Archive For July 25, 2017

Top 10 Marriott Villas in Florida


Marco Island Beach

Marco Island Beach


Marriott Villas — A Home Away from Home

So.  You’ve decided to take the family to Florida…  the whole family!  A family reunion, of sorts.  Then you started pricing hotel rooms for the clan and almost changed your mind.  Where in the world can a larger family stay without booking multiple rooms per night?

Instead of the traditional tiny, cramped hotel room, there’s another option: Marriott Vacation Villas!  Did you know you do not have to be a Marriott Vacation Club Owner in order to stay in one of their spacious villas?  They are available for anyone to rent on a daily basis, and the Marriott Villas can be booked through the web site.  (Of course availability and prices vary from season to season just like a traditional hotel room.)

One of the best parts is this: You get so much more than simply a room.  A Marriott Villa is kinda like a ‘home away from home!’


3 Benefits of Vacationing in a Marriott Villa

  1. Size, size, size… that’s a no-brainer!  (This is one of those times when size does matter!)  Many of the Marriott Villas are 2 bedrooms, 2 full bathrooms, a full kitchen (includes dishes, utensils, cookware, etc.), bar/counter stool dining, a dining room, living room, laundry room (with washer and dryer), and balcony/lanai.  Most Marriott Villas can accommodate 8-10 people, very comfortably.  (A few locations even offer 3-bedroom units.)
  2. With the added benefit of a full kitchen, there is no need to purchase all of your meals at costly restaurants.  Typically, hubby and I like to have breakfast or brunch at the villa (works well when you’re not a morning person and prefer breakfast in your jammies!).  Then, we usually splurge on dinner each evening, and quite often take a doggie-bag back to the villa to be reheated for lunch or snack the next day.
  3. Another ‘at home’ convenience for us is the in-villa laundry room.  I don’t know why we women (finger pointing at me) feel the need to pack a different outfit for every day of the week… with matching shoes and purse!  Having the convenience of the washer and dryer has enabled me to pack a little lighter. Also, I’ve gotten into the habit of doing all my laundry on our final night at the villa, then I don’t have tons to do when I get home.  If you’re vacationing for multiple weeks at a time, the washer and dyer option is a God-send.


Marriott Villas in Florida — Take the Virtual Tour

As a Florida resident for the past 17 years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit virtually every Marriott Vacation Club Villa in Florida… many multiple times.  I’ve compiled a Top 10 list of my favorites, including a brief description and photo tour for each one.  Enjoy!  (Have a more specific question?  I’ll do my best to answer it; simply reply in the “comment” box at the end of the article.)


# 10 Royal Palms — Orlando

Royal Palms is a delightful destination if you are heading to Disney.  Of all the Marriott Villas, this is the closest one to the Walt Disney World Theme Parks.  In fact, it’s only about 2 miles to the Disney World entrance.  The Marriott Royal Palms Villas are located adjacent to the full-service Marriott Orlando World Center Resort; and the beauty of this Marriott Villa is that guests have access to all the hotel’s facilities and amenities via a free shuttle.

As one of Marriott’s smaller Vacation Club properties, the grounds and landscaping at Royal Palms are not nearly as extensive as most of the other resorts, but still very beautiful and well maintained.  The villas are strategically placed along the Hawks Landing 18-hole golf course.


Marriott Royal Palms Fire Pit


# 9 Harbour Lake — Orlando

Keyword: Kids!!!  Extensive and creative water features make this a haven for happy kids.  Also conveniently located to all the major Central Florida theme parks and attractions… although, you may have to bribe the younger members of the family in order to get them to leave the Pirate-ship-themed pool.

The atmosphere throughout this property is bright and fun.   I enjoyed the 9-hole miniature golf on premise, but not nearly as much as hubby enjoyed his gourmet hotdog from the pool bar and grill afterwards.

I was super excited to have my 20-month-old grandson the last time I visited Harbour Lake.  He had a blast, as I knew he would!


Marriott Harbour Lake - Lakeside


# 8 Beach Place Towers — Fort Lauderdale

For the young and young at heart!  Marriott Beach Place Towers is a high-rise condo right in the middle of the Fort Lauderdale Beach action that becomes quite lively [noisy] at night.  The street is lined with restaurants, bars, and clubs.  Upon check-in we were asked which side of the building we would like to have.  Since hubby is a boat fanatic, we chose the intracoastal waterway view instead of the ocean view… GREAT choice!  Turns out this was the quiet side of Beach Place Towers for us party-poopers.

The parking garage was a challenge for us with narrow ramps and spaces, and was also a very busy public garage as well.  On a positive note, we spent endless hours on our balcony watching the multi-million-dollar yachts pass by on the intracoastal.  Equally enjoyable were our leisurely strolls on Fort Lauderdale beach, which is [conveniently] right across the street from Beach Place Towers.  We also enjoyed the plethora of dining choices within a 5-minute drive.  Oh, and the famous Las Olas shopping district… well, what woman doesn’t like to shop?  Enough said!


Marriott Beach Place Towers


# 7 Doral — Miami

When I think of Doral (on the outskirts of Miami) 3 words come to mind — golf, golf, and golf!  Anyone familiar with the PGA Tour has likely watched a telecast from the famous ‘Blue Monster’ course, one of 5 championship courses offered (for a not-so-small fee!).

During our 7-night stay, we took advantage of the amenities at the adjacent ‘Trump National Doral Resort‘ with its incredible pool where we rented a luxury cabana for the day.  On another occasion, we had the buffet lunch at the hotel which included unlimited made-to-order sushi, which made hubby happy!  Our daughter’s destination that day was a couples massage at their highly acclaimed Spa.  Marriott Doral offers free shuttle transportation to Trump’s Resort, which is directly across the highway.

Our day-trips from Marriott’s Doral Resort included the popular Miami Bayside (awesome shopping and dining), the historical Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the shops at CocoWalk in Coconut Grove, lunch at the prestigious Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, and the world famous Miami South Beach art decor district (better known as SoBe).


Day Trip to Vizcaya Museum and Gardens


# 6 Lakeshore Reserve — Orlando

I fondly remember a Mediterranean mindset at this gorgeous old-world-inspired resort.  Elegant, quaint, and traditional were the feelings evoked during our September stay at Marriott Lakeshore Reserve. Bronzed-finished fountains and distressed golden furnishings added to the charm.  Stunning old-world architecture provided endless photo opportunities.

The zero-entry heated pool was outstanding and the lazy river so relaxing.  The sprawling pool area was most certainly a tropical oasis.  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the two upscale, luxury hotels that comprise this Marriott complex known as Grande Lakes — the 4-star J.W. Marriott Hotel, and the 5-star Ritz Carlton.


4-Star J.W. Marriott Hotel at Grande Lakes



# 5 Grande Vista — Orlando

Living in Florida for the past 17 years, and only 40 minutes from the Central Florida attractions, has provided ample opportunity for us to use the Marriott Villas in Orlando on a regular basis.  Marriott Grande Vista is one of our favorites for hosting out-of-state friends and family that come to visit.  It’s not unusual for us to stay here 3 or more times a year.  We especially like the ‘lock-off’ feature in the villas, which gives a much greater level of privacy when hosting another family.

Grande Vista is the largest of all the Marriott Vacation Club properties — a family friendly resort with an activity schedule, bar none, for both children and adults.  During our last stay we enjoyed the Butterfly Release, the Florida Reptile Show-and-tell presented by Gatorland, and a Wine Tasting, just to name a few. My adventurous friend, Donna, was brave enough to try the unusual hair braiding, offered poolside. Hubby always manages to squeeze in a round of golf on the short 9-hole course that meanders throughout the property.  We also appreciate the 5 different food outlets available at Marriott Grande Vista, without having to drive off-property to dine.


Beautiful Grounds at Grande Vista


# 4 Ocean Pointe — Palm Beach Shores

Great location, right on the Atlantic ocean!  Marriott’s Ocean Pointe has an abundance of boating activity, including daily sightings of cruise ships as they slowly navigate through the channel en route to the Atlantic Ocean.  Water sports abound at Ocean Pointe; jet skies, parasailing, and snorkeling gear are all available for rentals.  We loved the boat tour we took through the intracoastal waterway aboard a water taxi, which gave us a birds-eye view of many mansions owned by various celebrities.  The nearby Sailfish Marina is within walking distance, where we enjoyed multiple meals throughout the week (as a salmon freak, the potato-crusted salmon is always my favorite here).  The fish is so fresh, we literally watched them clean and fillet the ‘catch of the day’ right on the boat docks as we entered!

Our day-trip excursions included the Henry Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, shopping and lunch at the popular City Place in Palm Beach, and a scenic drive down coastal A1A.


Channel to Atlantic Ocean


# 3 Cypress Harbour — Orlando

A sentimental favorite!  Cypress Harbour was the very first Marriott Vacation Club Resort we toured, 27 years ago.  We were so impressed by the Marriott quality and service… that we went back home to Pennsylvania as a Marriott Vacation Club Owner!  We have never regretted that decision.  It has served us well for almost 3 decades, and now as brand new Grandparents, we’re looking forward to many memory-making vacations with yet another generation.

In a few words, Marriott’s Cypress Harbour Resort is immaculate, well maintained, and very well managed. Activity programs for children are ‘off-the-chart.’  We’ve enjoyed outdoor grilling, boat rides on the lake, and walks on the nature trail (with sightings of turtles, ducks, exotic birds, and even alligators).

We especially enjoy spending time here during the holiday season, as Cypress Harbour is so close to all the festivities that the Greater Orlando area has to offer.


Cypress Harbour Maze Activity Zone


# 2 Oceana Palms — Palm Beach Shores

Truly an ocean oasis!  (This is one of Marriott’s newer Vacation Club Villas in Florida.)  Marriott Oceana Palms consists of twin ocean-front high-rise towers overlooking the majestic Atlantic Ocean.  Oceana Palms is contemporary styled with exceptionally appointed spacious villas with upscale surroundings.  We have always experienced superior service during our many visits to this location.

I love the little touches at Oceana Palms, like the variety of fruit-infused water selections available (complimentary) all day in the lobby, and their signature refreshing scent that permeates the lobby and common areas.  It’s such a cool, crisp fragrance upon entering the building.  On a more important note, several times we had lunch or snacks on premise, and hubby says our Jamaican friend at the Reflections Bar & Grill makes one mean mojito!  And, the fish tacos are hard to beat… anywhere!

Our adventures from here included the historic Jupiter Lighthouse and Museum, and a day-trip to the Bahama Islands by boat.


Day Trip to Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse



And The Winner Is…


# 1 Crystal Shores — Marco Island

Upscale utopia!  Marriott Crystal Shores is a luxury beach-front resort located directly on the Gulf of Mexico — Marriott’s only Gulf Coast Vacation Club property.  The blue/green waters of the Gulf are reminiscent of those I’ve seen in the Caribbean Islands.

Marriott Crystal Shores villas are spacious with a well designed, open floor plan.  The shower is big enough for a small car wash (so says hubby!).  The balcony is the largest we’ve ever had in any Marriott villa — the entire length of the villa, with plush outdoor furniture that you would expect only at a 5-star hotel.  When we are able to pull ourselves away from this ‘heaven-on-earth’ property, it is usually to go to nearby Naples for shopping or dining.  Additionally, one of my favorite day-trips from Crystal Shores was to the Naples Botanical Gardens.


Sunset at Marriott Crystal Shores



Have you been to any of the Marriott Vacation Club Resorts in Florida?  Please share your favorites in the “reply” box below.  Our readers would love to know!

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Volterra: Resort-Style Senior Living at ChampionsGate in Florida


Resort-style Senior Living at Volterra in ChampionsGate Florida

Resort-style Senior Living at Volterra (Photo Credit: Volterra)


Upscale Senior Living: A New Trendy Option

Have you ever vacationed or visited a beautiful resort and wished you didn’t have to leave so soon?  Or perhaps, like me, silently thought, “Wow, this is the life.  I think I could live here forever!”  Well, if you’re a senior, age 62 or older, I have fantastic news for you.  Although resort-style independent senior living has existed for decades, there’s a newer, trendy option for those searching for a retirement community. Recently, I attended a presentation for Volterra® Senior Living located at ChampionsGate in Central Florida.

The sales presentation for the unveiling of this new property was expertly demonstrated; not to mention the yummy free lunch at the gorgeous Omni Hotel at ChampionsGate!  It included talks from several different individuals, highly skilled in the arena of senior living.  Their experience in this field, along with a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of senior living, was outstanding.  If you’re considering this type of housing for yourself or a loved one, here’s what I learned…

Volterra®: A Tuscan Isle Community

Volterra is a walled town southwest of Florence, in Italy — a charming medieval town in central Tuscany. That was the inspiration for Volterra® at ChampionsGate.  Granted, it’s not as well-known as Venice, Milan, Naples, or Verona, but the old-world ambiance is just as spectacular.  And, the developer of Volterra® Senior Living just so happens to have strong family ties to that gorgeous mountaintop town.

Although Volterra® at ChampionsGate is modeled after an ancient town, everything here is brand new and modern.  It’s like living in a Tuscan village that has been warmed by the Florida sun.  Everything you love about Italy is here: red tile roof, walls adorned by Tuscan art, lively conversations in the piazza, and the aroma of freshly brewed cappuccino as it wafts throughout the indoor Villaggio.

But even though Volterra® looks and feels like Italy, you will have a ChampionsGate address, with views of the 4-star Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate, including the ChampionsGate golf club.


Volterra's Neighbor: The 4-star Omni Resort at ChampionsGate

Volterra’s Neighbor: The 4-star Omni Resort (Photo Credit: Omni Hotels)


Volterra® Residences

Volterra® is unlike any other upscale senior living opportunity that I have toured.  Unlike most retirement communities, Volterra® Senior Living residences are all-inclusive apartment homes.  There are no single-family units, and you do not own your home.  You will be renting, on a month-to-month basis.

There are five one and two-bedroom floor plans to choose from.  Volterra® partners with a professional interior design company that specializes in senior living.  The apartments are bright and contemporary and include stainless steel kitchen appliances, washer and dryer, and some offer private balconies, terraces, or breakfast bars.  The apartment homes are unfurnished enabling you to decorate according to your own style preferences.  Obviously, pricing is dependent upon the floor plan chosen.  There is a limited number of extra storage spaces available on premise.


Cozy Common Sitting Areas at Volterra in ChampionsGate Florida

Cozy Common Sitting Areas at Volterra (Photo Credit: Volterra)


Volterra® is All-inclusive Senior Living

I was pretty impressed when I found out Volterra® is all-inclusive senior living.  But, what exactly does all-inclusive include?  Well, here’s a partial listing of the hotel-like amenities:

  • Housekeeping (twice monthly)
  • Maintenance
  • All utilities (except land-line telephone and cellular phones)
  • Wifi (entire property including in-residences)
  • Scheduled transportation (physicians, retail, etc.)
  • Concierge services (5-star, around-the-clock)
  • State-of-the-art fitness center
  • Head-to-toe wellness programs
  • Recreational programs
  • Activities and craft room
  • Theater for movie screenings
  • Pool and cabana


5-star Around-the-clock Concierge Service at ChampionsGate in Florida

5-star Around-the-clock Concierge Service (Photo Credit: Volterra)


State-of-the-art Fitness Center at Volterra in ChampionsGate Florida

State-of-the-art Fitness Center at Volterra (Photo Credit: Volterra)


Dining Options at Volterra®

Not all meals are included, however, each resident receives a $300 per month dining card.  In other words, if there are two residents in one apartment home (ex: husband and wife), each would receive a dining card, for a total of $600 to spend each month.  It may be used at several on-property dining options.  Ciao is their exclusive Italian fine dining restaurant featuring steak and seafood.  There is also a Sports Bar for casual dining and a Cafe featuring specialty coffee drinks.  The dining card is accepted at all three venues. The money does not carry over from month to month so it’s important to use the available balance in full by the end of the month.


Volterra Fine Dining Options at ChampionsGate Florida

Volterra Fine Dining Options (Photo Credit: Volterra)


Casual Dining Options at Volterra in ChampionsGate Florida

Casual Dining Options at Volterra (Photo Credit: Volterra)


Outdoor Patios at Volterra in ChampionsGate Florida

Outdoor Patios at Volterra (Photo Credit: Volterra)


Assisted Living and Memory Care Options at Volterra®

Here’s a really practical feature of Volterra®.  If you’ve been living in the independent senior apartment homes, and the time comes when independent living is a challenge, you can move into the assisted living and/or memory care residences right on the same property.  (Obviously, pricing will be higher for the specialized care residences.)  Volterra® uses only extensively trained staff that will prepare a customized service plan on an individual basis.

The seniors in the assisted living and memory care residences can continue to live an active life, including social events and a full roster of programs.  The pet-friendly residences are equipped with an emergency response system for added peace of mind.  There’s a dedicated dining room for memory care residents as well as a separate beauty salon.  Even when you require a little extra care, you’ll continue to enjoy an active life.

More information on assisted living residences at Volterra® can be found here.

More information on memory care residences at Volterra® can be found here.

Volterra: The Good Life!

Volterra® is very different than most other senior living opportunities, in a good way.  It’s the charms of Italy, the comforts of home!  It’s the perfect place for those who feel like you’ve worked hard for decades, and now it’s time to enjoy the good life.

Volterra is not cheap — but neither is single-family residences.  I live in one of the premier active-adult communities in the state of Florida.  Last week my air conditioner broke, in the middle of summer… in Florida!  $1100.00 to fix it, even with a service contract.  And then, in addition to repair bills, there’s property taxes, pest control, monthly utilities, HOA fees, Club fees, homeowners insurance, etc.  It all adds up pretty quickly, and makes the all-inclusive resort-style living at Volterra® an attractive alternative.

The Volterra Collection™

The Volterra Collection™ currently consists of Solivita Marketplace in Kissimmee, and the brand new ChampionsGate, opening summer of 2017.  One more location, in Lake Ashton, is scheduled to be built in order to complete the collection.  Residents of all three southwest Orlando locations will be able to share amenities, programs, and dining venues.


Have you or a loved one toured a Volterra® location?  Please share your thoughts (in the reply box below), our readers would love to know!      


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Wealthy Winter Park on a Budget: 6 Things To Do


Wealthy Winter Park on a Budget

Wealthy Winter Park on a Budget


Winter Park Florida: A Wealthy History

Winter Park is one of my favorite Central Florida towns.  Even before I became a Florida resident 17 years ago, I was attracted to its upscale ambiance and old-world beauty.  Geographically, it’s a mere 5 miles north of Orlando (the tourist capital of the world) but it feels a million miles apart.

Winter Park was founded as a resort community by wealthy northern business magnates in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The affluent “snow birds,” along with their household employees (yeah, they were filthy rich!), would spend the winters in the wonderful warm town they discovered.  Today, in 2017, Winter Park remains the address of some of Florida’s wealthiest individuals.  According to the Orlando Business Journal, some of our top earners reside in Winter Park zip codes.  The old adage “money begets money” seems to hold true here.  I guess money-makers like clustering together.  Birds of a feather, I suppose.  We all reap the benefits, though.  Their multiplied millions have built some pretty spectacular things; art galleries, specialty boutiques, museums, civic buildings, gorgeous parks, a train station, a golf course country club, historic cemetery, and a beach and boat launch.  Wealthy Winter Park is also home to Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida and the nation’s premiere liberal arts college.

No matter how you choose to spend your time in Winter Park, the residue of its rich roots seems to be everywhere.  But, here’s some fantastic news: You don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy them!  There are ample things to do in wealthy Winter Park, even if you’re on a budget.

6 Things To Do in Winter Park on a Budget

Whether you’re a local looking for a Floridian staycation or a visitor seeking shelter from the craziness of crowded theme parks, Winter Park is a great choice.  I’ve recommended 6 of my favorite inexpensive (or free) things-to-do. Regardless if you have a few hours or a few days, there’s something here for every time schedule… and budget!

  • Park Avenue
  • Central Park
  • Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
  • Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
  • Robert Bruce Barbour House (Casa Feliz)
  • Kraft Azalea Park

Park Avenue

You can’t visit Winter Park without a leisurely stroll down posh Park Avenue.  With more than 140 boutiques, sidewalk cafes and museums, it’s the signature shopping street.  No doubt, you’ll encounter wealthy Winter Park residents swanking about.  But even though Park Avenue is a Central Florida premier destination for chic shopping and dining, you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the awesome aura of this special setting.  You’ll experience the same vibrant atmosphere and scenery whether you dish out thousands of dollars or simply engage in some savvy ‘window shopping.’


Winter Park's Famed Park Avenue Shopping & Dining District

Winter Park’s Famed Park Avenue Shopping & Dining District


Park Avenue's "Secret" Hidden Alcoves

Park Avenue’s “Secret” Hidden Alcoves


Impressive Hidden Gems to Discover on Park Avenue

Impressive Hidden Gems to Discover on Park Avenue


Central Park

Prosperous Park Avenue is bordered by oak-canopied Central Park.  The park was deeded to the city by one of Winter Park’s most wealthy and influential early citizens — Charles Hosmer Morse.  Of the plethora of parks throughout Winter Park, this is the crown jewel.  The 11-acre park is beautiful year-round but also plays host to seasonal events like concerts, art shows, exotic car shows, fashion exhibits, festivals, and even [free] movies in the park.  Whether you’re rolling in the dough, or living with your adult children just to make ends meet, admission to Central Park is free!

It’s extremely clean (no dogs allowed in Central Park), and despite its downtown location, I find it quite relaxing.  If you’re a fitness buff on a good run through the park or simply satisfying your people-watching passion with a birds-eye-view from a strategically placed bench, you’ll appreciate the beauty here.

On a recent visit I enjoyed the outstanding ‘sidewalk art’ presented by some very creative middle-school children.  Then, as I approached my favorite area of Central Park, I witnessed a  professional photo-shoot for a young couple’s upcoming wedding.  How gorgeous; I couldn’t think of a better backdrop than charming Central Park.  This area, the far south end of the park, is quite popular with photographers as it includes the peacock fountain and rose garden.  There’s a hexagonal planter with a variety of roses and rows of benches nearby.  I noticed the peacefulness of this place, even before I knew the backstory.  And what a tear-jerking inspirational story it is!  You can read the history of the peacock fountain here on FloridaFunAndFork.

***TIP:  Don’t miss the prestigious Sidewalk Art Festival which draws over 350,000 visitors each year to Central Park to enjoy some of the best art and music in the United States.  


2018 Sidewalk Art Festival Dates

Friday & Saturday March 16 – 17, 9 AM to 6 PM

Sunday, March 18th, 9 AM to 5 PM



Memorial Peacock Fountain and Rose Garden in Central Park

Memorial Peacock Fountain and Rose Garden in Central Park


Sidewalk Art in Winter Park's Central Park

Sidewalk Art in Central Park


Train Topiary in Winter Park's Central Park

Train Topiary in Central Park


Central Park in Winter Park Florida

Central Park in Winter Park Florida


Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Even on a shoestring budget, this museum is affordable.  The Morse Museum (created in honor of Charles Hosmer Morse, the man who donated Central Park) houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by American artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Although there are other notable works in the museum, the displays of Tiffany glass outshines them all.  Admittedly, I was not a big fan of Tiffany glass… until I visited the Morse Museum. Wow!  The exhibition includes Tiffany-designed stained glass windows, lamps, glass mosaics, blown glass, ceramics, and jewelry (remember Tiffany’s in New York?).  The extensive collection took me by surprise.   The huge stained glass windows were out-of-this-world gorgeous, and the Tiffany Chapel was absolutely amazing and one of the highlights for me.

Hubby and I spent nearly 2 hours exploring the Morse Museum.  By museum standards, it’s not large, but it has a host of interesting and rare items, and a wealth of historical information to go along with them.  I cannot say enough about the friendliness of the staff and the knowledgeable docents strategically positioned throughout the museum to answer any questions.  It made for a warm and welcoming environment.  This is an impressive museum for the price, $6 for adults, only $1 for students!  Sometimes, during special events, admission is free.  (Check the Morse Museum website for Calendar of Events.)

The Morse Museum is a real gem for Central Florida, and an inexpensive attraction in the heart of Winter Park.  And, it’s conveniently located not far from the SunRail train station.  You can access an in-depth review of The Morse Museum right here on FloridaFunAndFork.


Entrance to the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida

Entrance to the Morse Museum in Winter Park


SunRail Train Station in Winter Park

SunRail Train Station in Winter Park


Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens

This is a story of a wealthy artist and his lavish Winter Park home.  The Albin Polasek Museum is in the historic former home and art studio of Mr. Polasek.  The house showcases his artwork, but what really impressed me was the outdoor Sculpture Garden in the rear of the property, with stunning views of Lake Osceola.  As you tour the historic home which includes Mr. Polasek’s personal chapel, you’ll take a step back in time and learn about the life of this incredibly talented (and affluent) man.

The Exhibition Gallery also features national and international artists and changes throughout the year. The Albin Polasek Museum has been the recipient of numerous awards and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It’s worth the low-cost entry fee — adults $5, seniors (60+) $4, and students w/ID $3.  A visit to this 5-acre historical site is another inexpensive way to see what wealthy Winter Park was like back-in-the-day.

I spent about 90 minutes here during my April birthday weekend in Winter Park, and my review and photo tour can be accessed here on FloridaFunAndFork.  (Wait until you see those sculptures!)


Entrance to Albin Polasek Museum in Winter Park Florida

Entrance to Albin Polasek Museum


Albin Polasek Sculpture: "Man Carving His Own Destiny"

Albin Polasek Sculpture: “Man Carving His Own Destiny”


Robert Bruce Barbour House (Casa Feliz)

Speaking of wealthy residents, this home is a blatant reminder of Winter Park’s opulent past.  Casa Feliz means “Happy House” in Spanish.  This Andalusian-style masonry farmhouse is the signature residential work of famed architect James Gamble Rogers II.  It was initially known as the Barbour Estate, and became the catalyst for historic preservation in Winter Park.  The restored Spanish farmhouse overlooks the golf course in the heart of Winter Park.  Casa Feliz is a historic home museum and popular rental location for private parties, weddings, and business events.  The downside to Casa Feliz is its very limited hours.  Public open house is every Sunday between 12 noon and 3 pm, and Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 10 am and 12 noon.  You’ll learn the Casa Feliz story during the open house via trained docents.

If possible, go on a Sunday, to experience “Music at the Casa.”  A different musical group performs each week in Casa’s main parlor representing a broad range of musical genres including jazz, classical, pops, Latin, bluegrass, and folk.  You can afford this museum.  Admission is free, however, there’s a suggested donation of $5 to help support the mission of Casa Feliz. Light refreshments are served and no reservations are needed.  Dress code is casual, as with most Central Florida attractions.  Don’t forget your camera.  You’ll want a few memories from this skillfully refurbished Spanish farmhouse that evokes 19th Century Spain!


Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue

Casa Feliz Historic Home & Venue


Casa Feliz Restored Spanish Farmhouse

Casa Feliz Restored Spanish Farmhouse


The Rear of Casa Feliz in Winter Park Florida

The Rear of Casa Feliz


Kraft Azalea Park

If you’re doing wealthy Winter Park on a budget, this is another great stop for your itinerary.  Kraft Azalea Park is a scenic public park located in the city of Winter Park.  The 13+ acre property is located on the shore of Lake Maitland.  Kraft Azalea is known as Winter Park’s ‘secret garden’ because of its secluded and unique location.   You’ll drive through a residential neighborhood lined with spectacular homes to get there.  The tree canopy is amazing.  Even on the hottest of days, enormous cypress trees provide shade throughout this beautiful park.  There’s really a sense of ‘Old Florida’ charm here.  It’s easy to imagine Winter Park’s well-to-do money moguls of yesteryear enjoying Florida’s sub-tropical climate as they wintered here.

Kraft Azalea can be reserved for private weddings for up to 20 guests.  The Exedra Monument is stunning. With Lake Maitland in the background, it’s ideal for sunset wedding ceremonies and picture-perfect photography.  Pretty much, there are perpetual photo shoots happening here any time of day — from professional engagement pictures to amateur baby pics.   There are no picnic tables, but don’t let that deter you from having a picnic lunch here (there are benches).  Ideally, for the hopeless romantics, the best time to be here is sunset.  Take a stroll, hand-in-hand with your honey, and enjoy the solitude that Kraft Azalea offers.  This is a true Central Florida treasure that inspires creativity, happiness, and peaceful thoughts.  Definitely a Winter Park favorite of mine that is free fun for all ages!


Entrance to Kraft Azalea Park in Winter Park Florida

Entrance to Kraft Azalea Park in Winter Park


Kraft Azalea Park Tree Canopy

Kraft Azalea Park Tree Canopy


Exedra Monument at Kraft Azalea Park in Winter Park Florida

Exedra Monument at Kraft Azalea Park


In Conclusion…

Even though Winter Park was originally developed as a winter resort for wealthy upper-class Northerners, it’s overflowing with inexpensive ways to see this Central Florida City with such rich roots.  I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth nor do I have money to burn, but I truly enjoy Orlando’s wealthy neighbor.  It’s nice to know that you can visit the land of plenty without a bountiful bank account.  I highly recommend a visit to Winter Park, Florida.  It can be affordable, even on a limited budget!


What’s your favorite thing to do in Winter Park on a budget?  Our readers would love to know.  Please share in the “reply” box below!



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