Wednesday, August 5, 2009

And The Winners Are......

Kyle and Stacey from New York! Kyle and Stacey have been selected as the 67 Days "Smile Ambassadors" for the City of Orlando! We wish them the best of luck and will be sure to follow their travels. Check the ORLANDO website to learn more and follow their story.
Also, we have so many people to thank. Thank you to the Orlando CVB for putting this whole thing together and including us! Thank you to the other contestants for making our time together so memorable! And most of all thank you to all our family and friends that were so supportive! We've had the time of our lives, and hope it showed. And as for you Orlando: We'll be back!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Bonus Pics!

We were just sorting through all our Orlando pictures and cracking up. Just thought we would post a few of the better ones that never made the original blog... Enjoy!

A quick heel-click. Mikey wins as Clay's jump is car assisted.

Going live on "The Buzz". Until we got bumped by Joey Fatone.

Too bad we didn't get to keep the helmets.

Those Greeks sure know how to party!

Mikey still wears his VIP badge every day...

This is our favorite.

Good to find a hockey fan in Florida.

The bright lights of live TV.

Just act natural!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Beyond Expectations

Expectations are a funny thing. We had few of them when we entered this crazy online contest. We thought mostly of the fun we might have riding roller coasters or of the serenity we might find basking in the Florida sunshine. We found ourselves wondering whether or not out wives were really ok with us taking off on this madcap adventure. Did we really believe we were the type of people they were looking for? As the contest grew closer these expectations were infused with anticipation of what we might experience while visiting Orlando. Would we get to go to Disney World? What types of restaurants might we visit? Is the ocean close by? In considering all these aspects of our upcoming journey we looked past what ended up being the pinnacle of our Orlando experience; time spent creating memories and sharing smiles with a group of truly extraordinary individuals. Thank you Orlando for providing the perfect setting that allowed us all to experience something truly joyful.

From Smiles to Memories

As our time in Orlando started to wind down we were lucky enough to have one last official event together as a group: Dinner at Ceviche, a well know tapas bar on Church Street. Have you ever been to a restaurant where everything was just right? Where the decor, the service, the atmosphere, and of course the food all coalesce to become one flawless dining experience? Well that was Ceviche. The Patatas Bravas and Calamares Fritos were just a few of the dishes we sampled and only hinted at the treasures to be found on their extensive menu.

A fine dining experience can go from pleasant to
exquisite when you add the pleasure of good company. If there's one thing we learned throughout this entire endeavor it is this: Fun and adventure are most meaningful when shared. That is what makes Orlando such a special place. There are so many things to share with those you love that you can't possible visit without forming lasting memories. Memories that are like fine wine and will only get better with age. We have no doubt that years and years from now we will look back on our time in Orlando and it will still make us grin from ear to ear. In a short 67 hours we formed memories that we will cherish for a lifetime. They call Disney World the Magical Kingdom, but truly there is something enchanting about all of Orlando.

Downtown Orlando: The Beating Heart of a Vibrant Community

With our thrill seeking start to the week including things like hang gliding, sky diving, and roller coasters it had taken a large amount of our energy and we think the other finalists would agree that this was the perfect moment to slow the pace down and start to explore the little know gem that is downtown Orlando. We talked many times with the people we interacted with about the 67 Days of Smiles experience and what it had been like. One of several thoughts that kept jumping to the front of our minds was the things we were able to see and do that we never would have uncovered as a regular tourist, and that is at the heart of this whole contest. Our introduction to the culturally rich downtown area began with an opportunity to explore the Orange County Regional History Center and it's exhibits. Laid before us was the rich history of central Florida and some of the events that defined its evolution. Some things we might have guessed, such as the importance of the citrus industry, but others still were new and enlightening. The tradition of the Seminole Indians, the early cattle ranching, and the original court room remaining from the buildings previous life all added to our knowledge of the region. A fine way to spend the afternoon.

We "squeezed" in some time to learn about orange farming...and to come up with that corny joke.

You Sir, are guilty of having enormous amounts of fun in such a short time!

The history center was only one of many great things offered to those who will come and explore downtown. We had lunch in a fantastic mexican cafe, one of many, many, dining options, and we found there to be an equal amount of opportunities to experience art or theater. A beautiful lakeside park is host to farmers markets and joggers alike.The educational wrapped in the cultural spiced up by night life creates a mosaic in which one and all could find something worthwhile. A shame to have our appetites whetted with the smallest glimpse of the cities core. learn more @ As part of our downtown crash course we we treated to a lovely reception atop the Plaza near the cities center. Here we had the fortune to become acquainted with some of the minds and, more importantly, hearts behind the vision of downtown Orlando. It was evident that these men and women had invested themselves fully into this community and they displayed a passion for and a dedication to the development of the area. It isn't just where they work it is their home. I hope they are aware of the appreciation we have regarding their involvement and interest in the 67 days of smiles promotion. It would be a thrill and an honor to work further with these individuals.

One of the many unique downtown eateries.

It wouldn't be Florida if we didn't wrassle a gator!

Outside The Plaza.

Next Stop Universal Studios!!!!

As part of our 67 hour cram session in Orlando we could not go through our stay without experiencing one of the "Big 3" attractions as the locals call them. SeaWorld, DisneyWorld, and Universal Studios, everyone of them a magical place in their own way, are iconic in that peoples thoughts of vacationing in Orlando often gather round them. Many vacation plans begin and end with these three awesome entertainment complexes. As we would soon learn this phenomena was not without good reason and even though a big part of our Orlando experience was trying to look at the myriad of other amazing things there are to be done in Orlando the big 3 DO have a lot to offer. A whole heck of a lot. The group of 10 finalist pairs were to be split up into 3 teams in order to explore the different parks. Names were picked from hats and the roller coaster gods must have been smiling on Clay as he drew Universal Studios from the hat! Both of us, having previously been lucky enough to experience Disney and SeaWorld at locations other than Florida,were really hoping for a chance to see what thrills Universal had to offer. Boy were we in for the ride of a lifetime.

Clay and I along with 3 other finalist groups were dropped off at the gates of Universal Studios around 8:45 a.m. and asked to meet at the main gates for a 10:00 o'clock tour. This gave us a little time to see some of the CityWalk. The Universal experience began here and although the CityWalk is know more for it's hot music and dancing scene in the evenings hundreds of people were already streaming into the shops and restaurants lining the 30 acre entertainment hub. Here's hoping that the few minutes we had to poke around aren't the last we spend on the CityWalk. We also had a moment to swing by the Hard Rock Hotel. Wow! It was so cool to see all the epic memorabilia they had lining the lobby walls. A slick Eric Clapton guitar was Mikey's fav. We didn't make it over to the Portofino Bay Hotel or the Royal Pacific Resort but have no doubt that they are as luxurious as they come!

The CityWalk hopping from the first moments.

An altar to rock music outside of the Hard Rock Hotel

After some brief exploration we congregated at the main gate to await a member of the Orlando CVB team who was going to connect us with our tour. Oh did I not mention it was a VIP tour...don't believe me? Here's a breakdown of some of the people our tour guide Branden had taken around the park; Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, and Yao Ming just to name a few. This tour is literally as good as it gets at Universal Studios. If the President was to visit the park this is the tour he'd take. So naturally we were losing our minds with excitement. The tour was spectacular. Without a doubt the preeminent theme park experience of our life times. We were lucky enough to bypass some of the normally long lines (our average wait time was about 47 seconds), go back stage on some of the rides like the amazing 3-D Spiderman ride and get an idea of how they work, and were given loads of insider information on the new Harry Potter world they are creating at the park...ok so we couldn't pry any Harry Potter spoilers out of Branden but the tour still rocked. Imagine this: Spiderman 3-D, The Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Dr. Doom's Tower of Terror, the twin coasters Dueling Dragons, Jurrasic Park, the classic Jaws boat ride, the Mummy in-door coaster, Men In Black interactive ride, and finally the brand new Simpson themed 3-D animated ride. Back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back. We rode some of the most awesome, gut wrenching, brain scrambling thrill rides on the planet...It would be a lie if we didn't admit we were close to passing out at one point. Totally worth it!!! Here's a taste of our experience as we hoped on Dr. Doom's Tower of Terror.

Graphic Photo Evidence of Our Universal Experience

Jaws has been hanging around since 1975...Ripe!!!

Our dynamite tour guide Branden (Clay and I flashing our new VIP credentials)

The Hollywood Rip Rocket...still under construction. Word on the street is each rider will get to choose one of over 30 songs to hear while he's screaming around this one. Cool!

Since Branden didn't want to lose his job by spilling the beans we took matters into our own hands. Peeking in on what will be Harry Potters world.

Hogwarts looking good so far.

Mythos: the #1 rated theme park restaurant in the world. The only thing keeping it from being 5 star is the inability to enforce a dress code....oooh swank!

We didn't see anyone who didn't seem to be enjoying themselves. Tons for the kids to do in Seuss Landing. People of all ages could keep themselves busy all day for a week! I could just see my little girl Jordyn shreiking for joy as her favorite Dr. Seuss characters came to life right before her eyes.

Checking in for our VIP tour!

The gang backing up your Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman

Breakfast AKA Rats In A Maze...

We had a small scheduling shuffle on Tuesday morning and ended up with a little free time. Due to Bryce's decisive vote we ended up at a nice little cafe called "FirstWatch" for some breakfast. As you may or may not know, by this time in the competition many of the contestants were already starting to feel the effects of little to no sleep. This was due to a VERY full schedule and the need to stay up late documenting our adventures. We were beginning to think we had become the subjects of some bizarre psychology experiment. Who wouldn't be curious to know what happens when you let a guy like Brendan have one hour of sleep then give him 9 cups of coffee then send him to ride 10 high speed rides in 4 hours?