PLAYguide: What’s New

Four Seasons Now Offers Gourmet Picnic Baskets

Photo by Simply Shelby Photography at Four Seasons Resort Orlando

National Picnic Month is celebrated in July, and just in time, Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort has announced a new offering of gourmet made-to-order “picnic baskets,” available to enjoy on the Resort lawns or to take to-go. The picnic lunch can be ordered in advance and picked up at the guest’s designated time, packed for convenience in a Four Seasons insulated bag.

Options include a picnic for one, a couples picnic and a kid’s picnic lunch.

The Picnic Menu offerings include:

Sandwich Options

  • Shredded beef, red cabbage, apple slaw, tangy mustard, onion roll
  • Black Forest ham, brie, habanero fig jam, iceberg lettuce, brioche
  • Chicken salad, walnuts, tarragon, arugula, cranberry multigrain
  • Smoked turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle, avocado aioli, ciabatta
  • Vegetable wrap, spinach, tomato, cucumber, lemon mint yogurt, garlic and herb wrap

Kids Sandwich Options

  • Turkey and swiss
  • Ham sandwich with American cheese

Side Options

  • Potato salad, green onion, dijonaise
  • Heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad, basil, lemon oil
  • Toasted farro salad, dried cranberries, sumac, confit onions, tangerine oil
  • Whole fruit – banana, apple or orange

Gourmet Meats and Cheese

  • Prosciutto, chorizo, bresaola; piave, St. Angel blue, English cheddar

Dessert Options

  • Cookie, chocolate covered pretzels, macaroons, cupcake

The picnic is available for $30 for one adult; $65 for two adults; and $20 per child.

To aid in the relaxation and enjoyment of one’s picnic lunch, a Four Seasons team member can set up the picnic display at one of the Resort’s scenic areas, such as the lakeside Areca Lawn.  Picnic setup is a $25 fee, including use of a nice Four Seasons picnic blanket. Guests can purchase the signature Four Seasons picnic blanket for $25.

One’s picnic setup can be upgraded with a choice of select wine priced between $55-65 per bottle.

To order a picnic, guests can stop in to Lickety Split on the Resort’s lobby level, or call 407 313 6848.  Picnic lunch orders require a 24-hour notice.

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Orlando Shakespeare Theater Unveils New Name

Orlando Shakespeare Theater is shaking things up at the start of their 30th Anniversary Season.
Orlando Shakes in partnership with UCF sheds its former name, “Orlando Shakespeare Theater,” in favor of “Orlando Shakes” to better represent the theater’s mission and diverse body of work. As the theater company has evolved over the last 30 years, the Board of Directors felt that a fresh brand direction was needed to encompass the breadth of the company’s productions.
 “We want the community to know that we do so much more than just Shakespeare,” says Artistic Director Jim Helsinger. “While we are still proud of our roots and will continue to produce Shakespeare’s works, we have so much more to offer. From musicals, to new plays, to children’s theater and performing arts education, Orlando Shakes has a diverse array of offerings to suit any audience year round.”
The new logo incorporates a quill that harkens to both Shakespeare’s time and exemplifies playwriting and new play development, a cornerstone of Orlando Shakes’ mission. The use of the modern sans serif font with the handwritten script is a blending of the old and new that symbolizes the classic and contemporary productions featured at Orlando Shakes. The colors, although similar to the current yellow and teal, incorporate warmer tones to symbolize warmth and inclusivity. Throughout the 2018-2019 Season, patrons can expect to see the theater incorporating the new name and logo on promotional materials and throughout the building.
“With the new brand roll out, we’re excited to start a new conversation about our theater within our community and reach new audiences with our work,” says Christian Knightly, Director of Marketing at Orlando Shakes.
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Free Beer at SeaWorld – Pass It On!

Great news for parents: SeaWorld Orlando will be offering free beer to park guests all summer long!

The free brews will be available at the park starting this Friday, May 18 through September 2, 2018 from 10:30 a.m. to one hour before park close. Complimentary domestic and seasonal beers will be available to guests 21 years of age and older. Guests can visit Mama’s Pretzel Kitchen Patio and receive up to two complimentary 7-ounce beers per visit. The park will rotate beer offerings throughout the summer starting off with SeaWorld’s very own Mako Red Ale. Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Yuengling and more will also be featured throughout the summer.

Park guests are also invited to enjoy Happy Hour at SeaWorld, daily starting at 4 p.m. Happy Hour will feature buy one, get one free offers on all drink and food items at Flamecraft Bar and Sharks Underwater Grill Bar. Both locations feature a variety of domestic and craft beer, mixed drinks and sharable appetizers. Additionally, guests purchasing any pin from a SeaWorld Pin Trading location during Happy Hour will receive a free lanyard with their purchase.

For more information, park hours and to purchase tickets, visit Events and times are subject to change. Follow SeaWorld Orlando on Facebook and Instagram for the latest park updates and information.


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Summer Tennis Camp at the USTA National Campus

Summer camp at the USTA National Campus kicks off the week of June 4 and will conclude on August 10. There are nine weekly sessions to choose from, with options for all ages and abilities.

Campers will refine their games and their strokes, have fun, and learn skills that will help enjoy the sport for a lifetime. The program will feature professional coaching and training combined with the perfect blend of competition, camaraderie and fun!

In addition to morning on-court tennis training and afternoon match-play opportunities, the expert coaching staff will help guide players in developing comprehensive and individualized training plans. They will also offer personal guidance on tournament play and competitive scheduling.

Hours & Pricing:

Full Day of Summer Camp: starting at $310/week
Monday-Thursday: 8:30am-2:30pm – Includes lunch for each camper!
Friday: 8:30am-11:30am
Morning Summer Camp: starting at $175/week
Monday-Friday: 8:30am-11:30am
*NEW* for 2018! – Extended Camp:  Additional $50.00 per week 
Our Extended Camp is for FULL Day campers and available each day from 2:30pm-4:00pm (Monday-Thursday. No extended camp on Friday). Extended campers will be supervised by our camp coaches and participate in reading and quiet activities.

Sibling Discount
Full price for the first child, 10% off each additional child in your family attending in the same week. * Sibling discount does not apply to Extended Camp
USTA National Campus
10000 USTA Blvd, Orlando FL 32827
Phone: (844) USA-TNNS
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New Tween Advisory Board at Winter Park Library


Tweens find their own space to learn and develop at Winter Park Public library

The Winter Park Public Library (WPPL) is stepping into 2018 with focused energy for its tween patrons, children ages 10 to 12 typically in fifth to seventh grade. This sometimes-overlooked group of youngsters, who fall in a transitional age range between school age and teen years, are invited to join the WPPL Tween Advisory Board where they’ll experience educational and leadership classes that uniquely challenge their reading skills, engage them in community service efforts and give these kids a chance to socialize and connect with other tweens.

“It is amazing to watch kids in this age group take ownership of library programming and get excited about reading and working together,” said Grace Moore, Tween Librarian. Participating in the Tween Advisory Board is a great opportunity for them to learn to share ideas, engage with each other, and serve their community putting them a step ahead before entering high school,” added Moore.

Highlights of membership on the Tween Advisory Board, which meets the last Tuesday of the month from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., include reviewing books for the library even advanced copies of some manuscripts before they are published. Advisory board members plan upcoming events offering input on trends and interests. The board advises on all elements of WPPL’s tween programming, including Ravenous Readers book club, Minecraft builds, hands-on science experiments, art classes and more. Finally, the advisory board is a platform for tweens to give back with community service opportunities.

In addition to the advisory board, tweens can attend scheduled events such as the upcoming pizza baking class, instruction on drawing manga and western style cartoons, baking mug cakes for Valentine’s Day and an introduction to 3-dimensional design. In April, WPPL is hosting a contest for 3D design, and in May, a short story contest to help fuel their competitive spirits. Lastly, every month at WPPL are book clubs, Lego builds and Pokémon trading meetups for tweens to enjoy. The first Saturday in June will be the summer reading kickoff, “Libraries Rock!” Tweens will be hosting a booth at the event and will themselves be challenged to read and log titles throughout the summer with prizes awarded.

Tweens can also find their own spaces to get homework done, get homework help or to just relax on the second floor between the Children’s Room and Teen Lounge. This area features popular fictional characters like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and “chalk art” by local tweens. An entrance table with suggested readings greet tweens urging them to select a book around the theme “learn a new skill in the new year.” There is also a designated reading area and a room to study and use library computers loaded with all the software needed for school or personal projects.

Registration to attend any of the WPPL tween classes can be done directly off the calendar section of the library’s website,, or by calling 407.623.3300.

About The Winter Park Public Library: For 132 years, the Winter Park Public Library, a 501c(3) nonprofit organization, has continuously evolved to bring the highest quality library materials education and services to those living in Winter Park and the surrounding community. Today the library provides onside and online learning and entertainment resources including classes and events, print and digital books, music, videos, video games and software, and downloadable materials for smart devices and computers. The Winter Park Public Library has been one of four libraries across the U.S. selected to collaborate with The Aspen Institute on innovative approaches to be a civic forum for 21st century learning. The library will have a new facility in summer 2020 as part of its public private partnership with the City of Winter Park. For more information about the WPPL and the new facility, please visit or call 407-623-3300.

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Cookbook for a Cause

After suffering debilitating seizures, Taylor Merriam (12) was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy. She found baking to be a therapeutic outlet, so she wrote her own cookbook to raise money for an organization that matches children with service animals. 

Words by Tracey C. Velt | Photos by Alexander Dominguez

“Imagine your child having debilitating seizures almost daily from ages 3 to 10,” says Matt, dad to Taylor Merriam. But Taylor is a warrior and found her passion for something that not only tastes good but serves as therapy for her as well—baking.

Taylor’s mom, Theresa (Taylor also has a 15-year-old brother, Matthew), says that Taylor started baking as therapy two years ago. That’s the same time she started a new medication called Charlotte’s Web, which dramatically reduced her seizures. “Taylor would bake the same box of cupcakes and memorize the recipe (Taylor’s memory is poor due to her seizures). Little did we know that this therapy goal would turn into a passion for baking—so much that I centered her academics around baking.”

In fact, Taylor loved baking so much that she started making baking videos on a popular app called “To our shock, it became popular. Taylor has high functioning autism and struggles with maintaining conversations, but going live on the app has helped her in that area as well,” says Theresa.

Taylor is now a crown-verified representative with more than 180,000 followers. She’s also a two-time gold medalist who represented the state of Florida at the 2016 and 2017 State Special Olympics meet.

Now she’s adding “author” to her list of accomplishments. After Taylor’s service dog, Heaven, passed away in 2016, according to Theresa, “Our hearts were broken, as on many occasions, Heaven saved Taylor’s life by detecting when a seizure would happen.” Heaven also detected that Taylor stopped breathing on a few occasions. To raise money for a new dog, Taylor decided to create a cookbook called Just Keep Baking. What started as a simple fundraiser has turned into a way to “give hope to people living with a disability and their caregivers,” says Theresa. The cookbook, featuring recipes from Taylor, will be available soon. A portion of the money raised will be donated to 4 Paws for Ability, which enriches the lives of children with disabilities by training and placing quality, task-trained service dogs.

“So much has changed in the last few years,” says Theresa. “While Taylor did experience 10 months of seizure freedom, with hormone changes her seizures are back. They are not as bad as before but significant enough that we feel getting a service dog is what we need, as her seizures most often come at night while she sleeps.” The cookbook will help Taylor and other children with disabilities have access to the service dogs they need.

You can order Just Keep Baking on You can also follow Taylor on, Instagram, Facebook and @taytaysnummies.

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Megan’s 5 PLAY Tips: Andretti Indoor Karting and Games

PLAYGROUND sent Megan Navarro to check out Andretti Indoor Karting and Games, one of the newest places for Central Florida families to PLAY! Located near Universal Orlando, Andretti Indoor Karting and Games is jam-packed with indoor adventures. Complete with a ropes course, zip line and super-fast electric go karts, this place is a must-do for Orlando families.

Megan’s PLAYtips:

  1. Check the PLAY section of the website first for the height requirements for each attraction so you know going into it which attractions your children can do.
  2. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, especially if you are playing
    laser tag. You work up a little sweat playing the games, and you’ll want to be able to run around.
  3. Plan ahead which attractions you want to do before you get there to make the registration process that much easier.
  4. If you are going to be dining at Andretti, check out the Sky Bar before you go straight to the Andretti Grill. The Sky Bar has a cool view of the go kart track that is fun to watch while you enjoy some food.
  5. Before choosing your go-kart race, be sure to check out the map of the tracks either on the website or the brochure at Andretti. Your friends and family can only see you race on one of the tracks. The other track goes outside, so your friends and family won’t be able to see you race if you choose that one.

Andretti Indoor Karting and Games
9299 Universal Blvd.


Megan Navarro is a true Central Florida native. She was born and raised in DeLand and has lived in Orlando for most of her adult life. She is a graduate of the UCF Rosen School of Hospitality Management and is an accomplished professional photographer. There is nothing she loves more than spending a day at Walt Disney World with her adorable 6-year-old daughter, Lennon Love, and her husband of 9 years, Carlos Navarro. Megan runs and produces the lifestyle YouTube channel I am Megan Navarro, where she specializes in budget-friendly home décor and organization as well as fun videos with her family showcasing some of the awesome family friendly places in Orlando. Megan is a truly positive person who loves life. Megan and he husband live by their motto: To the Top, Never Stop!

Connect with Megan:





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Gift Your Kids the Stars with an OSC Membership

Photo by Roberto Gonzalez

A full year of exploring scientific wonders together makes the perfect gift.

Orlando Science Center members enjoy year-long access to all of the Science Center’s opportunities for fun, learning and discovery. This holiday season, these experiences can be shared with others by gifting a membership!

When purchasing a gift membership for family or friends, you are offering a gift that keeps on giving. There are countless memories to be made and experiences to be gained through an Orlando Science Center membership, which lasts a full 365 days from activation. The small card will hold a big place in the heart of the recipient of this gift!

From your child’s favorite teacher, to your neighbors who love nothing more than quality time with their grandchildren, different membership levels are available to fit every need on your list. A family membership includes two adults and all children in the household under 18 years old and is just $155 for the year. For a family of four, this membership level pays for itself after just three visits!

Orlando Science Center offers four permanent exhibit halls; a traveling exhibit hall that changes three times per year; KidsTown (11,000 square feet of hands-on play-to-learn experiences for young children); and two theaters – and members have free access to all of these every day that the Science Center is open. Plus, the Crosby Observatory is open on select dates for stargazing and more!

In addition to free admission, OSC members enjoy many other benefits, including:

  • Free admission to special events like Science Night Live, Otronicon, Member-Only Events, and more
  • Exclusive access to KidsTown from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily, before the building is open to the public
  • 10% off in the Science Store and Subway
  • Free or discounted admission to more than 350 reciprocal museums nationwide
  • Unlimited educational and Hollywood films in the Dr. Phillips CineDome and Digital Adventure Theater
  • Four free member guest passes valued at $84 so that you can bring your friends for a visit
  • Free parking in the Science Center garage
  • Discounts on summer camps, break camps, early childhood workshops and other educational programs

For more information, call 407-514-2158. Give the gift of science today!

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Dare to Care this Summer with #TCSKindness

Teaching Kids to Care.

Downtown Orlando’s The Christ School (TCS) is doing an online summer initiative to remind the students to give back throughout the summer break. The #TCSKindness social movement aims to not only inspire The Christ School students to spread acts of love and kindness, but also the larger community and beyond.

“Shortly after announcing our campaign we learned about the designation of June 12th as ‘Orlando United Day,’ a collaborative effort to join with others in acts of love and kindness and continue the unity that followed the Pulse tragedy,” says Aaron Farrant, Head of School. “We felt creating our #TCSKindness campaign exemplified the values of our school and the love that we can all share with others, but it also became a wonderful way to tie into the community’s larger efforts and demonstrate how even our youngest citizens can be involved and give back by inspiring hope and love,” said Farrant.

TCS is challenging its students to demonstrate random acts of kindness throughout the summer and then have parents post pictures and videos of the acts of kindness on social media, using the hashtag #TCSKindness.

Shuler, inspired by #TCSKindness, cleaned up litter at the beach.

Emily Osburne, mom of TCS second grade student, Shuler, noticed her son looking for ways to show kindness. “He told me he was going to try to show kindness to people, animals, and the earth. What parent doesn’t love to hear that?” she asked. “I didn’t know what to expect, but on the first day, he found a dog in our neighborhood that looked lost. Normally, I think Shuler would have kept riding his bike, but this day, he stopped. He said, “This is where I can show kindness!”

Shuler spent about twenty minutes looking for the owner and he felt great for the rest of the day. Since then, he has picked up trash, done special things for his brother, and drawn a picture for his neighbor.

“I think this summer will be different from previous ones because Shuler has caught the kindness bug! Both of our boys say, “#TCSKindness” when they see an opportunity, and I don’t think they have a clue what a hashtag is!”

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Spring Break Camps in Orlando

Keep the kids playing at these local Spring Break camps.

RDV Sportsplex Ice Den is hosting a Learn to Skate Camp and a Figure Skating camp from March 20-24! Each camp is $245 for the week or $60 for individual days. Skaters must be at least 6 years old to participate in Learn to Skate Camp and 7 years old to participate in Figure Skating camp.
Click here for more info.

The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens is taking kids on a wild Spring Break adventure on March 13-17 and March 20-24. Kids ages 6-12 will get to have up-close encounters with animals and learn about the many mysteries hidden in their histories! Camp is $170 for passholders, $190 for non-passholders.
Click here for more info.

A Kids Gym in Oviedo is keeping your kids active during their camp which includes gym time, arts & crafts, group games and more! Camp meets during Seminole County’s Spring Break, and costs up to $160 for the week and up to $41 for individual days.
Click here for more info.

Orlando Science Center is offering all kinds of activities during Spring Break! Whether your kid is into coding, puzzles, nature, or all of the above, they’ll find something to enjoy at these educational camps. Activities are on March 17 and March 20-24, with varying price options.
Click here for more info.

Full Sail Labs has Spring Break workshops that are great for tech-loving kids! Join on March 20 for Minecraft, March 21 for photography, or March 24 for acting! Each workshop is $50 per student.
Click here for more info.

The Orlando Magic are hosting a Spring Break camp that will turn your little basketball enthusiast into an all-star! Several camp options cater to a wide range of experience levels. Prices range from $175-$225 for a five-day camp. Dates vary.
Click here for more info.

Orlando Museum of Art will cater to your little camper’s creative side this Spring Break. Kids in grades 1-5 will enjoy crafts like painting, sculpting, and papermaking. Camp dates are March 17 and March 20-24. Each day has a different theme and activity! Costs $45 for one class, or $240 to bundle six classes.
Click here for more info.

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Baby Playgroup at O2BKids

Whether your baby is just a few weeks or a few years old,
O2BKids has fun parent/child playgroups for your crew!

At the Oviedo Mall (and soon to open in Altamonte Springs)

  • Morning Magic Show (Walking to 5 Years Old)
    Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
    This is an interactive and engaging program for parents and children. The morning starts with an energetic show complete with characters, movement and music. The show lasts for about 15 minutes and is then followed by three 30-minute classes where walking children (grouped by age) participate in classes of their choice such as: gymnastics, creative art and music, movement and story time.
  • Brighter Babies Playgroup (4-6 Weeks Old to Walking)
    This program is specifically for our teenie ones and their caregivers. After the Morning Magic Show, you and your little one will participate in fine and gross motor activities using blocks, instruments, bubbles, water, scarves and more! There is also music and tummy time.

O2BKids offers a monthly membership. Not ready to become a member yet? No problem, you can pay to play for the day which includes the Morning Magic Show and Brighter Babies Playgroup. 


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National Catholic Schools Week

The “Lions” of Holy Family Catholic School are gearing up for a week of fun and festivities to show their pride! Students will show their support for their school and Catholic Schools around the country during their Catholic Schools Week celebration. This year, CSW will run the week of January 30, 2017-February 3, 2017. (National CSW runs Jan. 29-Feb 4.)

The theme for this year is “Catholic Schools: Faith, Knowledge, & Service.” The week is full of events and surprises that nourish the body and soul. It begins with the school opening its doors for their annual Open House Monday, January 30, 2017 from 8:30-10am. This will give
prospective families a behind the classroom doors tour of the school.

Through the week masses are held along with various events that get the children’s competitive and creative spirits rolling. There is a WalkA-thon to raise money for the Orphans Rising Missions, Field Day (come see Principal Sister Dorothy Sayers assist in a tug-of-war!), along with Crazy Hair & Sock Day, a Talent Show, Virtual Career Day, and Volunteer Breakfast, honoring all the people who make every event at Holy Family Catholic School possible.

One of the most anticipated days of the week is when the 8th Grade “takes over the school.” The Class of 2017 will prepare lessons for weeks in advance so they will be ready to go to the head of the class to teach younger students lessons while their teachers get to kick up their feet.

For more details on the public festivities, check out PLAYGROUND’S Online Event Calendar.

Holy Family Catholic School
5129 S. Apopka Vineland Rd.
Orlando, FL 32819
Ph. 407-963-7194

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USTA National Campus Now Open!

Tennis Like Never Before

The Home of American Tennis officially opens to the public on Jan. 2, 2017, and it’s ready to provide a tennis experience like never before.

The USTA broke ground on the USTA National Campus back in April 2015 with one goal in mind: to enhance the sport at every level and create an unparalleled playing, training and educational experience for players, coaches and spectators. And the 100-court, state-of-the-art facility situated on 64 acres of land in Lake Nona is ready to do just that.

The National Campus features a mix of hard and clay courts – both Har-Tru green and red clay courts, as well as indoor hard courts and 36- and 60-foot courts for family tennis – and houses the USTA’s Community Tennis and Player Development divisions.

The complex is divided into dedicated areas that focus on the complete tennis pathway – from the youngest players to recreational competitors of all ages and ability levels, and from collegians to future pros and professional tour-level players.

Open House Information:

The USTA National Campus opens in Lake Nona on January 2. From January 3-5, the USTA will host an Open House, offering a sampling of programs at no cost.

  • Daily sessions: 9:30-11:30am & 5-7pm (7pm Youth Program Q&A)
  • The campus will provide programming for all ages and abilities.
  • Program rates $15 pp/hr, court rental rates start at $12/hr.
    RSVP at (844) USA-TNNS

Learn more:

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Star Wars Celebration at Florida Hospital For Children


The Force was strong at Florida Hospital for Children on December 15, where staff and volunteers “trained” the next generation of Jedi with fun, games, and of course costumes.

Disney and Lucasfilm sponsored the afternoon of excitement: the hospital’s young patients got to do Star Wars activities, take photos with characters, and take part in special “Jedi training.” It was all ahead of the newest Star Wars Movie, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

Costumed volunteers went room to room for private patient visits, so no child was left out of the fun.


“I think this is the first time he’s smiled since he got here,” said Nadia Datoo of her son, a patient in the hospital. “It’s absolutely wonderful to see how they’re interacting with all the kids, all the activities that they have. I think it’s really great.”

Members of the 501st Legion— a collection of Star Wars fans who dress as Stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters to promote interest in the movie series— also made a special visit for the afternoon.

“Disney is a longstanding supporter and partner of our organization, and we are honored that they, along with Lucasfilm, selected for Florida Hospital for Children for this very special day,” said Marla Silliman, the hospital’s senior executive officer. “Having their very own Jedi training and unique Star Wars activities will provide these children and their families with wonderful memories.”


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Registration Open at R School Orlando

R School, a new Florida nonprofit independent school, is now accepting applications for the spring term. The first of its kind in Central Florida, R School is an accessible educational alternative to public, private, and home school.


Enrollment options for grades K-8:
  • Full-time, campus-based independent school
  • Part-time, campus-based homeschool or private school enrollment
  • Private school umbrella enrollment

The R School flexible enrollment plan allows families to choose the option that best fits their needs.

About R School

“In contrast to learning environments that emphasize high-stakes standardized testing and adherence to fixed curriculum, R School offers a child-centered approach to education that allows students and families to be active participants in the learning experience,” said R School Founder and President Meribeth Huebner, an Associate Dean at Rollins College. “Students learn in small, multi-age classes guided by education professionals and content specialists.”

In addition to traditional academic curriculum, students participate in a rotating number of electives such as gardening, yoga, and creativity/design thinking. Frequent field trips to nearby farms, nature preserves and other venues enhance R School’s non-traditional educational experience.


New Central Florida Locations

R School launched two Florida locations last August for the 2016 to 2017 school year. R School’s East Orlando location is located at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church. The second campus serving K-5 students is located in Lakeland under the directorship of Dr. Wendy Bradshaw.

“R School is an independent-minded, community-spirited solution for parents who seek to provide the highest quality education for their children in a progressive, pioneering environment,” added Darren McDaniel, Vice-President and Creative Director for R School and founding director of Urban ReThink, a community hub for stimulating collaborative endeavors, economic growth, lifelong learning, and community evolution.

For more information, visit, contact, or call 407-385-0234.

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Light Up UCF Giveaway!

Ho ho ho! PLAYGROUND is playing Santa with a big giveaway!

Be merry at Light Up UCF with a family 5 pack of ice skating vouchers! Each one is good for one person’s admission to the ice skating rink in front of the CFE Arena. While you’re at the festival, your family may also want to try out the Ferris wheel and kiddie train! Light Up UCF is going on every day until January 7.

Be one of the six lucky winners! Enter your email below for a chance to win. Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. on December 8.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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8 Tips for Holiday Sanity

By Kerrie McLoughlin

Remember when you didn’t have to worry about being in three or four places at once during the holidays? The dilemma of where to go seemed to be so easily worked out by our parents and extended family. Now that we are grown-ups, by the time the new year rolls around most of us seem to end up totally frazzled from celebrating the holidays several times with many sets of relatives.

Adding your own kids to the mix can make situations even more crazy, leaving them – and you – feeling like the rope in a game of Human Tug-of-War. Below are some fixes that can hopefully help you and your family enjoy more holiday cheer this year.

  1. Combine family events. Instead of running to your parents’ house and then to see each of your siblings separately, consider having just one shin-dig at one location when most everyone can attend. To make life even easier, forego the sit-down dinner and choose to go the potluck route. Some people choose to throw a small party at their house every year on the second Friday in December, for example, and have things for the kids to do, like building a gingerbread house or painting ornaments.
  2. Consider an Open House. Choose a location (like your uncle’s house), a date, and a convenient time frame when family members can come and go as they please without the pressure of being on time for a meal. Serve finger foods and other easy fare to make it easy on the hostess.
  3. Attend the far-away celebrations only every other year or when you can afford it. Sometimes people marry someone from another state or move out of town due to a job change or other circumstance. This can leave many families feeling pulled in too many directions when the holidays roll around. It can be difficult to decide how to come together, so work out the details in advance.
  4. Negotiate annually. All families are different so it can be practically impossible to please everybody every year. One year your cousin may need to leave early to spend the rest of the day with her husband’s family. Another year it may just work out best to hold the event on a completely different day of the month. Which brings me to …
  5. Help your extended family realize that, for example, Christmas can be even nicer when spent on a day other than December 25th. You could get together with your grandparents a couple of weeks before or after Christmas Day for a much more relaxed mood. You would get to take your time opening gifts while enjoying each other’s company. What a time to treasure and look forward to every year!
  6. Do drop in. Elaine St. James, author of Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays, only visits her sister and her family to raise a toast but not to eat. She takes no food for the meal, no gifts, and says to her family, “We’re bringing ourselves and our best wishes for the season.”
  7. Just stay home. Some make the choice to celebrate Christmas Day at their own home every year. The decision may not popular, and you might have to defend it every year, but it could be the most relaxing and fun day of your entire year. Just imagine yourself hanging out in comfy sweatpants all day long while you play with your kids and their new toys, games and other gifts.
  8. If tensions get high between family members, think of others who may not have any family, or even a home. Consider serving food at a homeless shelter sometime around the holiday or being a bell-ringer for The Salvation Army for a couple of hours. Elaine St. James has another great idea: Make a paper bag lunch with a sandwich, cookies, fruit and juice drink and pass it out to the homeless in your area. These are great opportunities to take your kids along and teach them the true meaning of the holidays.

To ensure no feelings are hurt, make sure your family knows they are always welcome to spend holidays at your home (with some notice, of course!) With a little understanding and communication, everyone in your family can have a peaceful holiday season.

Kerrie McLoughlin is just a regular mom who writes about parenting 5 kids at

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Your Elfin’ PLAYguide

Don’t Panic, here are 24 easy things to do with your Elf on the Shelf.

Last-Minute Ideas

For those days where you want to put zero brainpower into this elf thing.

1. All Buckled Up
The elf is buckled up in the car or carseat, all ready for a ride!

2. Flying High
Elves don’t have wings, but they make do! The elf flies on the ceiling fan.

3. Nativity Scene
In the spirit of Christmas, the elf joins the nativity scene.

4. Hiding with the Silverware
The elf makes like a spoon and hides in the silverware drawer.

5. Bling Bling
The elf has an eye for expensive things: he decks himself out in mom’s jewelry!

6. Bookworm Elf
The elf goes through your child’s bookshelf and reads one of their books.

7. Rummage Elf
Elves are nosy! He sticks his head into boxes that just arrived.

8. Camping Out
With so many comfy gift bags around, the elf uses one as a sleeping bag.

9. Chillin’ in the Fridge
The elf is all cozied up with the milk and OJ in the fridge!

10. Peeking Out
Look Up! The elf is poking out from behind a kitchen cupboard, perhaps holding a Christmas treat!

11. Truck Bed
The elf sleeps where he pleases: he tucks himself in on the truck bed!

12. All Tied Up
The elf gets all tangled up in gift twine, yarn, or even a phone charger.

Creative but Easy

These scenes are easy to set up, and only use materials from around the house.

13. Movie Night
Keep the TV on so that the elf can cozy up with the remote and a movie snack!

14. Shoe Train
Choo Choo! The elf makes a train out of your family’s shoes.

15. Candy Craze
Guard your candy, because the elf broke into a pack last night and ate a bunch!

16. Snow Angel
In a fit of winter excitement, the elf made snow angels in a pile of flour! (If you have them, you could use sprinkles instead!)

17. Christmas Photo
The elf gathered up some other toys for a festive photo- he even stole the camera!

18. Elf Gets Artsy
The elf grabs your kid’s crayons and does a little coloring!

19. Toothpaste Message
The elf writes a message in the sink with toothpaste.

20. Midnight Snack
The elf raids your fridge for ice cream, or another midnight snack.

21. Elf on Stilts
That’s one tall elf! He uses your wrapping paper for stilts.

22. Cereal Message
The elf spells out a special message in cereal.

23. Those Aren’t Cookies!
Great for families with pets: the elf takes a bite out of a dog treat.

24. Cha-Ching Love
The elf leaves a heart (or other fun shape) in coins.
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Go PLAY for the Holidays

SeaWorld Christmas Celebration

SeaWorld Christmas Celebration

Don’t wait until Santa lands on your rooftop to celebrate the season.
Words by Anna Karasik

Theme Parks & Resorts

  • Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party
    Select dates November 7 to December 22, 7 p.m. to Midnight
    Disney’s Magic Kingdom

    Join Mickey and friends in a holiday celebration as the Magic Kingdom transforms into a winter wonderland. Our favorite parts are the faux snow on Main Street and oh-so-jolly holiday parade. Special event tickets start at $86.
  • Christmas at Gaylord Palms
    November 18, 2016 to January 1, 2017
    Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center

    This resort’s iconic atrium becomes an oasis of holiday fun, featuring an all-new light show, a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree and tons of exciting activities, including ICE! Featuring A Charlie Brown Christmas – a beautiful display of hand-carved ice portraying the Peanuts gang, including Snoopy, of course! Alpine Rush Snow Tubing lets you zoom down a chilly hill covered in real snow!
  • Holidays Around the World & Celebrity Candlelight Processional
    November 25 to December 30
    Disney’s EPCOT

    Experience holiday traditions from around the world as you stroll through the World Showcase experiencing how different cultures celebrate the holidays.
  • Santa’s Favorite Resort
    Select dates November 25 to December 25
    Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort

    Join Santa and Mrs. Claus at their favorite vacation spot. The merry couple leads the evening tree-lighting ceremony and meet-and-greets at their Tiki hut. Other activities include cookie decorating, crafts and Santa’s Dancing Lights Spectacular.
  • LEGOLAND Christmas Bricktacular

    LEGOLAND Christmas Bricktacular

  • SeaWorld Christmas Celebration
    Select dates November 25 to December 31
    SeaWorld Orlando

    Enjoy a wet winter wonderland of sparkling lights, live holiday performances and festive food. New this year—Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and friends are making spirits bright with their SeaWorld debut!
  • LEGOLAND Christmas Bricktacular
    Select dates December 17 to December 30
    LEGOLAND Florida Resort

    Build your best holiday the LEGO way. Meet LEGO Santa and other exclusive characters, make holiday projects with Master Model Builders and watch a nightly fireworks spectacular. It’s all included with park admission.

  • Grinchmas
    December 3, 2016 to January 1, 2017
    Universal’s Islands of Adventure

    Celebrate the snarky way with the Grinch! Seuss Landing will become home to the ever-festive Whos of Whoville, who love to spread holiday cheer. For an intimate experience, grab a table at a Grinch character breakfast ($21 for kids, $35 for adults.) The rest of the festivities are included with park admission!

Christmas Culture

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) Presented by Orlando Shakes

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)

  • Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)
    Select dates November 30 to December 30
    Orlando Shakespeare Theater

    At first you think you’re watching a classic production of A Christmas Carol, but this comedic show soon dissolves into everything from the story of Frosty the Snowman to the adventures of Charlie Brown and the Peanuts! Tickets start at $25.
  • Harry Connick Jr.’s The Happy Elf
    November 7 to December 18, Saturdays & Sundays at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
    Orlando Repertory Theatre

    Watch talented young performers play out this new jazz musical. It tells the story Eubie, the happiest elf of all, who tries to restore joy to the town of Bluesville! Tickets start at $14 for kids and $20 for adults.
  • Once Upon a Time on Ice
    December 3 and 4 at 5 p.m.
    RDV Sportsplex

    Enjoy a beautiful ice show featuring RDV figure skaters and those in the Learn to Skate programs. Recommended for ages 3 and up. Tickets cost $9.

    Orlando Ballet Presents The Nutcracker

    Orlando Ballet Presents The Nutcracker

  • Orlando Ballet Presents: The Nutcracker
    December 8 to 11; Family Performance December 10 at 11 a.m.
    Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

    Watch the amazing dancers at Orlando Ballet bring to life the classic Christmas tale of Clara and her nutcracker soldier. If you have young kids who can’t sit through a whole ballet, check out the shortened family performance on December 10. Tickets start at $25 for the family show, $29 for all other shows.
  • “Holidaze” Presented by Central Florida Sounds of Freedom Band and Colorguard
    Saturday, December 17 at 7 p.m.
    Orlando Repertory Theatre

    Orlando’s own LGBT+ concert and marching band presents a fun holiday concert for the whole family! Holidaze is hosted at Orlando Repertory Theater, and features uplifting holiday music from Halloween to New Year’s Eve. Kids under 12 get in for free!
  • Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra Family Concert
    Sunday, December 18 from Noon to 3 p.m.
    Central Park in Winter Park

    Mr. Richard and the Pound Hounds will kick things off; then, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra will play holiday favorites. It’s all topped off with a performance of Peter and the Wolf featuring Orlando Repertory Theatre actor and narrator Timothy Pappas.
  • Amahl & the Night Visitors
    Sunday, December 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
    Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

    Bring the whole family out to enjoy this funny and inspiring twist on nativity story, presented by Opera Orlando. Follow the adventures of a shepherd boy who sees an amazing star, and meets three kings who are looking for a wondrous child. Tickets start at $19.

Holiday Films

  • The Santa Clause
    Friday, December 2 at 7 p.m.
    Central Park in Winter Park

    This is part of the free monthly Popcorn Flicks in the Park series.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas & Letters to Santa
    Sunday, December 11 at Noon
    Enzian Theater

    Watch the live-action version of Dr. Seuss’s quirky Christmas tale. Enjoy a menu of holiday treats. Children can write a wish list for Santa during the movie. After it’s over, Santa will pick up the letters and pose for pictures. Tickets are $11 for non-members.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
    Saturday, December 10 at Noon
    Enzian Theater

    This is part of the Saturday Matinee Classics series. Tickets are $8 for non-members.
  • A Christmas Story
    Tuesday, December 13 at 9:30 p.m.
    Enzian Theater

    This is part of the Cult Classics series. Tickets are $8 for non-members.

Parties, Parades, and Snow

lightup-logo-e1477684802771 Light Up UCF
November 18, 2016 to January 7, 2017
CFE Arena – University of Central Florida

UCF’s huge holiday bash is perhaps best known for its ice tubing. Try it as many times as you want; it’s all included with the purchase of a wristband. Try out the ice rink, too! The ferris wheel is back and bigger than ever, and there is a new thrilling ride that will leave you reeling! For smaller ride-goers, there’s always the kiddie train. Snap a picture with Santa before you leave!

  • Winter in the Park
    November 18, 2016 to January 8, 2017
    Central Park in Winter Park

    Skate away the holiday in beautiful Central Park. All-day general admission and a pair of rental skates is $12.
  • “Now Snowing” At Celebration
    November 26 to December 31 – Snowfall at 6, 7, 8, and 9 p.m.
    Celebration Town Center

    Nightly snowfall graces the Celebration Town Center every night of the holiday season. Skate around in an ice rink, take a ride in a horse drawn carriage or ride the Celebration Express train.
  • Holiday on the Drive
    December 1 from 5 to 9 p.m.
    Edgewater Drive, College Park

    Get a jump on your holiday shopping in a snowy winter wonderland! The shops and restaurants on Edgewater Drive will stay open, and Santa will come to bring some early holiday cheer!
  • Light Up Winter Garden
  • December 2 from 6 to 9 p.m.
    Downtown Winter Garden

    Twinkling lights will keep Plant Street aglow while you explore the vendors and kids activities. Watch the dazzling street lighting ceremony at 6:15 p.m.

  • Winter Garden Christmas Parade
    Saturday, December 3 at 10 a.m.
    South Dillard Street & Plant Street

    Find a prime spot on the curb to catch this festive procession of local organizations.
  • Macy’s Holiday Parade
    Select nights December 3, 2016 to January 1, 2017
    Universal Studios

    The larger-than-life balloons from this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade get the spotlight once again at Universal Studios here in Florida. In addition to the balloons, parade-goers will see marching bands, clowns, and Santa Claus himself! Stick around afterwards for a spectacular tree-lighting ceremony.
    Saturday, December 17 from 2 to 6 p.m.
    RDV Sportsplex

    If you thought the Ice Den was as chilly as it could be, think again: for one day only, real snow will fall at the RDV! Throw a few snowballs, ride down a snow slide, or do some good old fashion ice skating! Just outside, you’ll find bounce houses, live DJs, face painting and more. Admission is $15 for ages 3 & up.
  • Meet Santa

    Free photo with Santa at tugboat & the bird

    Free photo with Santa at tugboat & the bird

    • Save the Date, Skip the Wait for Santa
      November 11-December 24, by appointment
      Oviedo Mall

      No need to wait in a long line to meet Santa because now you can make a reservation for your Santa visit at the Oviedo Mall. Bonus: Drop off the kids at Mad Science Laboratory (Kids Night Out, every Friday from 6-10 p.m.) or O2B Kids (members only) to get some holiday shopping done!
    • Free Photo with Santa at tugboat & the bird
      December 10 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
      tugboat & the bird

      Stop by tugboat & the bird win Winter Park for complimentary pictures with Santa Claus himself! Characters from The Nutcracker will also be around to take photos.
    • Breakfast (or Brunch) with Santa
      Saturday, December 10 at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m.
      Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens

      Sit down for a meal with Santa himself, and then explore a wild winter wonderland with holiday activities and close-up animal encounters. Zookeepers will also be giving the animals special holiday gifts! Admission for non-members is $22 for ages 3 & up, $27 for adults. Reservations are required.

    Stay up-to-date on all of the latest family events in & around Orlando with our Online Calendar!

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    Orlando Science Center Thanksgiving Week Ticket Giveaway!

    Got the whole gang home for Thanksgiving week? Get out of the house and over to Orlando Science Center! It’s open all week long barring Thursday. New KidsTown recently opened its doors to the public, and if you haven’t gone to see it yet, this could be your chance!

    You can win a family five-pack of tickets to Orlando Science Center by entering your email address below. Enter by Tuesday at midnight! Winners will be notified via email.

    a Rafflecopter giveaway

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    Letters FROM Santa

    “Is Santa Claus real?”

    The answer is Yes, thanks to USPS! Have your child write their wish list to Santa, and they can get his personalized response back in the mailbox, postmarked and all. Drafting up the letter to Santa is a great Thanksgiving activity that the whole family can take part in; getting Santa’s response will be even more rewarding for your child!

    Here’s how you can do it:

    1. Have your child write a letter to Santa and place it in an envelope addressed to: Santa Claus, North Pole.
    2. Later, when alone, open the envelope and write a personalized response.
    3. Insert the response letter into an envelope and address it to your child.
    4. Add the return address: SANTA, NORTH POLE, to the envelope.
    5. Affix a First-Class Mail stamp to the envelope.

    6. Place the complete envelope into a larger envelope — preferably a Priority Mail Flat Rate envelope — with appropriate postage and address it to:

      North Pole Postmark
      4141 Postmark Drive
      Anchorage, AK 99530-9998

      “Letters from Santa” must be received by the Anchorage, AK, postmaster no later than Dec. 15.

      After you’ve mailed out the envelope– Santa’s helpers at the Postal Service will take care of the rest!

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    The Christ School Invites Parents to Explore


    The Christ School (TCS) is an independent, Christ-centered K-8 school in downtown Orlando. TCS is hosting two events for interested parents to check it out:

    On Tuesday, November 1, 2016, parents are invited to the Kindergarten Chat, held from 9 to 10 a.m. in the school’s Library and Media Center. Learn about kindergarten readiness and get your questions answered. After the presentation, attendees are invited to tour The Christ School and explore the kindergarten and transitional kindergarten programs. This event is designed for parents of 2 to 5 year olds who have not been to kindergarten.

    On Tuesday, November 15, 2016, The Christ School invites prospective parents to learn more about the school at their Prospective Parent Open House. Attendees will hear a message from Head of School, Dr. Jason Powell, on the mission and vision of The Christ School. The school’s Academic Team will discuss Fides, the kindergarten-8th grade academic structure which provides excellence for all students. Following the presentation, attendees are invited to take a guided tour of the school. Parents of students who currently attend The Christ School will act as tour guides and will be available to answer questions.

    The Kindergarten Chat and the Open House are free and the public is invited to attend. Reservations are requested. To reserve your space, RSVP to Joanne Fleming, Director of Admission, at

    The Christ School is currently accepting applications for the 2017-2018 school year. For more information, visit or phone 407-849-1665.


    About The Christ School:
    The Christ School partners with families to provide an academically rigorous and Christ-centered K – 8 experience. TCS students and graduates confidently pursue excellence in scholarship, service and leadership. The Christ School is an independent school, located in downtown Orlando on the campus of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. The Christ School is accredited by the Christian Schools of Florida, Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS) and Florida Kindergarten Council (FKC).

    The Christ School
    106 E. Church Street, Orlando

    Also posted in Education, What's New | Leave a comment

    Show Review: Llama Llama at The REP

    Words By JJ West

    img_3818 The Llama Llama book series by Anna Dewdney has been a staple at our house since a preschool teacher gave my daughter one of the books last year. Llama Llama, his precious Mama Llama and his animal friends are on regular rotation in our bedtime routine. My kids love these books so much that I can’t even skip pages anymore because my kids have the dang things memorized.

    Based on the book series, the equally adorable Llama Llama play by Ernie Nolan is currently on stage at the Orlando Repertory Theatre, now through October 16. The play is an adaptation of four of the beloved books: Llama Llama Time to Share, Llama Llama Red Pajamas, Llama Llama Mad at Mama, and Llama Llama Misses Mama. The production lasts about 50 minutes, which is perfect for short attention spans. The sets are sweet; they look like they came straight from the illustrations. The costuming allows the audience to distinguish the characters easily, but the actors look human enough so they are not overwhelming to children. The narrative closely follows the original books. (And Mama Llama is still nicer than I am when faced with public temper tantrums and unreasonable bedtime demands.)

    Be sure to allow about 30 minutes to hang out before and after the performance. The Rep has volunteer-staffed stations set up for attendees to make llama ears and color llama art. Afterwards, audience members can meet the cast, check out the merchandise and take a turn with the Llama Llama photo cutouts.

    Special Performances:

    • Backstage Tours: September 14 & October 8 at 5:30 p.m. (post-show)
    • On September 25 at 5:30 p.m. the cast will present a sensory friendly performance.
    • On September 26 at 10:30 a.m. there will be an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter.

    For more information and to purchase tickets, visit



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    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Photo Tour

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat Bookings Now Open

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat bungalow interior LEGOLAND® Florida Resort just announced that bookings are now open for its second on-site accommodations, the eagerly anticipated LEGOLAND Beach Retreat. Reservations are available for stays beginning June 1, 2017 through Sept. 4, 2017.

    New images released today reveal even more of the brick-tastic, beachy details that guests will discover at this recreational paradise #BuiltForKids. LEGOLAND Beach Retreat combines the fun of surf and sand with the creativity of LEGO® building sets, and will offer picturesque lake views from nearly every sun-kissed corner.

    To make a reservation at LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, visit Room rates start at $182 and vary by season, date and availability. Packages including theme park tickets are also available.

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat amenities include:

    • 83 beach-themed bungalows offering 166 separate rooms
    • Whimsical LEGO décor inside and out
    • Spacious rooms that sleep up to five, including a cozy area designed just for kids with a bunk bed and trundle bed
    • Shaded patios where parents can put their feet up, kick back and relax
    • Multiple outdoor play areas where kids can slide, jump and climb in view of bungalow patios
    • Large themed swimming pool with an expansive sandy play area
    • Centrally located clubhouse featuring a restaurant, pool bar and LEGO building area for kids
    • A bountiful breakfast buffet included with each night’s stay
    • Early access to the nearby theme park

    Announced in March 2016 as part of the largest period of growth and expansion in the resort’s nearly five-year history, LEGOLAND Beach Retreat will join the 152-room LEGOLAND Hotel, more than doubling on-site accommodations and giving guests even more reasons to play-and-stay — at LEGOLAND Florida Resort.

    Grand opening festivities and additional amenities will be announced at a later date. To be among the first to receive the latest news about LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, sign up at

    For more information about visiting LEGOLAND Florida Resort, including savings on advance purchase of admission tickets, multi-tier annual passes, special events, VIP experiences, educational programs, services for guests with disabilities, on-site accommodations and much more, visit



    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)






    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)

    LEGOLAND Beach Retreat at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. (PHOTO / LEGOLAND Florida Resort, Chip Litherland)


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    Date Night: Get Schooled by Local Chefs

    Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 12.35.51 PM

    If you’re tasked with the monotonous chore of cooking every day (pasta again?), learning a shortcut or delicious flavor combination can be a breath of fresh air. You can spend hours watching Food Network or taking cooking classes, but we’ve got a better idea. Turn your date night into a culinary education via a chef’s table at one of Orlando’s best restaurants. You’ll get to pepper the chef and sommelier with questions throughout this multi-course dining experience designed to give you a personalized epicurean escape.

    Sushi Pop Chef Chau by Manieri

    Sushi Pop 
    Chef Chau, Sushi Pop’s revered culinary star and owner, becomes your personal guide through eight spectacular courses during his Omakase tasting experience. Plate after beautifully designed plate will arrive at your table, each paying homage to the world’s most delicious Asian cuisines.
    $95 per person; optional wine pairing is $45 per person.


    Luma on The Park
    You won’t fi nd a closer spot to watch the inner workings of this much-loved Park Avenue restaurant. Perched at your kitchen-side table, you’ll watch as your dishes are created by a culinary perfectionist, Chef Brandon McGlamery, who will craft nine petite courses during a feast that lasts for hours.
    $75 per person; optional wine pairing is $30 to $50 per person.

    Season’s 52
    Offered at the Altamonte Springs and Orlando locations, the Season’s 52 chef’s table dinner experience features a seven-course (including an amuse-bouche and dessert) journey into fresh and seasonal cuisine. Guests can be seated in a private room or order the chef’s table menu from anywhere in the main dining room.
    Prices vary by location.
    407-767-1252 (Altamonte Springs) or 407-354-5212 (Orlando);

    Hamilton’s Kitchen
    Chef Jason Klingensmith takes his guests on an eight-course expedition at Hamilton’s Kitchen inside The Alfond Inn, where guests sit at an enormous wood table overlooking the exhibition kitchen as courses are presented by the chef throughout the evening.
    $125 per person; minimum of four guests.

    Highball & Harvest
    Chefs dole out fi ve delectable courses steeped in local fare with a passion for culinary ingenuity. Courses, which are fi nished and plated at the chef’s side table as guests look on, are paired with wine from H&H’s expansive cask wine collection.
    $185 per person, including wine pairings.

    Words by Kristen Manieri
    Kristen Manieri is a Longwood-based mom of Elizabeth (7) and Aly (5). She is the founder and editor of the Orlando Date Night Guide, which houses hundreds of ideas and recommendations for sharing fun and meaningful quality time together in Orlando. From cooking classes to hidden gem restaurants to unique and exciting things to do, you’ll find the best of Orlando’s date night offerings inside the pages of this comprehensive online guide. 

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    Hidden Treasure @ Artegon

    Ahoy Matees. Summer is upon us and so is some treasure! Artegon Marketplace is full of fun finds and X marks the spot! 12 spots to be exact. Skip the sun and head to Artegon for some air conditioned treasure hunting to see what you find. Once you’ve answered 6 of the 12 questions, stop by the Guest Services Desk for something Art-some.


    Download the treasure map here: Artegon Treasure Map

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    Summer Love

    Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 1.10.51 PM

    Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
    Words by Jennifer Jones, MS, NCC/NCSC

    Parenting 101: FIRST CRUSH

    Ahh… your first crush. Maybe it was on a schoolmate; perhaps it was on a celebrity or rock star. Or maybe, like my son, it was on a teacher. Yep, a teacher. For my 5 year old son, it all started with an obsession with music class. He started talking about this class constantly, which was out of character for him. The proverbial “School was fine, Mom” was his usual response after school pickup. Soon after I noticed this, I also spotted other changes in his behavior. Instead of asking how many more days until Friday, he asked how many more days until Tuesday. He had his older brother help him comb his hair, but only on Tuesdays. He also wore a belt (although not required by school uniform policies for kindergartners).

    Finally, I decided to clear the air and ask him why he was so interested in music class. His eyes opened wide, he clenched his lips, and he clammed up! He hid under a chair and very irritably responded, “I don’t want to tell you, and I don’t want to talk about it!” It was crystal clear that my son had his first official crush- on his music teacher!


    So what is a crush? Crushes are a very common occurrence among boys and girls alike and can happen very early in a child’s life. According to Dr. John Chirban, crushes can be a child’s first “introduction to their feelings that are a part of every healthy relationship.” Crushes seem to affect their whole body, emotions, feelings and desires. Dr. Chirban also explains in his book How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex that crushes are often not grounded in reality. This aspect really hit home for me. I, like many girls my age, hung life-sized posters of John Stamos, Bruce Springsteen, or even New Kids on the Block (ouch, that one hurts) on my bedroom wall. I spent hours daydreaming about meeting them and falling in love. Then, one day, it hit me. These stars weren’t going to fall in love with me, but it felt very real. It was real for you when you were a child, and it’s real for your child now.


    Crushes can be very overwhelming to your child; after all, this may be the first time he or she has felt this way toward another person. Your response to your child’s first crush will impact how your child approaches conversations with you regarding feelings and interactions on future relationships. In the case of my son, who was hiding under the chair, I said, “It looks as if you feel embarrassed about liking your music teacher in this way. Did I get that right?” Quietly, with his head down, tears welling up in his eyes, he said, “Yes.” He continued in a sharp manner, still under the chair, ‘I think she’s pretty. I just like her, but I don’t want anyone to know, and I don’t know why this happened.” As you can see by his response, he was totally confused about why he feels this way. It was causing some roller-coaster emotions for him. Part of me wanted to say, “Really?” Yet, I knew I needed to be intentional with my response.

    How do you respond? What does your child need from you? Put down the phone, get up from the computer, turn off the TV, and give your child undivided attention. What he or she is feeling is real. Your child needs to know you care enough to not be distracted. The child also needs to know that it’s OK and normal to feel this way. If siblings come in unexpectedly, ask for privacy. Remember, these are pure, raw and real feelings. These feelings range from fear and confusion to disappointment and excitement. Your child needs to know that you won’t judge and ridicule him or her for feeling this way. This will help build trust for any future conversations.

    Next, you must be empathetic. You must be able to understand the child’s perspective, whether he or she is 5 years old or 14 years old. Think about how it may feel to have these strange, new feelings toward another person. It’s perfectly OK to share an appropriate, positive and personal experience with your child to let him or her know that it is completely normal to have these feelings. Your experiences do affect your responses, so be conscious of and intentional with your person story. Finally, offer your support and guidance. Let your child know that you are willing to talk about his or her feelings, as well as offer guidance on how to handle them when around this person. Dr. Chirban suggests shapes the understanding of realistic relationships. Crushes can, and often do, go on for a long time. They usually involve investment of real emotions. Your child deserves a well-intentioned and sincere response from a parent.


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    The Central Florida Zoo is Calling All Pokémasters!


    Wild Pokémon on the Loose at  Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens 

    The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens has been overrun by mysterious creatures… Pokémon! Following the launch of the new Pokémon Go app, the Zoo is now home to over a dozen Pokéstops and two gyms, where guests can gather to train and battle their Pokémon. And of course, there are wild Pokémon all over the Zoo waiting to be found and caught!

    Pokémon trainers can now enjoy $1 off admission after 1 pm. Now through August 10, 2016, show the Pokémon Go app on your mobile device at the admission window to receive the discount. One discount per device, please. Happy catching!

    Please remember that guests should always remain in designated areas. Please do not chase a Pokémon into an employee only area or over any fences or barriers. The safety of the animals and guests is a top priority.

    Don’t forget to check out all the non-digital animal friends at the Zoo as well. Tag #CentralFLZoo on social media to show all your adventures!

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    11 Kid-Friendly Things To Do in NYC

    intro page art

    Originally published in the Summer 2014 issue of Playground Magazine.
    Words by Tracey C. Velt

    New York City
    11 Kid-Friendly Things to Do in NYC
    Navigating “The Big Apple” Can Be a Fun Adventure For You and The Kids. 
    Afraid that New York City (NYC) is too adult for a family vacate? No way! After spending the last six
    months hauling my 8-year-old daughter, Sofia, around to her big brother’s football camps and college visits, it was time for a mommy-and-daughter trip. So, I persuaded a friend, Suzi McClain of Clermont, to come along. We had a jam-packed schedule with a ton of walking and shockingly few complaints from our kids, Sofia, Gracie (8) and Connor (10). The first order of business is always finding a hotel that is convenient. I like The Westin New York at Times Square (43rd Street and 8th Avenue) because it’s just off the beaten path, but close to the action of Times Square. We upgraded to a roomy suite so all five of us could stay together. After that, it was adventure time. Here are the top 11 things to do:
    1. American Girl Place
      A trip to NYC wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the American Girl (AG) store. It’s three floors of “Mommy, can I get this?” happiness. We had reservations at the American Girl Cafe ($26-plus per person) for a late lunch. We showed up about an hour before to do some shopping. Even Connor found a goody—Meatloaf, the AG dog. Lunch was in a perfectly pink cafe, where they set the dolls in special chairs at the table. I had a veggie sandwich, while Sofia noshed on chicken fingers. Both regular and children’s menus are available. Have a birthday to celebrate? Pay a little extra for the birthday package, and you get a cake and singing. Not in the frame of mind to drop big bucks on a meal? You can make an appointment to get your child’s doll’s hair done at the AG Salon. Kiddos can choose from tons of different styles. Prices range from $10 to $20 per hairstyle.
    2. Top of the Rock
      If you want beautiful views of the city, Top of the Rock (30 Rockefeller Plaza) is the place to be. I think it’s better than the Empire State Building because there are three viewing levels with clear plastic barriers, rather than the walls and railings at the Empire State Building. Give the kids a history lesson by pointing out famous buildings and bridges. Plus, there are some great photo opps here. Prices range from $27 per adult to $17 per child.
    3. Serendipity 3
      Dining in the city is always a challenge. Many of the best restaurants for adults aren’t great for picky kids (or don’t even have kids menus!). While a bit touristy, Serendipity 3 is a perfect place to bring the kids. The décor is kitschy, and the menu is full of kiddie faves, such as mac and cheese and burgers. Or, skip dinner and go for dessert. While the frozen hot chocolate is a well-known favorite, I prefer the hot fudge sundae. Plan to share, as the portions are humongous.
    4. Ellen’s Stardust Diner

      Another touristy place well worth the trip is Ellen’s Stardust Diner. We chose to go there for breakfast. Portions are large, and the place is loud, in a good way. It’s a blast to see your waiter jump up on the back of the booth and belt out a show tune. Seriously, the waiters are super talented and take turns singing during your meal. Sofia and Gracie squealed with joy when a waitress sang Let It Go from the Disney movie Frozen. Did I mention that the wait staff members are all trying to make it big on Broadway? Quite a few of them succeed.
    5. Central Park 

      No trip to NYC would be complete without a trip to Central Park. At the entrance to the park, on Columbus Circle, there’s a huge park, so the kiddos can swing, slide and climb. Our kids had a ball navigating the huge rock at the end of the playground. If you want to spend a small fortune, take a

      carriage ride around the park.
    6. Brooklyn Bridge
      From Central Park, walk to 59th and Lexington to catch the subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge. A subway ride is always an experience for the kids, and the train drops you off right at the entrance to the bridge. About a mile long, the bridge is a fun walk. The cars running under our walkway fascinated our kids. The walk will generate a robust appetite, so plan to eat. Just over the bridge, in Brooklyn Heights (about a 10-minute walk), are some great eateries. Try the organic goodies at Siggy’s Good Food (76 Henry St.).
    7. Broadway Show
      My favorite part of the whole trip was the Broadway play we saw—Matilda. Based on the book by
      Roald Dahl, this fast-paced show featured lots of children singing and dancing. I recommend you carefully select a kid-friendly show and try to see a matinee, if possible. Evening shows start at 7:30 or 8. After a full day, the evening shows can be a bit late for little ones. Spring for the more expensive seats so the kids can really get in on the action. If possible, have your child preview the movie before you attend. My daughter watched the movie Matilda so she would have a better grasp of the show. It’s not vital, but it is helpful. In the past, we’ve seen Mary Poppins and Spider-Man. Our tickets in the front, center orchestra cost about $200 per person.


    8. Statue of Liberty
      Everyone I talked to told me the kids would be bored with this. They were wrong. We took a taxi down to Battery Park and hopped on the ferry—a fun 15-minute ride to the statue. For $18 (per adult) and $9 (per child 4 through 12 years old), you can take the ferry and walk (or ride the elevator) to the pedestal. For $3 more per person, you can access the crown. Access to “Lady Liberty’s” crown recently reopened after renovation, so we paid extra to walk up to the crown. Warning: There are no elevators up to the crown. It’s a very narrow, steep, winding walk—almost 300 stairs to the top. Our kids bounded up the stairs with just a few “Are we there yet?” comments. The crown is a very small area, big enough for the five of us to crouch together for a picture. After about two minutes, the kids were ready to walk back down. However, Sofia has announced that
      it was the best part of our trip. Don’t forget to go to the information booth and grab a junior ranger worksheet. Kids can fill out the worksheet, turn it in and get a junior ranger badge.
    9. Doughnut Plant 
      If you’re looking for a quick snack or after-dinner dessert, then hit up Doughnut Plant, with locations in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. The doughnuts are heavenly. I prefer the crème brûlée doughnut, while the kids liked the chocolate and glazed doughnuts.
    10. FAO Schwarz
      Not into American Girl dolls? Then head to the FAO Schwarz toy store. Say hello to the toy soldier at the front door; then head to the second floor to jump on the big piano made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie Big. Gracie decided on a stuffed lamb from Build-a-Bear with an adorable Statue of Liberty outfit. Connor bought a box of crazy and disgusting-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans and begged us to try such hideous flavors as baby wipes and barf. Sofia bought a Frozen Anna doll. Good times.
    11. American Museum of Natural History 
      Have your own night at the museum, and check out the dinosaur skeletons in this famous museum. Connor was our Indian specialist and told us all about the lifestyle of the American Indian. It’s easy to get lost in this huge museum, and the dioramas are incredible. Admission is free, although a donation is requested, generally around $12.50 for kids and $22 for adults. For an additional fee, I recommend a walk through The Butterfly Conservatory.



    Best Breakfast Sarabeth’s Kitchen: I’m a sucker for the lemon and ricotta pancakes, while my daughter loves the eggs Benedict. Connor and Gracie both had the kids pancakes,w which are fluffy and delicious.

    Best for Celeb Spotting: While not necessarily kid-friendly, this East Village restaurant is great for a parent night out. When I was there last, Jake Gyllenhaal and his girlfriend were dining at the table next to us. Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux had been in just a week before. The food is out of this world. Try the risotto; it’s to die for.

    Best Pizza: John’s Pizzeria. With several locations, including one in Times Square, which was converted from a church, John’s Pizzeria had delish pizza and is close to the theaters. Great for an early dinner before heading to a show.



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    LEGOLAND® Florida Resort Releases Safety Guidelines for Guests Playing Pokémon GO


    At LEGOLAND® Florida Resort believes #AwesomeAwaits for kids seeking to “catch ‘em all” as they play Pokémon GO, the tremendously popular new app.  Pokémon haven been spotted throughout the resort and guests are welcome to play during their visit, but the resort has issued a few ground rules to ensure a safe search.

    Rules for a safe Pokémon GO quest at LEGOLAND Florida Resort:

    1. Even a Pokémon Master must stay within guest areas.  Please don’t climb any fences or follow any Pokémon into employee only areas.
    2. No catch is worth sacrificing your safety.  All play must pause throughout the duration of your ride until you exit the ride.
    3. Be sure not to bump into one of our more than 60 million LEGO® models – that could hurt!
    4. With more than one hundred Pokémon to catch, be sure to stay hydrated.
    5. If you find a Pokémon at the Fun Town Pizza Pasta Buffet, let the nearest Model Citizen know, we prefer pepperoni over Poké Balls.
    6. If hours of play have unleashed the power of your phone, recharge in the Imagination Zone.
    7. If your wild encounter leads you to Wyldstyle, keep in mind she may need to stop for a selfie with another guest before you can make your catch.
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    Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts 2016 Fall Semester Classes

    DPC Florida Hospital School of the Arts 1

    The Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts continues its award-winning programming with the announcement of the 2016 Fall Semester classes. Registration for these classes is now open.

    The Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts uses the arts to its full benefit in the development of each student from 3 to 103. Performing arts training combines movement, language, music and making choices to develop a student’s gross motor, fine motor and memory skills.

    “We want people to be inspired and challenged,” said Kathy Ramsberger, president and CEO of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. “Our promise is that by experiencing performing arts as a student that you will grow in body, mind and imagination.”

    “We provide a safe space for students to take risks and make discoveries,” added Dana Brazil, director of education at the Dr. Phillips Center Florida Hospital School of the Arts. “When you participate in the performing arts, you build self-esteem while enhancing other academic disciplines by promoting problem-solving and collaborating to achieve a common goal.”

    Prospective students can visit, call 407.455.5551, or schedule a time to register in person at the arts center by emailing Early registration is encouraged by August 12, 2016. Schedule and teachers are subject to change.

    The classes available include the following:

    Jazz I (Ages 8-12), Jazz II (Ages 13+), Dance Technique I (Ages 6-8), Dance Technique II (Ages 9-12), Intermediate Dance Technique (Ages 11-14), Advanced Dance Technique (Ages 15+), Tap I (Ages 12+), Tap II (Ages 13+), Hip-Hop I (Ages 6-9), Hip-Hop II (Ages 7-10), Creative Movement (Ages 3-5), Musical Theater Dance (Ages 13+), Vocal Performance I (Ages 8-13 and 14+), Advanced Vocal Performance (Ages 8-13 and 14+), Musical Theater Vocal Performance (Ages 14+), Rock Band (Ages 12+), Guitar I (Ages 10-13), Adult Guitar I (Ages 18+), Adult Guitar II (Ages 18+), Strings I (Ages 13+), Yamaha Young Musicians I (Ages 6-8), Yamaha Young Education System Junior Music (Ages 4-5), Junior Music II/III/IV (Ages 4-5 and 5-7), Yamaha Keyboard Encounters I/II (Ages 10-13,11-15, and 16+), Creative Drama (Ages 6-8), Fairy Tales Come to Life (Ages 7-9), Acting I (Ages 10-13 and 14+), Acting II/III (Ages 10-13 and 14+), Magic (Ages 12-18 and 18+), Sensory Friendly Theater (Ages 12+), Musical Theater Performance I (Ages 7-10, 10-13, and 13+), Advanced Musical Theater Performance (Ages 10-13 and 13+).

    DPC Florida Hospital School of the Arts 2

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    Disney On Ice Presents Follow Your Heart


    Tickets are on sale today for Disney On Ice presents Follow Your Heart Featuring Disney•Pixar’s Record-Breaking Animated Hit Finding Dory and Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out

    This Disney On Ice extravaganza is visiting Orlando at the Amway Center from September 2 through September 4 for a total of six performances.

    Just keep swimming with Dory, Nemo, Marlin and new pal Hank from Disney•Pixar’s Finding Dory as they embark on a life-changing excursion to find her parents and discover the true meaning of family. Cheer with the Emotions from Disney•Pixar’s Inside Out –Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust– as they help Riley find the confidence to win the hockey championship and experience the emotional rollercoaster of growing up. Venture to wintery world of Arendelle where Olaf and Kristoff help reunite royal sisters Anna and Elsa from Disney’s Frozen and learn love is the most powerful magic of all. See Cinderella, Rapunzel, Tiana and the Disney Princesses make their dreams come true through their virtues of bravery, kindness and perseverance. And celebrate true friendship with Buzz Lightyear, Woody and The Toy Story gang. Make unforgettable memories with Mickey, Minnie and all your Disney friends when Disney On Ice presents Follow Your Heart skates into Orlando!

    Tickets for Disney on Ice presents Follow Your Heart start at $18. Click here or here to purchase tickets for you and your family. You can also purchase tickets at the Amway Center Box Office.

    Friday, September 2 at 7:30 p.m.
    Saturday, September 3 at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.
    Sunday, September 4 at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

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    Raising a Water-Confident Kid

    One year baby girl at his first swimming lesson wiht mother

    Originally published in the Summer 2010 issue of Playground Magazine.

    Written by Joanna Nesbit

    When my daughter, Leah, was 6, I signed her up for a month’s worth of swim lessons, every day for half an hour, because, well, it worked for another mom’s kids. This mom had told me her kids’ skills didn’t progress until the third week, and a four-week block was the only way to go. Leah had taken lessons in previous summers but with little obvious success, and I feel for the mom’s advice.

    What I didn’t account for was my daughter’s persistent (read: stubborn) temperament or her willingness to wage silent battle by simply not getting into the pool. Oh, some days she did, when the planets were aligned, but other mornings she sat on a deck chair and watched her toddler brother dabble with the perky swim teachers. Even when she did get in the pool, Leah steadfastly refused to dunk. Indeed, she didn’t dunk until a year later while in a hotel pool during a summer vacation. They key? Her own idea.

    Swim lessons often feel nonnegotiable to parents because we care about our children’s safety, and, well, because we live in what seems to be the swimming pool capital of the world. Then there’s that pesky idea that because all of our friends’ kids love swimming, ours should, too. But not all kids take to water like dolphins.

    Little girl practicing her swimming

    #1 RELAX
    Then keep in mind the following tips for developing water confidence in youngsters, even the most reluctant, and chances are you’ll avoid poolside battles.

    #2 KEEP IT FUN
    Young children progress quicker when parents interact with them in the pool, so make water play a family experience. A warm pool, 85 degrees or more, is especially important for reluctant swimmers and will help kids relax.


    Taking your kids early and often to the pool is the single biggest factor for helping them love water. Regular visits make water normal. Sign up for parent/baby classes or plan to take your toddler to your local pool to play

    If you’re afraid of the water, you may convey to your kids that water is something to be afraid of, even if you try to hide your fear. Consider taking lessons yourself so you can comfortably join your children in the pool (you’re never too old to learn to swim).

    Dont pressure or trick your kids into skills they’re not ready for. Praise their baby steps and trust they will progress when the time is right. If your child is fearful or timid, try a swimsuit with a built-in floatation device for extra fun and buoyancy. She’ll move beyond it when she’s ready.

    Child swimming lesson - girl learning to dive underwater in the pool. Healthy active family lifestyle, physical exercise and water sports activity with parents on summer holiday with kid in aquatic center.

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    Hidden Gems

    We go off the beaten path to give you relaxing Gulf of Mexico beach vacations.
    Words by Brittany Perry. 
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    There’s something for everyone on the white sand shores of Sarasota. Whether you’re looking for the No. 1 beach in the United States (Siesta Beach on Siesta Key), amazing art museums or the worlds’ best pancakes, you can fi nd it all in this quaint Gulf town. It’s the small crowds, welcoming community and laid-back vibe that will keep you coming back for more. Start your vacation with giant pancakes, stuffed French toast, fresh omelets and homemade biscuits from Yoder’s, a traditional family favorite ( Featured on Food Network for their amazing pies, Yoder’s also stands out for its seasonal breakfast options, like

    cinnamon roll pancakes. The Amish market right next door sells handmade goods, local honey and fresh produce.
    Siesta Key beaches rank No. 1 in the United States, trumping even Hawaii’s postcard-perfect beaches. The powder white sand is unbelievably soft, the walkways and restrooms are clean and the water is crystal clear. Arrive early to get good parking, which may be limited during peak season, or take a short walk from one of Siesta Key’s many hotels and condos. Rent a bike to explore, enjoy the incredible sand sculpting competition every November or just kick back and enjoy the beach.
    Beat the heat wi Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.42.36 PM th a visit to Mote Aquarium, a marine research facility, animal hospital and interactive aquarium in one. Shark lovers will enjoy the open-water Shark Zone and budding marine biologists will love the touch tanks and other interactive marine life exhibits. Finish the day with a meal at Owen’s Fish Camp, a quirky establishment with live music, a tire swing for the kids and colorful, delicious Florida eats. Or do some shopping, strolling and dining at St. Armand’s Circle, which offers superb exotic boutiques, art galleries, beach shops, sophisticated restaurants and nightlife.
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    Known as the tarpon fishing capital of the world, Boca Grande is the ultimate old Florida
    hidden getaway. From kayaking through mangroves with manatees and exploring lighthouses
    to enjoying fresh-caught, mouth-watering seafood along the shore, this charming town at
    the fringe of Gasparilla Island is the perfect fit for a relaxing, no-fuss, tourist-free weekend
    on the Gulf.
    The Outlet at the Inlet kicks off your day with some of the best Belgian waffles, home fries and custom-order omelets on the coast. Then, head to the miles of beaches along Gasparilla Island State Park for a unique, secluded experience. Tour the local Port Boca Grande Lighthouse and Museum or the historic Gasparilla Island Lighthouse, which has been used in both Delaware and Florida. Miles of bike paths wind through Boca Grande around historical streets and under shaded trees, making bike rental a fun and easy activity to enjoy.
    Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 12.54.39 PM Book a fishing trip with a local charter service hailed for kid-friendly guides, such as Reel
    Intense Inshore Charters, so you don’t miss out on the catches that make Boca Grande one of the most popular fi shing destinations in the world. Some charters will even clean and cook your fi sh for you. If DIY dinner is not on the menu and you’re looking for a hearty meal, stop by what many locals consider the best establishment in town, The Temptation Restaurant. The fresh seafood from this small, quiet eatery rivals the flavors of some of the fanciest restaurants on the Gulf but in an easygoing atmosphere.
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    Nestled in Florida’s Panhandle, Destin is a definitive blend of upscale charm and southern
    spirit. Not only does Destin boast some of the most secluded and well-kept beaches in
    Florida, but it also has a thriving community and outstanding restaurants everywhere you
    turn. Nightlife in Destin scales up in the summertime when in-the-know travelers escape to
    Destin for resort-style relaxation and weekly fireworks lighting up the night sky over the Gulf.
    No visit to Destin would be complete without a taste of its eclectic, award-winning restaurants. Kids will enjoy feeding gators at Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar and Grillright after a tempting meal of seafood and burgers. Don’t forget to add your name with Sharpie to the colorful walls as a reminder of your trip! If you’re looking for the best BBQ in Northwest Florida, look no further than the award-winning pulled pork, ribs and brisket at the Buck’s Smokehouse. 
    Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.05.55 PM Destin’s Henderson Beach State Park lets you enjoy preserved Florida nature at its finest while still keeping close to world-class resorts and culture. Pay a small fee (per vehicle) to drive on the beach and enjoy the gentle waves and seashells of Henderson Beach State Park. Or, pack a picnic to enjoy on the sand. End the day at the Destin Harbor Boardwalk with a line-up of boutiques and side attractions. If you’re in Destin on a Thursday night in summer, you may be in luck. Starting June 2, fireworks will light up the sky when Emerald Grande at Harbor Walk Villageputs on a spectacular summer show you can catch from the docks or harbor.
    Screen Shot 2016-06-21 at 1.31.08 PM


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    Spa Fly: Luxury Mobile Spa


    Spa Fly, the luxurious spa “on wheels,” has launched in Orlando, bringing the amenities of a full service salon direct to birthday parties, corporate offices, girls’ nights out or any occasion imaginable.

    The unique, plush mobile spa features professional, licensed and highly skilled technicians who can provide a wide range of beauty services including manicures, pedicures, hairstyling, facials, blowouts, makeup, waxing and more.

    Perfect for any event, from kids’ celebrations and prom preparation to corporate appreciation days and pampering parties, Spa Fly provides fully customizable event packages as well as individual spa services.

    “I’ve been a teacher for almost 20 years and decided to open Spa Fly Orlando after hearing so many parents discuss the limited opportunities for unique kid’s parties,” said Jennifer Bessemer, Spa Fly owner. “As a true ‘spa on wheels,’ Spa Fly is unique in that we bring the experience to you — allowing everyone to celebrate together in a fun, relaxing environment.”

    Spa Fly is now booking for private parties and will also travel to different locations on occasion, allowing for call ahead individual services. For information on Spa Fly packages or to schedule Spa Fly for your next event, visit


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    Smart Start by LearningRx

    Smart Start Parent Flyer

    LearningRx is now providing Smart Start, fun, interactive brain training classes for children ages 4 to 6. By attending weekly classes and labs with your child, you will be able to work together on skills such as attention, memory, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, and processing speed.

    Smart Start includes a class kit containing a Smart Start class binder and session packets, brain cards, a brainy bag, brainy blocks, a color arrow board, liftoff number cards, liftoff sound cards, metronome, a stopwatch, and a LearningRx canvas bag. This course takes place at LearningRx Orlando-Windermere and lasts for 6 weeks. Classes are 90 minutes long and labs are 60 minutes long with 8 parent/child duos in each.

    The foundational brain skills learned at Smart Start will help you continue training your child in a fun way at home too, so that they can be prepared for everyday experiences in life.

    You can call LearningRx at 407-614-6255 to reserve a spot for you and your child, or visit their website to learn more. LearningRx Orlando-Windermere is located at 6735 Conroy Road, Suite 326, Orlando, Florida.

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    Orlando Shakes: Elephant and Piggie’s PLAYGROUND Review

    The only photo without anyone picking their nose.

    The only photo without anyone picking their nose.

    Words by JJ West

    It is really important to me that my children have a variety of cultural experiences as they are growing up. We travel, we read, we explore. When I was offered the opportunity to take my girls to experience Elephant and Piggie’s “We’re in a Play!” at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, I jumped at it. I love the theater ( I mean, seriously, I have a college degree in English literature—they don’t hand those out to people who don’t enjoy a well-written play!) I was also patting myself on the back for being an awesome Mom who takes her children to see plays. I was envisioning an afternoon with grateful, well-behaved, and smartly dressed children so overcome with their newfound love for the theater, they’d sing my praises from the backseat on the way home.

    And then, I actually had to take a three- year -old and five- year- old to the theater.

    buy amoxicillin

    Here is a sampling of statements I said once we arrived in the parking lot:

    “You brought shoes, right? I thought you had shoes when we left the house.”

    “Get out of the fountain.”

    “I said get out of the fountain! Oh my God, you can’t drink that water! Stop!”

    “Don’t stand in the chairs.”

    “You look weird. Do you need to throw up? You’d tell me if you needed to throw up, right?”

    “Do you need to go potty?”

    “Stop looking under the bathroom stalls!”

    “Don’t swing on the railing.”

    “No, that is the set for the play. It is not a playground—get off!”

     Thank goodness the front of the house staff is so great with children. I am serious—they were fun and genuinely excited to have children in attendance. My little hooligans did not phase them one bit, nor did any of the 300 young elementary students also in attendance.

    The production is held in the Margeson theater—it is perfect for children! It is a “theatre-in-the-round”, so the children really feel like a part of the experience. My three-year-old felt so much a part of it that she was really confused about why she could not join the cast as they were frolicking about on all of the props.

    The story is the retelling of several of the well-known Elephant and Piggie books. Mo Willems, the author of the books also wrote the play. The narrative is fluid and well-paced. The music is sweet, catchy, and well-choreographed. I kept waiting for “the lull” that would lead to one of them demanding a snack or requesting we leave. It never came. Not only were my girls enthralled, but the other children in the audience were having fun, too. When the actors left the stage, one of the little boys in front of use turned to his teacher and said, “That was awesome!”

    My girls genuinely enjoyed the experience. They have each asked to go back. The five-year-old most enjoyed “the dancing”. The 3-year-old most enjoyed, “when they were being silly.”

    I do have a word of advice if you are considering taking children under the age of five, you may want to show them the publicity photos ( or give them an in-depth lesson on artistic license in the theater before you go. I did not, so I spent a good portion of the first act dealing with, “Why is Piggie wearing a Minnie Mouse dress?” and “Is there a pig? You said there would be a pig.”   (Not seeing an actual pig was also mentioned about 13 times on the way home.)

    Elephant and Piggie’s “We are in a Play!” features Jacob Valleroy as Gerald theElephant and Corynne Wagener as Piggie. Other casting includes Sarah Summerwell as a Squirrelle, Kimmi Johnson as Dog and Squirrelle, and Austin Ryan Hunt as Penguin andSquirrelle. The show runs through May 7th, with an ASL translated show on April 30. Educators, be sure to check out the phenomenal (and free!) curriculum guide at

    The Set

    The Set

    You can't drink that water!

    You can’t drink that water!

    Look we are in a play!

    Look we are in a play!

    Trying to blow a kiss to my boy, Will. My selfie game needs help

    Trying to blow a kiss to my boy, Will. My selfie game needs help.

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    Hands-On Harley Davidson

    Hands-On Harley-Davidson 3

    Hit the Road with the Hands-On Harley-Davidson™ Exhibit!

    Dream It! Build It… and Ride It!
    Orlando Science Center exhibit opens on Saturday, January 30 at Noon

    Ready to hit the road? Opening this Saturday, January 30 at Orlando Science Center, the Hands-On Harley-Davidson™ traveling exhibit immerses children in the world of motorcycles in an engaging, free-flowing atmosphere that lets them interact with the machinery around them! This compelling interactive experience teaches STEM concepts in a fun and exhilarating way and will have children jumping at the chance to hit the roads and explore!

    The exhibit invites children to explore a pretend motorcycle dealership while learning about the people, places and processes that make a community work. The exhibit’s pretend retail setting features two kid-sized motorcycles inspired by a Harley-Davidson Road King® and opportunities to “Dream It!,” Build It!” and “Ride It!” using activities that promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.

    It all starts when they Dream It! Little learners can become design engineers with “Machines In Motion,” where they will learn how acceleration, speed, friction and gravity affect motorcycles in motion. Then, before they hit the road, it’s time to visit “Gear Up,” a dealership where they will learn the importance of riding gear that will keep them safe, warm and dry.

    Next stop … Build It! This area features three areas of exploration: “Motorcycle Mechanics,” “Build-It Bay” and “Custom Shop Style.”

    1. First, visitors become motorcycle mechanics and learn about engine and motorcycle parts and how they work together to create a smooth and safe ride!
    2. Next they can build their dream ride using interchangeable custom motor parts and accessories, including seats, mirrors, and engine components. These amazing kid-sized motorcycles are inspired by a real Harley-Davidson® Road King®!
    3. If that doesn’t leave them spinning their creative wheels, they can customize their rides with magnetic decals and more!

    Hands-On Harley-Davidson 2 Now grab a vest and helmet, and get ready to ride! Learn about traffic safety, hand signals, and preparing for a trip by becoming a motorcycle-riding community service officer. Afterwards, visitors head over to “Let’s Ride,” a first-person riding experience, including a throttle to control the speed of the bike, working turn signals, costumes, audio effects – and the wind in their faces! The last stop is the Off-Road Recreation, a multilevel play space with real Harley-Davidson® motorcycle parts, accessories and sounds!

    The exhibit’s educational content reflects developmental milestones set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and national academic standards for school-age children. Signage in English and Spanish helps caregivers understand how the exhibit experience supports STEM education, literacy, social development and a child’s awareness of related careers.

    Stop by today and experience the Hands-On Harley-Davidson Exhibit before it hits the road on May 1.


    Experience Hands-On Harley-Davidson with admission to Orlando Science Center, which is $19.95 for adults, $17.95 for students and seniors, and $13.95 for youth (ages 3 – 11). Admission is free to Science Center members. Tickets include access to all four floors of exhibits, giant screen and 3-D educational films, one Hollywood feature-length film, and live programming.

    For more information, call 407.514.2000 or visit


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    Star Wars Upgrades at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

    Star Wars Launch Bay

    Words by Heather Reneau

    2015-12-04 08.12.58 Unless you have just woken up from a coma for the past year, you already know that Disney has purchased the Star Wars franchise and is now promoting the hell out of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, the new movie set to release on December 18, 2015.

    There is no place untouched by the long arm of Disney’s promotion of Star Wars. Even my coffee creamer has C-3PO’s face on it and an X-Wing Fighter flying out of the bar code on the back. What the …?

    So it’s no surprise that Disney has also made MAJOR updates to the Star Wars experiences at its theme parks. I was recently invited to a media tour of the new Star Wars upgrades at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. (And now I’m a pawn in their marketing game. Checkmate.)

    Screenshot 2015-12-10 22.31.55

    The grandest enhancement is the brand new Star Wars Launch Bay experience. Once you enter the bay doors, you are immediately immersed in a museum of paraphernalia from the movies. Everything from lightsabers to life-size Podracers can be found in this museum of sorts.

    2015-12-04 07.45.52

    The Chewbacca character experience inside the Star Wars Launch Bay experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

    The main attraction is separate character experiences with Darth Vader and Chewbacca. I’m not going to lie: the Darth Vader experience was intense. Even as a grown-ass women, I was totally intimidated. He gives you an up-close-and-personal lecture about the Force and some other things—but I was so nervous, I can’t even clearly recall what else he said! You might want to just stick to visiting Chewy if you have younglings. Regardless of the fear factor, both experiences were outstanding.

    The Star Wars Launch Bay also has roaming Jawas (glowing eyes and all) trying to trade with you and a great gift shop at the end. It’s really every 45-year-old boy’s dream (you know what I mean)!

    Another cool upgrade is Jedi Training: Trials of the Temple. Not only is the set all new, but young Jedi-in-training get to battle Darth Vader and a new dark force, Seventh Sister, a character from “Star Wars Rebels” on Disney XD. She’s pretty badass—way cooler than Darth Vader, in my opinion.

    Jedi Training Seventh Sister

    Overall, I don’t think Star Wars fans will be disappointed. There are more Star Wars details throughout the park, but you should really just go experience it for yourself. It’s finally Disney’s Hollywood Studios time to shine.





    Darth Vader Character Experience






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    OMA Homeschool Art Classes



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    TechMe Avalon Park


    YouTube vlogging, app-building and computer programming are just a few of the subjects all tech-savvy kids want to know. TechMe Avalon Park makes it that much easier. Founded by two highly motivated tech-savvy educators with more than 18 years’ experience combined, TechMe After School is a hip and fun way for school-aged kids to learn the latest technology such as: Ozobots, Made With Code, Blockly, Makey Makey, Raspberry Pi, Arduino, GarageBand and Incredibox.

    TechMe After School class projects change weekly and run from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The cost is $125 (includes a one-time $20 registration fee) for the week or $30 for the day. Your techno geeks (just own it) can learn everything from audio mixing and television studio work to creating a magazine and setting up a mic, storyboard and camera.

    Once TechMe is done with them, we just might hire your little coder to update our website. Maybe. 🙂

    13000 Avalon Lake Drive, Suite 208, Orlando, FL 32828



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    Bright Horizons at Windermere

     Bright Horizons is opening a new child care center in Windermere

    Children reading stock photo

    Bright Horizons Family Solutions® is excited to announce that this summer they will be opening a new state-of-the-art child care center at 7866 Winter Garden Vineland Road, which will serve families in Windermere and the surrounding communities. The new center’s opening will allow area working parents the opportunity to balance their work and family life, while providing high-quality early education for their children.

    Bright Horizons at Windermere will serve 142 children in Infant, Toddler, Twos, Preschool, and Kindergarten Prep (VPK) programs as well as 30 school age children in before and after school programs. The center’s features include a Movement Matters Zone complete with rock climbing wall and ballet bar, art studio, playgrounds, swimming pool, 21st century technology with a SMART Board and touch screen computers, high-quality curriculum, and more. The center will offer full- and part-time child care as well as drop-in/back-up care on a space available basis.

    Bright Horizons’ unique curriculum for children, The World at Their Fingertips®, focuses on each child’s social, physical, emotional, and cognitive development. The World at Their Fingertips encompasses engaging programs, such as Language Works, Math Counts, and Science Rocks, to teach children the basic language, math, and science skills which will prepare them for future academic excellence. The center’s Growing Readers program also emphasizes the importance of early literacy and provides parents with information about language development and books of excellence for their children. In addition, children have exposure to STEM Education, a term initiated by the National Science Foundation, referring to an educational approach which integrates the following four disciplines: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

    “All of our programs are geared to teach language, literacy, math, science, and social skills children need for elementary school,” said Kathleen Gaborko, Center Director. “We know graduates from our centers have greater success in kindergarten and beyond. We are also able to help parents incorporate learning experiences in their children’s home life.”

    In addition to its rich curriculum, Bright Horizons is committed to educating children about nutrition, physical activity, and the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle. In collaboration with The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), the nonpartisan organization that supports efforts to solve the childhood obesity challenge, Bright Horizons has made a commitment to serve as an open model as they continue to focus extraordinary efforts on promoting healthy habits for the children they care for every day.

    “Our Movement Matters Zone, which is complete with a ballet bar and rock climbing wall, truly helps our children create healthy habits which will last a lifetime,” said Gaborko. “It is an honor to stand with PHA as advocates for children and their health.”

    For more information on Bright Horizons at Windermere, call 407-605-5077 or visit

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    Artegon Marketplace

    straight on view


    Orlando’s newest International Drive retail attraction offering an eclectic shopping adventure is distinguished by its indoor marketplace (The Village) housing 165 local artisans and craftspeople selling and demonstrating their products and services. Artegon Marketplace is also home to the area’s only Bass Pro Shops plus Ron Jon Surf Shop, Sheplers Western Wear and Gods & Monsters high-end comics and collectibles store. Fuddruckers, fast-casual restaurants, food kiosks, a ropes course, glow-in-the-dark mini golf, movie theatre and live performers every weekend provide plenty of food and entertainment options.

    Artegon_Marketplace_logo_white 5250 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819

    Artegon Marketplace Hours: Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–7 p.m.

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    The Crayola Store Is Now Open

    Crayola Store

    Here comes color: The Crayola Store is now open

    The second of its kind in the nation, The 6,000 square-foot Crayola Store is an part of the Crayola Experience family attraction that will fully open on July 1 at The Florida Mall.

    The Crayola Store offers the widest variety of Crayola products and souvenirs available anywhere. Guests will discover super-soft plush, unique apparel and customizable products, such as the “Pick Your Pack” wall, where you can create your own custom crayon assortment choosing from 99 of Crayola’s most popular colors. Also, for a limited time, guests will have the chance to win tickets to the Crayola Experience.

    “The reception we’ve received from the public has been fantastic,” General Manager Scott Poling said. “Everyone is so excited to experience our magic of color, and with the store opening, we’re one step closer!”

    About Crayola Experience: Discover the magic of color at Crayola’s premier and one-of-a-kind family attraction: Crayola Experience. Twenty five hands-on attractions and 70,000 square feet of colorful fun await families in Orlando. (Opening July 1 at The Florida Mall.) This will be the second location for the brand. Color, chemistry and digital technology combine to create a day of family fun and colorful keepsakes. The colorful adventures of Crayola Experience allow kids and adults alike to explore art and technology, express their creativity and experience color in a whole new way. To learn more, visit or join the conversation at


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    Dora & Diego New Exhibit

    Dora & DiegoExhibit_OSC

    “Dora & Diego — Let’s Explore!”
    Exhibit Opens to the Public Saturday, Jan. 24 at Noon

    Get ready to explore with Dora and Diego at Orlando Science Center in the new exhibit “Dora and Diego — Let’s Explore!” The exhibit features beloved characters Dora and Diego along with their friends Boots, Map, Backpack, Isa, Tico and Swiper, now in their own exhibit for your preschooler to explore as they learn and play along.

    This new, interactive traveling exhibit, created by The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis in partnership with Nickelodeon and presented by Amerigroup Foundation and locally by Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, will open to the public on Saturday, Jan. 24 at noon.

    “Dora the Explorer” follows the adventures of the 7-year-old Latina heroine Dora and her friends in an imaginative, tropical world. “Go, Diego, Go!” stars Dora’s 8-year-old cousin Diego, a bilingual animal rescuer who protects animals and their environment. The exhibit gives children and their families the opportunity to go into the worlds of Dora and Diego to engage in problem-solving and active play. Young children play along as they join an adventure and learn how to solve problems, be a good friend, and care for animals and the environment. Spanish vocabulary is incorporated throughout the exhibit to introduce Spanish-speaking skills to preschool children.

    “Dora the Explorer” is a ground-breaking children’s series that draws kids into an interactive quest using a variety of learning techniques in every episode. “Dora and Diego — Let’s Explore!” carries the play-along theme throughout the exhibit as children are encouraged to actively play while they solve problems, share and learn about the natural world.

    The exhibit is funded in part by a grant from the Amerigroup Foundation. The Amerigroup Foundation’s support of “Dora and Diego — Let’s Explore!” provides underwriting for preschool field trips to the museum for youth populations identified as most at risk for childhood obesity. Information about healthy, active lifestyles is available to parents via the exhibit’s Family Guide and website, and free school curriculum is available to teachers as well.

    “Dora and Diego—Let’s Explore!” will be open through Memorial Day on May 25. Be sure to bring your little explorer to play along with Dora, Diego and their friends so they too can say “We did it!”

    Favorite friends and places from episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and “Go, Diego, Do!” are incorporated in the exhibit including:

    The Purple Planet
    Visit the Purple Planet with Dora and Boots! A Purple Planet home invites young visitors to climb inside and slide down on the surface of the Purple Planet.

    Rocket Ship
    Dora’s outer-space friends want to go back to the Purple Planet and need help getting there. Aboard the Rocket Ship, preschoolers are invited to put on a spacesuit, pilot the ship and test their memory with images of colorful planets as they help Dora and Boots take their outer-space friends home.

    On the way to the Purple Planet, Dora and Boots encounter some interesting star groupings. Children and their families are invited to help identify the patterns made out of stars by inserting star shapes to light up a constellation.

    Isa’s Flowery Garden
    Dora’s friend Isa the Iguana demonstrates how to take care of flowers, plants and animals. Preschool visitors can tour Isa’s Garden to pick flowers, interact with bird, butterfly, and insect puppets, and pretend-fly with toddler-sized bird and butterfly wings. Even the littlest visitors will enjoy smelling the flowery scents and picking soft-fabric posies.

    Tico’s Tree and Car
    Dora is a good friend to Tico the squirrel and young visitors are invited to be a good friend to Tico too. Tico needs help picking nuts from the tree for a family picnic. Children can play along with Swiper to swipe the nuts and watch as they shoot up and over to fill Tico’s basket. Tico’s car is in need of fuel! Visitors can help Tico fill up his car with nuts so he can begin his journey.

    Pirate Ship
    In the Pirate Ship, preschoolers can join the Pirate Piggies crew and dress like a pirate to pretend-play along sailing the ship and divvying up the treasure. Visitors can raise and lower the Pirate Piggies’ flag, look through the telescopes to spot the treasure chest and then divvy up the coins into the Pirate Piggies’ banks and help them share the treasure.

    Animal Rescue Center
    Young children can practice caring and helping rainforest animals in Diego’s Animal Rescue Center. Preschoolers can be an animal rescuer, like Diego, as they diagnose and address an animal’s problem from the “Scanner” bed, bandage and apply cold packs at the “First-Aid Station,” and bathe stuffed animals at the “Care Station.”

    Rainforest Maze
    Preschoolers will explore a rainforest to locate rainforest animals. Active play is encouraged as children swing across the Bobo Brothers’ monkey bars, crawl through a fallen tree, climb across Jaguar Mountain and jump or hop across the River Rocks.

    Experience “Dora & Diego — Let’s Explore” with admission to Orlando Science Center which is $19 for adults and $13 for youth (ages 3 – 11). Tickets include access to all four floors of exhibits, giant screen and 3-D educational films, one Hollywood feature-length film, and live programming.

    For more information, call 407.514.2000 or visit

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    Two Big Announcements From LEGOLAND


    Am Adventure Themed Kids Room at the LEGOLAND Hotel

    News just arrived that the LEGOLAND® Florida Hotel is officially opening May 15, 2015 and soon after, Heartlake City, a new area in LEGOLAND is opening this summer.

    “LEGOLAND Hotel offers a unique experience unlike any other in Florida,” Kevin Carr, General Manager, announced at the press conference. “Imagine how excited children will be to wake up in a giant toy box full of LEGO bricks and to be the first to enter the theme park each day.” The Model Shop will be moved into the Hotel and guests will be able to learn and build with Model Builders daily in the Master Model Builder Workshop.

    While that is great news for our out-of-town friends, the most exciting news for Orlando parents is the new land, called Heartlake City. “When it opens in summer of 2015, Heartlake City will be a colorful and vibrant new land offering adventures for all ages,” reports the Florida Resort General Manager, Adrian Jones. “The centerpieces will include a fantastic horse-themed disc coaster called Mia’s Riding Adventure and an interactive show, ‘Friends to the Rescue’ as well as new shops inside Heartlake Mall. Between our constant expansion, the new LEGOLAND Hotel opening in May and the Water Park re-opening in March, LEGOLAND Florida Resort is definitely a multi-day attraction.”



    For the most current information, log on to

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    Vocabulary Treats

    The Sweet Shop Back-To-School Line

    Kicking-off back to school, The Sweet Shop is releasing a new line of sweets available beginning Saturday, August 16.

    The Sweet Shop Vocabulary – Cupcakes $3.75 | Bars $3.50 | Whoopie Pies $3.75

    A. Apple Jacks Whoopie Pie
    B. Cocoa Pebble Coffee Brownie
    C. Peanut Butter Captain Crunch Milk Cookie
    D. PB+J Rice Krispie Treat
    E. Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bar
    F. Fruit Loops Cupcake

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    Let's JAM



    Hello Families, Let’s JAM!

    The wise and revered philosopher Plato once said, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”  The founder of the Junior Academy of Music (JAM) could not agree more!  When it comes to unlocking potential and planting the seeds for a lifetime of success, there is simply no better tool one can provide to the growing child than that of an excellent music education.  JAM does just that – the program offers comprehensive early childhood music instruction that’s based on meeting the developmental needs of children as they grow.  The Junior Academy of Music is celebrating its grand opening this June and the classes are not to be missed! The program is language-rich, sensory focused, and active — perfectly suited for the developing child and an excellent complement to other education programs.

    Why Early Childhood Music?
    Music study in childhood awakens neural pathways in the brain that help develop memory, language, mathematical thinking skills, and the powers of abstract and creative thought.  The study of music, combined with deliberate rhythmic movement, activates the senses and refines both gross and fine motor movement. Both vestibular and proprioceptive senses are engaged and enhanced throughout each class session. Scientific studies have shown that music activates all spheres of childhood development, including: language, concentration, leadership skills, problem solving, and much more.

    Why JAM?

    The Approach
    JAM offers a unique, sequential program that guides children from general music competency to advanced instrument play, to a lifetime of arts involvement.  Our emphasis on Classical literature, sensory development, and age-appropriate pedagogy means that each class is educational, fun, and purposeful.

    The Teachers
    Your JAM instructor is a highly qualified, certified education professional with extensive experience in both Classical music and child development.

    Your Family
    The JAM program makes family education and involvement a priority.  Family activity guides extend the fun and benefit of music education at home.

    Our Community
    For every child you enroll, a child in need learns for free through the Spread the JAM program.

    The Junior Academy of Music is now offering summer classes in Winter Park and Baldwin Park for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers (up to age 5), June 9 – July 21.  JAM with the best, enroll today for a lifetime of benefit!  For schedule, details, and registration call 407-921-2903 or visit

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    KIDZ BOP Gets It's Own Sirius XM Station

    Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 10.04.33 AM

    SiriusXM  has teamed up with KIDZ BOP, the number 1 kids’ music brand in the U.S., to launch KIDZ BOP Radio. Kids and families can now tune into KIDZ BOP’s 24/7 dedicated channel featuring music from the chart-topping KIDZ BOP album series. The KIDZ BOP Kids — Ashlynn, Bredia, Grant, Jayna and Matt — will host the new channel.

    To celebrate the channel launch and release of KIDZ BOP 25, the KIDZ BOP Kids will sing songs from the new album during a s KIDZ BOP
    Radio, via satellite on XM channel 77, and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio

    App on smartphones and other connected devices, as well as online at, on Wednesday,
    January 15 at 5:00 pm ET. For rebroadcast times, please visit

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    Pigtails & Crewcuts


    At Pigtails & Crewcuts, kids are our world.
    Opening Thursday, August 8 in Dr. Phillips

    Written by Jennifer and Bobby Tribble, the owners of Pigtails & Crewcuts here in Orlando

    When you enter our brightly colored wonderland and you’ll find a salon that doubles as playroom, built just for kids. From our airplanes, choo-choo train, and fire truck shaped chairs to our fruit-scented shampoos and conditioners, we strive to give children—and parents—a fun, stress-free hair salon experience. Whether your child is the belle of the ball or a shy guy, we understand that every child has different needs and we work hard provide the individual attention he or she deserves. While our team expertly cuts your child’s hair, he or she is invited to enjoy movies, video games, trains, magazines, toys, snacks and more. And don’t forget a visit to our treasure chest before you leave!

    Pigtails & Crewcuts specializes in:

    • First haircuts
    • Haircuts for children and tweens
    • Blow-dry and styling (braids, up-dos, colored gels)
    • Mini-Manicures and Pedicures
    • Themed birthday parties
    • Ear Piercing
    • Handmade bows, clips, headbands and other hair accessories
    • Unique toys and gifts
    • Blogs, classes and tutorials on keeping up with the latest beauty trends

    Pigtails & Crewcuts is located in the Marketplace at Dr. Phillips in Orlando, Florida.  We are directly across from the new Publix.


    We are Jennifer and Bobby Tribble, the owners of Pigtails
    & Crewcuts here in Orlando. We moved to Orlando in
    2009 from Jacksonville, FL and Atlanta, GA to combine
    households and eliminate the long distance relationship.
    Since then, we have welcomed two little boys into the
    world.  When our oldest son was ready for a first haircut,
    the local search for the perfect place to take him began.
    Coming from Atlanta (which is where Pigtails & Crewcuts
    is based), we were very familiar with Pigtails & Crewcuts
    amazing service. We couldn’t believe that this wonderful
    concept had not made it to Orlando yet, and so we decided
    to change that.  There was no doubt in our mind that Dr.
    Phillips was going to be the first location, and so the
    adventure began … All culminating to this point:  our
    opening next Thursday, August 8, 2013!
    Stop by the salon, located at 7536 Dr Phillips Blvd. #300, Orlando, FL.  No appointment necessary.

    We look forward to serving our new community and getting to know everyone.  Children are indeed a blessing and they deserve all the best. We hope you will come in and get to know us, we can’t wait to meet you!

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    Lu Lu's Ice Cream Shop

    Screen shot 2013-06-10 at 1.21.52 PM

    A picture speaks a thousand words for this new ice cream shop in Winter Park. Lu Lu’s Ice Cream Shop is now open, serving locally-produced ice cream flavors. Owners Mark and Melanie Porter renovated a former barbecue shack into a whimsical cottage for their storefront. We <3 it!; 407-470-8863

    Screen shot 2013-06-10 at 1.22.40 PM


    Screen shot 2013-06-10 at 1.22.18 PM

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    Celebration Health is recognized as a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology


    Florida Hospital Celebration Health has been approved as a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG), making it the first hospital in Central Florida to receive this distinction.  This recognition is on behalf of the Surgical Review Corporation (SRC).

    The COEMIG program was initiated in 2010 to recognize only surgeons.  In 2011, the program grew to recognize surgeons, surgery centers, and hospitals worldwide that excel in minimally invasive gynecological surgeries and procedures.  The goal of the COEMIG program is to continue to enhance and develop the safety and excellence of gynecologic patient care internationally. This prestigious program works to increase patient knowledge and access to minimally invasive gynecologic procedures, an innovation in women’s healthcare.

    Medical facilities recognized as COEMIG exceed these criteria.  By being honored with this respectable title, Florida Hospital Celebration Health is seen as among the best in the field of gynecology.

    “This is great news for our thriving women’s center,” said Dr. Arnold Advincula, medical director of the benign gynecologic surgery program at Florida Hospital Celebration Health and Secretary-Treasurer of the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL).  “We are most definitely raising the bar for the minimally invasive care of women.  I think it is great for patients to know that there is an institution like this in their community.”

    “This prestigious designation gives validation to the gynecologic physicians here at Celebration Health,” said Dr. Monica Reed, Administrator of Florida Hospital Celebration Health.  “It showcases what we have known here for some time, that we have world-class physicians practicing here.  When women come to Celebration Health they are in the very best hands, receiving high level of care.”

    Click here to learn more about the gynecology and women’s health programs offered at Celebration Health.

    Share your experience at Celebration Health below.

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    Cup That Cares

    This penguin-shaped cup may look cute and cuddly, but it has a noble purpose: encourage guests to help the planet, one refill at a time.


    In conjunction with SeaWorld® Orlando’s epic new attraction and ride Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin™ opening Memorial Day weekend, SeaWorld has created the Cup That Cares™ — a new reusable cup program with a twist of technology. The innovative, interactive cup was designed specifically to connect with Coca-Cola Freestyle beverage dispensers in the new realm.
    The new Cup That Cares engages guests in a personalized manner to reuse materials and reduce their carbon footprint.  A chip embedded in each Cup That Cares interacts with software at Coca-Cola Freestyle® dispensers to calculate and tell guests how they are being more environmentally responsible by choosing to reuse.

    Plus, SeaWorld will donate $1 from each Cup That Cares purchase to the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens® Conservation Fund, a not-for-profit foundation that helps protect wildlife around the world.

    Technology embedded in the Cup That Cares calculates the amount of CO2 each guest saves from entering the atmosphere when they choose to reuse the cup for refills at Coca-Cola Freestyle machines in Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin. With each refill at the designated machines, exclusive software developed by Coca-Cola and SeaWorld serves up an onscreen message that is customized to that guest’s Cup That Cares history.  The message thanks the guest for choosing to reuse, tracks how many refills the Cup That Cares has been used for, and calculates the running total of CO2 the guest has saved from entering the atmosphere.
    Each refill with a reusable cup prevents the emission of approximately 27 grams of CO2.

    There are two options, both available exclusively in the new Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin attraction at SeaWorld Orlando:
    Cup That Cares souvenir reusable cup – available at the two beverage stations inside the attraction for $9.99 – is adorned with photos of Puck™ and his penguin family. Puck is  the hero penguin character featured throughout the new realm,

    Create A Cup That Cares – Guests may build their own personalized penguin-shaped character cup by choosing from more than 40 accessories such as eyes, hair, glasses, hats, bow tie, necklaces and even miniature Shamu ice cream bars and SeaWorld shopping bags. The Create A Cup That Cares will be sold in the Antarctica gift shop, and includes a free first fill at the nearby Antarctica beverage stations. Create A Cup That Cares experience starts at $15.95 with the option to add accessory items.

    “Just as penguins do within their colonies, humans also can band together to make a big difference through small actions,” said Dan Brown, Chief Operating Officer of SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica Parks. “We see great potential with this new program because it encourages guests to be more aware of their actions – and reduce their carbon footprint — in an easy, fun and innovative way. Each step may be small, but it all adds up when we work together.”

    Refills throughout the park for both Cup That Cares options are $.99 each.

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    Breast Milk Depot


    Florida Hospital officially opened the first Milk depot in Central Florida today.

    In an effort to help women and babies in Central Florida, Florida Hospital officially opened the first Milk Depot in Central Florida. The Florida Hospital Milk Depot will serve as a convenient drop off location to moms who are looking to donate breast milk to help other babies, especially at-risk preemies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), receive crucial nutrition. The opening of the Milk Depot is part of Florida Hospital’s continued commitment to providing women and babies with the most comprehensive medical resources available.

    “In the United States, there is a critical shortage of donor human milk,” said Kari Vargas, assistant vice president at Florida Hospital Orlando. “Donating breast milk is truly a labor of love, and the opening of the Milk Depot will hopefully remove some of the barriers from the donation process and make it more convenient for moms to donate this precious gift.”

    Local moms throughout Central Florida have already been rallying around this cause.

    “My daughter was born two and a half months early so I know how scary it can be to have a premature infant,” said Bethany Bergen, mom to daughter Piper, now 8 months old. “I knew I wanted to breastfeed and it was easy for me. I cannot imagine the stress that moms who are unable to breastfeed go through. I was able to donate my extra breast milk, and it was so rewarding to know there was something I could do to help other babies in need.”

    The Academy of Pediatrics recommends pasteurized donor human milk to premature infants when a mother’s own milk is not available. Research shows that human milk is especially important for preterm and sick babies who are at a much greater risk of infections. Human milk helps babies build strong immune systems and is easier on the digestive system than formula. In 2012, Florida Hospital required the use of nearly 10,000 ounces of donor milk.
    “In the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Florida Hospital, we instituted a protocol several years ago to give breast milk to babies who were born at 29 weeks or less or weighing less than 1500 grams. As a result, we have seen a tremendous reduction in the number of infections and life-threatening diseases,” said Dr. Raj Wadhawan, medical director of the NICU at Florida Hospital for Children. “Donor human milk is a great option for moms who are unable to breastfeed since it provides critical nutrition for the baby and can truly be a lifesaving part of their treatment.”

    All mothers who donate at the Milk Depot will be pre-screened and tested through an intensive process to ensure that they are healthy and their own child’s wellbeing is not being compromised. Since there are only 11 Milk Banks in the United States and none in Florida, Florida Hospital is affiliated with the Mother’s Milk Bank in Denver. Once a mom brings her donation to the Milk Depot, Florida Hospital will store the milk in a deep freeze and then package and ship the donation to Denver for processing. The donor milk is pasteurized and tested prior to bottling to ensure that it is safe for the baby and is also nutritionally sound. The Milk Bank then distributes the donor human milk based on need to the most at risk infants.

    The opening of the Milk Depot is just one way Florida Hospital is continuing to provide comprehensive resources and medical care to women and babies. The Milk Depot will be located in the Lactation Center across the street from Florida Hospital Orlando. Florida Hospital Orlando is currently building a new 12-story Women’s Hospital that will provide comprehensive care for women of all ages. The hospital is expected to open in 2015.

    To find out more information on becoming a donor, please call 407-303-2599.



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    Chocolate Kingdom


    Orlando’s new chocolate factory tour.

    Want to know what heaven smells like? One visit to Chocolate Kingdom, and it’s pretty clear. It’s a family affair for the Schaked family, who just developed the royally fun, interactive family tour in Kissimmee.

    This chocolate adventure got started when Edgar’s father announced that he was retiring and selling his chocolate shop in South Florida. Third-generation chocolatier Edgar, determined to keep the family`s passion alive, scrapped his engineering career to continue the family legacy. In 1995, the first Schakolad retail store opened in Winter Park. “We wanted to make it special,” says Schaked, who is married to Aileen and is dad to Max (9) and Sophie (7).

    In addition to the Schakolad retail stores, the Schakeds also produce the annual Festival of Chocolate. From there came the idea for Chocolate Kingdom, an interactive chocolate factory tour. “We noticed the eagerness from people to learn more about how chocolate is made,” says Edgar. That’s when Edgar packed up his family and the group traveled to Germany and France and throughout Europe visiting chocolate museums. “I wanted to see how my children would react to the museums,” says Edgar. The reaction? Not good. “They were bored. There was a lot of reading,” he says.

    Upon their return, the Schakeds developed a story that would make the Chocolate Kingdom tour entertaining for both adults and children. As a former Disney producer, Aileen created three characters, modeled after her own children, who help tell the story of chocolate. “Prince George the Good Looking is my son (complete with different-colored eyes), Princess Chocolina is my daughter, and the silly dragon is modeled after our dog, Lucy,” says Aileen.

    The adorable story line follows Princess Chocolina on her 21st birthday. “Princes from around the land are coming to the castle to bring her a gift in hopes that she will choose one to marry,” says Edgar. The animated story comes replete with a dragon, a dashing prince and a fairy tale ending. “The dragon melts the prince’s gift of chocolate shoes, so the poor prince has to create a new pair,” says Edgar. The animated prince interacts with the audience throughout the 45-minute tour as tour goers learn how chocolate is made. Of course, the prince makes the chocolate shoes, and he gets the girl. Never fear, the audience gets a piece of the fairy tale action by receiving a pair of yummy chocolate shoes.

    Tours run daily from 1  to 7 p.m. The cost is $15 for adults and $12 for children 4 to 12 years old.

    Chocolate Overload
    If you find your kiddo wanting more after the tour, good news! Chocolate Kingdom offers customized birthday parties, private group tours and even summer camps.

    Summer camps will run one to three days. The children will learn how to make things with chocolate. We can’t think of a better way to get your chocolate fix!

    For more information, call 407-705-3475 or go to

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    Senses Spa-ahh! (For mommy & kiddos too)


    A new Disney spa at the Grand Floridian

    I have a confession to make … I loathe getting pedicures, spa treatments and getting my hair done. Don’t get me wrong, I love the end result, but all I can think of when I’m at those places is how much work I still have to finish and how many errands I still have to run before the witching hour of 3:30 p.m. when my daughter gets home from school. I know — I’m probably not the norm. That said, I never turned down a free day at the spa, so when Senses, a Disney Spa at the Grand Floridan Resort & Spa in Orando invited me [on behalf of PLAYGROUND magazine] to try out a service and tour the space, I was all over it.

    Now, here’s where ALL my quirks come out. I could choose from a wide array of services, including a Swedish massage (nope, am too ticklish, plus I don’t like people touching me), a rejuvenating citrus facial (um, no again, I have Rosacea and sometimes facials aggravate it), a citrus/mint or sugar body treatment (again with touching), and finally a manicure or pedicure. Since my toes hadn’t been done since Christmas, I opted in on the pedicure. The spa itself is gorgeous! The theme is “Relax, Renew, Imagine,” so when you walk in you can choose from three different juices that are guaranteed to relax, renew or, well, imagine you. I decided to get my creative juices flowing with the “imagine mango juice.” In true Disney style, they had a beautiful mosaic in the wet room, complete with Mickey Mouse ears hidden in the tiles, a large waiting room with cushy chairs, lots of magazines and even curtains so you can hide away from the common folk. The basil/cucumber water was refreshing (seriously, much better than it sounds). But, the coup de grace was the chocolate-banana muffins. Yum!

    Since my pedicure wasn’t until 10 a.m., I had about 30 minutes to relax. But, Tracey don’t do relaxing … No, I brought my computer and started working. I realize most people don’t go to a spa to whip out a computer and work, but that’s the way I roll. FYI: They don’t have a WI-FI network available, although they said they were working on it.
 (Great for relaxing but not-s0-great for my multitasking A-type personality.) Once I was called to my pedicure, the fun began. My pedicurist, Luhong, was sweet as can be [She told me I looked 10 years younger than I am. Who cares if she just wanted a bigger tip. She earned it. Love her!] and it was a lively crowd in the treatment room. I didn’t even open my computer or a magazine as I was having too much fun talking to others in the room. Alas, the experience was over and I was heading home with perfect toes and a bag full of goodies.

    Got a free day? Head over to Senses, it’s “totes” worth it. They also do girls’ nights out, wedding parties and even offer kids’ services. For your kiddos fingers and toes, try a magical manicure ($30) or a princess pedicure ($45). The pedicure chair looks exactly like the Mad Hatter’s hat!

    Written by PLAYGROUND Managing Editor, Tracey C. Velt. Read more of Tracey’s blogs at

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    New Kids On The Block

    New Family-Friendly Businesses

    by Jennifer Hughes

    Little Pros Academy Little Pros Academy
    The Lake Mary Center is the first location in Florida. The unique curriculum includes a movement and sports program that introduces rhythm & dance, basketball and gymnastics to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Little Pros Academy’s décor is definitely worth scheduling a tour. The playground even has a round bike path for tricycles. Love it! 1032 AAA Dr., Lake Mary 407-444-2268


    Kid Tropolis Kid Tropolis
    While the kids get their groove on playing Dance Dance Revolution, parents are equally excited about the Deal or No Deal game. A separate tot area keeps the little ones contained. There is Wi-Fi available for laptop junkies, and movies playing on the enormous projection screen. Kid Tropolis also serves delicious fresh food made by a chef (be sure to sample the pizza; it is to-die-for). Try the “Make Your Own Ice Cream Sundae Bar.” 4932 W. SR 46, Sanford 407-936-3900


    Learn2ride Learn2ride
    We all know what a monumental milestone it is for kids to learn to ride a bike without training wheels. Learn2ride offers group lessons on Sundays to get your kids off and riding. Special bikes provided during the lesson (basically, a bike without pedals) help kids learn to balance with less emphasis on pedaling. After a number of practice runs and a few turns, kids hop back on their bike and try with pedals. Information on Learn2Ride is available at both Loco Motion bike shop locations at 125 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park 407-629-2680 or 1776 Jake St., Baldwin Park 407-898-6411.


    The Pink Chalet The Pink Chalet

    This is a “preppy chic” destination for shopping. One of the newest boutiques in Southwest Orlando, they offer a sophisticated and fresh look for women, cool products for home, bath and body, as well as trendy gifts for baby. Check out the Pocket Buddies by Barefoot Dreams – possibly the cuddliest travel blankets out there. And look no further for baby bling: Crystal Palace pacifiers or a Prince Charming by Aristabrat make the perfect accessory for baby. 7940 Via Dellagio Way, Orlando 407-363-PINK


    Aldi Aldi
    This grocery store has just arrived in Central Florida and is committed to bringing the lowest possible prices to customers. One of the ways Aldi cuts down on cost is by eliminating bags. Yes, you will need to bring your own and “bag” the groceries yourself. Designed to make shopping a “time saving” experience and as easy as possible, careful planning went into the layout of the store. They have thought of every way to save money for busy and smart shoppers. 6766 Aloma Ave., Winter Park


    Pixie Dust Décor Pixie Dust Décor
    Straight from California, this new Winter Park design studio creates beautiful décor and luxuriously soft fabrics for any child’s room. Their innovative “Poufs” go anywhere (think beanbag on a smaller scale) and are made with coordinating fabrics. They even offer adorable aprons for your little ones, perfect attire for hosting a tea party, dramatic play or cooking up something special in the real kitchen with mom or dad. The talented sewing staff can customize your décor with Pixie Dust fabric to make any room in your house magical.


    Earth Inspired Living Earth Inspired Living
    Husband and wife team Allen and Linda Semmler opened their doors with one goal in mind: To carry products made from recycled, reclaimed, organic and/or sustainable materials. This high-end eco-friendly home and gift store also has baby clothing and blankets spun from bamboo (yes, we said bamboo), puppets made from organic cotton, cleaning supplies made from plant-based materials and a line of natural personal care products. Recycled gifts, accessories and home décor sure have come a long way. 300 N. Park Ave., Winter Park 407-644-2344


    Spark! Family Enrichment Center Spark! Family Enrichment Center
    This place has the largest array of classes that we’ve ever seen under one roof. This innovative new center offers classes (for all ages) on topics like: Etiquette, sewing, music, magic, computers, belly dancing, yoga, art, landscaping, hip-hop dance, reading, health & nutrition, not to mention the only Spanish language class for preschoolers in the area. Parents’ night out and birthday parties are also available. 5965 Red Bug Lake Rd., Winter Springs 407-679-7775

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