Seaworld

Welcome Homes USA can not recommend Seaworld highly enough! It is one of our favorite parks and has something for everyone! If you need a break from running between rides at other parks, you can spend a whole day sitting and resting your feet in all the incredible shows they put on. If you are concerned about having to explain to teachers about going a couple of days over school vacation – this park offers an education your children will never experience behind a desk! They can’t fail to come away with a profound compassion for the sea life on our planet and a deep respect for the experts who take care of the beautiful creatures they will see in the parks. This brings us on to the amazing work Seaworld does in using their experience and knowledge to save our beautiful and unique wildlife in Florida. When they are called upon to help animals who have encountered problems in the wild they do not fail. Take a look here when The Seaworld Rescue Team were integral to saving 19 manatee from Satellite Beach. There are numerous articles like this one where wild animals would have had a less favorable outcome with the help Seaworld provided.

There is an array of behind the scenes tours to take your budding animal experts on. You will see Beluga Whales, walruses, stingray, dolphins, penguins, sealions, turtles, manatee and so much more!

For the adrenaline junkies this park offers arguably some of the best rides in Orlando. Mako, Kraken and Manta are not to be missed, there truly is nothing else like them nearby. For the little ones Shamus Happy Harbor provides hours of fun. 

Not to be outdone on the gourmet front, as well as plenty of quick serve establishments to eat in,  if you feel like treating yourselves, Sharks Underwater is a must – beautiful food while your scenery of the creatures of the deep are constantly changing and going about their business!

All in all, a must for visitors of all ages….. and we haven’t begun to sing the praises of Seaworld Christmas spectacular! 

Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf – Disney

Fantasia gardens is home to two (there is a pun there somewhere!!) miniature golf courses.  The first a more traditional ‘crazy golf’ course, complete with tutu wearing hippos, sorcerer Mickey and even a few squirting broomsticks!  The second is a more conventional looking golf course but on a miniature scale. This course features bunkers, sloping greens  and even sand traps on it’s 18 holes which range in length from 63 to 109 feet!

It is important when visiting Fantasia Gardens not to expect a crazy golf version of Magic Kingdom.  If you want loud colorful excitement you may be disappointed.  This is more of a peaceful meander through lakes and streams while you putt into 18 holes to unwind from the thrills and spills of the theme parks. Gentle music from the film ‘Fantasia’ plays while you aim past the odd moving obstacle and a couple of the holes even treat you to a tune when you succeed in putting through a tunnel or into the hole!

Here at Welcome Homes USA we want you to enjoy your time in this wonderful State of Florida.  We thoroughly recommend a visit to this attraction for those in need of a little chill out time.  Those who expect vibrant excitement may prefer alternative attractions.

Florida’s Wildlife

Here at Welcome Homes USA we want your stay to be a safe stay! This is information worth knowing whilst in Central Florida and staying at one of our lovely Condos or Homes.

INSECTS
Florida is notorious for its prolific insect life, and for this reason your holiday home with Welcome Homes USA is treated both inside and outside on a regular basis. Therefore, to make your stay more comfortable, please do not leave food or drink on counter tops, in wash baskets and specially on the pool deck, and avoid leaving dirty or damp clothes laying around. If you are not doing these recommendations, you are inviting these “uninvited guests” to come into your home. Please do not leave doors and windows open this increases insect infestation and prevent the A/C from working efficiently.

WATCH OUT
There are different animals that you have to be aware of: Snakes, Alligators and Spiders.

Snakes
There are 45 species of snakes found in florida, but there are only 6 venomous. Here are some that are venomous and non-venomous that you may encounter.

Coral Snake-VENOMOUS
They are quite secretive and are usually found under debris and in the ground but occasionally they are found in the open and have even been seen climbing the trunks of live Oaks. Good numbers of them are exposed when pine flat wood are bulldozed, particularly in south Florida

If you see what you think is a coral snake, remember this saying “if red touches yellow, it can kill a fellow (coral snake): if red touches black, it is a friend of Jack (Scarlet kingsnake, or scarlet snake).

coral snake

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake-VENOMOUS
Diamondbacks are often found in pine flat woods, longleaf pine and turkey oak and sand pine scrub areas. These habitats contain palmetto thickets and gopher tortoise burrows in which the diamondback may seek refuge. Humans had invaded many of the florida’s pine flat woods and scrub areas which now contain farms, homes and shopping plazas. As a result, the displaced diamondbacks sometimes turn up in backyards, golf courses, and even parking lots.

This is a large impressive and potentially dangerous snake, it can strike up to 2/3 its body length: a 6 foot specimen may strike 4 foot. These factors, as well as others, make this snake that should be left alone.
diamondback

Cottonmouth Water Moccasin-VENOMOUS
Cottonmouths are found in any wetland or waterways, although they occasionally wander far from water, and have been found in bushes and trees. Their bites can be quite dangerous. The victim should seek immediate medical care from a physician or hospital experienced in treating snakebite. The dangerous semi-aquatic snake is truly an aggressive reptile that will stand its ground or even approach an intruder.

cotonmouth

Alligators
Alligators our found in freshwater swamps and marshes, rivers, lakes and small bodies of water. Alligators near human habitation are often seen crossing roads, entering suburbs and finding shelter in swimming pools during the drier months. In some areas, increasing alligator population creates problems with humans on the edge of alligator habitat, and “nuisance alligator” programs are required to deal with them. These involve catching and roaming animals which have roamed too far into human habitation, or which pose a potential threat to people.

Alligator

FEEDING ALLIGATORS IS ILLEGAL IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA!

Spiders
Brown Widow-VENOMOUS
It is primarily found in Florida, it is Venomous and has a neurotoxin like the black widow, although it injects less venom than the black widow. All widows can be identified by the red-hor glass shape on their abdomen.

brown widow

Black Widow-VENOMOUS
Black widow bites are sharp, painful and venomous; the victim should go to the doctorimmediately for treatment. To control the black widow, carefully remove all materials where they might hise. This can be cleaned out of an area simply by knocking down the webs, spiders and round tan egg sacs with a stick and crushing them underfoot.

black widow

Brown recluse spider-VENOMOUS
The most recognized feature of the Brown Recluse Spider is its violin pattern on the cephalothorax or in other words te location of the top side of the spider near the head. the Recluse Spider’s bite has the effect of creating a scar around the portion of the bite as venom destroys the tissue and attacks the muscle, also called the flesh-eating spider. Immediate medical attention is required when bitten.

Driving in Florida

Here at Welcome Homes USA we want to make sure you travel to and from your day trips safe and sound.  Some traffic rules and regulations here in Florida may be unfamiliar to visitors from abroad and it is worth acquainting  yourself with some of these laws to make your journeys stress free.

Check this website for more information about VISITOR TOOL PASS

TRAFFIC LIGHT

  • If you are wondering why you are getting the odd motorist giving you a gentle ‘bib’ at lights, it is worth knowing that you can turn right on a red traffic light if the way is clear, unless there is a sign displaying ‘NO TURN ON RED’

No turn on red sign

  • A red arrow is just like a red light, you may turn right if the way is clear.
  • A yellow arrow means traffic in that direction will soon get a red arrow to stop, but a left flashing yellow arrow means left turns are allowed but yield to oncoming traffic who have a green light!
  • A flashing red light is the same as a stop, it is just emphasizing the intersection is a dangerous one so keep an extra eye out!
  • A flashing yellow light means proceed with caution, and is used just before dangerous intersections or to alert you to a warning sign such as a school crossing or sharp curve.
  • A yellow cross means the lane signal is going to change to a red cross and you must leave the lane.

If you see red reflectors (cats eyes) facing you in the lane lines, you are on the wrongs side of the road! Move over immediately.  If you see red reflectors on the lines on the edge of the road you are on the wrong freeway ramp.  Pull over immediately! Red reflectors always mean you are facing the traffic the wrong way and could have a head-on collision.

SPEED LIMITS – FLORIDA  ‘STANDARD’

Municipal speed areas –                 30MPH
Business or residential areas –     30MPH
Rural Interstate –                             70 MPH (if posted)
Limited access highways –             70MPH
All other roads and highways  –   55 MPH
School zones  –                                 20 MPH

You can be issued a ticket for driving too slowly! When the posted speed limit is 70 mph, the minimum speed if 50mph!

On a two way street or highway, all drivers moving in either direction must stop for a stopped school bus which is picking up or dropping off children.  You must remain stopped until all children are clear of the roadway ad the bus’ stop arm is withdrawn.

If the highway is divided by a raised barrier or an unpaved median at least five feet wide, you do not have to stop if you are moving in the opposite direction of the bus.  Painted lines or pavement markings are not considered barriers.  You must always stop if you are moving in the same direction as the bus and you must remain stopped until the bus stop arm is withdrawn.

TRAFFIC LAWS

All children five years of age or younger must use a restraint device when traveling in a motor vehicle and always secured in the rear seat.  Infant carriers or children’s car seats must be used for children up to three years of age.  For children aged four through five, a separate carrier, an integrated child seat or a seat belt may be used.

The Move Over Law dictates that when police, emergency workers and tow-truck drivers are stopped along a roadway, on a two lane roadway, you must slow to a speed that is 20 MPH less than the posted speed limit.  If you are traveling on a road with multiple lanes in the same direction and you approach these vehicles/workers, you must vacate the lane closest to that vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so.  If it is not safe to do so you must slow to 20 MPH below the posted speed limit.  You may receive a fine and points if you violate this law.

When there are two or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction, it is legal to pass on the right in Florida (undertaking to us Brits), so keep an extra eye out when moving back into the right lane.

No one has the right of way in Florida!  The law only states who must give up the right of way.  Every driver, motorcyclist, moped rider, bicyclist and pedestrian must do everything possible to avoid a crash.

STOP SIGNS Always come to a complete stop at the marked stop line.  If there is no stop line, stop before entering the crosswalk on the nearside intersection.  At a 4-Way stop sign traffic from all four directions must stop.  The first vehicle to reach the intersection should move forward first.  If two vehicles reach the intersection at the same time, the driver on the left yields to the driver on the right.
Stop sign

DRINKING AND DRIVING

Florida has tough policies on drink driving.  Persons arrested for driving under the influence (DUA) with alcohol levels of 0.08% or higher can face criminal prosecution.

This sign means you are near a school.  Watch out for children.
School crossing

Advance warning sign when approaching a highway-rail intersection.
Railroad crossing sign

Lowry Park Zoo & Zoominations

Here at Welcome Homes USA we like to recommend memorable days out to our guests and site visitors that you may otherwise miss.   One such unique opportunity we are currently lucky enough to have visit Florida is the ancient Chinese Zoominations exhibition.

For a short time,  Zoominations is hosted at Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, but only until end of May so don’t miss out! This electric light exhibit of enormous glowing Chinese lantern sculptures comprise a range of  illuminated animals from giant pandas to radiant mythical creatures, all lit up by millions of LED lights.  This is a unique opportunity to wonder at an ancient cultural exhibition that has toured the Worlds cities including Toronto, London and Beijing.   If you like to shop for authentic souvenirs you can stroll through the Chinese craft market then rest your legs to enjoy the show of Chinese performers.

LowryPark2

Why not make a day of it and visit the zoo during the daylight hours! Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo boasts residence to more than 1000 animals living in 56 acres of beautiful Floridian landscape, divided into eight habitats:

At Florida Boardwalk you can feed stingrays, then learn how to protect endangered primates in Primate world. Watch the “Spirits of the Sky” show in the Birds of Prey area. Marvel at Florida’s beloved Manatee throughout the year!  Meander through Lorikeet Landing by waterfalls with vibrant exotic birds flying above you, even feed nectar to dazzling coloured lorikeets!  See the stunning tigers and other wild cats in the Asian Gardens.  Take the children to the Australian outback where they can discover indigenous creatures from wallabies to cute koalas, ride a horse then cool down in The Billabong wet play area! Venture to Africa to view native beasts ranging from elephants to okapi, even, can you believe it – African penguins?!!! And my daughter’s absolute highlight – feed the most beautiful, graceful giraffes on the feeding plateau (only a small fee for the food but so worth it!!).  If your feet are a little tired take the open-air tram for a narrated behind-the -scenes tour of Africa!

The ticket price includes up to eight rides to keep little ones happy, only the long flume is exclusive to those above 42” tall!  The Zoo prides itself on its education program and offers lots of shows and keeper talks throughout the day to teach the little ones about animal behaviors in a fun and informative way.

All in all a fantastic, eclectic family day out which here at Welcome Homes USA we thoroughly recommend you take time to enjoy.

Fun Spot – Orlando

Whether you’re traveling with a family or just with your partner Welcome Homes USA recommends visiting Fun Spot because it’s the perfect place to have a fun adventure and create new memories.

 

Fun Spot in Kissimmee is just 1 out of the 2 Fun Spot parks in Florida. The other one is in Orlando. This one is right off of 192 and it’s filled with attractions and activities that please all age groups! From go-carts, to thrill rides, a kiddy park and much more!

Fun Spot Go Karts
Fun Spot – Go Karts

Keep in mind that the height requirements for the go-carts varies depending on the type of course it is. If it’s the regular ones, you must be 56’’, and the taller courses requires you to be 54’’. When you’re approaching the go-carts there’s multiple rows. The number of people a go-cart can hold is color coded. The blue ones are for single riders and the red ones are for those pairing up, or for parents who are riding with a child.

Although the go-carts is what attracts many visitors, Fun Spot has much more instore for you. They include an unforgettable ride called The Hot Seat. It stands about 100 feet tall, and you get lifted high up in the air making a 180 degree angle back and forth. This ride made me feel butterflies in my stomach as I felt like I was about to go upside down! The line and wait time was so short and I definitely had a blast. In addition to the Hot Seat, Fun Spot has another ride called the Screaming Eagles. It’s a ride that elevates you high up in the air while going in circles at a fast speed. This one was so much fun and I enjoyed the relaxing view.

This is just 2 of Fun Spot’s attractions but they also have the Rockstar Rollercoaster and I was so eager to ride it when I first got there. You first begin in a cart that you sit in with 3 other people and you start to move higher and higher until you can see the whole park. It had so many crazy turns and unexpected drops, I had to ride it twice. This is one you absolutely have to ride!

Fun Spot games area
Fun Spot Amusement park

For all you gamers out there Fun Spot includes a 2-story, air conditioned arcade where you can enjoy your favorite popular games known today. The arcade even includes thrilling simulators and classic games like Pacman. A whole day could be spent playing in there. I almost lost track of time and forgot we had rides to get on! There’s a variety of activities to choose from that’s suitable for everyone!

Fun SPot swings
Fun Spot swings

Families with young children would also enjoy Fun spot because they also include an entire kiddy-park completely dedicated to the younger crowd, typically for kids from 2-6 years old. With things like swings, a fun slide and a mini roller-coaster it brings joy even to those who aren’t tall enough to ride the bigger rides and this makes sure that no one misses out on the fun.

Fun Spot also includes little areas around the park where you can enjoy your fair favorites like funnel cake, cotton candy, popcorn, and more.

The Fun Spot website also makes it very easy for you to navigate through it and purchase your specific ticket there. There are booths available at the park as well, and they offer different combos depending on what you want to participate in at the park. Also, if you or your party would like to come back a couple more times, you can consider purchasing season passes, where you can have blast all year long!

The park hours are typically from 10am to midnight. So even if you started your day late you can always still come and enjoy Fun Spot’s attractions all night long!

Ripley’s Believe It or Not

We weren’t sure what to expect from this strange looking museum that looks as if it is about to disappear into a sink hole on International Drive!  Having read mixed reviews we went with an open mind – and were very pleasantly surprised!  The website doesn’t give much away, but for good reason – there are some fun little surprises along the way that would be less amusing if you knew what was coming!  So, I will try to describe this intriguing place without giving too much away!

The self-guided tour began with some interesting artwork on the wall made totally from sweets – my four year old now has some new ideas for what to do with her gummy bears!  Then came a hologram of Mr Ripley himself, explaining how the ‘Believe it or Not’ idea all started.
ripleys 1

Next came some interesting interactive exhibits to test your senses or, in my case, make you screech with an unexpected blast of air when putting my hand into a hole that the sign said not to!  There are a few things along the way that instruct you not to do something – invariably enticing you to buck authority and follow your curiosity.  Inevitably there is a surprise that will startle but not frighten you! This area provided some ‘Science museum’ type interactions fun for all ages.  My four year old daughter loved pressing buttons to see various light and sound reactions and her forty something dad equally enjoyed testing his abilities to balance a stick on his finger!  (Says it all really!)  Some simple ideas here which not only have a science principle behind them but are really fun to try, especially if there is a group of you with a competitive nature!

Some interesting facts about unusual human capabilities defy anyone not to attempt tongue contortions and facial gurning in the mirror, and, without wanting to give too much away, and don’t tell the visitors you are taking with you, take note of the time you enter to find your video on the time lapse screen just as you leave!!

Among numerous, fascinating exhibits referencing some famous hoaxes and also some questionable folk tales, there are exhibits displaying some strange human traditions from around the world.  Some will make you smile, some will make you wince!  Amidst these exhibits, you are led through a very odd, what can only be described as, a ‘wonky’ room.  It is quite amazing how the distortions here actually make you feel dizzy!  There is no sound, lights or even movement to make you feel this way, just optical illusion!

A favorite near the end was the light tunnel.  Again an illusion which makes walking a straight line on flat ground without holding on to the rail a real challenge!  Our four year old loved this – as did all the adults around us!

All in all, Welcome Homes USA thoroughly recommends this homage to the weird and wonderful!  It provides a welcome, leisurely paced break for an air conditioned escape from the midday sun or an interesting and fun diversion when the weather isn’t being so kind and Florida demonstrates one of its frequent but short downpours!

Medieval Times

You may have driven past a large Medieval Castle on the 192 near Fun Spot in Kissimmee and wondered what that is doing here in Florida!  Well it may not seem a typically native Floridian attraction but it is a very authentic, thoroughly entertaining dinner show for all the family! Once you have collected your ticket you get to walk around the Medieval Village which pays homage to that era in Spain, with many genuine 16th century articles imported over form Majorca and painstakingly restored.  You enter an architects home from that era where you are greeted by the architect (in full 16th century regalia) who will give you information about the artifacts on view and is also more than happy to pose for a snapshot!  You progress through a bakers, carpenters, wine cellar ad even a medieval torture chamber – my goodness those people were cruel!  You would definitely behave yourself in 16th century Spain! Most rooms have a traditionally dressed curator to answer any questions you may have.
medieval times 3
You then gather in the Grand Hall where one of the Noblemen entertains you while you wait to take your table.  Here you will also find plenty of merchandise to help you depart with your spending money!  If you only choose one thing to buy, a cheering flag to represent your team is a must and inexpensive.
medival times 2
When you enter the arena, you will find your table complete with dishes and drinking vessels in 16th century design.  Your are then served with delicious hot bread and soup followed by the tastiest half a chicken I have eaten in a long time! Accompaniments include garlic potato and corn on the cob, all served on you metal plate with no cutlery in sight so you can really eat like a king!! (Tempting though it is to hurl your chicken bones behind you, the guest behind may not be too happy!!).
medieval times 4
Dinner continues through to pudding as the entertainment begins with some impressive displays of horsemanship and pageantry as all the Knights enter the arena.  The atmosphere is rousing as you feel the camaraderie with with the Knight you have been assigned to and your surrounding guests!  Our four year old was so engrossed in the entertainment, booing and cheering on with her flag!  Her face was a picture when she was lucky enough to catch a carnation thrown from the Red Knight! (I think the fact that she was dressed in her best princess outfit helped him pick her out!). All the adults in our party were also totally immersed in the competition of the jousting display, convinced our Knight was going to win, only to be overcome in the last round by the yellow Knight!! Boooooooo!
medieval times 5
We all know that feeling of leaving a venue with a huge smile on your face and feeling positively uplifted.  Thats how we felt as we left, and we were not the only ones who thoroughly enjoyed the evening – we heard lots of positive comments as we left!  We at Welcome Homes USA thoroughly recommend adding this venues to your vacation itinerary.  It provides  some fun diversity from the more traditional parks and attractions.

Crayola Experience


At first glance from inside The Florida Mall you may think The Crayola Experience is just a store selling Crayola goods.  However, this would be a huge mistake if you have children under the age of 12!  They would be missing out on one of the most creative and fun days Florida has to offer!  I say that after my four, soon to be five year old daughter’s comments and constant requests to return and even have her birthday party there!
 Crayola 4
The fun begins while you queue to buy your ticket.  Three giant interactive Crayola crayons are projected onto the wall and copy the dances and jumps that your little one performs while standing on the foot markings in front of the screen. The whole family is issued with a plastic bag big enough to carry all your creations – so you can ‘make and take’!!  Each bag has two tokens for the only two exhibits that require an additional payment – this allows your little one to personalise their own crayon wrapper with their name and choice of picture, print it then wrap their own crayon.  They can use the other token in the Model Magic dispenser then sit and create their own model, with the help of tools and designs provided.  This means there is no additional cost once inside unless of course you get pestered to purchase additional tokens for crayons to wrap or extra model magic.  However, tokens are not expensive and if you chose not to there is so much more they will be distracted by!
 Crayola 2Crayola 1
In the next experience you can all star in your very own colouring page!  Pick a design on the computer, strike a pose then print out the black and white colouring sheet to either colour there, take home or even get printed onto a t-shirt in the shop downstairs! (Understandably there is a charge for the t-shirt!).  Even the grown ups were finding this fun! Pull as many faces and print as many pages as you like – although if a queue starts to develop it is good to consider the kiddies waiting behind!Crayola 3
They get to melt crayons in a special machine that then drips the wax onto a paper plate on a turntable which spins at the control your child, so that their creation is absolutely unique to them. In a similar station, they get to chose a shape to melt a crayon of their choice into – to create a seahorse, shark, ring or car crayon to take home with them.

 There is a lovely area where they can chalk on walls, play hop scotch and even colour a play house and car – I think the rebel in our daughter loved this area and our own car now has a ‘decorated’ seat belt so make sure you let them know this is allowed a Crayola Experience only!

 With 25 hands-on attractions in all you could easily spend a day here.  We packed it all into three hours but we did have to drag our little angle out of the ‘Toddler Town’ play area, and she would happily have returned to each area again and again! 

Welcome Homes USA thoroughly recommends adding this unique experience to your vacation as a welcome, air conditioned break from the heat or shelter from our infamous afternoon downpours here in Florida!  It is also an opportunity to take a seat, rest your feet after the miles they have trekked at the parks and let the creative side of your children run wild.  They can even take their creations into school when they are back home to show their teachers how educational their trip away has been!

Narcoossee’s – Grand Floridian

Narcoossee’s, Disney’s Grand Floridian’s signature restaurant, is a gem not to be missed.  Located on the waterfront, this restaurant provides panoramic views of The Seven Sea’s Lagoon, taking in the top of Cinderella’s Castle.  In the evening ,the verandah not only allows a close up viewing of the often missed Electrical Water Pageant, but also a unique, uncrowded observation point for spectacular views of Wishes Fireworks Display.  The synchronized display music is even fed to speakers on the verandah, making the stunning reflections across the water even more atmospheric.
narcoossee-varanda-view
As if the exceptional dining experience wasn’t enough, the food here can only be described as out of this world!  The menu includes dishes from Two-pound Maine Lobster, Key west Shrimp to Filet Mignon to cater for meat as well as sea food lovers.  As for the Rhode Island Calamari, what can I say, the best we have tasted!  Personally, I am usually able to stop eating when I am full, but the quality and taste of all the courses served up at Narcoossee’s rendered it impossible for me to leave anything on my plate, despite feeling gorged!  Even the photo’s I took of the food do not show the plate untouched as we were so keen to tuck in the photo taking took a back seat!
Narcoossee 1Narcoossee 2
Welcome Homes USA would not want you to be disappointed in any way, and so if you are expecting a sophisticated atmosphere found at other Disney high end restaurants such as The Contemporary’s California Grill, your expectations may not be met.  The wooden floor and lack of music makes it a little noisy in the restaurant. Non the less, we cannot recommend Narcoossee’s highly enough, it is truly a fantastic dining experience not to be missed.

It is worth letting the restaurant know if it is special occasion when you make your reservation.  They served up a beautiful desert with a “Happy Anniversary” chocolate message to my husband and I for our fifth wedding anniversary.  The almond cheesecake that came with this was again one of the tastiest puddings I have ever eaten