Best Of 2014

UCF Knights at the Fiesta Bowl

In a landmark year for the University of Central Florida, the UCF Knights football team became champions of the American Athletic Conference and, thus, pitted against the Baylor Bears in the Fiesta Bowl. The Knights dominated most of the game, but the Bears tied it up just after the half, making it momentarily a nail-biter. But when Knights quarterback Blake Bortles took a knee to run out the final moments on the game clock, he solidified what Knights fans already knew to be true – this team was a winner, making history by taking the trophy in their first-ever showing in a BCS bowl game.

Best Bike Ride
PHOTO BY CHRIS TRICOLI, via OrlanDO Critical Mass

Critical Mass
Orlando Loch Haven Park, 900 E. Princeton St.,

Critical Mass is a monthly community bike ride meant to promote awareness of alternative means of transportation. Hundreds of people meet at 6 p.m. every last Friday of the month at Loch Haven Park, then fill the streets with cyclists, riding around Orlando en masse (get it?). The best thing about Critical Mass is that there are so many people riding together that it’s the safest way to enjoy a bike tour of the City Beautiful, which was recently designated as the worst place to be a pedestrian in the country. The pace is steady but leisurely, everyone is smiling – except that guy at the stop sign trying to get home – and it’s quite possibly one of the best cycling events we’ve ever taken part in.

Best Crazy Run
Photo Courtesy of Savage Race

Savage Race
Oct. 25-26, Little Everglades Ranch, 17951 Hamilton Road, Dade City,

Are you a savage? If so, check out this 7-mile obstacle course returning to Florida this fall. From ice baths to barbed wire, Savage Race is the big leagues of fun runs. Instead of getting showered with paint or glitter or some other cute but not terribly challenging gimmick, Savage Race presents you with insane obstacles and challenges. Lots of them. Think mud, fire, the aforementioned ice baths and barbed wire, and plenty more hellishness. Where some races promise that you’ll walk away from the event with glow sticks or a sweetly paint-splattered shirt, Savage Race promises you muddy underwear. A free beer and a medal commemorating your intense victory are also included in registration.

Orlando Ingress community

Whether you’re on the side of the heroic Resistance or the stupid, stupid Enlightened, Ingress, the mobile game from Google’s Niantic Labs, is probably the first thing you pull up on your phone when you go someplace new. Accurately described as “weaponized Google Maps,” players choose a team and try to claim as much real-life territory as possible. But instead of traditional gang markers like bad graffiti tags and hand signs, Ingressers use the app to claim imaginary “portals” that appear at various landmarks around town and link them into “fields.” Judging by how quickly the landscape of blue and green fields changes, the Orlando Ingress community is doing a great job of getting out there and ruining one another’s days.

Aiguille Rock Climbing Center
999 Charles St., Longwood, 407-332-1430,

We may live in one of the flattest states in the nation, but don’t let that stop you from spicing up your workout routine with some vertical challenges. Aiguille Rock Climbing Center has 10,000 square feet of rock-climbing walls up to 36 feet high. The rock-climbing gym, which has 27 top-rope walls, three climbing courses to help you improve your form and yoga classes to help you stay limber, offers enough stuff to satisfy the seasoned veteran and rookie climber alike. Afraid you’ll master the gym’s challenges too easily, and you’ll get tired of climbing the same routes? Aiguille modifies its climbing walls every few weeks to keep things interesting for regulars.

Orlando City Soccer Club’s #paintthecitypurple

With the Citrus Bowl undergoing renovation, and the professional soccer stadium that will eventually be home to Orlando’s soon-to-be MLS team still in its planning phase, Orlando City Soccer has had to play their 2014 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista – quite a haul from downtown and in a location that’s nowhere near as visible in Orlando proper. But the club didn’t let their fan base forget that they’re still Orlando’s hometown team. When they were ready to reveal their new logo this spring, they embarked on a high-profile mural campaign, called #paintthecitypurple, in which they hired local street artists to create colorful murals from downtown to Colonialtown. Many of those murals still adorn the buildings they were painted on, and they’ve brought a nice splash of color to some bland streetscapes – not to mention a very visible reminder that Orlando loves its soccer club.

Best New Theme Park Thrill

Diagon Alley and Gringotts at Universal Orlando
6000 Universal Blvd., 407-363-8000,

While Escape From Gringotts, the signature E-Ticket attraction at Universal Studios Florida’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley area, is far from the wildest ride in town, there’s no denying that this roller-coaster/simulator hybrid is Orlando’s most innovative thrill since Forbidden Journey opened next door at Islands of Adventure. The only thing more thrilling than riding rail carts through the goblin-run bank is exploring the immersive, interactive land surrounding it. Just watch out for that fire-breathing dragon.

Best Place to Have a Beer in a Theme Park
PHOTO courtesy of DISNEY

Rose and Crown Pub and Dining Room
United Kingdom Pavilion, Epcot, Walt Disney World, 407-939-3463,

Drinking around the world is becoming a cultural phenomenon; people fly here from all over the globe to see how many countries they can drink through without passing out in the bushes by Canada. But the best place to grab a pint in this park is at the Rose and Crown. It’s air-conditioned, it’s staffed with fresh-faced kids from the U.K. who probably drink more than you do, and there’s a little piano in the corner where a British dame plays fancy tunes as you spill a Black-and-Tan on your neighbor’s Crocs. If you stay here long enough, you can catch the fireworks from the bar
without having to smell the hellishly sulfurous smoke that washes over the area afterward.

Best Place to Take a Hike
Photo by Ashley Belanger

Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area
3365 Taylor Creek Road, Christmas, 407-568-5893,

Head east on Colonial Drive until the road forks, then steer right to take State Road 520 until you see the small brown sign beckoning you to turn left and discover Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area. It’s off the beaten path, but its many trails offer a rare solitude typically encountered exclusively in apocalyptic storybooks and doomsday movies. Once inside, enjoy hiking the rugged Florida landscapes – quaint ponds, open fields of wildflowers, canopies of hanging moss – populated in the early morning hours by wild turkeys, boar, deer and more birds than Audubon Park documents on its street signs. If you drive long enough, you end up deep in the wood at Lake Charlie, where eagles have been spied and sunbathing gators grunt, perhaps appreciating the varied terrain as much as (or more than) we do.

Best Puzzling Sports Mascot

Tommy the Tar, Rollins College
1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, 407-646-2000,

Somehow, despite the school’s landlocked locale, the Rollins College mascot is a burly sailor named Tommy the Tar. The school spins a tale about how the “tar” (slang for a super-tough and aggressive open-sea sailor) became the school mascot because Rollins, although not on the ocean, was used as a training ground for sailors back in World War I thanks to its location on the shores of Lake Virginia. Other people say it has something to do with a donkey named “Tar Baby,” donated by the college president, that used to live on campus and eat the nicely manicured grass all day. Either way, we find this odd Popeye-looking mascot totally endearing.

Best Sport You Didn’t Think Was Physically Possible

Orlando Bicycle Polo
1890 E. Church St.,

We all know how to ride a bike (or if you don’t, you at least understand the concept). But have you ever tried to ride a bike with a mallet in one hand while someone else rides right at you and a ball rolls between your wheels? Bike polo is exactly what it sounds like: a sweaty, fun and potentially disastrous activity. It gets safer as you learn to brake left-handed, stop on a dime and switch the mallet between hands while weaving between other cyclists. It’s not a sport recommended for the uncoordinated, unless you’re willing to fall off your horse a couple of times. Orlando Bike Polo welcomes all skill levels with spare mallets, bikes and beer (because everyone falls) and meets every Sunday at 5 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m.