In Partnership with the Southern Weekend

The $99 Adventure You Can’t Miss

If you’ve been wondering where Central Alabama Weekend and I have been over the past week or so, the answer is Orlando, FL – the land of fun, magic, and great adventures; specifically, we were in Orlando North, Seminole County. We’ve experienced so much down here, and I wanted to share some of that with you before we get into the meat of our content next week.

And, before we get too far in, I’ve got to talk about how we got here.

There’s a new, direct flight from Montgomery Regional Airport that’ll take you all the way down to Orlando-Sanford International for just $99. It’s an absolute steal, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone going down to the Orlando area. Sure: it places you a little further away from the major attractions, but that’s an easy price to pay, and through our stay, I’ll tell you why.

Alligators and airboats

If you’re not familiar with Lake Jesup, it has an insanely high density of alligators within its confines; I think the numbers were 10,000 within the 16,000-acre lake. We got to go here, and without having flown into Orlando-Sanford International, it might have been a much harder task to see the attraction; traffic in traditional Orlando can be obscene. And while these tours can sometimes underdeliver, this one did not. Black Hammock Adventures – our intrepid guide and host on the lake – turned a weather-induced gloomy day into a truly memorable experience.

There were tons of alligators, and I mean that quite literally. Every few seconds, our airboat driver, Steve, would point out one of these lumbering beasts. Whether they were resting on a piece of driftwood, hiding in the grass, or simply looking up at us from a thin veil of murky Jesup water, Steve found them.

And while I could ramble about how awesome it was to see these prehistoric creatures, there was so much more to both Black Hammock Adventures and Lake Jesup: parrots, falcons, herons, photo ops, and an on-site restaurant. I’m ecstatic to show you this footage, and it’ll be a part of the video content we’re putting together over the next week or so – as I’ve promised in our many Facebook videos.

We also got to spend a couple of hours at the Oviedo Mall, where we shopped at some of the most chic stores around – there was even a comic book shop where I picked up a few issues to read back in my hotel room. We explored a children’s museum, bought things we didn’t need, and ate at Japanese steakhouse Oyishi for a late lunch. The Oviedo Mall is certainly an up-and-comer, so if you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop. It was the perfect reprieve from the midday heat, and had some truly unique areas within.

The Orlando you haven’t seen

While you’ve likely been to Orlando, seen Disney, and done all the tourist-traps, there’s a world lying just outside that deserves all the attention you can muster. After our morning at Black Hammock and Oviedo Mall, our guides took us to downtown Sanford for food, drink, and sweets – the trifecta which always produces a good time.

We went on a food tour throughout the downtown area’s “world,” which featured German, Belgian, American, and an assortment of other flavors. For the drinkers in our group, there was plenty of beautifully crafted booze. I, however, opted to shovel copious amounts of sweets and food into my mouth. And each of these restaurants are near one another, building business for all and sharing in the wealth of camaraderie.

It was amazing to see normally competing restaurants working together to make a district better and more appealing to tourists and residents alike. And while I’d say the spaces were packed, we were told the number of people could double or triple on a Friday or Saturday night. The level of service, cooking, and brewing located within this small, downtown area was elite – perhaps better than some of the spots you would find in Orlando, even. Again, this is an adventure you’d probably experience only by flying into Orlando-Sanford.

Universal was a good time

We got up bright and early to head out to Universal Orlando on Wednesday – it was my first time going, and it had been years since I stepped foot inside a theme park. Our tour guides gave us free rein to explore, and explore we did. We hopped on every ride we could, including The Hulk and Rip Rider. We also got on the Jurassic Park log flume just as a storm was rolling in, which may or may not have been our best decision. The combined efforts of the storm and ride meant that we were thoroughly soaked in the 5 minutes it took for us to get through the attraction. No – it wasn’t much fun at the time, but looking back at our momentary misfortune is absolutely hilarious.

As an aside, there seems to be a preponderance of rides utilizing holograms and virtual reality at Universal. The number of actual roller coasters is falling, but these electronic-infused rides do bring a certain zing to the experience. You feel like you’re a part of the movies you love, whether it’s Harry Potter, The Mummy, or Transformers. Further, these indoor rides allow you to evade any dodgy weather, meaning the fun only stops when you want it to.

In short: Universal was Universal. The excellence you expect is there, and the park’s only improving with time. You can invest in your tickets and hotels with the promise you’ll get your money’s worth.

Coming home

On Thursday, we took the bittersweet ride back out to Orlando-Sanford International – our trip was coming to an end, but the amazing memories will always be there. The drive gave us another chance to see the beauty of Orlando-Sanford, and it wasn’t long before we were at the airport. We got through security in no time, and the Via Airlines flight took us into Montgomery Regional Airport.

Each leg of this trip worked in tandem with one another. There’s no doubt in my mind that this one-hour, $99 flight is going to be a big hit with both Central Alabama and Florida natives alike. I can’t think of an easier avenue to experience the two great cultures on each end of this flight. It’s the perfect weekend trip for you and the family.