Archive For April 26, 2017
What Does it Take to Become the Most Interesting Town in America?
Reader’s Digest Goes Searching for the Most Interesting Town in the USA!
Did you know Reader’s Digest went searching for the most interesting town in America? It’s true. They summoned their reader-base for suggestions. Most of us are quite proud of our hometowns, so needless to say, they received responses from all 50 states. A huge amount of entries were collected! Can you imagine being the designated person(s) to sift through the plethora of stories and photos that were submitted?
Quite honestly, I would have loved that assignment. The older I get, the more interested I become in American history. Although traveling the world is exciting, I have never been more aware of the incredible beauty, nature, and culture right here in my own backyard. In fact, I’m compiling a bucket list of places I would like to visit right here in the good ole USA — cities from coast to coast (or is it sea to shining sea?).
Imagine my surprise then, to hear that the grand prize winner for The Most Interesting Town in America for 2013 was right here in Central Florida. Lake Placid was the winner — only 90 minutes from my home!
Where is Lake Placid Florida?
10 Finalist Towns in Reader’s Digest Search for the Most Interesting!
Before I introduce you to the ‘Top Dog,’ I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the towns that were chosen as finalists. In addition to the Grand Prize Winner for America’s Most Interesting Town, the Reader’s Digest editors also chose 10 finalists that received honors in unique categories. The topics were very specific. The winning authors received $1,000 and their respective towns were mentioned in a print and digital version of Reader’s Digest. The following is a list of the 10 finalist towns…
Character — Lawrence, Kansas
Parade — Peachtree City, Georgia
Yarn — Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Family — Show Low, Arizona
Landmark — Tongass National Rainforest, Alaska
Event — Lewisburg, Tennessee
Trivia — Dalton, Georgia
Nickname — Mount Airy, North Carolina
Legend — Polo, Illinois
Scenic View — Chattanooga, Tennessee
Did your hometown make the cut? If not, don’t worry, there’s always next year. The contest was such a huge success that it’s sure to be repeated. If you’re a person with a lot of hometown pride, and community spirit that’s contagious, it’s never too early to start writing your story!
The Reader’s Digest Contest Winners — How Were They Chosen?
You’re probably wondering how the winners were chosen. As in any contest, there were some guidelines for entry submissions. Readers from all over the country were eligible to participate. They were asked to submit a short essay of 150 words (or less) telling what makes their town so interesting. Contestants were free to enter as many stories as they wanted, and had the convenience of submitting them online via the official Reader’s Digest website. One story was selected by the editorial staff of Reader’s Digest. One!
The author of the winning essay received a cash prize of $1,000, and the chosen town was featured on the cover of a Reader’s Digest publication.
Lake Placid — The Grand Prize Winner for America’s Most Interesting Town!
When I say Lake Placid, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Freezing cold winters, Adirondack Mountains, Olympic gold medals? Perhaps. That was my immediate thought when I first read that the winner was Lake Placid. But after a second glance, I noticed it was Lake Placid, Florida — a tiny little town in the middle of the Sunshine State. I first realized its existence from the billboards that popped up during my road-trips to the Gulf Coast of Florida. For many years hubby and I would pass by the outskirts of this pint-sized gem, far removed from the tacky tourist spots that are so prevalent in Florida. It wasn’t until this year that we decided to venture off-the-beaten-path and tour this terrific tiny town.
Our first stop was the Chamber of Commerce/Welcome Center (a great choice for first-time visitors) where we watched a 10 minute video depicting the history of Lake Placid, Florida; and what history it has! How can something so small exhibit such greatness? I was beginning to think the town had more titles than tourists. The volunteer staff of senior citizens were proud as a peacock to inform us of their most recently designated title: America’s Most Interesting Town!
So, What Makes Lake Placid Florida Unique Among Towns?
This tiny town is a minuscule one and a half miles square and houses 1800 residents. Born and raised a small-town girl myself, admittedly, Lake Placid made my beloved hometown look like a metropolis! And with everything squeezed into such a small spot, it’s the perfect walking town. Simply park your car and meander at your own pace. Here are a few things I learned about Lake Placid that makes it so interesting.
What Does the Dewey Decimal System Inventor and Lake Placid Have in Common?
One of the first things I learned at the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center was how Lake Placid received its name. This year, in 2017, Lake Placid celebrated its 90th birthday. But, it wasn’t always known as Lake Placid.
This tiny town has seen its share of prominent and influential people, but none more so than Dr. Melvil Dewey. You probably remember him from your school days as the inventor of the Dewey Decimal System. But what I didn’t recall from school was that Dr. Dewey was not only an educator and librarian, but a visionary and developer.
Wealth begets wealth, and in 1895 Dewey built a summer resort for his affluent friends at a place called Lake Placid, New York. I became familiar with this upstate New York town during the 1980 Winter Olympics. (Remember Roni and Ronny, the two raccoon mascots?)
About 35 years later, Dewey discovered a perfect place for a winter resort for this same exclusive group of friends — Lake Stearns, Florida. He loved the lakes (all 27 of them), the citrus, the endangered species, the rolling hills… and, of course, the mild winter weather. But he didn’t like the name! So in 1927 he persuaded the Florida State legislature to change it from Lake Stearns to Lake Placid. (Remember the old saying “Money talks?”) Mr. Dewey went on to build the Lake Placid Club in Florida to mirror the one he developed in Lake Placid, New York for his friends. And, he continued building… an upscale lodge, an additional hotel, a water tower, a train station (currently on the National Registry of Historic Places), and maintained his own beautification project.
Lake Placid, New York and Lake Placid, Florida are now sister cities! The dynamic duo signed the proclamation in 2012.
The Town of Murals: How It All Began
Lake Placid is known as “The Town of Murals.” It is quite literally an outdoor art gallery. Currently, there are 47 larger-than-life murals, each one depicting a small part of Lake Placid’s history. For more than 20 years local and visiting artists have contributed to more than 33,000 square feet of murals.
Lake Placid Mural Society founders, Bob and Harriet Porter, implemented the creative idea after witnessing the revitalization of a Vancouver Island, B.C. town while on vacation. And the concept came right on time. Lake Placid had 15 empty stores and black mold was taking over many of the walls in town. But just like their predecessor, the project was a HUGE success. Tourism has increased, which has resulted in economic gain.
In fact, the financial turn-around from Lake Placid’s mural project was so outstanding that it captured the attention of many other towns. More than 140 towns in the U.S. and Canada have requested information to start their own projects. The murals are created and maintained by fundraisers, donations, and sponsors. The title of “Florida’s Outstanding Rural Community” was earned by the mural society in 1995 & 1996.
A fun thing to do for visitors, as hubby and I found out, is to purchase the publication entitled, “The Murals of Lake Placid” from the Welcome Center. It cost a whopping $3.00 and is the perfect accompaniment when taking the self-guided walking tour. (The DVD is also available for slightly more.) It showcases each of the 47 murals with a full page description of the artist and history of each one. It also states the location throughout town, along with a challenge to find a specific listed item that is hidden somewhere within each mural. (Not as easy as it sounds!) Here are a few of my favorite Lake Placid murals:
Mural: Tea at Southwinds – Lake Placid’s first mural; depicting the glory days, where the rich and famous came to play! A patio scene from Dr. Dewey’s exclusive resort.
Mural: The Talk of the Town – Lake Placid’s phone exchange. A PBX board was used from 1930-1935.
Mural: The Old Post Office – Lake Placid’s first U.S. Post Office (February 1919).
Mural: Our Citrus Heritage – 1 out of 10 glasses of orange juice consumed in the U.S. comes from Highlands County.
Mural: Cracker Trail Cattle Drive – Cowmen driving a herd of cattle through Lake Placid on their way to market; a 2-3 week trip full of danger.
The Caladium Capital of the World
Another interesting fact that I learned about America’s Most Interesting Town during my visit is that it carries the title of “Caladium Capital of the World.” I’ve always had a special fondness for the unique ornamental heart-shaped leaves of the caladium. Have you ever purchased a caladium as an exotic decorative foliage plant for your yard, or placed one in a pot on the patio? If so, chances are real good that it was grown in Lake Placid! In fact, 95% of the world’s caladiums are grown just outside this tiny town, on 1500 acres. We were able to see the caladium fields as we traveled east on County Road 621. (Can you guess who supplied the thousands of caladium plants for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics? Yep. It was lovely Lake Placid!)
Since caladium farming is such a thriving local industry, I thought it was ironic that the plant is not native to Florida. The first bulbs were brought from the Amazon River Valley of South America and planted in Lake Placid more than 50 years ago. Now, not only are the bulbs shipped nationwide, but to countries all over the world like Europe, Spain, Turkey, and South Africa. I guess it’s no surprise then, in honor of this colorful creation, that the “Caladium Festival” is held annually in Lake Placid. Patrons can buy bulbs and plants, meet the caladium growers, and tour the fields. The Caladium Festival also has yummy food booths, arts and craft vendors, free entertainment, an antique car show, and an air boat/swamp buggy show. With free admission and free parking, you can be sure it’s on my bucket list!
Lake Placid – The Perfect Place to Clown Around!
Here’s another title for Lake Placid – The Clown Capital of the USA! No, seriously, I’m not clowning around here! Someone has to carry this prestigious honor, so why not Lake Placid? It makes sense to me that America’s Most Interesting Town would also have more clowns per capita than anywhere else in the country!
Toby’s Clown School has trained students from all over the United States and Canada to become professional clowns. These wanna-be-clowns don’t have aspirations of performing under ‘The Big Top’ though. They goof around for much smaller audiences — like hospitals, nursing homes, children’s parties, and assisted living facilities. Additionally, in Lake Placid during the cooler months of the year, they can be seen greeting visitors to the murals.
I love the history behind Toby’s Clown School. It started in 1980 with one Man’s (Toby) desire to spread smiles, love, and laughter to hurting people in the local hospital. The positive affect it had within the community was amazing. Other hospitals and organizations began requesting his special talent. The demand was far greater than one person could fulfill… hence, Toby’s Clown School was born. Today, Toby’s brand of ‘clown medicine’ can be seen coast to coast, and graduates range in age from 8 to 96! If you’ve ever dreamt of becoming a real clown, you can access the Clown School Application on Toby’s Clown School website.
There’s even a Clown Museum in Lake Placid! It’s part of Toby’s Clown School, but it’s open to the public and has free admission. Here, you’ll find paintings by Red Skelton, the famous clown and artist, circus posters from Ringling Brothers, a miniature circus scene, century-old clown costumes, a life-size hand-carved carousel horse, and many clown figurines and dolls. Toby’s Clown Museum may be the only museum dedicated to American Clowns!
“The role of a clown and a physician are the same — it’s to elevate the possible and to relieve suffering”
~ Patch Adams
Artistic Trash Containers
Even the trash containers in Lake Placid are a work of art! During your walking tour you’ll find 17 one-of-a-kind unique trash cans, each one serving as a companion piece to the murals.
Lake Placid — Worthy of the Winning Entry!
In conclusion, I truly enjoyed my day-trip to America’s Most Interesting Town! So many of America’s small towns have lost their once-charming appeal. Many downtown districts in urban areas are dying a slow death. Sometimes, as I drive through them, I wonder what the cost of restoration and revival would be. I wish that some of these old things could be made new again. I applaud Lake Placid for allowing their dingy buildings to become a canvas for artistic expression and city pride — for allowing their decorated trash cans to hold more than garbage — for allowing the class clown to flourish…
My desire as you read this article, is that someone with an ounce of hope for their otherwise hopeless small-town, would be inspired to pursue a revitalization project. Take a lesson from Lake Placid… your town can be a winner too!
Have you visited Lake Placid, Florida? What was your favorite part of the tour? Or perhaps you’ve been to another small town in America worthy of being America’s Most Interesting Town? Please share with our readers in the ‘Comment’ box below!
Lake Placid Mural Video — YouTube
Chef Mickey’s Character Dining at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
My Grandson, Apollo, was turning 3 years old and I wanted something spectacular and memorable to mark this special occasion. As Florida residents and Disney Annual Passholders, we frequently take him with us to the Disney theme parks. We have been ever since he was 9 months old. So simply attending Magic Kingdom (his favorite) or Animal Kingdom wasn’t unique enough. It had to be a little more unusual — something as remarkable as the Disney Parks but distinctively different. We wanted him to know this day was not the same as our usual visits to Disney. After all, it’s not every day a toddler turns three, is it?
We opted for a Disney Character Brunch at Chef Mickey’s inside the Contemporary Resort Hotel. Hubby and I love the California Grill on the 15th floor of this hotel; in fact, it’s one of our favorite fine-dining restaurants on Disney property. But, certainly Chef Mickey’s would be very different then the award-winning exquisite cuisine experienced in their signature dining spot high atop Seven Seas Lagoon. We knew there would be no comparison, but hoped, and even expected, Chef Mickey’s to be just as noteworthy. The following Review reveals whether this popular Disney restaurant met our expectations.
Chef Mickey’s Check-in Procedure
Upon arriving at Chef Mickey’s we checked in with the hostess. Our brunch reservation was for 12:55 and we arrived at least 15 minutes early, just as Disney recommends. We were given one of those restaurant “pagers” — the kind that light up and vibrate when your table is ready. This one was pure Disney though, as it included trivia questions about Walt Disney World, each with multiple choice answers. The birthday boy latched onto ours, so we didn’t get to play. A small price to keep an active toddler somewhat occupied!
After receiving the “pager” we were told to get in line for a family photograph, taken by Disney photographers. (Perhaps the reason they request that you show up early.) Of course, there’s no obligation to purchase the photos. But you know how that goes. Once you see those adorable shots, you just have to have one. The photo process is the same as in the Disney theme parks. After shooting several poses the Disney photographer scans your Magic Band or PhotoPass Card and they are conveniently linked to your online Disney account where you can preview and purchase them. I must admit, ours came out much better than expected. And yes, I did purchase one!
Shortly after our photo shoot, the “pager” went off. Coincidence or strategic? I’m not sure, but the anticipation was growing for Apollo who was more than ready to see his favorite Disney Characters.
Birthday’s Are Special at Chef Mickey’s
Here’s the first thing that impressed me: A Birthday Card signed by all 5 of the Disney Characters that were present that day was already on our table. Apollo discovered the card immediately and was elated to see who it was from. However, the real surprise here was for me. In my quest to keep an active and adventurous 3-year-old under control, I had forgotten to request anything special for Apollo’s birthday upon check-in. I booked my reservation online through the official Disney dining website, but unlike some other restaurant reservation forms, there was no spot to place a special request. Typically, you are to mention any special occasions to the hostess, who in turn alerts the restaurant staff. But a conscientious hostess saved the day! Apparently, she had noticed that Apollo was wearing his Disney Birthday Button and acted on it, without me having to ask. Kudos to this young lady for her attentiveness. I could tell that birthday’s are special here at Chef Mickey’s, and the hostess and servers go above-and-beyond to make sure your child is recognized.
As you can see, we were also celebrating Apollo’s very first Disney Annual Pass. Children under 3 have free theme park entry, but ages 3 – 9 require a child’s ticket. A milestone for Apollo who was becoming increasingly upset that he didn’t have his own Magic Band like Mimi and Pappy. We chose a fire-engine-red color for him! After our brunch at Chef Mickey’s he was able to use it for the first time at Magic Kingdom. He was prouder than a peacock on Pine Island! In the mind of a 3-year-old, he’s all grown up now.
Chef Mickey’s: Buffet-Style Quick Service Disney Dining
Chef Mickey’s is a casual buffet-style restaurant serving American cuisine in a large open area that is brightly colored with a
lively loud atmosphere. Since it’s a buffet, you can feed hungry kids (and Grandma’s) quickly. There’s no waiting to order, other than the included non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. Our server greeted us almost immediately after we were seated, and took our beverage selections. Service was fantastic the entire time, but that’s to be expected with a buffet. Our server was an older woman (a bit surprising to me in a place with a gazillion hyper kids running loose) and was excellent at offering drink refills and clearing the dirty dishes from our table in order to make room for the next trip to the buffet. We never had to flag her down for anything.
Chef Mickey’s Food Choices for Brunch
For me, this was the weak link in my Chef Mickey’s experience. Don’t get me wrong, there was certainly no shortage of food. And with unlimited trips to the buffet, you could eat till your heart’s content. It was the food quality that was disappointing. For Apollo’s very first birthday we took him to lunch at Tusker House in Animal Kingdom, which is also a Disney Character buffet. I really enjoyed the food there, and thought the quality was excellent. I was expecting the same at Chef Mickey’s, but the food quality was a let down. I concluded that the food is much better at Tusker House but the Disney Character interaction is superior at Chef Mickey’s. Therefore, it boils down to what’s most important to your family… food quality or the Character experience.
Because we booked a brunch reservation we had both breakfast items and lunch selections on the buffet. I really appreciated the separate buffet bar with food choices made especially for children. It included all of Apollo’s favorites — things like chicken nuggets, mac ‘n cheese, potato nuggets, and Mickey-shaped waffles. I particularly liked the baked salmon, fresh carved baked ham (with choice of sauce), and seasonal kale salad. Pretty much everything else I tried, I didn’t like — the spare ribs were overcooked and tough, the kielbasa was also tough, the smoked salmon way too salty for my taste buds (couldn’t eat more than two bites), lobster bisque was a big disappointment (ate a few spoonfuls just because I felt guilty leaving so much in my cup), and I should have passed on the chocolate chip pancakes I forced myself to eat. Hubby liked the cheesy potato casserole and said the peel-n-eat shrimp were okay. But in the end, I would have to agree with Apollo… dessert was the best part of the meal (don’t tell his Mother, but he had two portions!).
As previously mentioned, return visits to the buffet are unlimited, so I suggest sampling a variety of foods in small portions then returning for the ones you liked best. I also noticed there were some vegetarian-friendly foods as well as Gluten-free options. Here’s the link to Chef Mickey’s brunch menu.
TIP: For tourists visiting Walt Disney World or Florida residents staying on Disney property I would recommend Chef Mickey’s for breakfast. The breakfast foods on the buffet seemed to be better, and it is less expensive than brunch. Also, it’s probably better time management to eat breakfast and then spend the day at the Disney parks, rather than have to leave the parks in the middle of the day for brunch.
The Disney Characters: The Main Attraction
As with all things Disney, the Characters are usually the main attraction. And so it was at Chef Mickey’s! There were 5 different Characters the day we were there — Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy (Apollo’s favorite). I was amazed at the effort put forth by the Characters to stop at every single table. In addition, they allowed ample time for each family to take photos or short video clips. You never have to be concerned about your child missing a visit from them. Even if you’re at the buffet and think they’ve bypassed your table, don’t worry, they’ll come back around. The Characters seemed to meander the restaurant in a strategic fashion and were excellent at making sure no child was missed. After all, isn’t that what we really paid for?
Whenever the Disney Characters were making the rounds, it was quite a lively scene, to say the least. At Chef Mickey’s you don’t have to put a muzzle on your child’s mouth. They can make as much noise as they want and it won’t be a distraction to other diners, because their kids are roaring with laughter and ear-splitting noisy as well. One thing to keep in mind is that the Characters DO NOT talk. Therefore, any “Happy Birthday” song requests must be made with the staff who will do the singing, and the Characters will break out with napkin swinging and dancing. This seemed to happen about every 15-20 minutes. Some songs were not birthday related, but appeared rather impromptu. These short bouts of sporadic interactive song-and-dance with the kids were awesome and certainly kept them occupied. Of course, if you just want your little mouseketeers to eat, the dancing could become a distraction, for sure!
TIP: Bring your own camera or cell phone for photos in the restaurant. The only Disney photographer available is the one for the family photo while you’re waiting to be seated. There were NO photographers inside Chef Mickey’s.
TIP: Very small children may be terrified of the Disney Characters (as Apollo was during his 1st birthday at Tusker House). For little kids they’re so much bigger in real life than watching them on TV. It may help to have them watch YouTube before going to the restaurant. There are a multitude of video clips from Chef Mickey’s to choose from.
The Icing on the
For some people “the icing on the cake” is simply a metaphoric expression. But at Chef Mickey’s it was so much more than that. To our surprise, a yummy-looking “Birthday Cupcake” was delivered to Apollo by our server, Ms. Teresa. (Remember, we had forgotten to request these additional birthday items!) For the second time during our visit to Chef Mickey’s I was “wowed” by their keen sense of awareness of any special occasions being celebrated, like our Grandson’s birthday. Even though Mimi messed up, the ‘Mouse’ seemed to work his Disney magic, and we all lived happily ever after. Well, you get the idea, right? The only way Chef Mickey’s could go from good to great, was by making a BIG deal over Apollo’s 3rd birthday… and they surpassed our expectations in that regard.
Ms. Teresa brought the cupcake to Apollo, then proceeded to light the candle. It didn’t matter that he didn’t like it (the icing was lemon flavored, somewhat tart for a toddler, I suppose). Pappy enjoyed eating the cupcake along with the decorative chocolate Mickey-ears, while Apollo had a blast playing with the “candy confetti!”
While the food is not fantastic and the prices are pure Disney (fantastically high), to see the non-stop smile on Apollo’s face and hear his contagious giggling with frequent outbursts of laughter, was priceless! That said, it was worth every penny AND a return visit!
A Few More Tips…
TIP: Because of the popularity of this Disney Character Dining experience, it books up quickly. But even if the reservation system indicates it is totally booked, don’t give up. I recommend checking several times a day (both online and by calling). With Disney Dining there are always cancellations. I made our reservations only a few days before we went!
TIP: If you’re driving to the Contemporary Resort to have brunch at Chef Mickey’s, please note that free valet parking is NOT included (as it is with some Disney restaurants). We paid $25 to valet park and an additional $5 tip. A bit pricey, and I wouldn’t do it again. You have the option to self-park (a mile away), or here’s an idea… The Magic Kingdom is only a short (10 minute) walk to the Contemporary Resort if you’re coming from there. Or, take the “Resort” Monorail from the Magic Kingdom which stops directly at the Contemporary!
TIP: Attention Annual Passholders… Don’t forget to ask for your 10% dining discount. Our total bill for brunch for 2 adults and 1 child was $104 + tax and tip. The $10 discount paid for half of the gratuity!
Have you been to Chef Mickey’s? Please share your experience or helpful tips with our readers. Or, perhaps you have a question about this Disney restaurant. Simply reply in the comment box below!