Archive For November 29, 2016
Christmas Tree Trail Debuts at Disney Springs
What could be better than the newly redesigned Disney Springs? The new Disney Springs at Christmas, of course! As a long-time Florida resident, I look forward to seeing the dazzling decorations at the Disney theme parks and upscale hotels every year. It’s a holiday highlight for me. I’m especially excited when they change something or add a new element to an already fabulous festive celebration. Everything the ‘Mouse’ does is mammoth, so I fully expected the new Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs to be another over-the-top dramatic display of awesomeness!
But, brilliant it wasn’t. It’s a rare occasion that I’m disappointed by anything Disney does, but these Disney-designed displays were anything but remarkable. Nothing extraordinary here; in fact, the Christmas Tree Trail was quite ordinary! Perhaps I’m just spoiled by the likes of the 45-foot-tall holiday tree in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel, or the myriad of other awe-inspiring trees spread throughout Disney properties. Or maybe the memory of the breathtaking presentation of the Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art was too fresh in my mind. Maybe. But given the spectacular transformation of Downtown Disney into Disney Springs, whereby the metamorphosis was no less miraculous than watching a beautiful butterfly evolve from a caterpillar, I envisioned an unforgettable inauguration performance by the trees on the trail. Not an unreasonable expectation from the Disney decorating-Divas, right?
15 Different Disney-themed Trees
The holiday enhancement to the newly redesigned Disney Springs Marketplace area is a free (I know, the words Disney and free usually don’t jive!) walk-through experience that consists of fifteen trees, each one inspired by a different Disney character or story. Here’s a list of the ones that received a starring role in the Christmas Tree Trail premiere:
- Mickey and Minnie Mouse
- Beauty and the Beast
- The Princess and the Frog
- The Little Mermaid
- Mary Poppins
- The Jungle Book
- 101 Dalmatians
- Alice in Wonderland
- The Muppets
- And… one with no name! Perhaps Moana??? I don’t know; take a look and tell us what you think it is!
Christmas Tree Trail Photo Tour
Christmas Tree Trail: Perfect Backdrop for Holiday Photo Cards
It’s not that my time spent touring the Christmas Tree Trail was bad, it just wasn’t grand. The trees were done on a much smaller scale than I expected. Most of them were about the size of my own Christmas tree; 7 – 7 1/2 feet. I thought the themes were great, and the decorations were nice, but most of them looked like typical Disney ornaments that can be purchased in almost any Disney gift shop. (Hmmm, suddenly I might see a connection here! A monumental marketing ploy if that’s true.) Usually Disney holiday trees are quite elaborate — one-of-a-kind masterpieces that you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere else. And very difficult to duplicate. But with a brief visit to the Days of Christmas shop or the popular World of Disney store you can replicate any tree that you’ve seen here, without a degree in interior design.
Another surprising element of the Christmas Tree Trail was the accessibility of the trees. There was nothing around the perimeter of the trees to keep people (and curious kids) from touching them or handling the decorations. I noticed that smaller children really seemed to enjoy the trees. And since there were no boundaries protecting them, families were able to capture group photos while holding the trees on their lap (well, almost!). Perhaps the trees were meant to be interacted with. I didn’t see any “Do not touch” signs or “You break it, you bought it” threats.
*TIP… The trees make a beautiful backdrop for a family photo, perfect for those holiday photo cards. Plan a family photo session in front of each one, then pick your favorite! (Unlike the theme parks, I didn’t see the presence of official Disney photographers, but someone is always willing to snap a picture of you and your family if you ask them.)
During our stroll through the Christmas Tree Trail we were able to enjoy a light ‘snowfall,’ Florida style! The artificial snow is a nice attempt to make the experience a little more ‘magical.’ Far from a blizzard or white-out, it did succeed at causing our hair, glasses, and nose to become snow covered (or should I say “soap covered?”) The day we attended was quite chilly, by Florida standards. The high temperature on that Sunday afternoon in mid-November was only in the 60’s, with a sustained wind that made it feel much colder. (I know, we’re so spoiled here in the Sunshine State!) So, for a brief moment, I envisioned I was back home for the holidays. The faux snow gently falling, along with Christmas music playing in the background (another [pleasant] surprise, as that’s not always politically correct anymore) created a wonderful feel-good wintry moment for my senses. I can’t help myself!
Christmas Tree Trail Photography Tip
Disney advertises live toy soldiers, singers, and a full slate of other additions to the Christmas Tree Trail experience but I didn’t see any of that. I chose to view the trees during the day, as most nighttime photos I’ve seen make it difficult to see the decorations. (I don’t use professional nighttime camera lenses.) And, Disney uses an over-abundance of ‘blue’ spotlights which turns every tree into an icy blue color.
*TIP… For the best photos, I would recommend viewing the trees during daylight hours. Then, if time allows, do another walk-through after dark, to experience the nighttime effects and maybe shoot a short video or two. I doubt you’ll see girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes, but you may capture snowflakes that stay on your nose and eyelashes!
A fun way to put a cherry on top of your Christmas Tree Trail tour is a visit to Aristocrepes. Here, you can purchase a Gingerbread Pumpkin Crepe and gourmet hot chocolate. (A kiosk with warm roasted chestnuts and hot mulled cider would have caused me to linger a little longer!) These are special foodie items that are only available during the holiday season, which lasts until January 8, 2017 at Disney Springs.
I’m not sure I would recommend a special trip to Disney Springs for the sole purpose of seeing the Christmas Tree Trail, but if you’re already there, then by all means take a minute to view the trees. They’re a little out-of-the-way, at the far end of the complex, so they are easily missed. They’re located in the Marketplace section, where the old Downtown Disney bus stop used to be. On the way, plan a stop at World of Disney which is all decked out for the holidays. Splurge on a holiday hat or deck your neck with those infamous Christmas bulb light-up necklaces. With a little forced effort, you’ll be in the yule mood sporting a holly jolly Christmas at the “Happiest Place on Earth!”
Sound Off… It’s Your Turn…
What was your favorite tree on the Christmas Tree Trail? What does the “no name” tree represent? While visiting Disney during the holidays, would you take the time to see these trees? Share in the comments below, I’d love to know!
Festival of Trees — Celebrating 30 Years!
The annual Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art is my go-to event to kick off the holiday season in Central Florida. For those who like to decorate early, it always occurs the week before Thanksgiving, giving the buyers an opportunity to display their creative finds for visiting family and friends while feasting on that fabulous fried turkey dinner.
Each year the Festival has a different theme. The Art of the Holidays was chosen for the 30th anniversary theme of this popular event. It is always presented by the Council of 101, a group of nearly 300 women who volunteer their time and talents to make this holiday tradition possible. They were founded in 1965 with a vision to further the cultural development and education of the visual arts in Central Florida. Their two main fundraisers, Festival of Trees and Antiques Show, provide much needed financial resources for the Museum.
Upwards of 20,000 people visit the Festival of Trees each year. And since it began three decades ago, more than $5 million dollars has been contributed, making it the major fundraiser for the Museum.
How to Purchase a Festival of Trees Item
While strolling through the various venues of the Festival, you’ll notice that each item is accompanied by a sign like the one pictured above. The sign contains an item number, title of the piece, the name of the donor, name of the designer, and a selling price. When an item has been purchased, a red SOLD sticker will be placed on it. Payment for available items should be made at the sales desk in the Council of 101 Grand Gallery. The item may be picked up immediately after the close of the Festival on Sunday, and during the day on Monday. Arrangements for delivery can be made for the larger trees.
Deck the Halls!
There are three main showcase areas for the Festival of Trees — Deck the Halls, Designer Trees and Vignettes, and Gingerbread Village. In the Deck the Halls area you’ll see stunning displays of unique wreaths and small tabletop trees. I love decorating for Christmas, so I’m always impressed by the level of ingenuity expressed here. Clever imagination and originality abound. A wreath is just a wreath, unless it was conceived by one of the inventive designers at Festival of Trees! They’re constantly coming up with innovative new ways of doing them. Some of the resources and materials they use literally blow my mind. Check out a few of my favorites from Deck the Halls…
Designer Trees and Vignettes — Photo Tour
The one-of-a-kind trees, winterscapes, and vignettes offered in this section are truly brilliant. If you don’t come away inspired, you may want to check your pulse! Even if you choose not to purchase a tree, I guarantee your own creative juices will be flowing by the time you get home.
*TIP… Take lots of photos. Keep them in a digital album and refer back to them year after year. Use them as a starting point to create your own holiday masterpiece. Oftentimes you can improvise, using materials and color schemes more conducive to your home decor, and achieve the same outstanding results.
Plan to linger in this area for a while. There’s usually Christmas music playing softly in the background — sometimes via live musicians or choirs. Allow the sights and sounds of the season to seep into your spirit. After all… it is the most wonderful time of the year!
Your nose knows how to find this area! Just follow the sweet and spicy scent of gingerbread. The awesome aroma permeates an entire section of the Museum. Sponsored by Macy’s, each gingerbread masterpiece is created by local culinary artists and available for purchase. Take a moment to notice the remarkable detail in each one. Here’s seven of my favorites from the 30th Annual Festival of Trees…
Entertaining by Design Drawings
One of my hubby’s favorite parts of the Festival of Trees at Orlando Museum of Art is the opportunity to win a spectacular prize. Patrons of the Festival can purchase tickets for the drawings. They’re reasonably priced at $1 each or 25 for $20. There’s a wide variety of donated items — things like Gift Baskets, Gift Certificates for Dinner, Design Consultation, Getaways, Progressive Wine Dinner, Spa Services, Cocktail Party for 20 People, Shopping Spree, Tablescapes, Designer Jewelry, and Decorated Trees. Choose the one’s that interest you and simply deposit a ticket in the container located by each item. Then, wait for your phone to ring after the close of the Festival. We’re still waiting… but hey, it’s for a great cause, right? Check out a few of this year’s drawings…
Toyland Town and Santa Claus
As with any other place that features fragile displays, great caution must be used if choosing to take young children to the Festival of Trees. If you do, be sure to visit Toyland Town, a special area where children can do crafts, play games, and even join in a scavenger hunt. At select times Santa will be present to receive the wish list for all good little girls and boys! Then your little ones can shop-till-they-drop in the Toyland Shop which is filled with kiddie gifts and great stocking stuffers. (Mom and Dad can visit the Festival Boutique for unique grown-up gifts!)
I highly recommend the Reindeer Romp Children’s Party, a specially ticketed evening event that occurs mid-week during the nine day Festival. Entertainment includes Balloon Artists, Storytellers, Comedy Variety Artists, Crayola Experience, Face Painting, Sing-Alongs, StiltFun, Russian Ballet of Orlando, Photo Booth, and Santa Claus himself! It’s a wonderful holiday party for the entire family.
Festival of Trees Special Events
Each year there are special events happening at the Festival of Trees. The Festival opens with a Tree Lighting Reception followed by a Formal Gala that includes Food, Wine and Spirits, Entertainment, and a Silent Auction.
Additional information regarding admission pricing, parking, special event tickets, senior day, entertainment schedule, photos from prior Festival of Trees, and Museum membership can be found on the Orlando Museum of Art website.
Please Share Your Thoughts
I hope you have been filled with inspiration from the photo tour of the 30th Festival of Trees at the Orlando Museum of Art. Please share your thoughts, ask a question, or simply let me know you have visited today by leaving a reply in the comment section below. Hearing from you is the best part of my day!
Leu Gardens — Vintage Florida!
As a 16-year Florida resident, I’m always searching for little hidden gems off-the-beaten-path from the hustle and bustle of Central Florida theme parks and other tourist-driven attractions. Amazingly, I’ve found one in the most unexpected place… 2 miles from downtown Orlando! So close to ‘the Mouse’ and his house at Walt Disney World, yet a million miles away (at least that’s what it seemed like to me). Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of Mickey’s fondest fans, but every now and then I crave some of God’s handiwork more than man-made Disney magic. The Harry P. Leu Gardens satisfied my appetite for an authentic “Old Florida” respite. They have perfectly preserved the beauty, culture, history, and environment of vintage Florida.
Harry P. Leu Gardens — Celebrating 55 Years!
In 1961, 55 years ago, the City of Orlando was given a grandiose gift. Harry Leu and his wife Mary Jane donated their home and gardens to the “City Beautiful.” The restored 19th century home has become the historic Leu House Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The botanical gardens contain nearly 50 acres of cultivated tropical and semi-tropical plant collections from around the world, thanks to the extensive international travels of Mr. and Mrs. Leu. [Of course, that was prior to governmental regulations that restrict bringing certain agricultural products into the United States.] Their passion for horticulture is what transformed their estate into the botanical oasis that we enjoy today.
Leu Gardens — 14 Dedicated Areas
Leu Gardens is strategically divided into 14 different areas to better appreciate the offerings. Interpretive signs, QR Codes, and plant labels can be found throughout the gardens. I did, however, think the signage could have been better. Even with a map, my hubby and I found the navigational aides to be sparse for such a vast property. Although, we did encounter several staff members in golf carts who were more than willing to help with directions and any questions we had.
Following is a listing of the 14 dedicated areas within Leu gardens:
- Garden House Welcome Center
- Tropical Stream Garden
- Idea Garden
- Herb Garden
- Butterfly Garden
- Vegetable Garden
- Rose Garden
- Color Garden
- Leu House Museum
- Palms, Cycads & Bamboo
- Floral Clock
- White Garden
- Arid Garden
Leu Gardens — Free Admission The First Monday Of Every Month
My husband and I visited Leu Gardens in early October. We happened to be there on the first Monday of the month, and received free entry, as is their policy every month (excludes special events). Although adult admission is a modest $10 (parking included), the “freebie” was greatly appreciated. Additionally, if you have a Membership in any of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) Gardens throughout the country, you can take advantage of the reciprocal admission program and receive free admission to Leu Gardens simply by showing your Membership Card and photo ID. Florida has some outstanding botanical gardens and museums that participate such as Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, and Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park. With nearly 50 reciprocal partners in the Sunshine State, the cost of Membership will certainly pay for itself many times over! Here’s a link with additional information on a Leu Gardens Membership, including pricing and benefits.
Leu Gardens Self-Guided Walking Tour
Our tour at Leu Gardens began at the Garden House Welcome Center where we picked up a map for our self-guided walking tour. This building also provides space for business meetings, receptions, retreats, art exhibits, and plant groups. Classes are offered year-round for gardening, landscaping, history, wildlife, art, photography, and cooking.
For the plant enthusiast, be sure to stop by the botanic library. The Gift Shop was small but had some unique items to memorialize your visit or suitable for gift giving. A practical purchase would be the all natural botanical herbal insect repellent for your leisurely stroll amidst the gardens.
Leu Gardens In The Fall
As previously mentioned, I visited Leu Gardens in early October. Since the climate of Central Florida is conducive for year-round plantings, I was expecting much more color. There were a few pockets of gorgeous autumn hues in the Color Garden, but generally speaking, flowering plants were not plentiful. This was my greatest disappointment. I enjoyed the gardens enough to return, but will choose a different season when I do.
Leu House Museum — National Register Of Historic Places
The Leu House Museum is included in the entry fee, and should not be missed. I truly enjoyed my guided tour through this restored 19th century home. It was fascinating to see and hear about turn-of-the-century Florida living. Four families owned the property before it opened to the public in 1961, and each story was captivating. Our docent was extremely knowledgeable and answered questions without hesitation. Many of the furnishings in this historic home were originals left by Mrs. Leu; others are period reproductions.
Tours last about 25 minutes and are available on the hour and half hour. From November 13 – January 2 you can see the Leu House Museum decorated for the holidays. Creative juices flow as 9 local interior designers work their magic in each of the 11 rooms of this estate — everything from Christmas trees, tablescapes, wreaths, vintage ornaments, and much more. You’ll go home with a few decorating tips, for sure!
Leu House Museum Photo Tour
The Majestic Rose Garden — In Memory Of Mary Jane Leu
The Rose Garden at Harry P. Leu Gardens is nothing short of spectacular! The fact that Mary Jane Leu loved roses is quite evident here. She created it as a place of beauty and education for future generations. It contains some very old garden roses; those existing prior to 1867, as well as more modern varieties. This is the largest formal rose garden in the state of Florida! No wonder Leu Gardens is a favorite wedding destination that hosts over 300 weddings every year. It has been voted as one of the best wedding venues in Orlando.
The Floral Clock At Leu Gardens
There are certain not-to-be-missed sections of Leu Gardens, and the Floral Clock is one of them. This feature was inspired by the famous floral clock of Edinburgh, Scotland. The Scottish version was commissioned in 1903, and was the first of its kind in the world. This one was donated by the Kiwanis Club of Orlando in 1975. The unique and stunning display is an actual working clock and the floral designs that fill the face of the clock are changed seasonally. Although not as intricate and well-groomed as I had expected (it appeared somewhat overgrown and the hands of the clock were difficult to see), it is worth a few minutes of your time.
Palms, Cycads, And Bamboo
This specialty garden is sometimes referred to as “the dinosaur garden” because it contains many plants dating back to the prehistoric age. For example, Cycads are primitive plants that existed for nearly 200 million years. During the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth they were the main plant life. Even though they are palm-like in appearance, they are cone bearing plants and have no relation to palms.
The Palms in this collection rank among the most extensive in the United States. It is vast with nearly 400 species that are well suited for our Central Florida climate. Palms are useful for providing food, furniture, and even wax for surfboards (Carnauba Wax Palm). While strolling the Palm Garden, take a moment to read the plant labels that identify the common name, botanical name, plant family, and origin of each specie. They’re quite interesting.
If you’re a lover of Bamboo like I am, you will be fascinated with nearly 50 varieties in this garden. Bamboo is a woody-stemmed plant in the grass family. Some grow only a few inches tall, while others reach over 70 feet with canes 5 inches in diameter. If you’re considering planting Bamboo in your Central Florida backyard (or even in a controlled indoor environment) I highly recommend visiting Leu Gardens first, where you can check out tons of different species. Some of them have been growing for more than 30 years. When you’re ready to buy, Beautiful Bamboo in Groveland, Florida is a nursery that specializes in Bamboo, about 30 minutes from Orlando.
The Butterfly Garden
Always a favorite of mine is the Butterfly Garden. I’ve been to many in Florida; some were pretty awesome, other’s not so much! The one at Leu Gardens is worth a few minutes of your time. There’s just something about this flying insect that puts a smile on my face every time I see one. To me, this gentle creature that floats in the wind is the epitome of beauty and grace. In this specialty garden, a wide variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees are planted to attract different types of butterflies. Some of them are nectar plants, others are larval plants that caterpillars eat. Many also attract hummingbirds and night-flying moths.
While in the Butterfly Garden, another visitor pointed out the presence of a snake that was trying hard to go un-noticed. Obviously, he got busted! I didn’t stick around long enough to see what kind it was, for even the harmless ones freak me out. Because of my speedy departure from this area, I didn’t spend any time looking at the Herb Garden which displays both culinary and medicinal herbs. The fragrant aroma, however, was proof enough that it existed! The Vegetable Garden area seemed barren. The fenced-in plot of land didn’t have any visible crops. Perhaps they were in-between the summer and fall plantings.
*TIP… Although Leu Gardens is impeccably manicured and maintained, be aware that it is a vast, open area with dense, lush plantings that may be desirable to wandering animals and critters like the one mentioned above. I highly recommend staying on the dedicated walkways. Be vigilant and keep your adventurous spirit in check!
Lake Rowena Overlook
The Tropical Stream Garden is appropriately named. There’s a variety of tropical and subtropical plants throughout this garden that create the atmosphere of a tropical rainforest. This is where you’ll see bird-of-paradise, bananas, bromeliads, heliconias, and other tropical beauties. If you’re looking to momentarily escape the Florida heat you’ll want to linger the peaceful paths here. There’s an abundance of shade in this garden. There’s also a sparkling little stream that winds its way into Lake Rowena.
The Lake Rowena overlook was beautiful and relaxing. The boardwalk and gazebo are named for John Wyckoff, one of Leu Gardens original board members. This is one of the newer additions to the Gardens. Take a walking break and enjoy the stunning vistas here. An aquatic wetland garden contains mostly native plants. And… have your camera ready — I’d be surprised if you don’t see heron, turtles, and an occasional alligator!
Peak Season Pops — A Refreshing Respite
Although Leu Gardens does not currently have a cafe on site, frequently there are visiting approved vendors that offer sandwiches or snacks. Hubby was hoping for a hot dog stand, but got to try some popular popsicles instead. Peak Season Pops are gourmet ice pops that are all-natural and handmade with local seasonal ingredients. We met the owners who are an awesome husband and wife team. Honestly… they were the best ice pops I’ve ever had! I’m not usually a popsicle person, but it was very hot and they looked so refreshing. I had the Autumn Roasted Peach and hubby had the Pineapple Lemongrass. Both were outstanding. If you’re in the Orlando area, check out Peak Season Pops for delivery options, special events, birthdays, etc. I highly recommend them. Brooke Chen (owner) was telling us they just did a wedding wherein the bride and groom opted to serve gourmet popsicles instead of traditional wedding cake! Apparently this trend is catching on here in the Sunshine State. For additional information visit the Peak Season Pops website.
*TIP… If you’re planning to be at Leu Gardens for a while, small bag lunches are allowed on the patio of the Garden House Welcome Center. Beverage vending machines are also available in the lobby of the Welcome Center.
Beyond The Gardens — Educational Classes And Workshops
It’s very difficult to see the entire 50-acre botanical Garden in less than 2 hours. We did a leisurely stroll for more than that, yet still managed to miss a few key points of interest. We did not view the Mizell Cemetery or the Idea Garden. The world famous Camellias (largest documented collection in Eastern North America) were not in bloom so we didn’t spend much time in those areas. A 2 hour window is recommended for adequate viewing of the Gardens. We’re planning a return trip, but possibly in the spring, hoping for significantly more color.
Visit the Leu Gardens website for a calendar showing what plants are in bloom in any given month. There’s also information on upcoming events and classes — things like monthly outdoor movie night, monthly storytelling for young children, seasonal concerts, annual plant sale, seed swaps, gardening for honey bees, aroma therapy for intestinal health, bats of Florida, the Leu House holiday lecture, wreath making, mini gardening and fairy gardens, casual Tuscan cooking, and on and on and on! The diverse educational offerings are impressive at Leu Gardens.
*TIP… Bring (or purchase) bottled water, apply insect repellant, and wear comfortable shoes!
UPCOMING SPECIAL EVENT:
Dinosaur Invasion — January 13 – April 30
A one-of-a-kind, outdoor exhibit featuring life-size prehistoric creatures throughout the 50-acre botanical gardens
Price: Included in the daytime Garden admission of $10 (adult)
Leu Gardens is an urban display of botanical beauty just a short drive from the “happiest place on earth!” It’s not nearly as magical, mind-blowing, or mesmerizing as ‘the Mouse,’ yet memorable in many ways. You’ll experience a sense of serenity that is instantly calming as you intentionally distance yourself from the insanity that sometimes exists in Central Florida tourist areas. Wildly tropical with formal gardens. I know, sounds like an oxymoron, but at Leu Gardens they co-exist in perfect harmony. So go ahead and do your crazy theme park thing, then swing by here for a perfect portrait of what Florida used to be!