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