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What Happens When A Small-Town Family Visits The "World's Largest"... Whatever!

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World’s Largest McDonald’s, Orlando, FL

McDonald'sI’m completely swamped by work since we got back from our Orlando trip, and I’m getting very little accomplished, thanks to this time of year which others cheekily call summer “vacation.” However, I’m under an intense deadline to post this one, because this McDonald’s won’t be the world’s largest very much longer. Several sources have advised me that a larger McDonald’s is being built for the Olympics in London, which begins in three weeks.

So technically, we did see this one while it was the world’s largest. And to be fair, it qualifies itself as “the world’s largest entertainment McDonald’s and PlayPlace,” which I assume relates to all the arcade games and other diversions which you won’t find in many other Mickey D’s.

Two Floors of Fun

When you enter the ground floor, you might be greeted/accosted by a person selling theme park tickets from the booth set up along the side wall. There are some games on this floor, and the “jungle room.” Do you remember the borderline creepy 1980’s TV commercials featuring the moon guy named “Mac Tonight” singing to the tune of Mack the Knife? Well, he’s here with his piano, and he’s a little dusty.

Mac Tonight

“When the clock strikes half past six, babe…” Sing it with me...

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Walt Disney World: World’s Largest Theme Park

On Wednesday, we spent an exhausting day at Walt Disney World, the world’s largest theme park. Specifically, we spent 10 hours straight in the Magic Kingdom, pushing through the heat-induced crankiness and cyclical sugar lows to fit in what everyone wanted to see and do.

There’s not much new to write about Disney World. Many of us have the same photo, standing in front of Cinderella’s castle, and similar stories about our favorite rides and characters. What makes it magical is seeing it through our children’s eyes, especially if it’s their first time there.

This was The Girl’s first visit to the Magic Kingdom. I spent more time watching her face than anything else.

Her first character encounter was with Merida from Brave:

Merida

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World’s Largest Santa and other BIG Christmas Fun!

Let’s talk about Christmas! Primarily, let’s talk about what I want for Christmas {sheepish grin}. Then we’ll get to you.

I would like your vote! Go BIG or Go Home has made Christopher Elliott’s list of nominees for favorite travel bloggers! He’s a consumer travel advocate who publishes this annual list, and it would mean significant exposure for us. We’re included in a list of 25 blogs, from which 12 will make the cut for “Top 12 Favorite Travel Bloggers.” The final list will be posted this Friday. Thanks in advance for voting for Go BIG or Go Home!

Moving on…have you entered our giveaway yet for some fun stocking stuffers? You could win a $50 gift certificate to Appalachian Outdoors or a pair of BTB Sunglasses. Winners will be chosen tonight and announced tomorrow, so enter now!

On to the fun part! We like BIG expressions of holiday spirit, so we thought we would share a few with you.  Like…

The world’s largest Santa Claus! You can find this sizable St. Nick at the Santa Claus House in North Pole, AK. Our friend Erin writes about family fun in the 49th state at AK on the GO. She tells us that the 42-ft, 900 lb. fiberglass statue has stood in front of this attraction since 1983, although he was originally built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

The world's largest Santa lives in...where else? North Pole, Alaska!

There’s a live Santa here all year with whom you can share your wish list. You can also have a letter delivered from the Big Guy, see reindeer, shop and grab a snack. Erin says, “It’s pretty fun to visit, a little kitschy, but a worthwhile place to stop, especially since it’s the North Pole, for goodness sake!”

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THE BOY’S TAKE: LEGOLAND Florida

I knew that taking The Boy with me to the grand opening of LEGOLAND Florida last month would be worth my while, in terms of getting extra chores done around the house and all. But another condition he needed to agree to was to write his own post about his experience.

So, the following is the unedited, heartfelt review of the world’s largest LEGOLAND, from an 11-year old boy. He even took some of these photos, and decided where to place them within this post.

I especially like his use of the word “delectable” in the “Tips” section!

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LEGOLAND

The Beginning

What I liked the best and why

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World’s Largest LEGOLAND, Winter Haven, FL

The pilgrimage is over, and we’re back in New York just in time to see the last of the falling leaves. But re-entry has been hard for The Boy, and me too, for that matter.

LEGOLAND

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

We were invited to visit central Florida for the grand opening of LEGOLAND Florida, the world’s largest LEGOLAND theme park. The Boy has fervently played with these colorful plastic bricks since he started walking. I’m not alone in believing that LEGO is a wonderfully engaging and educational plaything. I believe that LEGO has encouraged his imagination, developed his analytical skills, and provided hands-on lessons in physics, engineering, and architecture.

But in his eyes, LEGO is just his favorite hobby. I wanted this trip for him.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

Three years ago, we went to the only other LEGOLAND park in the U.S., and trekked cross-country to Carlsbad, CA. We’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to compare the parks. Remembering how much fun we had there made the anticipation almost unbearable!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

As pilgrimages go, this one was quite rewarding. I am now The Boy’s favorite parent, at least until I make him write a guest post for this blog about his experience! (This was my condition for him to be able to miss a day of school for the trip.)

LEGOLAND

Who do you love more, me or Dad?

I’m glad we had two full days to explore the park, because at 150 acres, LEGOLAND offers too much to do and see in just one day. Depending on the time of year, the hours of operation here may limit you to just seven hours in which to cover ten distinct sections.

MY favorite part of the park was Miniland. I loved it so much that I’ll be dedicating a separate post to it in a week or so!

Beginning at the main entrance and throughout the park, there are several hands-on areas where LEGO pieces are out and available for recharging moments of creative play. The best of these is the indoor Racers Build and Test area, where kids build vehicles of their own design, then run them down a variety of ramps to test their fortitude and speed.

We found several rides and attractions unique to LEGOLAND, and to this park in particular. I enjoyed the 360° view when we ascended 150 feet in the air on the Island in the Sky. (The Boy… not so much.) It’s the perfect vantage point to take in the entire park, as well as Lake Eloise and the green citrus orchards beyond.

Island in the Sky

Island in the Sky, overlooking Lake Eloise

The Boy’s favorite was the Aqua Zone Wave Racers, which he remembered fondly from CA. We stood in yellow jet skis and raced around a circular central dock, while steering to avoid (or in his case, hit head on), fountains shooting water 15 feet into the air.

Aqua Zone Wave Racers

I got soaked on this one. Considering the heat, that was a good thing.

Since he’s now a “tween,” The Boy isn’t free-flowing with praise and enthusiasm. So it took me by surprise when I heard him exclaim “Awesome!” during the water ski show in Pirate’s Cove. During “The Battle for Brickbeard’s Bounty,” the brave Imperial Soldiers fight Brickbeard the Pirate, who has captured Miranda Valentina.

Brickbeard

Brickbeard's ship in Pirate's Cove

The ski stunts are impressive, and the cast engages the audience in water cannon play and pirate talk. Here’s a short clip:

 

I can’t wait to bring my niece and nephew here. LEGOLAND excels in catering to the pre-school set, more so than any other theme park we have visited. DUPLO Village is an entire section dedicated to children five and under, with indoor and outdoor play spaces. There are also multi-level playgrounds and play spaces in the Land of Adventure and LEGO Kingdom sections for them to burn off energy. This park is not just about riding rides and watching shows.

Other points we enjoyed and appreciated:

▪ Finding LEGO sculpture in the least expected places, like the sailors caught in nets hanging from the rafters on the Boating School dock. Discovering them was like finding “hidden Mickeys” at Disney World.

butterfly

Loved finding LEGO creations in unexpected places, like this butterfly hanging in the Garden Shop!

▪ The Minifigure Market, a gift shop solely dedicated to the tiny LEGO figurines which have become affordable collectibles. The Boy was fixated on finding a boxer, and eventually got one. Park employees, or “Model Citizens,” attach them to their name badges and will trade with you.

▪ The cool comfort of the Fun Town Theater, which shows three different 4-D movies, complete with water, snow, and wind effects.

▪ The food options throughout the park are affordable (as theme parks go) and generally healthy (e.g. trans-fat free). You can easily find fruit cups, yogurt, and other kid-friendly options. But I also must give a well-deserved “shout out” for Granny’s Apple Fries, a LEGOLAND specialty.

Fries

It was a fight to the finish...

This isn’t the healthiest way to eat an apple, but it IS one hundred ways to delicious! Dusted with cinnamon sugar and serve with a side of whipped cream, one $4.99 order was enough for the both of us (although we did both get grabby toward the bottom of the cup.)

How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):

If you (it’s okay to be a grown-up brickhead) or your kids love LEGO, then this park is an absolute 10. If you’ve never seen a LEGO before in your life, some of the thrilling bits will be lost on you. But you’ll still love it!

Skip it if your kids are in their teens, because there’s not enough for them to merit the relatively hefty price of admission.

Hey you! Go BIG!:

LEGOLAND Florida
One LEGOLAND Way
Winter Haven, FL 33884
(877) 350-LEGO(5346)

Einstein

Picking Einstein's nose. Such a classy kid.

Disclaimer: Our visit was sponsored by LEGOLAND.

 

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PHOTO FRIDAY – World’s Largest LEGOLAND, Winter Haven, FL

We have arrived. The Boy is finding it difficult to fill his lungs with air. Maybe I’ve mentioned, he’s a bit of a LEGO freak. Those plastic bricks have covered our floors since he was three years old. I have permanent dot indentations on the bottom of my feet. (If I connect them, I can make out Orion’s Belt.)

LEGOLAND Florida

LEGOLAND Florida

We’re here in Winter Haven, FL, halfway between Orlando and Tampa, for the Grand Opening Celebration of LEGOLAND Florida. And we don’t know where to go first. Today, we’ll definitely hit the Ford Driving School so he can drive a LEGO car through the city streets (no tracks!). The LEGO® TECHNIC area looks promising, too.

Tomorrow we’ll be back for more. Next week, I’ll tell you all about the world’s largest LEGOLAND. If I can convince The Boy that his home is actually NOT here.

It’s just me and The Boy on this trip. It took some subterfuge to keep it from The Girl, because she would not take kindly to being left out. (It just wasn’t in the budget.) We told her that we were going to Czechoslovakia on a middle school field trip. Mainly because she can’t quite say “Czechoslovakia.”

Have you ever traveled with just one of your children? Did you have to lie to the others? Am I doomed to be immortalized in her future therapy sessions?

Disclaimer: Our visit is being sponsored by LEGOLAND.

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World’s Largest Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola, FL

Have you entered our BIG first anniversary giveaway yet? There are still a few more days to enter to win a pair of Go City Cards from Smart Destinations!

Naval aviation museumThis month, our guest post comes from Florida’s panhandle. I lived in Tallahassee in my early 20’s, and have fond memories of the beautiful beaches and…oppressive humidity. Jen from Two Kids and a Map hails from Pensacola, and apparently doesn’t suffer from humidity-induced bad hair days like I do. Lucky. She shares her family’s experiences at one of her favorite local attractions, the National Naval Aviation Museum.

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

My husband and I took our two children, ages 4 and 6, and explored the National Naval Aviation Museum, the world’s largest Naval Aviation Museum, and one of Florida’s most visited museums. It is located in Pensacola, Florida.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

I have a confession to make.  We go to the National Naval Aviation Museum at least once a month during the school year and once a week during the summer.  I knew the Naval Aviation Museum was big, but I had no idea it was the world’s largest until Traci told me it was!  The Naval Aviation Museum is a great way to get the kids out of the Florida heat while avoiding the “I’m bored” chorus!

Okay, what was so cool about it?

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Where is it? Wednesday

Today’s image is brought to you by Kodak. This was taken back in the day before we had a digital camera. The Boy was just four years old. He’s heading to middle school in seven short months…sniff…don’t get me STARTED!!

Anyway, can you guess where this was taken? It’s a giant strawberry…which is the hint. This is a timely post relating to this fruity theme!Strawberry

ANSWER: We had a few people submit answers, but only Helen from 2 Weeks Paid had the right answer! She gave us a friendly tweet on Twitter.

It’s the world’s largest strawberry festival! The annual Florida Strawberry Festival takes place in Plant City (near Tampa) every March. It’s going on now, which is why I’m posting this today. And because I always like a good excuse to pore over old photos and make myself verklempt…sniff…

 

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World’s Largest Shuffleboard Club, St. Petersburg, FL

The” yin and yang” of family travel means that, in return for enduring godawful meals at “Chuck E.”-type establishments which please my kids, I expect their best behavior at places which may not hold a lot of kid-friendly appeal.  This deal doesn’t always work, but it’s a goal.  I thought I might have to cash in a few credits when we took them to the Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club, but they actually enjoyed it – almost as much as I did!

Shuffleboard

Do these retro colors remind anyone else of "The Golden Girls" set?

Where we went, and who was coerced into going:

The world’s largest shuffleboard club is in St. Petersburg, FL, so we planned to visit during our holiday road trip to the Sunshine State. Since it’s not open every day, I made special arrangements with the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club president, a gracious and enthusiastic volunteer named Christine.

We played shuffleboard last spring as a family at the Woodloch Pines Resort, and we all enjoyed it. (Momma had game…thoroughly surprising everyone.) So we were all up for trying it again. Even Grandma and Grandpa came along.

WHY did you go there, exactly?

For me, shuffleboard has a “retro” appeal, representing a time in our history when family entertainment was more social, and wholesomely unplugged. I learned that this club has been experiencing a surge in popularity, offering weekly play on Friday nights, and attracting hundreds of locals. In particular, families.

Shuffleboard court

Okay, what was so cool about it?

This was one of those times I wish I had a time machine. The Mirror Lake complex, built in 1923, is the oldest shuffleboard club in the U.S. In its heyday — the 1930’s through the 60’s — the club gained international fame as the world’s largest, by virtue of having 110 playing courts and an annual membership of over 5,000.

I would have loved being there on a spring evening at the height of its popularity, gussied up in white – as was the custom — for a night on the court.

There are now 65 shuffleboard courts at Mirror Lake, and covered grandstand seating for over 100. We had the place to ourselves, so Christine directed us to a regulation court.

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What-To-Avoid Wednesday / Santa’s Enchanted Forest

When you’re looking for a “world’s largest” to visit, it’s not always rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes you come across an experience which is overpriced, over-hyped, and an overall disappointment. Then again, that’s just your opinion. Your kids could love it, and you just have to suck it up and keep the cash flowing. (Selfless parenthood, blah blah blah.)

Santa's Enchanted Forest

Probably more "enchanting" at night, I'm guessing.

My friend Sandra was not feeling the warm-and-fuzzies for Santa’s Enchanted Forest, the world’s largest Christmas theme park in Miami, FL. Alas, her daughter found it delightful, so she may just find herself there again this December!

Her review is our first installment of our oh-so-cleverly-titled series, What-To-Avoid Wednesday!

Santa’s Enchanted Forest may be the world’s largest Christmas theme park, but is it worth the trip? That depends on what you’re expecting. If you’re looking for a magical place to stir your childhood dreams of Christmas with beautiful light displays, fancy rides, and food that will thrill your senses, go to Disney. If you love carnivals, rides which creak and give you whiplash, and enjoy being conned by carnies trying to fast talk you out of your money, then you’ve found the right place!

For a mere $24 per adult and $16 per child, you get to ride a handful of rides for free and continue to drain your wallet for the rest.  The food is standard carnival fare — elephant ears, pizza, corn on the cob, fries, cotton candy, deep fried just about anything, and mystery meat on a stick. Oh, and you can even get your picture taken on top of a huge, nearly five-foot high toilet! I must say, I was tempted…

(Editor’s note; But was it larger than the world’s largest toilet in Indiana?!)

Santa's Enchanted Forest

She's got a ticket to ride...

With that said, my five-year old loved it. She saw the beautiful Christmas lights and creative electric train displays, and did not notice the rickety wood holding them up or the rusty scaffolding in the background.  From her perspective, the guy balancing on chairs and the man climbing up a really high pole were amazing feats of strength. She didn’t mind the dirt, the grime, the other clientele, or the quality of the prizes.

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