Come Out and Play

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Published in Pegasus magazine, By Sarah Sekula

Beyond the high-spirited festivities at UCF’s Homecoming lies a genuine excuse for a vacation (even if you still live in O-town). So, pack your comfiest footwear and sneak away for a fun-filled trip. Most mosquitoes are on sabbatical, and the weather is mighty nice.

If you’re planning a trip to Central Florida to watch the Knights crush Southern Miss this November, save some time to explore off campus, too. With the combined brainpower of the entire Pegasus staff and the alumni who responded to our survey, we’ve rounded up a smattering of cooler-than-cool things to keep you busy. You know the obvious ones — Disney, SeaWorld and Universal. Now let us guide you to the more inconspicuous spots. Some scream adventure; others soothe the soul.

BITES AND BROUHAHA

Ga-Ga for Greek!

Taverna Opa (9101 International Drive; 407.351.8660; opaorlando.com) is the place for breaking plates, dodging confetti-style napkins and sampling tasty dishes like the smash-it-yourself garbanzo beans appetizer. Just as impressive: the garlic-marinated chicken kabobs and Santorini shrimp. Better yet, the energy of this eatery will have you dancing in your seat or — for the more adventurous — on the table. Afterward, hit B.B. King’s Blues Club for funky jazz, just a few steps away.

Hula Like a Fool-ah

A Polynesian-style feast is in full swing as the Royal Pacific Resort plays host to hula dancers, fire eaters and hungry guests each Tuesday and Saturday night at the Wantilan Luau (6300 Hollywood Way; 407.503.3463). The overflowing buffet begins with an array of starters including tropical fruits garnished with papaya-seed mint dressing and an Ahi tuna poke salad. Big appetites can feast on guava barbecue beef short ribs and top it off with the dessert extravaganza — $29 for children and $52 for adults, which includes wine, beer and Mai Tais. Reservations are required.

The Reel Deal

What you won’t find at the Enzian Theater (1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland; 407.629.0054; enzian.org) are sticky floors, scary restrooms or a sub-par snack bar. What you will find is quite the opposite — independent films paired with gourmet eats including a Florida rock shrimp sandwich, vegetable tempura and pineapple beignets (New Orleans style doughnuts). Post-movie watching, scope out a seat on the patio for a Cadillac Margarita or a Mojito. Two thumbs up!

A Divine Feast

Cornbread muffins with maple butter. Breakfast potatoes. Cheese-filled tortellini. Need we say more? Nosh your way through the heavenly Sunday buffet at the House of Blues Gospel Brunch (1490 E. Buena Vista Drive; 407.934.BLUE; hob.com) while harmonizing with the boisterous singers. And head back for dessert — a few times. The homemade fruit cobbler and banana bread pudding will have you singing hosannas — all for just $33.50 for adults and $17.25 for children ages 3 to 9.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Flying High

Uh, you can hang glide without mountains? Sure you can, according to the flying experts at Wallaby Ranch (1805 Deen Still Road, Davenport; 800.WALLABY; wallaby.com). It’s called aerotowing – think launching upward 2,000 feet then gliding nose first out of the sky while wrapped up like a human burrito. This old farm-turned-hang-gliding paradise is equal parts thrilling and family friendly. (And a bargain at $120 per lesson — to fly!) After your high-altitude frolic, try hammock lounging, trampoline bouncing or bungee slinging, a story in itself.

Zig Zagging It

The Orlando Watersports Complex (8615 Florida Rock Road; 407.251.3100; orlandowatersports.com), known by locals as O-Dub, has two cableways that allow you to ski or wakeboard without a boat. The advanced slider park, complete with a Nessy-shaped funbox, encourages more reckless abandon. Even wakeboarding pros like Adam Errington and Dallas Friday (yes, that’s her real name) train here. This highly adrenalized day will have you geeked about wakeboarding for weeks — unless you do a few too many face-plants. Then, you’ll just feel like a geek. An all-day pass for adults is $40 and $36 for children.

Mellow Plunge

Before you hit the water at DeLeon Springs State Park (601 Ponce DeLeon Blvd., DeLeon Springs; 386.985.4212; floridastateparks.org/deleonsprings), load up on carbs at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill & Griddle House — an all-day breakfast joint inside the park where you cook flapjacks at your table. From there, hop into the 72-degree water for a 9 ½-mile jaunt via kayak, canoe or paddle boat. If you still have energy, trek the trails. Note: Turkey, deer and gators traverse these pathways, too. With 18,000 acres of lakes and marshes to explore, it’s easy to keep busy. The difficult part is leaving! Especially since the entrance fee is only $5 a car.

The Great Indoors

Aiguille Rock Climbing Center (999 Charles St., Longwood; 407.332.1430; aiguille.com) will have you singing the Spider-Man theme song and scaling the walls like a superhero. The giant warehouse, packed with pastel-colored climbing surfaces shaped like arcs, cliffs and domes, looks like a giant jungle gym. But don’t be fooled; it offers up huge thrills for both tykes and the adult set. The bouldering cave encourages upside-down feats, and the climbing routes range from easy to ludicrous. How’s that for boredom-bashing? And just $21.50 for a full day. Rock on!

Mother Nature: Full Throttle

Gatorland (14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail; 800.393.5297; gatorland.com) is part Old-Florida charm, part wild spectacle. The thrills are constant with Gator Wrestlin’ and Gator Jumparoo (aka a feeding frenzy) shows. And be sure to visit the park’s pair of Cuban crocodiles, aptly named Lucy and Ricardo. But don’t let the reptilian moniker throw you off. In addition to gators, you’ll find boa constrictors, American flamingoes and bears.

DO IT UP DOWNTOWN

Tea Time

Dandelion Communitea Café (618 N. Thornton Ave.; 407.362.1864; dandelioncommunitea.com) stands out in more ways than one. Outside: It’s neon green with an herb garden, patio and nearby yoga studio. Inside: It’s hand-painted chairs, tented ceiling and eclectic people galore. Best of all: This popular spot is part of Co-Op America so everything’s organic and much of it is local. The café is famous for delicious eats, like the Fluffer Nutter Sandwich, Henry’s Hearty Chili and Morockin’ Mint tea, and super drum beats.

Arts Alive

Downtown Orlando has gone mod with the opening of CityArts Factory (29 S. Orange. Ave.; 407.648.7060; cityartsfactory.com). Each sidewalk-facing gallery boasts its own unique flair. But the No. 1 highlight of your visit may be an encounter with dredlocked, free-spirited Charles Keila. Drop by to watch him at work or take a shot at it yourself. He teaches the finicky process of glass blowing though mini-workshops ranging from $55 to $65.

Tex-Mex at its Best

Among the cobblestone streets and bungalow-style homes in ritzy Thornton Park is a hot sauce that evokes heart palpitations. Beyond the gigantic burritos at Tijuana Flats (8 N. Summerlin Ave.; 407.649-8063; tijuanaflats.com), its famous hot bar features 12 rotating sauces ranging from sissy Key Lime Hot Sauce to death-wish Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce. Keep in mind: the hotter the sauce, the better the bragging rights. Or visit the site near UCF where Brian Wheeler, transformed his business class project into the very first Tijuana Flats (7608 University Blvd.; 407.673.2456).

TREAT YOURSELF

Get Your Cruise On

The lakes are so charming, it’s no wonder all types fancy the Winter Park Scenic Boat Ride (312 E. Morse Blvd.; 407.644.4056; scenicboattours.com). Glide by towering cypress, tropical birds and magnificent mansions, including the residence of a former world champion whistler. The hour-long, off-the-beaten-path tour is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 2 to 11.

A Spa-ing We Will Go

The 20,000-square-foot Canyon Ranch Spa (6000 W. Osceola Parkway; 407.586.4772; gaylordpalms.com/spa) earns every one of its four stars. Begin with a Zen-like stone massage where lucky limbs are slathered with oil and heated basalt stones are strategically placed to promote circulation and relaxation. Afterward, take your renewed energy to a tai chi class or sign up for a nutrition session. With a price range of $20 to $260, this spa is not a sumptuous experience only for the well heeled. Relax; you have no excuse.

Oh-So-Chic

Get your fashion fix at Florida Mall (8001 S. Orange Blossom Trail; 407.851.6255; simon.com) an upscale shopping Mecca where drool-worthy stores range from Nordstrom to Apple. With 273 stores-worth of retail therapy, surely you’ll add a little flourish to your wardrobe. Not your cup of tea? Try hanging 10 at Adrenalina, an extreme sports retail store that houses simulated waves, or eat your way through M&M’s World. At the end of the day, sleep sweetly at The Florida Hotel and Conference Center attached to the mall.

FREE OR SUPER DUPER CHEAP

Plants, Pastries and Pestos

Any given Saturday you’ll find fresh-cut flowers, farm-fresh veggies and fresh ground coffee at the Winter Park Farmers Market (Corner of Lyman and New York avenues; 407.599.3358). The market — housed around a weathered train depot — is completely outdoors, just a stone’s throw from Park Avenue shopping, and completely FREE to explore. With 16,000 square feet of farmers’ fare, you’ll work up an appetite faster than you can sip a gourmet soup, scarf down a savory crepe or gulp fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Madre of all Gardens

This 50-acre botanical garden is Orlando’s equivalent to The Secret Garden: a maze bursting with color and unusual greenery. At Leu Gardens (1920 N. Forest Ave.; 407.246.2620; leugardens.org) take a guided tour of the southern-styled grounds, chill at a concert or just run amok through the giant bamboo stalks, hyper-manicured lawns and Camellias (they have the world’s largest collection). Better yet, its location on the shores of Lake Rowena affords a fitting view of the sunset. It doesn’t get any better for a meager $7 for adults and $2 for children, or totally FREE on Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon.

Jaw-Dropping Art

Artsy folks flock to UCF’s Art Gallery (UCF Visual Arts Building, Room 117; 407.823.3161; art.ucf.edu). You won’t be disappointed. UCF art professors will exhibit their work Nov. 8 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Did we mention, it’s FREE (as in zip, zero, zilch) and guided tours are available. The best part is: You’re not being graded anymore. No need to kiss up.

EATS ON AND AROUND CAMPUS

Ice, Ice, Slushy

For the uninitiated, Jeremiah’s Original Italian Ice (12271 University Blvd.; 407.277.7769; jeremiahsice.com) serves up 40 flavors of homemade soft-serve ice cream and Italian ice. Some of the most mouth-watering include Tangy Green Apple, P-NUTTY and Scoop Froggy Frog (a delectable mint chocolate chip). If that wasn’t sweet enough, combine the two treats to form a — hold on, wait for it — Jeremiah’s Gelati. Pure genius! For the love of lactose, pay this place a visit.

Caffeine Fix

Beans and bohemians: a perfect combo. And it just so happens Natura Coffee and Tea (12078 Collegiate Way; 407.482.5000; www.naturacoffeeandtea.com) has both. Some of the finest grinds around — Café Britt coffee from Costa Rica and Tarrazú Montecielo — are available daily. And a motley crowd fills the spot for open mic nights and jazz jams. The menu is reconfigured occasionally, however, the hookah-puffing flavors remain constant.

Old-School Fave

Wackadoo’s Grub & Brew (UCF Student Union; 407.282.1900; wackadoos.com) keeps it real with a simple menu of tasty eats — mainly deli-style sandwiches, wings and burgers. The most famous, of course, is the “Fat Ass” variety, a half a pound of beef served with fries or coleslaw ($5.19). After you chow down and admire all the UCF photos encased in the tabletops, bust a move on the Dance Dance Revolution stage, play a round of pool or catch football highlights on the big-screen. Linger awhile; maybe you’ll figure out what the heck a Wackadoo is.

Bodacious Blues

This nook of a spot pays tribute to two things — beer and music. Underground Bluz (12261 University Blvd.; 407.482.4141; ucf.undergroundbluz.com) offers Belgian ales, English stouts and little known American microbrews, including hometown favorite Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale. Not to mention, there are some serious crooners rocking this joint, including up-and-coming blues stars. The weird thing: This place — moppy tunes and all — actually leaves you feeling pretty content.

It’s OK to be Lazy

Lazy Moon (12269 University Blvd.; 407-658-2396; eatdrinkandbelazy.com) is the local pick for pizza, where slices are the size of your face. Get a Boxcar Willy (a slice of pizza and a PBR, $3.50) and mooch the free WiFi. What’s even bigger than the hefty portions is the behemoth selection of brewskies — starting with wheat varieties and rounding out with specialties. It’s the perfect night out, especially if productivity isn’t your style. At Lazy Moon you can get a slice of pizza the size of your face with two toppings and a drink for less than $6. Also worthy of note: Red Brick Pizza, Buffalo Wild Wings, Tailgaters and Hooters are on or near campus and offer up loads of good football-watching munchies.