When you think of Kissimmee, Florida, the ﬁrst thing that might come to mind, as it does for so many cities in Central Florida, is Disney. Kissimmee is home to the Mouse-owned and -operated town of Celebration, and is only a 10-minute drive from Disney World, EPCOT, and Universal Studios. It feels like you can’t go anywhere without being in close proximity to a ﬁreworks display, which seem to be happening at all times of night. But there’s a lot more to Kissimmee than elaborate pyrotechnics, magical cartoon mice, and Arnold Palmer–approved golf courses.
During a recent press trip hosted by VISIT FLORIDA and Experience Kissimmee—tied to Florida Encounter 2016, which was held at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate on Nov. 30–Dec. 2—we began with a visit to the Florida Hospital Nicholson Center, a 54,000-square-foot medical training facility. More than 15,000 doctors and surgeons come from all over the world each year to train at the unique venue, which offers a conference center that seats up to 450 people, several boardrooms, ﬂexible exhibition and breakout space, and state-of-the-art equipment like the da Vinci System, a 3D robotic-surgery machine.
Our next stop was slightly more magical, as we hopped on bikes and toured small, picturesque Celebration, a planned community developed by Disney in 1996. It felt like we’d traveled back in time as we cycled along the many artiﬁcial ponds and wound through neat rows of houses along Celebration Boulevard, their manicured lawns lined with white-picket fences, all slightly different from one another—it’s a requirement that every house have a white-picket fence, but no two neighbors’ can be identical.
After touring the Pleasantville look-alike, we ended up at the 115-room Bohemian Hotel Celebration, which is part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Native American art lines the walls of the Bohemian’s open-air lobby, leading to the 2,400-square-foot lakeside terrace. We walked through the property’s 1,663-square-foot ballroom and several boardrooms and private dining rooms. Work by local artists was showcased along some of the hotel’s corridors, all of it available for sale.
Upon leaving Celebration, we headed to Formosa Gardens to visit the soon-to-open Island Grove Winery. Teaming up with Island Grove Wine Company in Hawthorne, Florida, which uses blueberries to make wine, Kissimmee native George Chen plans to open the venue this spring. The property offers sweep-ing views of the surrounding 11 acres of green ﬁelds. Behind the winery, Chen is testing the land as an orchard, grow-ing fruits not native to Florida—like persimmons—in an attempt to move away from the state’s struggling citrus crops, which have dropped to their lowest growth levels in 50 years due to bacterial disease.
Next on the agenda was a game of “footgolf”—a combination of golf and soccer—at the Reunion Resort. First, we walked by the property’s 8,160-square-foot ballroom and through a 5,000-square-foot, glass-enclosed, tented pavilion. On golf courses designed by legends Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, and Arnold Palmer, we attempted to kick a soccer ball a few feet into a large hole. Not as easy as you think. Groups visiting the Reunion have the option to play the unique sport as a fun team-building activity.
After a long day of biking, wine tasting, and footgolﬁng, we went to the newly transformed Disney Springs entertainment district to have dinner at Morimoto Asia, helmed by renowned Chef Masaharu Morimoto. While we were winding through young families on a particularly bustling Thursday night at the park, a voice on the loudspeaker advised us to look toward the stars. There we watched an impromptu holiday-themed light show. Christmas trees and snowﬂakes appeared and disappeared into the dark night sky, seemingly out of thin air, while carols played.
When we arrived at the restaurant, the hostess told us that we had missed Chef Morimoto by just a few minutes. She led us to a table right by the kitchen, where large glass windows separated us from the cooks on the line; they rolled fresh sushi right in front of us. Our waiter brought over several plates piled high with rock-shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, orange chicken, and vegetable lo mein. We ended the evening with warm, house-made churros and vanilla cream, and Mochi Mochi, a tofu, coconut-mango soup.
As we made our way back to the car, we heard a thunderous noise to our left. Looking out at the horizon we saw EPCOT’s nightly ﬁreworks, blaring bright colors into the distance, and sending us off in true Kissimmee style.