10 Reasons to Visit Orlando This Winter

Sea Life Orlando Aquarium

A kaleidoscope of colors wows families as 5,000 sea creatures explore their new habitats at the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium, set in I-Drive 360. Plan to spend the better part of an afternoon exploring the attraction, as all ages delight at the close encounters with the aquarium’s sharks, Green Sea turtles, and jellyfish. With an emphasis on education and conservation, the Sea Life Aquarium’s exhibits are playful and informative, with fun features that include a 360-degree ocean tunnel and a children’s soft play area.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

From boy wonder to theme park phenomenon, Harry Potter has triumphantly arrived in Orlando by way of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Thrilling Muggles since 2010 with the impeccably-themed Hogsmeade at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, incredible demand for more Potter brought 2014’s Diagon Alley, a new extension accessible only by the Hogwarts Express (arriving on Platform 9¾, of course). Among the highlights of the two lands, Diagon Alley’s Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts is a flagship attraction, taking riders on a 3-D steel coaster through detailed sets, physical effects, and stunning video sequences.

Morimoto Asia Restaurant

Opening this past September, Disney Springs welcomes its newest flagship restaurant, Morimoto Asia, a gourmand destination for the finest in sushi and fresh takes on Pan Asian cuisine. Created by the master himself, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, marvel at the prep and masterful pairing of flavors in the custom-crafted sushi rolls with exotic offerings that include Japanese red snapper, uni, and sea eel. More traditional Asian cuisine excites taste buds with a menu that includes dim sum plates, Morimoto’s indulgent spare ribs, and orange chicken. Packed nightly, reservations are accepted and highly recommended, accepted from 180 days prior to your visit – a culinary experience that’s worth the wait.

Legoland’s Heartlake City and Legoland Florida Resort Hotel

Only four years old, LEGOLAND Florida continues to expand its 150 acre property with this past summer’s new land, Heartlake City and the new LEGOLAND Hotel. Based on the LEGO Friends toy series, Heartlake City brings a girl-focused experience to the park, with attractions that include Mia’s Riding Adventure, a rotating disc coaster featuring horse shaped seats, as well as the new Friends to the Rescue live stage show. As for the new LEGOLAND Hotel, Lego construction is always underway as activities include the chance to learn from a LEGO Master Builder in a special workshop, nightly LEGO building competitions, as well as nightly visits from LEGO characters, a pajama party, and movie screenings.

Orlando Eye

Get the best lay of the land and the region’s theme parks as you ascend to the heights of one of Orlando’s newest attractions, The Orlando Eye. Only fifteen minutes from Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando, the 400-foot Ferris wheel anchors I-Drive 360, Orlando’s new $250-million family entertainment destination. The wheel’s thirty high-tech capsules complete a rotation every thirty minutes. Apple iPad Air tablets onboard help to locate points of interest throughout the trip which include the nearby theme parks, scenic landscapes, and visibility of more than fifty miles east to Cape Canaveral and the coast of the Atlantic. A hot new attraction on the Orlando scene, be sure to book tickets ahead of your visit as time slots can sell out.

Star Wars Launch Bay

Fire up your lightsaber and prepare for incredible access to the Star Wars galaxy with Disney World’s newest attraction, Star Wars Launch Bay. Serving as the new hub for the park’s Star Wars craze and capitalizing on the timing of the record-breaking new film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this walk-through attraction features an immersive world of replica props, models, and costumes that have become treasured artifacts of cinematic history. A ten minute featurette in the Launch Bay Theater takes fans on a behind-the-scenes look at the creation and inspiration of the Star Wars films including interviews with cast members, directors, writers, and more who’ve played a part in bringing the iconic films to the silver screen.

Crayola Experience

Spend an afternoon exercising your right-brain as creativity runs wild at the Crayola Experience, a 70,000-square-foot haven of color that arrived in Orlando this past summer. An overwhelming twenty five interactive stations extend throughout the two floor center. Don’t miss the younger set’s favorite: You Design, a virtual studio for coloring and digitally accessorizing a car or fashion wardrobe before watching the personal design make its debut on a large projected screen. Also be sure to make it a priority to check out the Crayon Factory, where live demonstrations show the crayon creation process from wax to wrapper.

The Boathouse

Retooling Downtown Disney into the newly christened Disney Springs, The BOATHOUSE arrives as a contemporary and upscale seafood eatery on the waterfront. The fresh seafood and appetizing entrees take a back seat to the restaurant’s main attraction, amphicar tours. Vintage retrofitted vehicles offer the chance for a one-of-a-kind tour of Disney Springs as the vessel’s four wheels submerge underwater and a propeller jet glides riders throughout the lake. The tour costs $125 which includes a Car Captain and seating for up to three guests. Before and after dinner, you’ll want to be sure to make time to explore the restaurant’s impressive fleet of nineteen rare boats throughout the premises, with some featuring custom table arrangements in the dining room for a most nautical experience on land.


Enjoy the nightly fireworks of Disney’s Magic Kingdom from the comforts of your private plunge pool on the deck of your bungalow (with the music of the show piped in through outdoor speakers on the deck!), one of the newest lodging options offered at Disney's Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. Taking a page from the picture-perfect overwater retreats of the South Pacific, Disney has built twenty overwater Bora Bora Bungalows, the first of their kind in the US, on the Seven Seas Lagoon. With rates that start at $2,137 per night, guests can expect accommodations for up to eight, with a full kitchen and dining table that seat eight.

WinterClub Indoor Ski & Snowboard

Proof that heading south doesn't cancel out winter sports, opt for the truly unique experience of skiing and snowboarding in shorts and a t-shirt at Orlando’s WinterClub Indoor Ski & Snowboard. Having opened just a few weeks ago, the region’s first and only indoor ski center welcomes ski and snowboarding enthusiasts at all levels to come practice and play on their high-tech “endless slopes.” WinterClub’s interactive Ski Simulator fuses high-definition large video wall ski runs with a unique chassis that allows skiers to experience the same G-force effects as they would skiing in real life.

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National FFCMH 28th Annual Conference in Orlando

National FFCMH 28th Annual Conference

This event is hosted by: National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health
Website: http://www.ffcmh.org/conference
Registration: https://nationalffcmh.eventbrite.com

Did you know that 1 in 5 children in America experience social, emotional and behavioral challenges? One undisputed constant in our society is that all children who survive childhood and adolescence will become adults. For children who experience untreated behavioral health disorders, this typically results in adults who continue to struggle with symptoms, who become parents and who perpetuate this cycle. The impact of this reoccurring cycle is felt throughout our society.

For over 25 years, the National Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health has been the nationwide advocacy organization with families as its sole focus, playing an important role in helping children, youth and their families whose lives are impacted by mental health challenges. This important work is supported largely by the generous donors like you who contribute to our cause.

Our 28th Annual Conference will feature many great workshops and speakers this year, joining hundreds of mental health advocates and professionals from across the nation as we work to educate and empower children, youth, and families!

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Orlando's 5 Strangest Attractions

1. Gatorland

Part of Florida's great charm is its penchant for local kitsch, and Gatorland certainly fits the bill. For more than 60 years, this quirky spot has entertained travelers from the moment they stroll through the park's enormous, alligator mouth-shaped entrance. The 110-acre theme park is the self-proclaimed "Alligator Capital of the World," and houses hundreds of gators which you'll see up-close on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Alligator Breeding Marsh, or during one of the parks Gator Wrestlin' or Gator Jumparoo (yes, gators can jump) shows. Adventurous visitors can ride the 1,200-foot-long Screamin' Gator Zipline, whizzing past hungry gators down below. If you still don't have your fill of reptiles, the Trainer for a Day program allows you to hold baby alligators.

2. Holy Land Experience

Billed as a "living, biblical history museum," the Holy Land Experience easily wins our award for the most unexpected Orlando attraction. This Christian-themed park recreates the ancient city of Jerusalem. You'll enter the complex through an archway modeled after the Damascus Gate, then wander past 40 exhibits, including a Middle Eastern marketplace complete with touts dressed in period garb, and a replica of the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed. Interactivity is key at the Holy Land, and guests can watch live entertainment in the Temple Plaza, take part in a Baptism ceremony, or even watch a live reenactment of the Passion of Christ.

3. The Presidents Hall of Fame

Sure you can trek all the way up to Washington D.C. for a lesson in White House history – or, while you're chilling in Orlando, you can make your way to the President's Hall of Fame, which pays homage to the nation's capital, as well as its monuments and history. Visitors can stroll past miniature recreations of sights like Mount Rushmore, the Lincoln Memorial, and of course, the White House. In fact, the White House has been so lovingly designed that there are representations of each room of the house during every president's residency there – yup, all 43 of them. These White House displays rotate regularly. Other exhibits include recreations of First Lady inaugural ball gowns, animatronic presidents, china patterns, and even a dresser that once lived in Caroline Kennedy's bedroom.

4. American Ghost Adventures

Too often, visitors arrive in Orlando and only experience the thrills of the city's shiny, new attractions, when in fact, the town has a storied history that's also well worth exploring. The City of Orlando was founded in 1885, and today, people can see some of that history in the original building of Church Street Station and on historic tours. One unique way to dive into the city's past is on a haunted tour with American Ghost Adventures. Guides with a penchant for the paranormal lead guests on a hunt for the hereafter's (mostly friendly) spirits. You'll trek through some of the city's oldest hotels and buildings, passing by notorious haunted spots. During the latter half of the tour, guests are given EMF detectors, so that they can witness some of the electromagnetic oddities in Orlando's buildings for themselves. A haunted pub tour is also available, for those in need of liquid courage.

5. Wonderworks

No, you're not seeing things; the Wonderworks building actually is built upside down, and plopped smack on the street in Orlando. This "amusement park for the mind" serves to spark the imagination and broaden the intellect with more than 100 interactive exhibits. Legend has it that the space was once a top-secret laboratory in the Bermuda Triangle, but after an experiment when terribly wrong it was flung through the skies and landed upside down on International Drive. Visitors will have the chance to experience an earthquake in the Disaster Zone, lie on a bed of 3,500 nails, experience hurricane-force winds of 71-mph in the Hurricane Shack, and climb into a replica space capsule.

Arts Season Preview: Six events for an arts lover's serious side

Of course, not everything arts-related is meant to be jolly. Here are a half-dozen events from the 2017-18 arts season that dive into weightier issues while they entertain.

•"Baggage Claims": In this Orlando Museum of Art exhibition, an international group of 18 artists explores the mobility of global culture, especially in regard to the humanitarian, economic and political concerns of those fleeing conflict or other hardships. The title refers to physical travel, but also to "emotional baggage" that people cannot leave behind. (Sept. 15-Dec. 31, omart.org)

•"La Boheme": Opera Orlando forgoes the iconic comedy mask for its companion – tragedy. "La Boheme" tells the story of impoverished friends in 19th-century Paris. At its center is the love of Mimi and Rodolfo, a romance derailed by illness. (Nov. 15-19, operaorlando.org)

•"Romeo and Juliet": Another case of love gone tragically wrong takes the stage as Orlando Ballet presents a dance adaptation of Shakespeare's best-known romance, set to a score by Prokofiev. The young couple are torn apart by their warring families with disastrous consequences. (Feb. 9-11, orlandoballet.org)

•"American Roots": This Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra concert features two works by the great U.S. composer Aaron Copland. His "Quiet City" is an ode to New York – and the lonely people who inhabit it. The thorny issues of politics, love, death and religion inspired his "Old American Songs." (April 2, orlandophil.org)

•"Writings on the Wall": NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will speak at Rollins College's Winter Park Institute this spring. Although his basketball playing was serious business, don't be surprised if the six-time league MVP has more important things on his mind. An activist and best-selling author, Abdul-Jabbar regularly contributes to The Washington Post and Time magazine, where he writes on socially relevant and politically controversial topics. (April 4, winterparkinstitute.org)

•"African-American Masterpieces": Marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park presents a concert of three symphonic spirituals: "Negro Symphony," "And They Lynched Him on a Tree" and "The Ordering of Moses." (April 21-22, bachfestivalflorida.org)

Top 10 Things to Do This Summer in Orlando

With the help of our Facebook fans, here's our list of the hottest summer "must-dos" in the Orlando area.

1. Our Facebook fan Tiffany N. suggests Gatorland, and starting this month, experience 1,200 feet of high-flying adventure on the new Screamin' Gator Zip Line.

2. Explore The Grand Reef, opening June 10 at Discovery Cove. For a more exhilarating adventure, try the underwater walking tour, SeaVenture, which offers up-close encounters with schools of fish and rays. Don't forget to swim with the dolphins while you're there (from Facebook fan Allison W.).

3. Cycle through the treetops on the Cypress Canopy Cycle, a new ecotourism experience at Forever Florida that's the first of its kind in the U.S.

4. Spend your summer nights swaying to the tunes of live concerts at the Amway Center, House of Blues, Hard Rock Live Orlando or check out the summer concert series at Universal Studios (Saturday nights June 11-July 16) and Epcot (June 12 - July 30).

5. As our Facebook fan Constanze N. suggests, indulge in some retail therapy in Orlando's ever-growing shopping options, including The Mall at Millenia and Orlando Premium Outlets.

6. The summer must-do from Facebook fan Amanda P.? "EAT!" Well, treat your taste buds at one of Orlando's newest eateries like Pine 22 and Chico's Dirty Tacos and Tequila in downtown Orlando or Cocina 214 in Winter Park.

7. Beat the summer heat at Orlando's coolest water parks, including Aquatica - SeaWorld's Waterpark, Wet ‘n Wild - Orlando (from Facebook fan Justin E.), Disney's Typhoon Lagoon or Disney's Blizzard Beach.

8. If kicking back at cool pool is a must for your resort stay, check out the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, Nickelodeon Suites Resort, Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa or Orlando World Center Marriott (editor's note: their pool was voted one of the World's Coolest Hotel Pools by Forbes!).

9. Celebrate Independence Day at SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort, Walt Disney World Resort or Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando for the Fireworks at the Fountain event.

10. Keep the family cool at one of Orlando's indoor museums like the Orlando Science Center, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art or even Ripley's Believe It or Not! Orlando Odditorium (from Facebook fans Joe K. and Christi S.).


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