Morse Museum

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Until I visited the Chicago Cultural Center , my image of Tiffany glass was of tired lamps found at The Old Spaghetti Factory.  It wasn’t until I saw the massive glass dome in the cultural centre and learned about Tiffany’s ground-breaking techniques that I became interested in the man and his innovations.

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Where’s my lasagna and garlic bread?

In October, we travelled to Orlando and I learned of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art .  The museum name is misleading because the museum is all about Tiffany and houses the largest collection of his glass in the world.  It is located in Winter Park, a stately suburb of Orlando.  The museum is world class and covers all aspects of Tiffany’s life and innovations including: this massive wealth; his influence at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (his entire World’s Fair chapel is housed in the museum); his estate (partially moved and rebuilt in the museum after a fire); his influence as an interior designer; his family life; his father’s Tiffany jewelry company; his interest in Eastern art and architecture; and his women’s glass cutting department.

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Window from Tiffany’s chapel in 1893 World’s Fair

Each room in the museum has a pile of well-written, informative pamphlets of background information related to the objects in that room.  These pamphlets alone, are worth the price of admission as, together, they form an easy to read, full account of the the man and why he was trailblazer in the day.

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Daffodil column from Tiffany’s estate

A visit to this museum is recommended if: you have an interest in art nouveau glass/jewelry/pottery; you like world-class, excellent value museums; you want to learn more about a fabulously rich family of the Rockefeller era; are fascinated by the 1893 World Columbian Exposition; enjoy beauty.

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Dragonfly lamp is one of Tiffany’s most famous pieces but was actually designed by Clara Driscoll, head of the Women’s Glass Cutting Department.  She was the true creator of many of his most iconic pieces and was the person who oversaw the team that produced the Chicago Cultural Center dome.

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Eight of us spent an afternoon in the dim coolness of the Morse Museum and it cost us a total of $19 US!  What a deal.

Adults – $6

Seniors 60+ – $5

Students – $1

Kids 12 and under – FREE

Free on Fridays from 4-8 pm, Free Parking all the time

Tuesday-Saturday: 9:30 – 4:00 (8:00 on Fridays)

Sunday: 1-4, closed Mondays

Carousel of Progress

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I’m going to leave it to other bloggers to write about mainstream Disney World.  I’m focusing on one of the most outdated, tame and overlooked “rides”.  The Carousel of Progress is the only item that was created by Walt Disney.  Other iconic, old timey rides like It’s A Small World are vintage but they’re copies of the original rides Walt worked on in California.

Walt worked on this carousel tirelessly to ready it for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  He loved it, was obsessed with it, actually touched it and sat in the audience seats.  I doubt you’ll ever have to wait more a few minutes to experience the carousel but I recommend watching the short documentary film shown during the wait.  It succinctly explains the Carousel of Progress.

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Photo Credit: disneyworld.disney.go.com

The carousel features a central stage divided into six pie pieces.  Each piece shows an American family in a certain period of time and highlights the home innovations of that era.  Probably because General Electric was a partner in those days.  The audience is seated and rotates around the stage.

Although the carousel was described to me by a Disney staff member as “pretty boring”, my kids loved it.  That staff member also bucked up once he realized I was interested anyways at which point he became a font of knowledge on the subject.  It’s one of the few things I remember from Disney when I came back in Grade 6.  My suspicion is that it’s one of his favourite rides but he’s been burned before recommending it.  He was a carousel nerd.

The ride was cheesy and outdated, yet cutting edge at the same time.  That much was clear.  It has been updated but don’t expect it to be up to date.  The last section will make you think of Back to the Future.  Also, and this is my favourite part, we experienced technical difficulties twice.  Boo ya!  The first time, the soundtrack started before our rotation so we missed the beginning of the narration.  The second time, something went wrong, we were told to remain seated and then we had to redo the whole 3 minute story before we could finally rotate out.

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Photo Credit: themickeywiki.com

I recommend this ride if you:  are nostalgic from when you went there as a child; don’t want to line up for another ride; are a nerd; need a break from the sun; love the progression of technology; have a thing for Walt Disney.

Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour

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Visitors to Orlando would be forgiven (or would they?) for thinking that the city is a never-ending, depressing string of motels, strip malls, weird dives selling discounted park tickets, souvenir shacks, and Waffle Houses.  Head over to Kissimmee and – more of the same!  Orlando is a place built for and around the theme park visitor.  But there are people actually living here who exist on a separate plane and do none of this stuff.  And shockingly enough, the city has a history that predates Disney-ification.

Enter Winter Park, the chi chi suburb, northwest of the city.  Long the winter playground of the rich from colder climes.  This genteel area has stately homes, ancient trees covered in swaying moss, swank boutiques, lakes, and canals.  Since 1938 (beat that Mr. Disney), it is also the home of the Scenic Boat Tour.

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This excursion is the type of thing we normally avoid.  While perfectly reasonably priced, the one hour tour would still cost the eight of us $98 US and we just can’t be doing that y’all.  However, this trip to Orlando has been gifted to us and we really haven’t spent much so we decided bite the bullet and take the tour.

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Spanish moss

It was great fun.  We loaded onto an 18-passenger pontoon boat and wondered why there wasn’t a sunroof in the oppressive Florida heat.  All became clear a few minutes later. The tour leaves from the shore of Lake Osceola.  It then navigates narrow, windy canals to enter other lakes.  Our engaging guide told us all kinds of information about the mansions, Rollins College ($65K a year to attend and 12 students to one professor), and local wildlife.  So the reason for no sunroof?  Lo-lo- bridgeda.  Multiple.  Be prepared to duck.

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The lake shores are dotted with mansions from all eras.

Although the time spent on the lakes was enjoyable and informative, it was the side trips down the canals that made the excursion.  My kids (7-19 yo) were meh about the outing but the adults aboard thought it was great.

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We enter a canal

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One of the bridges

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Traffic jam in the canal. That’s why the speed limit is 5 miles/hour. Guys on the left had to pull over to the boat house and the guy in the distance had to back all the way back out of the canal.

Recommended if you: just can’t do another theme parky thing; like canals; enjoy quirks; happen to be in Winter Park; like viewing waterfront property you could never afford.

Adults – $14 US

Kids 2-11 – $7 US

Tours every hour on the hour, last tour at 4 pm

Cash or cheques (?!) only

Bring water, sunscreen, sunhat

NOTE: it actually feels cooler out on the water and the canal portions of the outing are shaded

Give Kids The World

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Everyone knows about organizations like Make a Wish and Children’s Wish that grant wishes to children with life-threatening illnesses.  What you might not know is that a high proportion of kids’ wishes are to visit the Orlando area and that since 1989, there has been a beautiful village to accommodate them and their families.

Give Kids the World Village  is a calm oasis just minutes from Disney, Universal, Sea World and all the other Orlando attractions.  It’s a non-profit resort that welcomes families from around the world and facilitates their wish experience.  The resort has villa accommodations, a pool, a carousel, several dining facilities, pizza delivery, a castle, and even a snoring tree.  With the exception of the goods for sale in the gift shop, everything is provided free of charge for the guests and the whole thing runs on volunteer power.

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Although many of the volunteers are local regulars, the village welcomes people from all over who are willing to give a few hours to work a shift.  If you are coming to Orlando on vacation, and want to volunteer, there is a little bit of forethought required.

Every person needs to submit an application and undergo a police check.  GKTW takes care of the police check so there is no effort required on that end.  Volunteers must be 12+ but they will take slightly younger kids if they are in a family group.  Note that for many tasks, like driving around in a golf cart, you must be 16+ or 18+.  If you are coming from out of state, you can do your training at the beginning of your first shift.

We’ve now volunteered twice and greatly enjoyed it.  The kids in particular loved it.  The first shift, Fabhio was assigned to the castle and the all important star duty and the girls and I were in the cafe helping customers get food and drink and busing tables.  It was the middle of the day and pretty quiet.  The only families around at that time are those arriving or leaving – every one else is at Disney or wherever their wishes have brought them.  Lastborn finished her shift and asked if we could get a snack and come back to work the dinner rush!

Hurricane Matthew put a glitch in our plans over the past two days as it did for everyone in Florida, some much more than others!  Luckily for those of us inland, the path of the hurricane veered slightly, significantly lessening the impact of the storm.  After being cooped up for 36 hours and with practically everything still closed, we responded to a plea for 17 volunteers to work a few hours that very night.  The village had reopened and the Pirates and Princesses party was on!

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Give Kids the World Village (photo credit: gktw.org)

Last night, we face painted, gave tattoos, oversaw the coin toss and treasure hunt and we helped create artful treasure maps that we hung on the wall.  Everything at GKTW village is highly organized.  The village can hold almost 500 guests and is always full of people.  We had a great turn out yesterday and its wonderful to see so many people having fun.

Telling people about GKTW, I’ve gotten raised eyebrows that portend a potentially tragic atmosphere.  If that is what might stop you from volunteering, please set your mind at ease.  These families are just regular families.  Almost all of the children have siblings and coming to here is a chance to relax, have fun, and be taken care of by people who understand their needs.

The exception to what I’ve just said is possibly the castle.  It can be very moving.  The castle ceiling is covered in gold stars – one for each sick child that has come to the village.  Kids decorate their star as they wish and then at night a fairy sends it up to a constellation on the ceiling where it stays forever.  When families come back to see a child’s star, they give some basic information and a trained volunteer uses a special computer tablet to locate the constellation and start searching for the star.  In Fabhio’s first shift, two separate family groups came from out of state to find a star.  Tears were certainly shed and memories brought back.  One couple then put on aprons and signed in for their first ever volunteer shift.

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A teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy portion of the castle ceiling (photo credit: gktw2013.wordpress.com)

The number of stars is breathtaking.  Once in a blue moon, a star will fall off the ceiling and no one will be sure which constellation it has come from.  There is a wee section where they re-affix any fallen stars.  The man working with Fabhio told him that a couple of years ago, a survivor came back to see the star he had left in the castle in 1996.  They were having a hard time finding it but while they were searching, a star fell from the ceiling right into his lap as he sat in his wheelchair.  And it was his star.  Reading that here, you might think, “Ya right.”  But standing in the castle with all those stars hearing that, you will have instant goosebumps on your arms and a lump in your throat.

Our time in Orlando is drawing to a close but we’re hoping to squeeze in at least one more shift at GKTW.  I also have my eye on a snazzy umbrella at the gift shop and at $13.95, it is cheaper than just about anything at Disney.

Give Kids the World Village

210 S Bass Rd, Kissimmee, FL 34746, United States

Tel (407) 396-1114