You’re a little sweaty and hungry. The kids are hyped up on cinnamon sugar-dusted apple fries from Legoland Florida. It’s only 5 o’clock. So you’ve got some extra time to explore Winter Haven, Florida, and the surrounding area. “We hope people do stay around,” said Kelly Rote, communications specialist for Visit Central Florida. Without having to travel far, you and your children will get a kick out of these out-of-the-ordinary places and activities.
· Travel to 1951 with a trip to Andy’s Drive-In Restaurant. Don’t pass up the Steakette Burger or Half Pounder, paired with a Fruit Salad Milkshake, featuring chunks of fresh peaches, pineapple, cherries and bananas. The family diner has a Sunday walk-up ice cream window, where 20 flavors of milkshakes come in small, regular and Big Daddy sizes. “There’s nothing fancy. The atmosphere is very casual,” said third-generation owner Popi Nouaros. And the prices are casual too, with the most expensive burger selling for $5.45.
· Still need something sweet? You haven’t tasted fudge until you’ve tried the goat’s milk fudge atWebb’s Candy. “It’s a whole lot richer and creamier,” said Sharon Passmo, who has worked at the Davenport candy shop since 1976. Watch fudge being made, try samples of citrus candy and hang out in the Florida-centric gift shop. Goat’s milk fudge sells for $12.95/pound. (webbscandyshop.com, 800-289-9322)
· What kid can resist the lights and whirls of an arcade? Indigo’s Bowling, Billiards and Gamesoffers amusement for grown-ups, children and preteens alike. The Chuck E. Cheese-like arcade, 10-lane bowling alley and nine billiard tables are separate from the adult area. The bar, which boasts more than 50 craft beers, features 10 billiard tables and seven big-screen TVs. “For a few bucks per person, you can have a good time,” said Cory Bassham, whose 4-year-old daughter enjoys bowling and playing the games.
· While watching the ski show at Legoland, you were looking out on the Chain of Lakes. A collection of 12 canal-connected freshwater lakes, Chain of Lakes is open to skiing, boating and fishing.
“We’ve got plenty of wildlife here,” said Tricia Gurr, vice president at Marine Supply, which rents a pontoon boat ($195 for four hours and $295 for eight hours, www.marinesupplyboats.com). “We always meet at least four gators when we’re out, and there are plenty of beautiful birds on the lakes.”
The lakes also are filled with bass and brim, but make sure you have a Florida fishing license ($17, myfwc.com/license/recreational/visitors/)
For a closer look at herons, egrets, frogs and crawfish on the Chain, book an ecotour via paddleboard, kayak or pontoon boat (863-412-7100, $50 for two hours, $80 for four hours). Binoculars and casting nets are supplied.
In addition to critters, you’ll run across parks and playgrounds and three boat-up restaurants on the lakes, including the just-opened Frank and Manny’s Harborside (www.frankandmannys.com), where a screened-in downstairs dining area was created specifically for flip-flops-clad boaters hungry for some shrimp scampi.
· Explore Downtown Winter Haven. Kids can let some energy go at Central Park, where a giant fountain changes colors to celebrate holidays and different commemorations. Benches and picnic tables dot the park, and strands of lights and lampposts light the park at night. Ten wildly different sculptures are on display through 2014. The first Saturday of every month brings approximately 20 classic vehicles to the area, along with doo-wop tunes played by a local radio station. You can grab a bite at a handful of pizza and sandwich places.
Be sure to wander into Andy Thornal Company. With all the big-box sports retailers around the country, you don’t see many independent outdoors stores anymore. At Andy Thornal, around since 1945, you’ll find gear for hunting, hiking and fishing (day-long fly fishing schools are offered for $125.) mixed in with a nature-art studio and travel accessories (www.andythornal.com).
· For $75, get a little adventurous with some wakeboarding lessons. Beginners welcome at Chain of Wakes. Ask for Head Coach and United Kingdom wakeboarding champ Stewart Mackie,www.chainofwakes.com
· If you’re lucky enough to have a babysitter or grandparent along on the trip, tuck the kids into bed and head out for some adult time. Grab a glass of wine and tapas at the swanky Blue Room, an upscale restaurant and cocktail lounge just steps away from Legoland, where live jazz and blues can be heard several times a month. Or travel down the street to wine bar Grape Expectations.Arabellas Ristorante in downtown Winter Haven offers fine Italian and Mediterranean cuisine and an impressive wine list amid live piano serenades ($30-$50 price range).
Chain of Wakes: www.chainofwakes.com
Andy’s Igloo, Winter Haven:
PublicArt, Downtown Winter Haven