitland, bursts with old Florida charm. The Kraft Azalea Gardens of Winter Park, established in 1938 by by George and Maud Kraft, is a small 5-acre park open from 8 a.m. until dark for 365 days a year and is free to the public. 

A visit here offers a pleasant shady stroll under enormous cypress trees alongside the famed azalea bushes. You can easily take a seat among one of the many benches overlooking the lake to enjoy the lake breeze and bird song overhead.

This Exedra bench pictured below is a popular photographer’s spot. (FYI an Exedra is a semi-circular Greco-roman bench made for conversational seating).

Out in the distance, you can see the Scenic Boat Tours making their rounds. The boat ride starts on Lake Osceola then rides through the channels that connect the lakes. 

On the day of my trip, I could distincly hear two hoot owls calling to each other from somewhere overhead. Suddenly, a rush of wings flew above me – it was an owl! It swooped up to a high branch in an old oak tree and landed next to it’s partner. I zoomed in with my new camera to catch these two up close.

What a magical surprise – a mated pair of Barred owls ! It was abeautiful afternoon well spent in Winter Park.

Links found in this article:

Kraft Azalea Gardens

City of Winter Park

Scenic Boat Tours

More on Barred Owls

If you’re in the market for a great lightweight digital camera, I recommend the Canon Powershot 740SX with 40X Digital zoom (Amazon affiliate link).

Should Couples Plan Solo Activities On Vacation?

Vacations and dream trips often take up residence in the highlight reels of our lives. We spend months and sometimes years looking forward to them and don’t we love the opportunity to explore new places together? As different people, though, we also take an interest in different things. Should people then plan some solo time while on a trip to explore personal interests that might not be what their significant others are interested in? 

I’m the trip planner and activity organizer in our house and try to include activities I think my husband would enjoy, but where I like shopping, I know he hates it. Where my husband loves a long bike ride, I only have enough stamina for about 10 miles but he would easily prefer to go 30. When on cruises, my husband likes eating breakfast in the dining room in group seating and I don’t. It’s morning and I don’t want to sit next to strangers and chit chat before I even have coffee. Should we just compromise? Most of the time that’s a yes.

After 27 years of marriage and A LOT of compromises (mostly on my husband’s part, I must say), lately, I’ve been trying to put forth an alternative: “you ride your ride, and I’ll ride mine. It’s okay if they’re different because we’re different.”

As individuals, we have distinctive preferences, and maybe they are meant to be enjoyed as individuals. A few separate pursuits can easily be managed on one trip together, can they not?

Solo time can be as simple as an hour apart in a theme park to linger a little longer in places of interest or to go eat what your partner might not enjoy or has to avoid due to allergies. It can also easily be a little time away enjoying separate activities or tours. My husband’s not a big fan of napkin rolling, but I thought it was fun on our last cruise. Obviously you should be considerate and plan ahead though, I don’t suggest just waking up and saying ‘see ya at dinner, today’s my solo day!’

The majority of life is a compromise, that is what life is like together as a couple and a small price we pay to love and be loved. But it’s also healthy to plan mutual time apart to do things our partners either can’t do or aren’t interested much in doing, especially on a trip to a place you may never get to see again. Make memories together and on your own time too. Plan some alone time into your next adventure and pursue some of your unique interests, then bring back your stories to share over dinner.

I think independent time is time well spent. My husband thinks this idea is a trap, LOL. What do you think?

What’s it Like to Eat in a Jailhouse? – Downtown Sanford Dining

The City of Sanford’s central downtown is undergoing a healthy re-development. One benefit being the surge of new eateries that are re-claiming many of the forgotten brick-front buildings. The process of creating the new out of the old has opened up creative experiences for visitors to explore. The Old Sanford Jailhouse is one such establishment (website).

The Jailhouse presents as an upscale restaurant, one where you are enclosed by weathered brick walls and iron grates, are gently lit by cut crystal chandeliers, and welcomed by a casual but well-appointed menu (view menu).

Rustic architectural details allow diners to engage with the building’s storied past.

The building’s successful transformation was the determination of The Sirica Family, owners of The Old Jailhouse. Their well-planned design and their dedication to preserving the original architecture kept the initial intent of the building intact, earning them the Historic Preservation Award by the Sanford Historic Trust.

We visited The Old Jailhouse for dinner on a Wednesday evening. Streetside parking and seating were plentiful.

After dinner, we headed out on foot a few blocks down to the marina (website).

We took in the view and were greeted by sailboats, houseboats, and even a steamboat (website).

We closed the day under the swaying palms at Veteran’s Park (website).

Even though the evening started out in jail, this ordinary Wednesday night turned out to be another day well spent in Florida.