Day three of our visit to Orlando took us to the Kissimmee area. Though separate "cities," the mega-growth of Orlando now shows no distinction between the tourist havens.
We always like to check out economy motels for those on a budget and especially liked the Viking Motel on West U.S. Hwy 192. Just minutes from all the theme parts, the Viking takes its name from its quaint Nordic decor. The rooms are cozy, all with cable TV, free movies and HBO. The pool is heated, and the recreation area includes shuffleboard, mini golf, playground, and charcoal grills. Guest laundry, car rental and airport pick-up is available. And the rates are fantastic--$25-$85, depending on the season. This is a Mom and Pop operation, so don't expect a website, Call 407-396-8860 for more information.
Wanting to see and do as much as possible, our visits to different attractions in and about Kissimmee were brief but informative. We played 18 holes of miniature golf at River Adventure with its many beautiful waterfalls and raging rapids. We stopped by "Billy Boy's" orange grove for fresh squeezed juice on our way to the Kissimmee Manufacturer's Outlet Mall on Highway 192, where we were pleased to find average savings of at least 40% among the twenty-five designer outlets.
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We had lunch at Sonny's Barbecue, a chain restaurant that has, in my opinion, the best "Southern BQ" to be had. Ribs, pork, baked beans, cole slaw, garlic bread, and all the ice tea you can drink, for under $7.00.
After "pigging out" we were glad to discover two wonderful flea markets to walk off some of the calories. The 400 booths of "Main Gate" www.maingatefleamarket.com on W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway are indoors and air-conditioned with savings of 50-75% off mall prices on all new items. On the same highway is the Osceola Flea & Farmers Market www.fleaamerica.com with 900 specialty booths under one roof. Both are great places to find unique cruise clothes or those tee shirts you wish you'd bought in some of your ports of call.
We stopped by Gatorland www.gatorland.com long enough to view, from a safe distance, too many alligators to count. We also boldly sampled fried alligator tail, and, yes, it does taste just like chicken!
It was Saturday, and that night we went to CityWalk, a 30-acre entertainment complex, developed by Universal Studios, with restaurants, nightclubs, specialty shops and theaters, all flanking the Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure theme parks. Note that while it doesn't cost anything to enter CityWalk, some clubs do have individual cover charges.
Having heard so much about it, we chose to have dinner at Emeril's Restaurant Orlando, a creation of famed Chef Emeril Lagasse. And what a pleasant surprise it was to discover that we did not have to blow our entire food budget on a gourmet meal. Appetizers of cornmeal-crusted Louisiana oysters, a warm wilted spinach salad with three-nut goat cheese; entrees--Texas Redfish with a roasted pecan-vegetable relish and a Mushroom Truffle Pizza; dessert--banana cr�me pie with a caramel sauce and chocolate shavings, came to just under $80 for the two of us, including a nice bottle of wine!
Other popular spots along CityWalk include the world's largest Hard Rock Cafe, NASCAR Cafe Orlando, Motown Cafe Orlando, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, CityJazz, and Pat O'Brien's of New Orleans fame. Ah, so many restaurants and not enough time--or big enough tummy--to sample them all!
Universal City Walk is a not-to-be-missed experience in Orlando. The lights of the surrounding theme parks are breath taking. And to escape the crowds for a romantic walk around the lake was the perfect ending for a busy and tiring day.
In page four of our diary, I'll share our experiences at yet more exciting and fun things to do beyond the theme parks, as well as the discovery of a delightful and very convenient hotel, reasonably priced, for cruise passengers flying in and out of Orlando.