Best Week Ever is a series that began as a way to take you along for a jam packed journey through Orlando’s theme parks and other attractions. Along the way our contributors have changed, but our approach remains: to make the most of every visit. This past week I have been fortunate enough to have one of my absolute best weeks ever, and I am excited to share some of the highlights with you.
Independence Day Weekend is a cause for celebration throughout the entire country. In recent years it has meant traveling to my parents’ home and spending time with my brother, sister in law, and my five nieces and nephews. Such was the case this year. Cedar Key, FL feels worlds apart from the hustle and bustle of Orlando. It is about a two and a half hour drive to this island that sits in the Northwest corner of Florida. This little island has a small town feel; there are no chain restaurants, one school, one gas station, time moves slower here. If you have enough time in your Central Florida vacation for a side trip somewhere in Florida, consider Cedar Key for a dramatic change of pace.
The drive to and from is actually one of my favorite parts of a visit to Cedar Key. There a few routes from which to choose, each having at least one portion that consists of driving through backroads, past horse farms, goat farms, and country landscape. Driving through this scenery made for a beautiful way to start Independence Day 2016.
I arrived back in the metropolitan sprawl of the Orlando area close to lunch time. I made the journey from one small town and was about to head to another. Later that afternoon a friend and I arrived at Celebration, FL. This is the town that Disney built. It is perfectly manicured and was the catalyst for the birth of many other planned communities throughout the country. Although Disney no longer owns the community, if you are a Disney fan a visit to Celebration will prove entertaining and enjoyable.
Major holidays are a great time to visit Celebration. Independence Day, the holiday season, and New Year’s Eve are especially enjoyable with entertainment and festivities filling the downtown Celebration area. A full schedule of events for Independence Day consisted of a parade through the community in the morning, a block party with a DJ, food and drink tents filling the market square streets, an incredible concert, and stunning fireworks to cap it off.
The concert in particular piqued my interest. Mac MaCanally and Eric Darken are two very important people in the world of Parrotheads (Jimmy Buffett fans). When my friend and I arrived we were early enough to see Mac and Eric’s sound check. I couldn’t believe our luck. It was like having our own private concert.
Celebration has a great selection of restaurants. My favorites are near each other, in the Market Square area. Celebration Town Tavern is by far the most popular spot, offering great New England style food and a friendly atmosphere. Columbia is a Florida staple. The original opened in Florida in 1905 and now there are locations in Florida’s most famous locales.
Finally there’s the Bohemian Hotel which has the Lakeside Bar and Grill. The bar itself has a really cool Florida themed mural and a nice happy hour too. For the 4th of July festivities, the Bohemian Hotel had a few food and beverage tents, including beer from Crooked Can, a craft brewery that has taken Central Florida by storm.
The concert itself was unforgettable. Mac is a consummate storyteller, and one heck of a song writer. He kept on going through the rain and the audience seemed to appreciate his down to Earth showmanship. Eric Darken’s percussion made for the perfect accompaniment.
The evening wrapped up with an impressive fireworks display, one that rivals the more well known displays around town. The dazzling colors reflected in the water is now a vision cemented in my mind. The bombardment of fireworks at the end nearly overwhelmed me. Celebration may have become my new go-to alternative for major holiday celebrations.
The next day I had some free time in the afternoon. I had been able to secure a FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After a few weeks prior. I was excited to experience it considering most reviews so far have been positive. I arrived with about 45 minutes to go. The oppressive summer heat beared down on me. My first stop had to be Club Cool.
Not only can you enjoy free samples of Coca-Cola products from around the world, but there is ample air conditioning here. My favorite selection is actually not a soda. VegitaBeta is my favorite because it is not sugary and has a slight nutritional value. Although the massive Coca-Cola Store has opened at Disney Springs, Club Cool and its free samples seem to be sticking around (get it? Sticking around? Cause…. the floor…. it’s sticky…..).
In a boat ride kind of mood I headed over to the Mexico Pavilion to take a Grand Fiesta Tour. This enchanting boat ride is a favorite of mine, and I love that you can almost always walk right on it. The recent addition of the Three Caballeros Audio Animatronic figures makes the ride even more of a modern classic.
After my journey to Mexico I was prepared to use my FastPass+ to journey to Arendalle. Sadly, when I arrived Frozen Ever After was not operational. This new ride has had quite a few technical challenges since opening. I was pretty disappointed because FastPass+ for Frozen Ever After books about a month out.
However, the convenient thing is a FastPass+ showed up in the MyDisneyExperience app that I could use at any attraction of my choice. I did not have to make my selection in the app, instead I simply walked over to The Land pavilion and headed to the FastPass+ entrance of Soarin’ (Around the World). I touched my MagicBand on the touch point and viola! I was in! I did notice that standby was posted at 45 minutes. That third theater has really made a dent in capacity!
I won’t give any spoilers about the new Soarin’ experience. I will say that over the years of riding Soarin’ so many times (when I was on the Dream Squad I often escorted families onto the ride and road with them) I no longer felt any sensation remotely close to flying. With the new footage I felt a tinge of excitement that had once grown dormant. I miss the original version, but I am not angry over this new version either.
After my quick trip around the world I wanted a satisfying snack. Thankfully Seasons, right next to Soarin, is a great counter service option with a nice selection of grab and go items. I opted for the Chilled Noodle Salad ($3.99) – a small portion not meant for a meal, but with the heat I craved something small and refreshing, it hit the spot!
The week of busy events had taken its toll on me. One week ago from this visit to Epcot I enjoyed great live music from John Frinzi with friends. John has been playing the Porch of Indecision at Margaritaville for nearly ten years and sadly the management at Universal CityWalk and Margaritaville decided to discontinue booking him (to the dismay of many fans). The next night The Detentions, a great duo from Austin, TX, school teachers who double as happy hour heroes, performed at Tin Roof Orlando. Both nights rank high in recent memories. Finally the trip to Cedar Key, although relaxing, took a bit of energy too.
Suffice to say, a few hours in the heat at Epcot was just enough. In one week I was able to enjoy great live music, time with friends, time with family, small town Florida, and one of the best theme parks in the world. Yep, one of the best weeks ever…but after such a week, rest is needed.