Tag Archives: Florida

Merry Christmas from the Top 5

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas! To those in Central Florida who have struggled during 2010, may your burden be lightened in 2011. To those of us who are fortunate, let’s include in our New Year’s resolutions a pledge to do a bit extra for our neighbors in need. (If you need a suggestion of how to share, take a look at this list supplied by our readers.)

As for us here at the Top 5, we are thankful for a healthy, happy season, and we are especially thankful for you, our readers. Although we’re hoping for a mild winter, we’re dreaming of a White Christmas today! (Anyone up for snow skiing?)


Top 5 editor Bess Auer and family.




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Filed under family, Seasonal

40 Years of Florida Christmases

My readers may remember that I celebrated my 40th birthday this year (back in April) and I made my 40 for 40 promise, which, by the way, I am happy to report has continued on track!  Donating to Relay for Life on behalf  of fellow tweeter @JenVargas, fulfilling her birthday wish, was #32.

At any rate, as Christmas approaches and I went to set up my tree again this year, I realized that this is my 40th Christmas… so of course I knew I had a blog post in the making!

Florida Christmas in the 1970s

  • Opening of Disney World Resort
  • Opening of Sea World
  • Closing of McCoy Air Force Base

Now, my family actually goes back to the 1800s in Central Florida. In fact, here’s my grandmother fishing a snake out of Howell Creek when she was much much younger!

And, when my mother was a teenager, she wanted a horse, but the City of Winter Park did not allow horses inside the city limits. So, my family moved way out in the country (at the time) and bought some pasture land down a dirt road with beautiful goldenrod growing all over.  (This dirt road is now known as Aloma Ave. and that goldenrod pasture is marked by Goldenrod the road!)  But this Lazy 3 Ranch, where my mother grew up, is where I grew up too, at the same time as the city was growing up around us in leaps and bounds.

The Lazy 3 Ranch, corner of Aloma Ave. and 436

So, my memories of Christmas at this time were typical of most children: lots of 70s era toys!  Dolls and ride-in cars for me, Stretch Armstrong and army men for my brothers, a working Lionel train set for which my father spent weeks building and nailing down a track, and even chickens. Yes, chickens…we did live on some land, after all!

And, of course, Disney toys and theme park visits were very big with our family…we lived in Central Florida! (And, boy, do I remember those booklets of tickets…especially the feared E-Ticket!)

Christmas, 1975

A young Top 5 editor Bess Auer with her beloved "Big Red"

And as soon as we had our toys, we’d rush outside to try them out, riding bikes down the driveway, skateboarding around, climbing trees with GI Joe.

Christmas 1976

Florida Christmas in the 1980s

  • Space Shuttle program launches
  • Opening of Epcot
  • Domination by Miami football

By the 80s my brothers and I were getting into our teenage years, and Central Florida saw the launch of the first Space Shuttle as well as the opening of Epcot. (I watched the opening live while home sick from school…and classmate Jody Crane skipped school to attend the opening and was featured as the very first guest!  He got lifetime tickets or some such wonderful thing!)

At any rate, childhood toys at Christmas gave way to clothes and boom boxes.  And still, after unwrapping presents on Christmas day, we’d head outdoors to the yard to have orange and grapefruit wars, or to take my grandmother to Epcot, or even to head to the beach and lay out in the sun for most of the day.  Florida Decembers have certain advantages!

Christmas day - grandmother and her beloved dog at the beach in New Smyrna...look how uncrowded!

And then, as the decade ended and I was cheering in college, sometimes Christmas days were spent traveling to bowl games, like the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.  (Not a bad place to spend Christmas and New Year’s, by the way!)

Florida Christmas in the 1990s

  • Opening of Universal Studios
  • Domination by Bowden’s FSU football program
  • Closing of the Orlando Naval Training Center

This decade saw me getting married, buying my own home, and setting up my own Christmas tree for the first time.  I have never been a fan of traditional, so I bought silk flowers for my tree, which I still use nearly twenty years later!

Our Christmas tree

And then, as the second half of the 90s began, I became a mother, and Christmas suddenly was geared to children once again. Thomas the Tank Engine, Pokemon, and Legos were tops in our house, as Harry Potter paraphernalia soon would become, too.

Florida Christmas in the 2000s

  • Ending of the Space Shuttle Program
  • Opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • Domination by Florida Gator football and basketball programs
  • Rise to national prominence by UCF’s football and basketball programs

And so I have reached this latest decade. This one saw the passing of my brother, the continued growth of our children, and even some of the final flights of the Space Shuttles. My son has become the teenager, and iPods have replaced boom boxes, X-Box Kinect has replaced Atari.

My son does not rush out to the front yard to race around on his skateboard or ride his new bike, as my brothers and I did when we were young.  Instead he plops on the couch, puts on his headset, and connects with twelve different friends around Florida who all got the same video game to play online. It is a strange new world in which I live, one ruled by indoors, electronics, and air conditioning, but I wouldn’t miss it for anything!

Forty years of Christmases… what do you remember?


Filed under disney, Just for Me, Sea World, Seasonal, Shuttle, Uniquely Florida

How Cold Is It in Central Florida?

Yep, it's real snow!

Snowman cold!  This was taken in Winter Park at 4 pm today… tell me it isn’t cold outside!

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Filed under Fun, Just Plain Weird, Seasonal, Uniquely Florida

Doctor! Doctor! Give me the news!

We’re Calling Sick Out of Work and
Having an Adventure!

Ben's feeling the blues!

It’s summertime: the sun is shining, the waves are crashing, the nights are long…and you’re stuck at work!

From theme parks, beaches, off-the-beaten-path attractions, cultural museums and local festivals, Central Florida has enough attractions, events and things to do to keep you busy all year long. Wouldn’t you rather be out there than sitting there in your office?
That’s what we thought!

Summer’s in full-swing and both Ben and Bess, editors of adventureswithben.com  and Central Florida Top 5 are calling in sick and going to visit, “YOUR Favorite Central Florida attraction to Call in Sick For!”

Here are the details:

1. Submit

From now until July 3rd, readers of both well-known Central Florida Travel & Tourism Blogs can submit their favorite Central Florida Adventure.  Share your favorite by commenting to this post on either blog.

2. Vote

Ben and Bess will select their Top 5 reader submissions and put them to vote from July 5th – July 17th. Readers can vote on their absolute favorite.

3. Do it!

On July 23rd, Ben and Bess will call in sick (well, sort of) and set out on a day of adventure, visiting YOUR #1 destination. They’ll capture every detail and share with you the Best Central Florida Summer Day Activity the week of July 25th at adventureswithben.com  and Central Florida Top 5.

So what are you waiting for?
Submit, Vote and Let’s Do it!


If you’d like to connect with Ben and Bess, follow them below:
adventureswithben.com   – Twitter | Facebook
Central Florida Top 5 – Twitter | Facebook


Filed under Blogger Extraordinaire, Fun, Seasonal, Tourist, Uniquely Florida

The BIG 25

So, after a great ending to 2009, I am looking forward to ringing in the New Year with my husband at the Enzian Theatre. They are having a James Bond themed party, complete with costume contest. [Note: Hubby is not happy with dressing up or going out. Our usual fare is to be in bed by 10:00 pm and let our son on come wake us up at midnight. I told my hubby we needed to “live a little” this year…]

The invite!
<—–Here’s the invite that came…very sleek and espionage-like…which kind of blows away my “regular mom” persona. So, I now face the dilemma of how to match such a flashy, slick theme.
How am I going to transform into a Bond Girl? [Note: My son is laughing whenever I mention this…] My husband is also looking through his closet. Best possible choice for him? Perhaps get fake teeth and a comb-over and go as Jaws? I could maybe go as Mini-Me…oh, wait, wrong movie. My husband is actually very dashing, so he can probably pull off a “Bond, James Bond” type of look…me, however….well…. hmmm…I may not be posting pictures of us that night. Or maybe I will, depending upon how successful or disastrous our efforts turn out to be. (The Top 5 fans might need a good laugh to kick off their New Year!)
At any rate, I started thinking about my New Year’s resolutions as I debated my dress. Last year’s resolutions included competing in a triathlon. [Note: I did actually start training for one. And, yeah, that wipe-out on the treadmill was kind of a speedbump…] So, this year I though I’d go more global, or at least more statewide with my resolve.  So, I came up with the following list which will hopefully contain at least one or two items that will also end up on yours.
Every Good Floridian’s New Year’s Resolution List…the “Big 25”
  1. Research how to reduce my carbon footprint…then actually do it.
  2. Use less water.
  3. Start recycling.
  4. Actually remember to take in the reusable Publix bags when I go grocery shopping.  
  5. Now that the Light Rail is here, support it.
  6. Research the potential candidates in the Senate Race [insert Crist, Rubio, other names here] and make an informed choice
  7. Cheer for the two Florida athletes in the Winter Games: Anthony Lobello and Jennifer Rodriguez
  8. Spend more time outdoors enjoying Central Florida weather.
  9. Wear sunscreen daily.
  10. Buy orange juice from Florida growers.
  11. Visit a farmer’s market at least once a month.
  12. Shop at local boutiques.
  13. Donate to a local charity that services locally.
  14. Visit the Central Florida Zoo.
  15. Visit the Central Florida Top 5 website to plan my schedule (Yeah, I had to plug it…)
  16. Visit a local museum at least once a month…lots of culture to choose from!
  17. Find out the local musicians/bands and buy their music
  18. Go to the local theatre…there’s some really fantastic talent!
  19. Adopt a pet from the shelter rather than a chain pet store
  20. Become a better neighbor
  21. Support the home team (in whatever sport you choose)
  22. Find a new local blog to follow…we have some great writers with really interesting things to say!
  23. Visit a theme park…when’s the last time you actually went to one?
  24. Read or watch the local news (in print or online…be informed about your community)
  25. Support space travel. (For jobs, economy, and for the future…)
Well, there it is…at least a beginning, right?  I am sure there are other, more important items that might be on there, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.  What would you add to the list? Whatever it is, add it to yours, and maybe all together we can make a big difference for a GREAT 2010!
Happy New Year from the Top 5!
PS I’ll be tweeting from the James Bond New Year’s Eve Party, so follow along on Twitter.


Filed under Charity, General Info, Music, Politics, The Arts

Merry Christmas-Florida Style

I just received an email from my good friend who lives in New York City, where it’s currently 25 degrees out (feels like 12 degrees with the wind chill).  Suddenly, I felt like I needed to take off my sweater. 69 degrees isn’t so cold is it? 

My friend’s email snarfily hinted that I must be sad that I never see a white Christmas and surely the “melting temperatures” couldn’t possibly bring on a Christmas feel.  [Note: “Hmmmm…” I think as I open my sliding glass doors to air out my house.]

With the exception of a few Christmases spent skiing in Colorado, I have never known a white Christmas, and so such is not necessary to bring sugar plums to dance in my head. All that is needed is a few seasonal mall decorations, holiday music, and Christmas lights hung with care. [Note: I could do without the blow up Santa sleighs and snowmen. I have yet to see one of those actually add to the decor.]

So, I started thinking back to my holiday memories, almost exclusive to Central Florida. We Floridians have a strange shared existence here in the Sunshine State. We proudly go fishing at night, string lights on palm trees and paint pictures of flamingos in Santa hats.  We ravage overly-decorated malls despite hearing horrid renditions of Christmas carols, we both love and despise Disney depending on our mood and reasoning, and we hide from the sun while giggling at our European tourists baking to a lobster red.  We encourage tolerance for all religions yet complain when it says “Push 1 for English.”  We hold heated discussions over monorails, Light Rails, Tim Tebow and Bobby Bowden. We Floridians are an odd bunch, no? 

But regardless of our varied beliefs, backgrounds, and collegiate affiliations, there are some wintertime happenings that fortunately unite us. Here are some of my Florida memories; perhaps you, too, have experienced some of them:

  • Tanning at New Smyrna Beach on Christmas Day [Note: This was before sun was bad for you.]
  • Driving behind Whole Foods in Winter Park to see the neighborhood filled with amazing Christmas lights
  • Drinking hot cocoa at Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party
  • Having orange wars in the front yard with nearly frozen fruit [Note: Ouch!]
  • Immediately trying out new Christmas gifts such as roller skates, bikes, etc. in the driveway dressed in shorts and a t-shirt
  • Listening to the gorgeous Bach Festival Choir while strolling among Tiffany stained glass windows
  • Freezing while sliding down an ice slide at ICE!
  • Watching the Tangerine Bowl (Citrus Bowl) Parade in its seasonal and collegiate spirit
  • Dressing in winter cap, scarf, and sweater to take a “seasonal” photo to send relatives…and then sweating!
  • Putting water into a ziplock and cleverly calling it melted snow [Note: Yeah, it was funnier when I was young.]
  • Donating to Toys-for-Tots while singing, “Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay…”
  • Sticking reindeer antlers on my dogs…and then my cats
  • Laughing at rubber reindeer poop [Note: Still funny even now that I’m older.]
  • Pretending the soapy snow flakes drifting down at Celebration were real snow flakes
  • Listening to 24-7 Christmas music on 107.7
  • Sitting high up in a tree looking for a lighted nose and sleigh until my mom made me come in
  • Wondering how Santa was actually getting into my house since we had no chimney. [Note: I was very creative with my solutions, one of which included a very well-trained squirrel!]

What are some of your holiday memories? I hope you have some wonderful ones.  And, the Central Florida Top 5 wishes you and your family a fabulous holiday season. Please enjoy this video that highlights Christmas in Florida. [Note: I am sending it to my NY friend…ha!]


Filed under family, History, Only at a Theme Park, Seasonal, Uniquely Florida

Thanksgiving Holidays – Florida Style

The Thanksgiving holiday evokes different memories for people, but in my house, Thanksgiving always meant two things: sweet potatoes and football!

1. Sweet Potatoes & Florida Oranges

Anyone who knows me knows I am not big on kitchen skills. I strongly believe a love of cooking is something passed down through memories of time spent with a parent lovingly doting over a blender and stove top. Well, those memories are nonexistent in my household, as my mother despised cooking as much as I do; so, my memories are of quickie meals done out of a few pots or of frequently eating out.  (I don’t blame my mother at all, as she spent her childhood in the legendary Morrison’s Cafeteria where all the wait staff knew her family by name! For generations now, the women in my family just aren’t that domesticated, I guess.)

Some of the few times my mother would put in an effort at cooking was the occasional holiday meal. No, not all of it was wonderful, as cooking takes practice, but there were some dishes that my mother made simply divine. I would put her sweet potatoes toe-to-toe with anyone else’s in the country. She takes the skinned, mashed sweet potatoes and mixes in freshly squeezed oranges, right off the tree. Something about the pulpy citrus juice creates this wonderful texture that almost caramelizes with the potatoes when cooked. Add the traditional toasted marshmallows on top, and it is one recipe that I proudly brag about.

What dishes remind you of this time of year? Any kitchen secrets you want to share?

2. Florida vs. Florida State

Yes, this is the other holiday tradition that simply cannot be missed in my household. Both my husband and I went to the University of Florida–he a swimmer and me a cheerleader–and so we take this weekend very seriously.  Although this football game amounts to little more than bragging rights as of late, it used to be a vital battleground for national rankings.   For almost as far back as I can remember, Thanksgiving weekend means Florida-Florida State.


"Top 5" editor Bess and another Cent. FL native Buffy Thompson before a UF-FSU game.

And, just for kicks, here’s a vintage cheer picture from the late eighties. OMG! I miss that big hair!

So, no matter who you are cheering for this weekend, remember to enjoy who you are cheering with…Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

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Filed under family, History, Seasonal, Sports, Uniquely Florida