Those of you who have families well know that you typically cannot expect to take the entire family out for a good time without taking out a 5th mortgage on the house these days. ;) Well, back in June we all had a blast for nearly an entire day and spent less than $20 for a family of 5!
First of all, with Florida being the tourist capital of the United States, you would expect to be able to easily find plenty of do without spending too much money. That is simply not true anymore. We spent the better part of an evening on a Friday looking for inexpensive things for a family of 5 to do in the Central Florida area. Consistently, every resource online shut us down. It was quite disappointing.
Then we happened upon the Scrub Jay Trail. If you live near any rural area in Central Florida and your head is not stuck in the sand, the Scrub Jay has come up in conversation and the news many times. The Scrub Jay Trail is dedicated to the preservation and education of the Scrub Jay. It also hosts many other species of animals and various beautiful plants. Best of all, there is no admission charge! :)
Although the trail is not very long, there is a lot to see. Among the residents are gopher tourtoises, donkeys, butterflies, rabbits, snakes, various birds (including the Scrub Jay), and more. An interesting fact that we learned while there was that this location was originally a movie set for Rosewood, starring Jon Voight, Don Cheadle, and Ving Rhames.
Although the day had already peaked at a scorching 90+ degrees, we wandered around the trail meeting and interacting with the donkeys, and scrub jays. Normally, a scrub jay wouldn't want to interact with humans (and shouldn't), but the scrub jays here are well aclimated to human interaction. In fact, one landed on my head and enjoyed the view for a while. (No, it didn't poop on me!)
It was a way too hot to see any gopher tourtoises though.
Once we reached the end of the trail, the folks that volunteer there were nice enough to show us around some of the other areas and give us some background on the trail and what its plans are. They also introduced us to the friendly and beautiful scrub jays. Although we shouldn't have, we were allowed to feed the scrub jays some meal worms. They would jump right on our hands and eat right there! It was so neat!
Well, following the sweltering trail (only because it was summer in Florida), we needed to find some way to cool down and quick! My first thought was a meat freezer, but I do not think the family would have gone for it, and who has a family sized meat freezer anyway?
We tried to stop by a local italian ice restaurant, but it was a Sunday and they were closed. However, across the street is a place called Ritter's Frozen Custard, and we have heard nothing but good things about them. I never wanted to go there before because the name simply didn't sound appetizing to me - but this day it was an EMERGENCY! We needed something cold and refreshing, and we needed it immediately.
Luckily, this day had both of the owners there. They proceeded to teach us all about the difference between ice cream and frozen custard. We also learned why grocery store ice cream is so awful. (Although I didn't have that opinion until my first scoop of frozen custard.) The grocery store ice cream is pumped full of air to get that fluffy look and texture. This allows them to more easily transport it, and pack less of it into each container. Both reasions equates to more sales. Frozen custard has a lower fat content and much less air (if any).
At Ritter's, they make their mouth watering flavors fresh each morning. With popular flavors like Cake Batter, Pistachio Nut, Mango, Vanilla, and Chocalate, you wouldn't believe the difference in flavor! Take what you remember any of your favorite ice cream flavors. Increase the satisfaction of that flavor by 10 and you might be close to how good that same flavor would be at Ritters.
I wanted to try their Mango Italian Ice, but I was also very impressed at the richness of the Vanilla. It was suggested that I try a gelati. This is a combination of the two ice creams layered into a cup. Oh boy was that GOOD! (Wikipedia says that gelati is plural, so the real name is gelato.) Mmmm... I want another one RIGHT NOW!
They weren't that busy when we got in so, they probably spoke to us more than they would most customers. Although, this is not saying anything about how friendly these folks are - because you would likely not meet very many people who are more friendly. They brought our kids behind the counter and showed them where they made the ice cream, and also showed them how to make a waffle cone. It was pretty cool! The only time I see waffle cones is on a display, under ice cream, or in a box.
To seal off this family outing, we ventured to a pet store that is located a few doors down from Ritters. We did what anyone does at a pet store when don't intend on buying anything... We played with the animals!
That was a summary of a great day that we had. If you have any other cheap family outing ideas for the Central Florida area, let me know!