ABOVE PHOTO: Nick Suites pool area.
By Renée S. Gordon
More than 325,000 Native Americans had occupied the area that is now Florida for more than 12,000-years when the first documented European reached its shores 500-years ago and at that time the native population was approximately 35,000. Juan Ponce de Leon had sailed on Columbus’ second voyage and had been intrigued by the “island” and tales he had heard of great wealth and waters with restorative powers. On March 27, 1513 three ships under his command landed, named and claimed the land for Spain and his subsequent search for the “Fountain of Youth” is commemorated in the Fountain of Youth Archeological Park, Florida’s oldest attraction, in St. Augustine, Florida. www.fountainofyouthflorida.com
The quest for eternal youth has only grown more intense and moved 100-miles south since the time of the conquistadors. Thousands of people flock to Orlando, Florida annually to share the limitless joy and unbridled excitement of childhood both with their families and to recapture the uninhibited elation of youth. There is no other destination on earth that offers such a wide variety of sites, attractions, accommodations and dining opportunities designed to inspire and encourage visitors to use their imaginations, make memories and generally have the time of their lives. www.visitflorida.com
Orlando is not coastal so the first Europeans did not settle the area until the late 1830s. The removal of the indigenous Seminole Tribe who had lived there for thousands of years, was the government’s objective until President John Tyler gave up in 1842. The Seminole Wars had cost the United States $20 million and therefore refused to surrender and simply relocated into less habitable areas of the region.
Fort Gatlin was built in 1838 to protect the settlers and was named in honor of John Gatlin, who was killed in a massacre in 1835. A town, Jernigan, soon grew up around the fort. The town was renamed Orlando in 1857 and there are several stories regarding the origin of the name. The most common story states that it is named after Orlando Reeves, a soldier killed while on duty.
Nickelodeon Suites Resort is the only children’s resort in the world and it provides ideal accommodations for Orlando visitors. It is the small details that can make or break a vacation and the Nickelodeon Resort has incorporated all the features that make a stay memorable. Security is an absolute priority, the most important amenities are provided at no cost, food is affordable and shuttle service to area theme parks is regularly scheduled. Maps of the property are strategically placed throughout the complex and atop each building is a large picture of a Nickelodeon character to make identification easier.
The all-suite accommodations feature one, two or three bathrooms, kitchens or kitchenettes, and a living room. The Mall features shops, eateries, the Kid’s Spa, the Arcade and Studio Nick where families can participate in live entertainment. The 4-D Experience Theater shows a number of state-of-the-art, child length, movies including Sponge Bob’s recently premiered “The Great Jelly Rescue.” There are so many entertainment options that a weekly bulletin, “The 411,” is available, as well as guest services, to ensure that guests don’t miss anything.
“Slime” is one of the hallmarks of the Nickelodeon experience and no self-respecting fun-seeker leaves home without being slimed. In fact, it is so popular that the resort uses 150,000 gallons of slime and 10,000 creme pies annually. The best place to have “the slime of your life” is the Lagoon Pool where they pour 400-gallons of green slime in the daily. This courtyard water park boasts the first zero-depth, heated, entry pool and a massive series of water ramps, walkways, chutes and seven slides.
The Nickelodeon story began in 1977 when, as Pinwheel Network, it became the first channel for children. Two years later it relaunched as Nickelodeon. In 1991 the first three Nicktoons premiered, “Doug,” “Ren & Stimpy” and “Rugrats.” Since that time the cast of characters has grown substantially longer and more beloved. Daily character breakfasts and dinners give visitors an opportunity to meet and interact with SpongeBob Squarepants, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dora and others.
One can think of the Nickelodeon Suites Resort Lagoon pool as the modern Fountain of Youth with the addition of great globs of green slime. You will love it! Information, promotions and specials are available online. www.nickhotel.com
Historians trace the origins of the roller coaster to a ride known as the Russian Mountain dating from the 15th-century. An 80-ft scaffold was built, packed with snow and allowed to ice over. Patrons then climbed on a sled and rode down the resulting hill at a 50-degree angle. The Russians so loved this form of entertainment that even Catherine the Great had one built in her garden. By the 17th-century the idea had reached France and in 1817 documents indicate that someone added wheels. Twenty-six years later the first loop was added and 33 years later Pennsylvania’s Mauch Chunk Railway was the first coaster to complete a circuit. The wooden Leap the Dips roller coaster in Altoona, PA that operated from 1902-85 reopened in 1999. It is the world’s oldest operating roller coaster and has been a National Historic Landmark since 1996.
Theme parks are the most recent form of what began as Medieval European pleasure gardens, with shows and vendors, and migrated to the US as amusement parks in the 19th-century. The 1927 inclusion of the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island made it the standard ride in both theme and amusement parks. In the 1950s amusement parks made the transformation to theme parks with rides and attractions that are built around a predominant concept, story or characters.
Universal has been both the beneficiary and an innovator in roller coaster and theme park evolution. It began as a basic tour of a functioning Hollywood Studio nearly 50-years ago. In 1990 Universal Studios Florida opened. Currently Universal Orlando Resort has two distinct areas, Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure and if you are a coaster aficionado you should be on your way to Universal now.
Highlights of a tour of the Islands of Adventure include “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter”, complete with talking portraits, a tour of Hogwarts, the Hogwarts Express Train and “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, the ride of your life. J. K. Rowling personally approved the Potter area just as the wife of Dr. Seuss approved Seuss Landing dedicated to the Seuss books. There are no straight lines in this section and the oddly, but naturally, twisted trees were bent by a hurricane and replanted here. The $100-million “Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man” invites you to assist as Spiderman saves the Statue of Liberty in 4-D. This is your only opportunity to swing down the streets of New York and fight for truth, justice and the American way simultaneously. Mythos, the #1 theme park restaurant in the world is located in this area and it meets all your expectations for taste, service and hospitality.
At Universal Studio Philadelphians come face-to-face with an onscreen version of Philly’s own Will Smith in the “Men in Black” control room just before fighting aliens in “Alien Attack”. Other movie inspired rides, “Revenge of the Mummy,” “ The Incredible Hulk” and the newest movie, “Despicable Me Minion Mayhem”, are equally exciting. The radical Hulk roller coaster has seven rolls and for a brief time you are weightless. This continues to be a working studio and as you walk you pass movie props and streets used as sets.
Bring water and wear sunscreen and a hat. Your best bet is to arrive early and go directly to the rides you most want to take. The lines can be long. A number of special passes are available for entry into the park as well as VIP Tours that provide a private guide and the opportunity to bypass the lines. All information to plan your visit can be found at www.universalorlando.com
Universal CityWalk is adjacent to Universal Resort and is a dining, shopping and entertainment complex featuring the world’s largest Hard Rock Café. It should be noted that some individual venues have a cover charge but All Access and VIP passes are available. www.citywalkorlando.com
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment’s primary goals are to educate the public about conservation and rescue, rehabilitate and return creatures to the wild and all sites, attractions and entertainment have some connection with the sea. The park offers behind-the-scenes tours, interactive areas where visitors can feed the fish and VIP tours.
In 2012, “Turtle Trek” opened, the first 3-D, 360-degree, movie. You experience the birth and journey to the sea of a newborn turtle. The 68-mph Manta and The Kraken are the two signature roller coasters in the park and “One Ocean” and “Shamu Rocks” are the iconic shows. www.seaworldorlando.com
SeaWorld is comprised of two additional sections, Discovery Cove and the water park Aquatica. The all-inclusive Discovery Cove is located across from SeaWorld and provides interactive experiences including swimming with dolphins, snorkeling and bird feeding. Admission includes equipment, meals, beverages and a wealth of experiences. www.aquaticabyseaworld.com and www.discoverycove.com
My guess is that Ponce de Leon’s legends were true, he simply sought the fountain too far north. Whether you are a child or just have the heart of one you will love Orlando!
You can obtain all the information you need to plan a “youthful” trip to Orlando on the web at www.visitorlando.com
I wish you smooth travels!
A common problem for travelers is the effect travel has on sleep patterns. The Travel Sleep Sound Therapy System is a new product developed By Dr. Jeffrey Thompson to turn your sleeping chamber into an oasis of therapeutic sounds that will help you sleep, mask noise and generally feel more relaxed. There is a selection of nineteen sounds and additional features including a timer, dual time, alarm clock and it comes with a carrying case and adapters. It is small enough to tuck into your carry-on and effective enough to be used at home. www.sound-oasis.com
Be on the lookout for Philadelphia’s Mark Johnson is starring in the new movie, “The North Star,” along with Lynn Whitfield and Keith David. The movie relates the story of two freedom seekers Benjamin Jones and Moses Hopkins and was filmed in locations in Bucks County. Mark will also appear in “Primal Rage,” opening in July.
“The Trip to Bountiful” is playing a limited engagement at the Stephen Sondheim Theater in New York. The cast includes Cuba Gooding, Jr., Vanessa Williams, Tom Wopat and a Tony nominated performance by Cicely Tyson. If you appreciate great performances this is the play to see. www.thetriptobountifulbroadway.com
Times Square’s Heartland Brewery and Chophouse is located directly across the street from the theater and I would be remiss if I failed to give you a heads up. Heartland is justifiably famous for their seemingly endless beer options but I strongly suggest that you try their St. Louis Smoked Ribs. They are fall off the bone good! www.heartlandbrewery.com
On April 30th Discover Outdoors launched in Philadelphia after bringing adventure travel to the masses in NY since 1987. Discover Outdoors certified guides and management team take a three-pronged approach, offering forays within the city, day trips and national and international adventure treks. A free Education Series takes place within the city and includes workshops on Camping Basics, Understanding Your Bike and Compass & Map Skills. Local day trips introduce participants to whitewater rafting, horseback riding, etc., and the Adventure Travel program includes such experiences as ascending Kilimanjaro, a Machu Picchu trek and Volcano Surfing in Nicaragua. Challenge yourself. Live the life you have only dreamed of. www.discoveroutdoors.com