When I was a kid, a fair would come to town once a year and bring with it midway rides, snow cones and caramel apples. In its wake it left a boatload of happy memories. Somehow this perfect combination of sugary treats and dizzying rides has solidified itself as a central part of nostalgic Americana, a reminder of simpler times when happiness equaled a Tilt-a-Whirl and a bucket of freshly popped popcorn.
Perhaps that's why Old Town Kissimmee, an expansive amusement park and outdoor shopping venue dripping with three decades of history, holds such an appeal for families. When I arrived with mine on a sunny Sunday afternoon, it was like we had stepped back in time.
Our daughters squealed when their eyes landed on the whimsical carousel and kid-sized roller coaster. Of course, we'd be buying the 60-ticket package and setting aside at least a couple of hours to watch them race from ride to ride in giddy glee. The midway, which is a permanent collection of nearly a dozen rides that even my three-year-old could enjoy, boasted bouncy motorcycles, flying teacups and a Frog Hopper ride that bobbed my smiling brood up and down until they collapsed into unstoppable fits of giggles.
Afterward, we strolled along Old Town's retro Main Street lined with a few dozen shops and kid-friendly eateries. For lunch we had our choice of everything from sushi to TexMex to pizza, but we opted for the A&W burger joint, which lured us in with its 1950s aesthetic and root beer floats.
With our bellies full, we wandered into the little shops filled with a treasure trove of items, including nostalgic toys, handmade bath bombs and handcrafted leather goods. There was even a store overflowing with gems, a sight to behold when you're a kid obsessed with pirates and fairy princesses.
We mastered Skee Ball in the Old Town Arcade, upped our shooting skills at the Rootin & Tootan's Shootin' Alley and crashed into each other on the bumper cars. When the kids get a little older, we'll go zip lining, ride the go-carts, climb the rock wall, play laser tag and take a scary stroll through Legends: A Haunting at Old Town. There's still so much more to discover. Who knows, I might even get the chance to steal away for a chair massage or manicure at Vivian's Day Spa, also on site.
All the fun and frivolity began to take its toll on our tired tots, but before our departure we had one more must-have experience on the docket: the gargantuan Century Ferris Wheel that towers over Kissimmee. We boarded our colorful cab and set sail for the top, all the while drinking in the wide-eyed grins of our daughters.
It's been more than 25 years since I was that kid slurping an ice cream cone and relishing in the queasy delight of a Tilt-a-Whirl, but after a day at Old Town, it feels just like yesterday.