So you have come over to Orlando for two weeks holiday….. You have done all the Mouse and Wizard things…. You have shopped till you dropped and you are a nice red lobster sun burnt colour? What else is there to do? Well you could go over to Fantasy of Flight in Polk City and spend a brilliant 4 to 6 hours there.
Today Debs, Alex, Kieran and I were invited to experience this one man’s fantasy (I would say dream but let’s stay away from Disney)…. Fantasy of Flight is a simply amazing place. Its located 20 min drive from Disney area hotels, just off exit 44 on the I4 and frankly at 250 acres so far you cannot miss it! It’s the brainchild, plaything, vision – so many things of Kermit Weeks. The extraordinary oil millionaire with a real passion for aviation.
The attraction is so much more than a museum. It’s a hands on experience with great exhibits. Yes I did say exhibits but these exhibits do something that I have never seen a Dinosaur at the National History do… that’s FLY!! But more on that later.
So we arrived at 10 am (opening) and were greeted by two extraordinary characters… one dressed in full biggles outfit and the other in State Trooper type attire. Very witty and quick with the kids. We were quickly introduced to Jennifer the Director of Sales who kindly allowed us all in today and with whom I had a very pleasant and enjoyable conversation later on which you will hear soon on the Radio show.
The first impressions are just “wow”. This place has had some serious money spent on its layout. I will explain more of that later also as its clear that more money is going into this attraction than it makes from its $28.95 adult ticket cost. The reception area is lovely, hotel like and the gift shop and restaurant flank the front desk. As you enter the exhibit you enter a Disney (oops sorry) quality themed WW1 and WW2 walk-throughs and theme rooms. These walk throughs are amazing (Check out the photos on here and on Eye on Orlando Facebook page) and they have all been done to the highest standards. The highlight has to be the B17 bomber and Jeep. You get to walk through the bomber into the cockpit but the displays and set up inside are amazing. It’s not just a here is a bomber there is perfect lighting and sound effects and tracks playing that you feel really immersed in it.
You exit this walkthrough experience into one of two vast hangers just filled with vintage expensive aeroplanes. Some had a current value of over $3m! It was wonderful to see the Ford plane from Indiana Jones and a real working Spitfire. Each plane had an information sheet and 11 of them had audio guides. There was also some great cut aways of cockpits for you or the kids to play in…. no button was left unpushed even the big eject one!!!
An announcement was soon made about a “tour” so we moved to the small tram. We were taken by two guides around the massive complex and told the stories about Kermitt Weeks and his oil millions made by his Father in Australia and that the site was purpose built for them some 18 years ago. We leant about engines and parts and restoration and that they hold more parts for the B17 than Boeing themselves!!
After the tour I had a lovely chat with Jennifer Montague the Sales Director who told me more great stories and elaborated on the history, experience and plans for the future. You can hear that in full on the Eye on Orlando Radio show.
The highlight of the days visit would surely have been the 1:30pm flying demonstration conducted by Kermit himself. Unfortunately we had plans and had to leave but I will be back to see that one day. Yes everyday weather permitting; one of the many planes will be taken along the 5000 foot grass runway and flown around the area for all to see. Today it was the turn of the Mustang.
For the aviation geeks there is lots of details and information. You are taken on a tour of the facility and are shown a huge array of engines with some wonderful insightful stories and also shown where planes are rebuilt and restored. It is evident everywhere you look that Kermit Weeks has a real passion for planes be it his toys or his business (and to be fair I think it’s more the former than latter as on the admission price they charge and the level of what they offer they could never break even). Some money men buy football teams, some buy art; Weeks buys airplanes and gives such a great experience to those that attend. And you really should attend. I know Alex will be studying WW2 in Year 6 and so she should. Both her and Kieran were very entertained by the whole day. Albeit the younger loved the hands on experiences, playing in the cockpits, listening to the audio guides, seeing the old planes. Any child’s dream. For us adults it was eye opening but also thoroughly entertaining. Seeing how small these pre war and war planes were and what passion people have to keep these tin cans flying is admirable. Its also lovely to see such a great “distraction attraction” not copying anyone but doing their own thing but doing it so well.
They (and I mean of course Weeks) are spending more money building another hanger and there are crates of planes ready to be restored and flown. Jennifer tells me they have many thousands of acres of land and are going to expand the theme park into an engaging experience for all covering planes, oranges trees, balloon rides. I have absolutely no doubt they will and that it will be done so well. We had a great time there and will certainly be going back. Please, give it a try, you won’t be disappointed!