Member Monday: Our Creative Director Shows us the Wild Side of Orlando

On a recent family reunion in Orlando, our Creative Director, Stacey Gregory, spent some time treating her family to the little treasures in the area. From airboats to spaceships to alligators, check out her recommendations in this Global Connections employee edition of our weekly Member Monday.

Where would you recommend a member to go to…
Eat
In Orlando, you find lots and lots of chains – Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Cracker Barrel to name a few. While they are great places to eat (we had breakfast at Cracker Barrel all but one morning), we did find some local gems.

Bruno’s Italian Restaurant is right up the road from Villas at Island Club with amazing spaghetti and lasagna. We didn’t order one, but the pizzas were huge! On our trip back from Kennedy Space Center, we stopped at Dixie Crossroads in Titusville. I had amazing shrimp and grits while my family devoured shrimp.

Shop
There are tons of outlets in Orlando and Kissimmee for every brand you could want. And if you want Disney memorabilia, it’s everywhere, even the drug stores. I really enjoyed shopping at the Artegon Marketplace, an “anti-mall” filled with local artisans selling their wares. I got the cutest little flavored honey bears from the Happy Honey Bee to bring back to my coworkers, all farmed right in Orlando.

Have fun/attractions

I cannot say enough about our airboat ride with Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Tours. Captain Harold educated us about the swamp and its inhabitants. The best part was when we came across several gators, including babies! He made sure to position our boat in the best place to take pictures. Simply put, it was amazing.

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Kennedy Space Center was the other highlight. I thought this park was going to be cool, but this place was cooler than I was prepared for! I felt so much pride to be an American watching movies and seeing the real Atlantis up close – yes, it’s in the building! The memorial for those lost on the Challenger and Columbia brought me to tears. There are pieces of each crashed shuttle on display. I highly recommend this not just for kids (there are tons of activities for little ones to do here) but also for adults. Such an amazing place and it’s not a bad price for a full day.

I also booked a river cruise with the St. Johns Rivership Co. This was a nice break for my mom to get off her feet for a few hours on a relaxing cruise on the St. Johns River aboard the Barbara-Lee, an authentic paddlewheeler. You have to make reservations. The ship departs from Sanford, Florida, which is a bit over an hour’s drive from Kissimmee. The food was incredible and there was a lot to eat. We had a beautiful day, too.

What was your favorite…
Resort/Condo Amenity:
The Villas at Island Club is very spacious, so lots of room to spread out. And the kitchen is fabulous. We cooked twice to have home-cooked dinners instead of eating out. We really enjoyed that.

Place to go in the destination:
If you want to see a neat town, take a drive through Celebration. This is a complete town that the Walt Disney Company developed. All the homes are different with unique characteristics, and a lot of the inhabitants drive egg-shaped go-karts. There are a handful of boutique shops and restaurants, too.

Why did you choose this destination? Were you traveling for a special occasion?
My mom and I met my aunt (her sister) and my cousin for a family reunion of their side of the family. I met so many new family members! Really a great experience and an easy place for everyone to meet.

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What was your favorite memory of your vacation?
The airboat ride and Kennedy Space Center are definite highlights. I am telling everyone they need to experience these things!

Any tips for a traveler going to this resort or destination? Anything you think they should bring?
The tolls are insane. You really have to decide if you want to get a Sun Pass. If you’re not leaving Kissimmee much or concentrating your stay at the parks, I’d suggest having quarters to pay a few tolls. If you plan to crisscross the state, do some toll road homework to figure out your best deal.

About you

I’m the Creative Director for Global Connections Inc., so I have had the good fortune to stay at a few of our resorts, including opening Beso Del Sol in Huntington Beach, California, and White Oak Lodge and Resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

I’ve also stayed at Sea Shells Beach Club in Daytona Beach, Florida; Beso Del Sol Resort in Dunedin, Florida; and Sedona Summit in Sedona, Arizona. I enjoyed every stay, but I am a California dreamer at heart and Beso Del Sol in Cali is my all-time favorite resort and the place I’ve stayed the most.

Photos courtesy of Stacey Gregory.

Corey is a writer from Overland Park, KS, and has been with Global Discovery Vacations since September 2013. Once a sportswriter, he traveled the country and became proficient in airport security line etiquette and leaving items in hotel rooms.