Empty Nesting: Experiencing Orlando as a Grownup
Experiencing Orlando, Florida as an empty-nester is a major revelation. For so many years, visits to the land of The Mouse, theme parks and princesses, revolved completely around our daughter and spending time with grandparents. This month, for the first time, we finally were able to go where we wanted and do what we found fun and interesting. Did we ever have fun!
We did not feel we had to get up and hit the amusement parks first thing the morning in order to maximize the exorbitant cost of entry, only to collapse exhausted after a day of non-stop “fun.” These days often included a couple of meltdowns, spilled ice cream cones and endless demands for Disney and Universal themed toys.
Instead, we spent our days in a civilized manner. On one day we created new memories in the very civilized town of Winter Park.
This lovely town is a must-do on any visit to Central Florida. The main street is populated with lovely restaurants whose tables spill out onto the street so you can watch the beautiful people go by. There are also many high-end boutiques filled with pretty treasures, making this one of my favorite places to just window shop. Winter Park houses the amazing Morse Museum, which boasts the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world.
After the museum, we drove around and checked out the gorgeous homes and neighborhoods, dreaming of ourselves experiencing this lifestyle. Got to thinking that maybe Winter Park might be a very nice place to retire or at least spend winters as snowbirds. For the first time visiting Florida, we pondered retirement, it actually isn’t all that far away now. What a weird feeling, when it seems like just a few years ago we were young parents with a much different view of the world. On this day we took a leisurely boat tour around the lake system encircling the city.
We loved to see the group of seniors joining us in the boat having a blast, since they had prosecco in their Thermoses! Note to self for next time….
On another day, we experienced Disney Springs, Disney’s huge shopping, eating and entertainment district…also in a civilized manner.
Instead of going to the Rainforest Café and getting mac and cheese and burgers, we spent a few hours in Wine Bar George, sampling flights of very elegant wine along with a matched pair of cheese and charcuterie boards.
We looked at jewelry and ladies’ fashions instead of spending hours at the biggest Disney store on the planet.
Because we were in Orlando over Valentine’s Day, my husband and I went out to Delmonico’s Steak House (which I highly recommend) and enjoyed wine and a fabulous shrimp cocktail, which came out smoking ethereally, on dry ice. How cool!
And we did not give one single thought as to how we needed to get home to relieve the babysitter. Those days are SO over.
The trip was infused with nostalgia — bittersweet. We did miss our daughter, who is now a junior in college. Everywhere we went I saw her. At the Disney parks, remembering how she was so enthralled to meet Mickey and Minnie, and Cinderella and Prince Charming. How she ran up to Pooh at a character breakfast and hugged him over and over. All the stuffed animals in the shops looked so familiar because they have all lived in our house for years, so well loved.
During the fireworks at Epcot, (#6) all I could think of was the wonder in her eyes as she watched them for the first time. That was something like 15 years ago. We also reminisced about all of the great times we had with my husband’s parents over the years. They are both gone now, and it is hard to visit all of the attractions we went to so often together. To pay homage to them, we ate lunch at their favorite restaurant and took their photo along so they could be with us in spirit.
But life goes on. If there is anything we have learned at 50+, it is how to deal with the loss of our loved ones and our kids growing up and making their own way out into the world. It’s important to remember that life is for the living, and that we must make the most of the time and resources we have left.
So, we lived. We were traveling with my husband’s two sisters, also empty nesters, so we decided to take the “Drinking Around the World” challenge at Epcot, which of all the amusement parks, is considered the one most enjoyable for adults.
This involves sampling a fancy cocktail in each country—a tough assignment, but we felt up to the task. Epcot comprises 11 countries, so that sounds like a lot of drinks, but when you are spending 12 hours in a park, mostly walking, it is actually quite manageable…especially if you share!
We spent one afternoon in Celebration, the town built by Disney—which no surprise, is picture perfect.
We had a long lunch sitting in the sunshine at the waterside restaurant of the boutique Bohemian Hotel (also highly recommended) and then strolled along the water over to Le Macaron to sample these beautiful and tasty French sweets.
One of the absolute highlights of the trip was the East End Market. This cool and hip outpost, midway between Winter Park and Orlando, in the Audubon Park neighborhood, is a must-do.
This public market is all about organic, sustainable, locally-sourced and locally-owned shops. We simply drifted from one to another—eating, drinking and loving life among the young hipsters. Outside is an impressive garden which yields fresh organic produce used in the restaurants. La Femme du Fromage cheese shop offers, in addition to fabulous cheeses from around the world, a happy hour pairing a flight of craft beers with a flight of grownup grilled cheese sandwiches.
The Florida & Company Café offers wine and small plates, so we had to make a stop there. Gideon’s Bakehouse has the most incredible cookies ever—each a half pound of pure pleasure—I would call that a cookie made for an adult. If fed to kids, they would likely spin off into Sugar Space. The Olde Hearth Bread Company offered so many interesting breads, some of which we purchased for dinner.
The Skyebird Juice Bar and Experimental Kitchen had an incredible array of healthy juices and smoothies. I paired their refreshing Sunrise carrot/apple/orange/ginger juice with a delicious—and healthy—sesame noodle bowl from Farm-Haus next door.
The East End Market is all very communal, loaded with organic, healthy and vegetarian options, and we had the absolute best time there. If in Orlando—you gotta go. Outside was a tiny retro camper housing the jewelry store called Gypset, with such pretty handmade pieces that we each had to get something as a memento of our lovely, perfect day.
While we had a lot of adventures on our trip to Orlando as empty nesters, we also had time to actually relax, which we almost never did when we experienced Florida as parents. We stayed in Marriott’s Imperial Palms Resort, and Marriott’s resorts never disappoint — there is something for everyone. What activities are there for grownups? We had never had really checked it out much before this trip. So, we had happy hour, we lounged by the pool and did not have to keep our eye on the water for toddlers in inner tubes. We slept in and had coffee on our private screened lanai. We sat by the firepit at night and sometimes even got into the hot tub next to the pool! Sometimes we availed ourselves of the resort’s activities such as and karaoke, bingo and shuffleboard. Shuffleboard…bingo…now, these are empty nester favorites! We did not tie-dye t-shirts, make friendship bracelets or build ice cream sundaes.
What a week. Yes, it was a little sad remembering all the busy, happy times we had with our family in years past. And maybe someday the whole cycle will begin all over again when we bring grandkids with us to Orlando — and that would be wonderful.
In the meantime, it is still a little difficult to get used to all this freedom. But hey, BRING IT ON! So many more empty nester adventures to follow.