Snow in Florida? At Old Town, it’s just the start of a big holiday bash.

In December alone, Old Town will celebrate a special three-week-long Christmas event, the theme park's 25th anniversary, and a big New Year's Eve bash as well. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

KISSIMMEE – Here’s a riddle: how do you take something old, that’s been around for a while, and make it new?
According to Don Rousseau, the sales and marketing manager for Old Town, there’s a surefire recipe for doing that, and it starts with “Something New in the Air at Old Town.”
“We’re trying to make Old Town new again,” Rousseau said.
The best way to do that is to host special events, like this Christmas and holiday-themed celebration that kicks off on Friday.
The man in the red suit himself, Santa Claus, will be on hand Friday as the theme park on U.S. 192 near Kissimmee kicks off its inaugural “Old Town Christmas.” Santa will arrive at the theme park’s new Pepsi AMPventure Experience, then lead a parade of children to his workshop on Old Town’s Main Street. Santa’s aerial entrance will be at 5 p.m., and is the start of a nearly month-long holiday celebration.
“Our big Christmas event starts this Friday, where Santa Claus will be zipping over Old Town, and each of our blocks at Old Town will have different scenarios,” Rousseau said, including a Winter Wonderland with Jack Frost and his snow ferries at one block, and a nativity scene in another.
And, following another popular tradition, there will be snow falling – regardless of what the weather is like.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Rousseau said of the theme park’s plans for flakey soap falling and creating the look – if not necessarily the nippy feel – of snow.
“It’s very flakey-like soap bubbles, but fine in texture,” he said. “When the air hits it just right, it looks like a light snowfall.”
The falling snow is just one attempt to get the theme park’s visitors into the holiday spirit. There will also be carolers, story telling, and live performances at the various themed holiday blocks on Fridays and Saturdays from 5-8 p.m., through Dec. 23.
Children will have an opportunity to visit Santa’s Workshop, where they can take a photo with Jolly Old St. Nick and tell him what they want for Christmas, and there will be elves on hand helping Santa get ready for the holiday. There will also be special holiday gifts available at Old Town’s more than 75 specialty retailers.
As Rousseau noted, this is a part of Old Town’s efforts to bill itself an affordable alternative to the large theme parks that have admission prices and parking fees that can now exceed $100.
Admission to Old Town is free, and so is parking, Rousseau noted.
“With the new management coming into place, our intention is to bring the whole family back to Old Town,” Rousseau said. “It’s a cheaper option than going to the big theme parks.”
Old Town’s efforts to reinvent itself started this past summer with the introduction of the new PEPSI AMPVenture Experience, featuring a zip line and challenge course that calls on patrons to test their balance, strength and endurance on a series of rope challenges and rock climbing obstacles.
Then in October, the theme park hosted “Old Town Halloween,” featuring zombie walks, Florida Ghost Buster Fan Club appearances, Monster Mashes and Costume Contests.
Rousseau said the Halloween-themed event was a huge hit.
“It was a big free event,” he said. “It was so packed every night you could barely move. It was a home run. On a scale of one to 10, this was a 20.”
For the Christmas event, Old Town will also be a collection site for Kids Osceola, a non-profit organization that gives toys and other supplies to homeless families throughout Osceola County. Any patron who drops off a new toy for the drive will get half off the price of any ride wristband for unlimited rides all day on Old Town’s 14 attractions, including the AMPventure Zone.
Then at the end of the month, Old Town will host its traditional big New Year’s Eve bash, Rousseau said, with the band 70s Reunion performing. And for the countdown to the new year, there will be a unique twist, Rousseau added.
“We’re going to do a car drop,” he said. “Rather than the ball drop like in Times Square, a 120 foot crane will start lowering a car on the countdown. We’re looking at a couple of different sponsors right now. We’re not sure if it will be Chevy or a Ford.”
Old Town has truly been around for a while, almost as long as Walt Disney World, which opened in 1971. Old Town will be celebrating its 25th anniversary on Dec. 10, and that’s not going to be a one day event – but a 12-month-long bash.
“We’re going to do a year-long celebration,” he said. “We’ll kick it off on December 10, and then do the celebration all year long.”
It is, Rousseau added, part of Old Town’s ongoing effort to bring something new to the …. well, Old.
“The sky is the limit,” he said. “We’re just doing so many new things.”
For more information about the Old Town Christmas activities, visit www.MyOldTownUSA.com or check out Old Town’s Facebook page. Old Town is at 5770 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway (U.S. 192) in Kissimmee, and the park’s operating hours are Sunday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to midnight.

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Wanted: private developer for a partnership with Osceola County, to get a new toll road built in Poinciana.

The Poinciana Parkway, a proposed toll road, is designed to give Poinciana residents fastest ways of getting in and out of the community than the road system that now exists. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

POINCIANA — Jeffrey Jones admits that Osceola County tried hard, very hard, to get out the message that as unpleasant as tax hikes may be, if it can lead to a major improvement in a community’s quality of life, it would be worth it.
That was part of the county’s message last November, when Osceola County commissioners put a referendum on the ballot asking voters if they would approve a sales tax increase to fund 10 transportation projects, including the Poinciana Parkway, a proposed toll road designed to make it easier for Poinciana residents to get from their community to Interstate 4.
In a bad year for the economy, a tax hike turned out to be a tough sell, and 70 percent of Osceola County voters rejected the referendum. Now, as the county and Avatar, the main builder in Poinciana, look for ways to get the Poinciana Parkway back on track, Jones said another alternative may be to find another source of private funding, rather than more public money.
“Obviously without that sales tax, most of those projects are not going forward, and that was part of the message that was being put out when the tax was being discussed prior to the referendum,“ said Jones, Osceola County‘s strategic initiatives director. “There just isn’t any additional money, so they are going to be delayed until such times as there is a funding source for it.“
But if the county doesn’t have the funding now to invest in the parkway, Jones noted that the proposed highway would be a toll road, and that might give a private investor more incentive to work on this project.
“With the Poinciana Parkway, the plan is for it to be in part a toll facility, so there’s an opportunity for the public-private partnership for the county working with the Osceola Expressway Authority taking the project on,” Jones said.
The Osceola County Expressway Authority was created last year, when the state Legislature gave the county the ability to create its own expressway authority, separate from the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. Now Osceola County is able to build new roads across the county, with the funding coming from tolls imposed on those roads.
Giving the county the ability to put tolls on the local roads, Jones said, gives Osceola commissioners the funding source it needs to make these projects happen — and can entice private businesses to get involved as well, he added.
“ It could be simply the private sector finding there is a potential to make a profit off of it and choosing to build it on their own,” he said. “All of those are currently being explored. It’s very much on the front burner to find a way to do that.”
That also means, Jones said, that Avatar wouldn’t have to be the only private developer working on this roadway.
“It’s not exclusively Avatar,” he said. “There could be other companies out there that are just interested in constructing and operating in a toll road. I’m trying to find out now. There’s a lot of examples around the country where that has occurred, and everything with roads is complicated. What the county is currently working on is what’s the best way to do this, what’s the one that’s going to work, what’s the way everyone can agree on in terms of how to finance it, and who is ending up collecting the tolls and how does it get distributed among the partners. It’s very much a business deal. We’re working very hard on that.”
The Poinciana Parkway has been on the drawing board for seven years. Avatar was required to get environmental permits first, because some of the land that this roadway would cut through is protected wetlands, and the developer needed to mitigate that by finding other land that could be preserved in its place.
But the projected cost of the toll road — which would get residents to the Interstate 4 exit by ChampionsGate, and bring them more quickly to Ronald Reagan Boulevard in Davenport — has gone up, slowing down the start date.
Nick Murdock, the chairman of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, said he expects this project will move forward in 2012, and said it’s critical to Poinciana’s future.
“I feel it’s extremely important,” he said. “Most people feel that way. It’s going to, number one, give people in Poinciana a way to get out of here so we’re not land locked. That’s a very specific value that is given to us. By taking the Poinciana Parkway, they can knock off at least 15 minutes of time as they go up to the Orlando-Disney area.
“The other thing it does,” Murdock added, “is give Avatar an opportunity to promote the parkway and sell more homes here, because people don’t have to go through Haines City to get out of here.”
That‘s true, he said, of developments like Solivita, on the Polk County side of Poinciana. Right now, the fastest way to get to I-4 from Solivita is to drive into neighboring Haines City, take it to U.S. 27, and then follow it north to the I-4 exit by Posner Park in Davenport. That’s close to a 30 minute drive.
“With all those ingredients added together, it’s a huge plus for the Poinciana community, and it takes the load and burden off the community,” Murdock said.

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Cutting hair for a good cause? At Nube Nove, it’s all about giving back.

Nube Nove is a salon in Thornton Park. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – It was officially called the 2011 Cut-A-Thon, but unlike the average marathon, this event had nothing to do with speed.
Nube Nove, the hair salon at 717 E. Washington St. in Thornton Park, has been hosting this special event for the past four years, but the hair stylists who take part in it are not in a race to see who can clip their clients’ hair at the fastest pace. The customers who came in on Tuesday night for the 2011 Cut-a-Thon got the same relaxed, friendly treatment they usually get from their hair stylist, who were in no rush to get them out the door. It was not, said Austin Scott, the salon’s director of reservations, that kind of cut-a-thon.
Instead, it was a charitable event being host by the salon, with all of the proceeds from Tuesday night’s benefit being donated entirely to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
“One of our stylists, Jennifer Ramos, has a son who is 11, and he has juvenile diabetes,” Scott said. “And each year we do an event for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.”
As part of that, the customers who dropped by the Thornton Park salon got to take advantage of discounted hair cuts and style services, along with complimentary beverages, door prizes and raffle items – all for a good cause.
“We’re giving out $20 haircuts,” Scott said. “Normally for a lady’s cut, it would be $40. They’re getting it for $20. The men’s normally are $32, and tonight they are $20 as well, and all of that goes to the JDRF.”
In addition, the mood inside the salon was decidedly festive — and celebratory.
“We have drinks and beverages,” Scott said. “For the raffles, we have people that work at Busche Gardens that donated tickets. None of the stylists gets paid tonight. Everyone here that is on staff is donating their time.”
Nube Nove started doing this charitable benefit from the very beginning. The salon just celebrated its four-year anniversary, and as word has gotten out about the discounts and the cause it goes to help, Scott said the Cut-a-Thon has been a strong draw, bringing in more people each year.
“Last year, it was really, really busy, busier than the year before,” he said. “Last year, we closed off the parking lot to have a lounge out there.”
The salon opted not to do that this year, in part because they dealt with some weather challenges in November 2010.

Nube Nove hosted its 2011 Cut-a-Thon charitable benefit on Tuesday. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

“Last year, it rained on the party,” Scott said. And with meteorologists predicting a cold front coming in this week, and temperatures falling into the 50s by sundown, Scott said they decided an outdoor event wouldn’t work.
As it turns out, it didn’t much matter. By 5:30 p.m., a half hour after the salon opened, the staff was already busy, with customers ready to get serviced.
Scott said the salon does well for one very basic reason: strong customer service from the staff.
“It’s just a fun atmosphere,” he said. “We like to treat our customers right.”
Unlike some other hair salons, Scott said, this one gladly welcomes in children.
“We’re also very child friendly,” he said. “We have a lot of people who bring their kids in here. Our philosophy is if we’re going to cut your parents’ hair, we’ll cut your kids’ hair, too. We’re patient. Our stylists are kid-friendly.”

As part of the benefit, local artist Parker Sketch donated some paintings to be sold at the salon on Tuesday night, and guests were encouraged to bring an unwrapped toy for the Toys for Tots campaign.
“It is going to be a busy night,” Scott said. “We try to donate money and services and whatever we can do for the community.”
For more information, call the salon at 407-246-5488.

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