Sunday, February 28, 2016

Touring Central Florida

As our visit with Amber and Eddie continued I searched the web for ideas of things to do here in Central Florida.  This is the 3rd visit for them since we moved here, so in past visits we had already experienced most of the attractions and some local parks, beaches or historical sites.  So I wanted to find things that not only had they not visited, but we haven't been to either.  After our visit Wednesday to the St. John's Eco Tour (covered in my last blog post) they spent the day Thursday with extended family at the Magic Kingdom, while I remained home with the girls for Hannah's violin lesson and to do some schooling.

Left to right Eddie, Cousin Daniel and his wife Ingrid, Aunt Jenny, Uncle Pat and Amber

Then on Friday with Kevin taking a day off work and Cameron's school schedule getting off early he was able to meet all of us at the Orlando Eye.  I thought this would offer a unique perspective of the Orlando area.  I bought the tickets online, so we were all set for our trip once Cameron joined us.

Admittedly, I'm not crazy about heights or confined spaces, so I had a few butterflies about this, but still thought the experience would be worthwhile.  Glad to say this was the case.  It certainly helped that it was an absolutely GORGEOUS day.  The sun was shining and the temperatures were cool for Florida.  This combo made for a wonderful day to tour about comfortably.

After arriving and gathering our tickets at the will call line, we had a few minutes to kill, so we walked out front and took some pictures, then moved inside to enter the facility for the 4D film they show prior to your ride on the Orlando Eye.  We quickly moved out to the short line and stepped aboard our air conditioned viewing coach that moves slowly up to the pinnacle view point of this towering 400 foot observation wheel.

Our group shot purchased from the Orlando Eye Photo Stand

My crew checking out our views

All my girls

View from the pinnacle of the ride with Amber and Eddie reflected in the glass

Almost back to the start

It was really pretty up there and after taking lots of pictures we slowly made our way back to the starting point.  Having spotted a place to try for lunch from the painted roof top ad, we headed out and over to a restaurant called Cafe Tu Tu Tango.

This restaurant is full of art work and has it's own creed listed on the menu.  They serve only appetizer size foods, and as our waiter said it comes from different kitchens and will arrive at differing times, so you have to search for  a variety of foods that sound good to you and try to anticipate how much will feed your group.

My troop waiting for our food

The food itself was delicious, with each dish bursting with flavor and arriving attractively displayed. However, this is not a restaurant I would recommend for a group that's hungry and looking for a really satisfying meal.  The portions are SMALL and pricey, they take a long time to arrive and with a table of obnoxious kids seated at the table next to us we weren't enjoying the artsy atmosphere (not the restaurants fault I know, but our experience).  This would be a good place for a group that just wanted some drinks and snacks prior to going to one of the many entertainment venues along International Drive, or a couple looking for a leisurely evening to sit, snack and talk (they do have an outside seating area).  It's not as I said a destination for a hungry crew looking for a satisfying meal, we left with a good size chunk taken from our wallet and still a bit hungry.

Our next stop was a brief walk up the street to take a photo of a wild building we spotted as we drove over to the Orlando Eye.  It's the Wonderworks Entertainment Center.  We didn't go in, as we had other plans, but I had to get a photo of this crazy building that's made to look like one that's been picked up by a tornado and dumped upside down on this location. Will have to check this out at a future date.

We walked back to the van and drove a short distance over to The Chocolate Kingdom to take the factory tour.  I had seen a short feature on one of the local news stations about this tour here in Orlando.  If you ever decide to do this make sure you go online and buy a coupon from groupon.  I didn't and regretted the savings I could have had, sadly I realized this once we were home and I looked into pricing options available - learn from my mistake.

Lots of goodies at the front counter

The tour began by showing us their greenhouse room with small chocolate trees growing the cacao pods that produce the chocolate that we all love so.  From there we watched a film with some trivia facts as we waited for our whole group to be ready to start the tour.  After our guide Deanna joined us she introduced us to the video tour guides that would be repeated throughout this tour and the story line that goes along with it.

Greenhouse area with plants and samples of the cacao pods

Our video story and "guides".

We were introduced to the history of chocolate and given samples of the strong spicy drink that the Aztecs made from the cocoa beans and peppers. We also tasted what a bean tastes like on its own.  It has a flavor that is strong and bitter and doesn't seem to have much in common with the chocolate products we are so used to. If you've ever tasted Bakers Chocolate you have a good idea of what the pods taste like, without the crunch of the outer shell.

The chocolate history sets with cocoa bean samples

Chocolate Kingdom set and girls playing the game of catapulting the marshmallows into the dragons mouth

After our history lessons we continued with activities pertaining to the chocolate kingdom of the video story, then went to the equipment room where the processing of the beans is turned into white, milk or dark chocolate products.  We tasted the pure super dark liquid that is extremely bitter after the beans are roasted and crushed, then liquefied in the large crusher they have.  After an explanation of the products produced in the crushing we were given samples of true white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate - Yummy!!

The refining and conching process and machines are here, the large vats top left of various chocolate liquids, and the women making the personalized bars of chocolate for the girls and Eddie and Amber.

Chocolate samples

Our final stop was to see the personalized bars made that I ordered at the start of our tour.  We had one made for Amber and Eddie and then Hannah and Lauren watched as their bar was put together.
After this we headed to the front to shop and wait for the bars to arrive on the conveyor system they have and with that our chocolate factory tour was done.  This was fun, but as I said if you want to do this take advantage of the real discounts available.  It's a bit pricey for what you get out of the tour and it's not an actual factory tour, but a group of sets explaining the history and process.  In truth they would do better to drop the price and would make up significantly on participant volume and after tour shopping. - Just saying.   It was a time to try something different, learn new facts about a product we were otherwise very familiar with. And to enjoy the tastes and treats associated with that product.

Amber with their chocolate bar

So with this our day concluded as we headed home for a quiet evening and an earlier get up to go touring at a new destination for our travel experiences.  Stay tuned.

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