POLK CITY – Sitting in a restaurant, I glanced out the window at the huge airplane on the landing, as well as another one soaring overhead.
For just a moment, I experienced a tinge of anxiety. Truth is, I don’t much like eating meals in airports.
Have you ever had a two hour layover at an airport, gone to a restaurant, then started fretting and sweating about whether your meal would arrive in time for you to gulp it down, then rush to your boarding gate? That’s part of what I don’t like about airports – the frantic pace as you stumble to the ticketing gate, then get in that long, tedious security line, then go hunting for your departure gate, and maybe have a few minutes to grab something quick to eat to take on the plane.
What you don’t do at an airport – at least, I don’t – is relax, and enjoy a nice meal. That’s not a commentary on the quality of the food at airport restaurants, which can often times be quite good. It is a comment on the fact that airports have become awfully high anxiety places in the age of hyped-up security measure (”Shoes off, please!”).
But that discomfort I felt, glancing out the window at that majestic plane, lasted only a brief second. The truth is, I truly was relaxed at that moment, enjoying myself immensely — even more so as I looked up at the beautiful Art Deco designs above the counter where the chefs prepared my meal. Happily, I wasn’t at a large, international airport, racing to catch my plane and dragging heavy luggage with me while crowds of people shoved me this way and that way.
I was at Fantasy of Flight, the tourist attraction in Polk County, in their delightful Compass Rose Diner. I was about to enjoy an excellent meal of fish and chips and fries, in a cozy ambiance that made me wish I lived a lot closer to this attraction. This is a place that takes every bit of displeasure out of flying, and instead makes it seem like both an adventure, not to mention a very fun history lesson.
First, a bit about the attraction itself.
Fantasy of Flight is at 1400 Broadway Boulevard SE in Polk City, a beautifully rural part of Polk County that hasn’t been paved over yet by rapid development. It’s actually something of a mini-tourist Mecca all on its own. Two minutes up the road in Polk City is the Water Ski Museum and Hall of Fame, where thousands of athletes converge every year to practice water skiing on the lake by the museum. A bit further up the road is the town of Lake Alfred, well known for its quaint antique shops and great mom and pop restaurants.
In the other direction, in Auburndale, is the Lake Myrtle Sports Park. You could spend an entire day within a twenty minute drive of Polk City and have a great time hitting all four attractions.
Fantasy of Flight is an aviation-themed attraction that showcases vintage aircraft from the world’s largest private collection, and has interactive exhibits, a tram tour of aircraft maintenance areas, restoration and back lot tours, and programs like the “Tuskegee Airmen – They Dared to Fly” exhibit. There’s more than enough here to see and do for an entire afternoon.
It helps that this part of Polk City offers a spectacular view of miles and miles of an unspoiled landscape –small homes dotting the otherwise wide open citrus groves that the Sunshine State is famous for. Once upon a time, a century or so ago, Florida marketed itself to the northern folks by inviting them to come see a stunning countrywise in a tropical climate. It’s nice to know that some parts of the state, like Polk City, still can offer that.
At the same time, Fantasy of Flight has the Compass Rose Diner, designed to capture the looks of a diner from the 1930s, with terrazzo floors and a corner soda fountain reflective of the pre-World War II era. The short order menu includes hamburgers, salads, soup, and meals like chicken and seafood. You can get into Compass Rose Diner without having to pay the full admission price for access the museum itself – just walk in the front doors and ask the waitress for a table.
But a full tour of the entire museum is highly recommended – in addition to lunch here.
There’s a no question that some people love flying, others hate it, and airports have become more stressful places since the tragedies of the Sept. 11 2001 terrorist attacks. Safety comes with the need for some sacrifices on all our parts.
Fantasy of Flight, though, is a reminder of what thrills us all about flying, while the diner, which takes you back to a much more simple era, is an ideal place to unwind and enjoy a good meal. It helps quite a bit that this diner and attraction is located in a section of Central Florida that’s not at all far from the big theme parks, but offers something uniquely special all on its own.
To learn more, call 863-984-3500 or visit www.fantasyofflight.com.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.