What to do while everyone else visits Florida theme parks? I’d never had any desire to spend a week at Disney World. Truly. My bucket list is long, but nowhere is there an amusement park on it. Years ago I’d taken my children to Disney Land in California. They enjoyed; I endured. That was enough.
So when I was invited to a friend’s family reunion in Disney World, I said, “Thanks, but I can’t possibly crash your family reunion,” (which was only half the reason). Then the children put in their vote, “Please come.” I hesitated. It just didn’t seem right.
Finally, I realized the family was saying that one senior—their mother—trudging along through half a dozen theme parks wasn’t going to have much fun. But if they invited me along, two seniors could devise their own fun. Now I understood my role.
First, find a great rental house
We had seven days for the family reunion, and spent the first day traveling and congregating. Each family unit rented a vehicle of one size or another at the airport. The next day we spent chatting, swimming, and concocting a massive barbecue. Here we were, fourteen people ranging from 6 months to 73 years, all tucked into a big house with nine bedrooms, 7 bathrooms, a private pool and hot tub, plus a community-based exercise center with all kinds of equipment, a big out-door pool, and a lazy-river with a strong current. The house was newish, and located in the Champion’s Gate area of Kissimmee.
Next, discover Epcot Center
In the morning we packed snack-type lunches, lots of water and sunscreen, plus plenty of good nature, and caravanned to Epcot Center. There we rented a couple of strollers for various parental units to push and a wheel chair for me to push. I noticed quite a few grandparents with one child in tow, and I even saw quite a few grandparent couples with no children. Since my main pleasure in Epcot Center was seeing it through the inexperienced eyes of my friend’s six grandchildren (ages six through fifteen), I wondered what the immaculately dressed couples enjoyed about it.
We began the excursion with Soarin’, a ride that simulates hang-gliding to famous sites around the world. The kids were delighted and even I enjoyed it. As we made our way around the lake front, it amused me no end to watch the children respond to each of the eleven cultures depicted. Of course, the experience was based on Epcot’s interpretation of each country’s food, music, and tourist trinkets. With a few exceptions, Canada, United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Japan, America, Italy, Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico are countries where I’d either lived or visited, so the Epcot experience seemed fairly synthetic to me. Risk-free. Expensive. Approximate. However, each of the six children enjoyed the day in their individual, age-appropriate ways.
Find alternatives to theme parks
The next day while the rest of the family went to another theme park, my friend and I explored Winter Park. We drove north from Orlando (Hwy 192 to Hwy 4 – lots of toll booths), arriving at beautiful Winter Park about an hour later. The story is that from the 1890s through the 1930s, wealthy industrialists built grand homes on a series of lakes to escape the northeastern winters.
In the previous century lumberjacks had straightened the creeks that fed the lakes into canals wide enough for access by modern pontoon boats. Scenic Boat Tour sends motorized pontoon boats from the dock on Lake Osceola between 10 am and 4 pm on the hour. (You’ll need advance reservations on busy days.) We meandered under a blue sky for twelve miles through 3 of the 7 Winter Park Chain of Lakes. The captain of our boat timed it so that we were facing east to see the shuttle launch from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, about 45 miles away. Maybe you can see its fiery tail. It’s the splotch in the sky just above the Kraft Azalea Gardens.
The Kraft Azalea Gardens is a prime location for photo shoots of models and wedding parties, so we were told. Both events have to be kept short since there are no bathroom facilities! We also viewed the campus of beautiful Rollins College (the oldest university in Florida) from the shore of Lake Virginia, and wish we’d had a second day to spend in Winter Park in order to see the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the campus.
Tiffany glass at Morse Museum
For our first visit to Winter Park, we spent several enchanted hours in the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art surrounded with the beauty of stained glass created by Louis Comfort Tiffany. I’d never experienced stained glass quite like that, such vivid hues and elegant designs.
One of our favorite parts about the museum were the direct quotations written by Mr. Tiffany’s grand son-in-law, Hugh F. McKean, the first director of the Tiffany collection. He knew the master and his work well, having been a student at Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall estate. We chuckled and nodded in agreement with his acerbic and witty comments. A keen observer of the state of American art in the mid-20th century he had strong opinions about the relative merits of beauty and ugliness in contemporary art.
Stroll down Park Avenue
We finished our day with a stroll down Park Avenue, the town’s lovely main street, lined with boutiques and restaurants. We’re already planning when we can return to poke around in the shops at a more leisurely pace. Loved the Turkish food at Bosphorous just a few months after returning from a tour of Turkey.