Sunday, August 28, 2011


Looking for a stress-free, low cost wonderful afternoon near Disney?  Celebration fits the bill.

Celebration is Disney's charming anywhere USA town that was built from the ground up in the mid-80's.  People came from all over the country to be in a lottery just for the chance to purchase a home in the town. The idea (a dream of Walt's) was that this would be a place where children could ride their bikes safely, a bit of a utopia.  Disney is no longer involved but Celebration thrives as a gorgeous town with a lovely lake-front city center and golf course. It's quite large with its own high school.

For children, there is a wonderful outdoor fountain to play in (like the one at the Marketplace but smaller), a lakefront walk (great for strollers), good casual restaurants with outdoor seating and a fun bakery. You can grab a latte at Starbucks or relax on their outdoor patio before you stroll the shops on the main street.

There is a large Columbia restaurant in Celebration.  A very popular standby based in Ybor city in Tampa, you can enjoy a leisurely Spanish-Cuban meal here... It's fun and different, kid friendly.  Great for large groups.

Celebration dresses up for the holidays and has "snow" once a week. It's a kind of soap bubble concoction that comes down on cue to absolutely enchant the kids.  Drive around and look at the lights in the neighborhoods... it's magical!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mall at Milennia for Kidz!

Welcome to Orlando's premiere shopping destination, Mall at Milennia. Think it's too fancy for kids? Think again. There's enough to keep them happily entertained for hours. Without lines or gate charges!

Park near the Mall at Milennia food court upstairs or Neiman Marcus downstairs.  Why?  Great fountains in both places!  Plus the best central locations with lots of spaces. Don't make the usual visitor mistake and park by Macys, which is always bustling, but stuck at the end of the less interesting and upscale side of Mall of Milennia.

Upstairs by the doors in the center of Mall at Milennia, there is a large outdoor fountain and then, voila, you are in a huge food court. There are immense, clean bathrooms on your left with changing tables and room for strollers. Plus full length mirrors that are fun for toddlers to watch themselves in!  If older kids or men are waiting for the rest of the family, they can sit on comfy benches outside the restrooms and play with their cell phones.

If you park downstairs, walk to the right of Neiman Marcus, past the outside patio of Brio restaurant to the bank of doors and enter here. (Neiman Marcus is not kid friendly, despite the great service, it's just too quiet!) Inside these doors you'll find a gorgeous long fountain with a small bridge through it. There's lots of seating on the flat granite on the side of the fountain and kids are always running around. It's prime people watching, too.

If you have a little money to spend and aren't in a hurry, put your name on the waiting list at Cheesecake Factory. One person can stay and wait while the others do whatever. Kids of all ages LOVE this restaurant. The menu is extensive, the food is delicious and the desserts are amazing. It's noisy and fun, perfect for large multi-generational groups.

Brio is also bustling; and the food is very good. An upscale experience with an open kitchen, white tablecloths and attentive service at the same prices as Cheesecake factory. More bistro than Italian, there's also a nice bar here if someone wants to catch the game or just needs a break.  If you're a healthy eater, you'll find wonderful chicken (a house specialty), fish and salads here. Locals love Brio for casual meals. Sit outside if the weather is nice.

Past the downstairs fountain are stairs, elevators and escalators to the Mall at Milennia food court above. You'll find Starbucks upstairs and downstairs.

Upstairs, at the entrance to the Mall at Milennia food court are two VERY child-friendly, reasonably- priced restaurants, Panera Bread on the right and California Pizza Kitchen on the left.  Panera has great pastries and bagels, which they toast on request and sandwiches/soup. Plus very good coffee. California Pizza Kitchen has, well, pizza, and other good lunch or casual dinner fare.

Looking for free food to fill up hungry pre-teens? They'll love walking the Mall at Milennia food court to get free bourbon and sesame chicken samples. Sometimes they can get smoothies, cookies and garlic bread too! It's fun and filling.

For a quick sweet treat for all, hit the Lindt store inside the mall, just past the Mall at Milennia food court. With a great selection of individual pieces of chocolate and chocolate bars, satisfy everyone for a ridiculously small amount of money. Gift shopping? Snag a charming seasonal gift or cute wrapped item (Santa, Bunny, etc.) to add to a basket or wrapped package.

Mall at Milennia stores kids love

Here's a list to get you started. Add your faves.

Game Stop for video games, FYE for popular culture items, including music, videos, posters, etc., the Apple store for... Apple, the Sony store for... Sony, Urban Outfitters for cheap accessories and room gear

Cool Clothes
Guess, Hollister, Bebe, Juicy Couture, Anthropology, Bloomingdales, Pink at the huge Victorias Secret, Urban Outfitters (again), Forever 21 (immense store!)

Williams Sonoma for kids that cook (and free samples), Museum Store for smart kids, Pottery Barn Kids, Brookstone

Special note
Dylan's Candy Bar in Bloomingdales (Ground Floor to right of inside mall entrance) is fun for everyone!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kids LOVE Florida Mall

Going to Florida Mall with your Kids?

Drive around to the BACK of Florida Mall and park near Macy's. This is the newer, more upscale side of the mall.  It's also home to the nicer stores and the best attractions.

First and foremost, don't miss the M & M Store!  Kids love this. They will talk about it for weeks!

Then walk to Adrenalina to see locals surfing in the surf tank. Really, an actual surf tank in a store in the Florida Mall.  It's a great surf store, too, with a huge selection.

Looking for adorable all-American mini-prep clothes? Hit the large Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store. Make sure you go to the right one.... Florida Mall is so huge that there is a separate A & F store for teens too!

For young children and pre-teen girls, Build-A-Bear is a must see. There you can watch or participate in building a personalized stuffed bear or dog or rabbit or... whatever.  They are all adorable and a great keepsake from Orlando. You can build a cheerleading bear or a Yankees fan bear or... you get the idea.  They have tons of accessories, too. My fave is the mini-cell phone. Every bear needs one.

A highlight for the teenage girls (and their Moms) is Sephora. Make-up heaven with great cult brands like MakeUp Forever and Nars, plus upscale standbys like Dior and Chanel.  Makeovers are FREE. It is located is right next to the M & M Store in the new part of Florida Mall.

Hungry yet?  Or just need caffeine? Head to the middle of the mall for the Florida Mall food court.  It's international and fun with lots of great food choices, but- warning- it is noisy. Perfect for kids, awful for a date or a serious convo.

Near the food court, teen boys can check out Gamestop for the latest video games. 

Now for that latte, there is a Starbucks by the Florida Mall food court. Even better, there is a wonderful little Euro-cafe-stand attached to Nordstrom. Yummy, they have snacks and a few sandwiches too. There are also cute white tables in the mall there, so if your baby is sleeping quietly, you can relax in a quiet sunny spot in the AC. Or you can just let the tribe run around for a while, since there is plenty of space and it's a relatively quiet part of the mall.

For a sit-down lunch or dinner, try Buca de Beppo between Macys and Nordstrom. Famed for huge portions, it's very casual and fun for large groups. Not a date spot, but a fun time with good food.

Nordstrom also has a lovely undiscovered cafe on the second floor.  Food quality and service are very good. Children are welcome. You can even get a nice glass of wine.

Have fun in Florida Mall!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Disney Marketplace: No lines. Kids LOVE this place.

Looking for some cool Orlando-only attractions that don't cost anything? This is the first in a series on local favorites that are great for kids. Today's discovery is Downtown Disney Marketplace

Disney Marketplace is always a low stress, fun place for families. Imagine an attraction where you can experience the Magic without lines or turnstiles! 

Don't park by Cirque de Soleil or House of Blues. That is the wrong end of the complex, literally miles from the child-friendly party of Downtown Disney.  Drive to the other end of the parking lot for "Disney Marketplace".

Locals visit the Marketplace for the Lego store which has a great outdoor play area, the Ghirardelli soda fountain and Ice cream parlor (chocolate ice cream- amazing) and the huge Disney toy store, which features a giant Mr Potato Head and myriad versions of Disney toys. 

Need a break?  Sit and enjoy a cool drink at tables by the lake while the toddlers run around.  Moms love this!  

If your children are older, there is a HUGE fountain where they can run in and out of the water. Trust me, you will have to pull them away, they can do this for hours!  Luckily, there is a great Disney food store right next door for the inevitable hunger that strikes after this type of action.

If you want to splurge a little and you have time, put your name on the list at Rainforest Cafe. For elementary school-aged kids, this place is magic. You have to eat anyway, right?  The animatronic animals and simulated rainstorms are great. The food is good, too and they have a full bar, great for weary parents. The bar is large and usually uncrowded compared to the very popular restaurant, a good spot for Dad to watch the game if the vacation coincides with the playoffs in his favorite sport.  Finally, even if you don't eat at RC, check out their gift shop.  Lots of fun items, especially for pre-teens.

Seasonally, the Marketplace dresses up for holidays and there are events for children. If you are here for the holidays, don't miss the Christmas shopping and decor. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Be Cool at Mall of Milennia

For a nice afternoon that costs you nothing unless you succumb to wiles of the retail genie, hit the gorgeous Mall of Milennia.

Park at Neiman Marcus.

Walk through the ground floor, admiring the men's and women's jewelry and then the cosmetics, shoes and fragrances. It's a short but enjoyable walk through to the mall.

If you love art and beautiful things or need to hit the restroom, take the escalator upstairs at Neiman's. The restrooms are in the back on the left, the "gallery" is on your immediate right.  The collections change seasonally, but always lots of beautiful things to inspire creativity and desire.

Once you get to the mall, head left for Bloomingdales. On the way, there are lots of nice stops, including a Pottery Barn Home store.

New at Bloomingdales, on the ground floor past cosmetics, is a Nespresso gallery. Here, handsome men will demonstrate how the machines work, making real drinks that taste like Italy. It's the best free show around.

This store has good service in all departments. Need free styling advice for an event or an interview? Want to try the latest perfumes? Just ask.

Head back to the center of the mall by leaving the second floor of Bloomingdales.  You'll pass lots of upscale labels.  Some local faves are Tiffany and Gucci. New arrivals are Juicy Couture and Michael Kors. Don't be unnerved by the security guards, just act like you belong there.

The food court is in the center of the mall on the second floor PAST where you entered through Neiman Marcus. There's a Starbucks upstairs and one downstairs.  If the lines are too long at Starbucks, head to the back of the food court for Panera Bread, where you can get very good coffee with a bagel or pastry. Note: the restrooms in the food court are extensive and clean.

The other half of the mall, while very nice, is not as upscale or entertaining.  If you need something in particular, there are lots of everyday stores that may have it- Ann Taylor, Bath and Body Works, Kenneth Cole, (a huge 3-story) Macy's, etc.  There's an Urban Outfitters and an enormous Forever 21 across from the food court.


Get ready for your trip!

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