During the June staff meeting, our office found out that we would be closed the day before and day after Independence Day, giving us five days off. At first, I was not going to do anything and then I thought about treating myself to a stay in a Manhattan hotel and then I thought about going to Orlando. My best friend Tina lives nearby and she and I could hang out in a nice hotel and get some spa treatments. So I checked out JetBlue vacation packages and found a great price ($640) that included flights and hotel for the Grand Orlando Resort at Celebration, which is actually in Kissimmee. The hotel has two pools, kiddie pool, jacuzzi, tennis court, and maybe other amenities that we did not check out. My want was a pool with a restaurant/bar next to it, which we got. The sports bar was closed for renovations and there was another restaurant where we could eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We were not going anywhere near the parks and we were going to find out how to have fun in Orlando without visiting any of the parks.
In order to get the best price, I had to leave early in the morning on July 3rd and leave late on July 7th. I made arrangement for a shuttle to get Tina from Daytona Beach to the Orlando Airport at the time my plane would be arriving. She is living in Edgewater and was taking a cab from there to Daytona. I had been to the Relâche Spa at the Gaylord Palms during a business trip, so I knew that was one place I wanted to go back to. I booked Ultimate Pedicures ($80 each) for both of us for after our arrival in Orlando because we would have time to kill before we could check in. For our departure day, there would also be time to kill. And I found Vivian’s Day Spa in Old Town in Kissimmee. We were getting a 2-1/2 hour treatment: massage, facial, foot treatment, and paraffin hand treatment for only $120 for each of us.
We took a shuttle from the airport to the Gaylord Palms and, since we were early for the spa, we walked around the grounds. I showed Tina the alligators and turtles and we walked around the castle.
Tina and I took advantage of the rain forest showers and the lounges with waters, teas, and fruits. I napped while she found the pool. When you book a treatment, all the facilities are available to you for the day, which includes the sauna and steamroom. There was only one technician, so I had my pedicure first and then Tina had hers.
Our room was ready, so we took a Lyft to our hotel. After checking in, we decided to find someplace to eat. There is a strip mall across the road and another across the highway. The highway mall had mostly franchise restaurants and the road mall had mostly local restaurants. We decided to eat at Little Italy across the road and it was an excellent choice. It was 3pm, so late for lunch and early for dinner. The place was empty. I asked how large the salads were, thinking Tina and I could share one, and the waiter made the salad larger than usual so we could share. When I asked about garlic bread, he told us he would not charge extra for it. It was the best garlic bread I have ever had. Really. The eggplant parmigiana was delicious also. This restaurant could stand against many Italian restaurants in NYC and come out ahead. We went back to the room and it had been a long day, so I fell out early.
The pools opened at 7am. When we checked in, we saw all the lounge chairs were taken and could see how many were sitting out in the sun for the main pool – this pool had a slide and a waterfall. The other pool was also in the sun with lounge chairs around it but nothing else. Both were equidistant from the outside restaurant/bar. I was up early and needed to go to Walgreens, which opened at 7am. I went right to the pool afterwards and there were already a few people in the pool. I found two lounge chairs under the only shading tree and claimed those. Tina came down and we both relaxed, swam, went down the slide, enjoyed the waterfall, read, napped, drank, and ate.
At about 3pm, we showered and changed and took a Lyft to Celebration to enjoy their Fourth of July concert and fireworks. Everywhere we went that week was close by and no Lyft cost more than $10 – most were about $7. There was a bunch food tents. I decided on hot dogs and wine. We found a spot sitting on the curb near the stage and waited. Tina sat by the pizza parlor, so she could sit in a proper chair.
Celebration is a strange town. Made to look old but everything is new. There is no garbage anywhere. There was a big lake where only residents could get a good view of the fireworks. There was also a pretty Victorian hotel that was closed for the day to non-guests.
The day kept threatening rain and there was some rain after the set-up, so the opening act started late. Sonny Ferguson (The Box Tops) did some original songs and a lot of covers – mostly oldies – including Box Tops songs that he did not sing lead on the originals. Between acts was a bunch of mash-ups songs. I had not heard them before and most of them were a lot of fun. Then came 7 Bridges: The Ultimate Eagles Experience. Each of the members played a member of the Eagles and they did it well. It was a lot of fun to sing along and the audience joined in on almost every song. The band plays original music under a different name.
And then the fireworks, which were as spectacular as anticipated.
For Friday, I had made some plans but Tina asked if we could just stay at the hotel because all the activity the day before was hurting her back. I said that was fine. We got to the pool early again, got our lounge chairs under the tree, swam, drank, ate, read, and napped. Tina taught me how to float, which was something I did not think I would ever be able to do. Before, whenever I tried to float, I would immediately sink. I do not like to be in water where I cannot have my feet flat on the ground and my head and shoulders above water, so I was careful not to float too far from the 4-foot area. At one point, I felt like I had drifted too far and when I tried to stand, I realized I was in the 6-foot area. I immediately started paddling towards Tina in a panic and she said, “You’re fine,” and I answered, “No, I’m not!”
I told Tina that next time I was going to look for an adults only hotel. The screaming shrieking children were making me crazy. Tina said they were shrieks of joy and I said I did not care – it was still shrieking. I had been hoping that most families would be at the parks (and most of the families staying at the hotel were at the parks) but some stayed behind. The parents would lay out on the lounge chairs and their kids would run around and jump off the rocks (not allowed) or do all sorts of maneuvers while going down the slide (also not allowed) and there was no one to discipline them. The kiddie pool remained empty most of the time. If I were to build a resort like that, I would have two pools – both with the same amenities – but one would be behind a fence and be adults only.
By about 4pm, we had had enough and changed and went back to the mall, this time to Ataj Indian Restaurant. The food was a little different than their online menu but we still managed to find a lot of good things to eat. Tina’s first lamb dish was overcooked, so we sent it back, and her second dish (also lamb but another dish) was cooked perfectly. I got chicken and spinach and it was also good. We had started with some samosas. The portions were big and I ended up having my leftovers for lunch the next day. And I also enjoyed a big glass of wine.
Back at the hotel I turned on the hotel channel, which Tina kept complaining about. I wanted to see what suggestions they had. Turned out there is a Chocolate Museum and Cafe in Orlando. I immediately booked us a tour for the next day.
We were back at the pool early but this time left a little earlier for our Lyft to the Chocolate Museum. It started raining, so it turned out perfectly for us. We would have had to leave the pool anyway and now we were indoors eating chocolate and learning about chocolate. We had to wait an hour for the next tour, so we had something to eat in the café. I also looked at the chocolates, along with other merchandise, on display for sale.
Inside we watched a short film and then got a short history of chocolate from Mexico, Central America, and South America and how it was brought to Europe and what happened to it as it traveled to different countries. Then we saw some of the machines used to manufacture chocolate in the US. I believe some of those old machines are still used in some of the old chocolate shops in my neighborhood – one German chocolate and the other Austrian.
It was a short tour but then came the part that everyone was looking forward to. All the sculptures in the next room were made completely of chocolate. After that we went into the Café’s kitchen where we all got to taste various chocolates.
Even the trees are chocolate:
Then it was time to buy some chocolate. Tina bought some chocolate bars and I got some bark and 10 of the gorgeous little chocolates. After seeing my box, Tina bought a box for herself.
We had gelato and then took a Lyft back to the hotel. Our original plan was to eat at Chipotle because Tina had never been to one and wanted to check it out. But it was in the mall across the highway and it was pouring with no stopping in sight. So we ate at Mandolin’s, the hotel’s restaurant. The food was actually very good. The poor waiter had to deliver room service in addition to waiting on us and kept apologizing but we were fine with it. We did not have anywhere to be plus it was not his fault that the restaurant did not have enough staff for the night. Because of the thunderstorms, everyone was staying indoors. An older gentleman came over to talk with us – he had been in the hospitality business for many years and he introduced the new chef to us. She was doing a great job and was in the process of slowing changing the menu. We assumed the older man worked for the hotel but he never identified himself as such.
For our last day, we checked out and left our bags at the hotel. We took a Lyft to Old Town, which is a spread-out mall made to look like, well, an old town. We did some souvenir shopping and then had our spa treatments. It was wonderful. Afterwards you could have poured each of us out of the spa. I realized I did not have my phone and while Tina panicked, I was so very very chill. I walked to the store where I thought I may have left it and there it was. The mall has rides and concerts in addition to the stores and restaurants. There is a magic shop that does shows also.
We found a Cuban restaurant and had some more very good food. Tina took this photo of me making a very Carene face, which is also a very Mommy Lopez face.
Another Lyft to the hotel and then the shuttle to the airport. Turns out my plane was delayed by two hours but, still feeling the effects of my spa treatment, I did not care. And after the plane ride and late bus home, and little sleep, I was still feeling great from the spa treatment back at work.
So I found out that you can enjoy Orlando/Celebration/Kissimmee on its own.
By Carene Lydia Lopez