Thursday, March 21, 2019

Favorite Things in Orlando, FL 2018

This past Christmas season, I got to live in Orlando, FL for two months while skating in Sea World's "Winter Wonderland on Ice". It was an incredible first show experience, and I loved the work. I'll probably talk more about the skating in another post, but I wanted to share some of my favorite places and experiences I got to enjoy in Orlando!
Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at the Polynesian Village Resort.

Disney Springs

I ended up visitng Disney Springs a few times over the contract, and loved it more each time. It's fun, whimsical, and there's a little something for everyone. While it's definitely theme-park expensive, everything is so well curated that even just window shopping is fun.

The first time I went was during my parent's and Chris' visit. We walked around a lot, and ended up getting lunch at the Rainforest Cafe. The second time, Chris and I went back to see the Spirit of Aloha dinner show at the Polynesian Village Resort.  We got there early, and got to walk around in Disney Springs with some beer, and then took the ferry to the resort and explored until the show started. That cast was fun and very good, the food was good (if not great), and we thoroughly enjoyed our server.

Exploring the Grand Floridian at Disney Springs.
My big recommendation for getting a Disney feel on the cheap is taking the buses, ferries, and trains to as many resorts as possible and just walking around. We took the ferry to the Grand Floridian and it may have been my favorite part of the night. Everything was decorated for Christmas, and it felt like you were walking around the movie set of Mary Poppins. I loved it.

Other highlights for us at Disney Springs: Wine Bar George (very classy; ask to sit upstairs. The mulled wine and olive oil cake was amazing); Raglan Road (incredible irish pub with amazing cocktails and music), and House of Blues (more great live music and beer!).

I also loved that there were always performers in the streets. We stood at watched Bryan Malpass one night, and he was absolutely incredible. Check him out.

Universal CityWalk with my family!

Universal CityWalk

Similar to Disney Springs, Universal CityWalk is another theme-park downtown area. After a certain hour parking is free, and I'd definitely recommend it as a night time spot. We saw the Blue Man Group there with Chris and my parents, which was a really fun show because the crowd was so excited to be there.

That night we grabbed dinner at Vivo Italian Kitchen and then dessert at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium. The food and service at Vivo was incredible, and I loved the steampunk, Willy-Wonka vibe of Toothsome.

To me, the best part of CityWalk is Pat O'Brien's, an Irish pub with dueling pianos. I'm a sucker for live music, and the atmosphere was so fun. I wish we had stayed longer the night we were there.

A day spent at Discovery Cove.

Discovery Cove

Since I was working at Sea World while in Orlando, I was able to get discount tickets to some Sea World parks. Me and two other castmates spent one of our days off at Discovery Cove, a resort-style wildlife park owned by Sea World. Discovery Cove is fun because it's all inclusive. Once you're in the door, you get breakfast, lunch, plus unlimited snacks and drinks throughout the day. You swim through a series of beaches and lazy rivers, and get to swim with fish and stingrays, feed tropical birds, watch otters, and do a dolphin swim (for an extra fee). I loved it, and would definitely do it again.

It's an expensive activity if you're paying full-price, but the food was great and I'd say it's worth it if you commit to spending the whole day there.

Downtown Orlando

One big regret from this contract for me was not spending more time in downtown Orlando. Not having a car, I definitely didn't get out as much as I wanted to; and I wish I'd explored downtown more than I did. We did a cast dinner one night at a great downtown restaurant with a view of the Orlando Eye (the big Ferris wheel). I wish I could remember what it was called; they had a great beer list.

A few non-Orlando highlights.
Bonus Loves

These experiences weren't in Orlando, but are some other places I loved:

On one of our series of days off during Chris' visit, we rented a car and drove down to the Fort Lauderdale area. Since it was early December, the beach wasn't busy, so it was fun to just walk around and stop by cute beach-side bars. Lots had live music, which is always a plus for me.

My absolute favorite thing, though, was the Cuban food. Especially in the Fort Lauderdale area, we got to get pastries, Cuban coffee, and try a few restaurants. I am now a huge convert to colada, and a big believer in trying as many local places as possible. Our favorite was Vicky Bakery, by far.

One of the things I love most about doing contracts is the chance to spend time in places I probably wouldn't choose to go. I don't think I'd every randomly decide to vacation in Orlando...but getting to live there for 2 months, and have family visit, was filled with so many great experiences. If I end up doing that contract again, I'll be excited to update this list of favorites!

Thanks for reading! Be the grittiest.
xoxo Gillian 

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