Going to Orlando? See a Different Side

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

If one word sums up Orlando to visitors from the UK or Ireland it would probably be Disneyworld. It is also the 4th largest shopping area in the US after New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The next word might be Universal. espcially sine the Harry Potter area opens next month. But would you think of Winter Park? Similarly if you asked people about shopping in New York, they might say Park Avenue. But have you heard of Park Avenue, Winter Park?
I would be prepared to make a small wager that most of the visitors from our countries never visit Winter Park or even know that it is there. It is about 20 miles away from Orlando and is an upmarket area, a bit like a large village with one main street, Park Avenue, Off this street radiate a few shops, the Morse Museum of Modern Art and, slightly further away, the Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden. Park Avenue is full of boutique shops for clothing, some souvenirs and restaurants galore. hardly a chain store there. It also has one of the few cheese shops I have ever seen in the south which, as a critic of American cheese taste and texture, I was pleased to say had tasty American cheeses that were delicious. (Dinner last night was an array of different ones.) Outside one restaurant, there was an a electronic organ player wooing the Sunday lunch diners with soft classics. Further done was an art deco building, the Pottery Barn, reminding you of the art deco district of Miami. And the road was bricks not tar to add to he small village, lost-in-time atmosphere. National Geographic magazine called Winter Park the 38th most visited historic destination in the US two years ago. Founded in1882 which must make it one of the oldest places in central Florida, Winter Park calls itself the city of culture and heritage.
But shops are not to everyones’s taste (ie mine) so what else is there to do? Most people know that there are quite a few lakes around here.
An hour long cruise will cost about $12. We went on the 12 mile trip run by Scenic Boat Tours which cruises Lakes Osceola and Maitland. The lakes are up to 30 foot deep and the occasional alligator can be seen according to our skipper. I saw none, just egrets and plastic owls which are supposed to scare away the other birds from landing. Just a walk from Park Avenue, these cruises pass by some of the grandest houses you’ll see. On a historic note, this was the area where the Seminole native Americans wintered, a habit picked up by later visitors who then decided to stay all the year round. The cruises have a running commentry as you travel covering the past inhabitants of some of the houses, the plants and the sights. Beware the humour! Dan, our skipper, told tall tales about the hibiscus plants and which house he lived in (turned out to be a police boathouse!) but, that aside, he know their stuff. Trees adorned with a hanging air plant called Spanish Moss eerily droops from the branches of so many trees so that when you go down the narrow canals that link the lakes, you can touch them, as well as the banks. Only between 10 and 20 foot wide, the boat is 8 feet wide so there are plenty of opportunities for bumping the sides as you navigate the chicanes. Other boats wait while you go through. So peaceful is it, so quiet and such a world away from the known Orlando that Tom Hanks used the setting for one of his HBO films. For a break from the hurly buly of Disneyworld, Universal and International Drive, Winter Park is perfect antidote for a half or full day vsit.

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