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Orlando Update - Day 2


by Pat Hagan

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Day two of our visit to Orlando began with an exciting and unforgettable treat--a champagne balloon flight at sunrise over the Walt Disney World area. Though pricey--$165 per adult, $95 for ages 10-15, (children under 9 free)--the experience was well worth it. There are five balloons, each with a pilot, and the direction that a balloon will take over the park depends literally on which way the wind is blowing.

Orange Blossom Balloons has been in business more than 20 years, and makes passenger safety its top priority. The balloons only ascend in good weather, and there are 25 potential landing areas in the Disney park if necessary. Your actual time in the air is only one hour, but plan on a total of three hours for the entire experience, including instruction and the delicious hot buffet breakfast served after your flight. Champagne is served and a "first flight certificate" awarded. Reservations are required.

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Orlando has more than 44 million square feet of retail space, and since we are always searching for something unique, we were delighted to discover the Mercado Entertainment Complex on International Drive. Not only does the complex have more than 75 specialty shops ranging from a James Bond-type spy store to unique boutiques, but the Mercado also features "Titanic-The Exhibition." With the name of a first-class Titanic passenger on our admission ticket, we took the one-hour guided tour and saw more than 200 authentic artifacts retrieved from the sea floor, and the Memorial Wall. There's also a full-scale recreation of the Titanic's grand staircase, where--if prior arrangements are made--couples can share their wedding vows and host a reception.

We enjoyed a balmy Florida breeze with swaying palms overhead as we had lunch at the Mercado's International food court. After a stop at the Guinness World Records Experience, we drove north on International Drive in search of more distinct shops and found 110 of them at the Orlando Premium Outlets. Though we were underwhelmed by the prices, we still found bargains at upscale stores like Bottega Veneta leathers, Mikasa, Le Creuset, Burberry, Giorgio Armani, Versace and Salvatore Ferragamo.

Having shopped till we nearly dropped, it was time to explore the nightlife downtown. Our host was Misty Moss, a former Miss Orlando and manager of the Blue Room, recently voted the #1 VIP Club in Orlando. Catering to the 21+ crowd, the club provides the use of a limousine with the purchase of tables at reserved spots. Prices start at $50 for a two top, $100 for a four top, and $500 for the stage area. Admission to the private "Champagne Room" is $100 per person.

Walking the streets of Church Street Station, we found an eclectic setting of clubs, bars, and pubs frequented, it seems, by locals in their late twenties or early thirties.

I really can't recommend downtown Orlando for nightlife fun to pre/post cruise passengers unless they're a young couple with no children who enjoy the bar scene. We found that the best fun after dark can be had at Downtown Disney and Universal City Walk, especially for families.

In the next page of our diary--Day 3--I'll tell you about our thrilling airboat ride, an awesome visit to Gatorland, a Southern-style barbecue feast, shopping at the fabulous Kissimmee Flea Market, our scrumptious dinner at Emeril's Restaurant in Universal Studios Escape, and our evening at Universal City Walk.

continued...  Day 3

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