The Traveling Steve's

Stay-Cation Summer 2021: The Villages of Spanish Springs!

We just returned from a fun three night stay at The Villages, which is located a short hour and a half from our home in the east Orlando area. We used to go to The Villages every year for my birthday in August, however with COVID last year, and a not-so-great hotel experience the year prior, we were happy to once again to visit and have some fun in this huge 55+ retirement Village community.

The Villages (which has been described as Disney-like for adults) is actually made up of three huge and separate Villages, (Spanish Springs, Sumpter Landing, and Brownwood) which are conveniently connected by roadways and are golf-cart friendly throughout. Each Village contains several gated and different neighborhoods with a wide range of home sizes and villas. The Village area keeps growing, and according to Wikipedia, it had a population of over 125,000 in 2017. The Villages is literally its own self-contained city, complete with its own daily newspaper and radio station, with scores of restaurants, shops, bars, theaters etc within The Villages proper, and/or just outside the official city limits.

The Villages complex is so large that years ago when we browsed in the golf cart shop, (yes we once considered buying there), the salesman said to get a gasoline powered cart (vs a battery cart) due to the potential long distance from one end of the Villages to the other, which might be some 15 miles or more, and would be very limited in a battery cart! We love the concept; the golf carts range from the simple to the “Rolls Royce-like” carts, and many owners personalize them in their own style.

On this visit (my first since retirement), we opted to go during the less crowded weekdays, and also stay at the Village of Spanish Springs, instead of our normal stay at Sumpter Landing. Steve (DOS) and I stayed at the TownePlace Suites (by Marriott) for two nights, and ended up staying an extra night in Sumpter Landing as we were having such a good time. The Village of Spanish Springs was the first “Village” built at The Villages.

This was our first stay at a Marriott TownePlace Suites hotel anywhere, and I would give it 3 stars. The Townplace Suites was a decent hotel; nothing glamorous or with full service amenities such as bar and restaurant, but it was the convenience that made it worthwhile. We had a one bedroom suite that had a living/dining area, small kitchen area with fridge, stove top, and microwave, coffee maker etc, and a separate bedroom with bath. The room, (including carpet and hallways), didn’t have any character or local artwork or Village theming, making it an otherwise dull looking room. A few pics of the Village Square or Village theming in general would do wonders to brighten up and freshen the mood of the place.

The room smelled a bit musty; probably from the hotel humid weather and AC possibly not being turned on for a while, but it was clean. We had to wonder though when we went to the room and the safety latch was holding our room door slightly ajar; was someone already checked in perhaps? Or lurking inside ready to pouch on us! (Sorry have watched too many murder mysteries! LOL).

We called the front desk to verify and they said housekeeping might not have inspected it yet, but it was clean and ready to go (as in check-in). No one from housekeeping ever came by to inspect the room, but then again no other guests came by claiming it was their room, and no shady characters jumped out of a closet to rob us! LOL! Unlike many of the chain and luxury hotels, there was no sticker on the door indicating no one had entered the room since it had been cleaned, where you have to actually break the seal to enter the room such as at this hotel we stayed at recently shown below.

Of course you always knew you were at the right hotel, as upon entry to the lobby there was a large sign asking if you wanted to volunteer to be part of a study for a colonoscopy test! Yes, Welcome to The TownePlace Suites in The Villages! LOL! No, we didn’t volunteer.

Like everywhere these days with COVID, there was no daily housekeeping at the hotel, although you could (and we did) request extra towels each day from the front desk, which were pre-wrapped in plastic bags. One small but nice feature the front desk offered was complimentary mini-sanitizer pacs of wipes. We got a couple of these each even though we always have our bottled sanitizer as these are great for wiping down surfaces, ketchup bottles, menus in restaurants, door handles etc.

After settling in, we ventured out into the Spanish Springs Town Square for a bit of a stroll. It was so incredibly hot in the late July heat, that our stroll was short-lived, and we ventured into The Corkscrew Winery for a tasting.

As it was a slow midweek afternoon, it was mostly empty inside, which allowed us time to have a look around and chat with the bartender. Unlike most wine tasting venues and shops, the wines featured in-house were actually made there, and dispensed from rustic-looking barrels(via a tap) located just behind the bar.

I had a red wine tasting trio for a bargain priced $6, and it was quite enjoyable. I sampled the red blend, Super Tuscan, and a MontePuciano, served in mini beer type sampler glasses.

We also ordered a humus and chips platter, and later a cheese platter to go with the wine, which was plentiful and paired well with the red vinos. While we only stayed for an hour or so in the mid-afternoon, The Corkscrew also has some form of entertainment in the evening, ranging from trivia, a band, to “Open Mic Night”.

I particularly liked the MontePuciano red we sampled, so I ordered a full glass of that after the tasting, a bargain at $8 a glass. There were also beers on tap, as well as white wines, though we only sampled the red wines.

What really made The Corkscrew unique was you could actually make your own wine there! While you need a reservation (and it costs around $450 for reds), your wine project will yield about 28 bottles! You can also customize your own label for $45. We saw some of the bottles displayed on the wall shelf with their custom labels and we were sold!

Obviously we couldn’t do this that day, but did enquire about how it works, and I told DOS it would make an awesome birthday and/or group project with a couple friends! The initial step takes around 45 minutes (everything is supplied, grape juice, yeast, fermentation container, bottles etc) to mix the wine together. This is followed by a fermentation of approximately 45 days, during which time the wine-in-progress is stored onsite there at The Corkscrew. The container is packaged air tight, and we saw about a dozen of these amateur wine-makers projects that they had started. Each project had a large piece of paper attached indicating one’s project, and most of them had creative drawings or names on them as well. I can already invasion our’s now: “The Steve’s Incredible Malbec!”

Once the vino is fermented, you then return for the bottling and labeling session, which is also done in-house. You then can take your wine home with you, but then need to store the wine in a temperature controlled environment for a year or so. (I’m already thinking of re-arranging space in one of our wine coolers to store them in at home!). And then maybe for next year’s birthday we can sample our vino!. I really would like to try this sometime soon; even if the wine isn’t great, it sounds like a lot of fun!

After our nice break from the heat at The Corkscrew, we headed back to the hotel for a shower and bit of a nap. We later returned to the Village Square for the outdoor “Live Entertainment” that is presented from 5pm to 9pm daily. There is also “Happy Hour” at the Village Square concessions from 5pm to 6pm, when they offer two for one draft off the already reasonable prices!

Ever night is “Friday night”in The Villages, since in retirement every day is like a weekend with no more work! Depending on the band, there are large crowds gathered, with the first night there only an average crowd, while the second night was huge with the Village favorite band, “Rocky and the Rollers”!

The “Villagers” assemble in the Town Square, taking one of the plastic chairs that are stacked on the sidelines, and move it to the Square to get a better view. We actually preferred the view from the rear by the “Springs” as it was shaded and we could easily slip away for a brewski if we liked, but still hear the music and see the band from the distance.

Of course the “Village regulars” pull up in their golf carts for a ring-side Village Square view!

However you prefer to sit, stand, dance, or remain in your golf cart, the Village Square is definitely a lively place and a lot of fun!

By 7:15pm, though DOS and I were getting a bit hungry, and with the hot summer sun, ready to head indoors for dinner. The “Villagers” tend to eat early, while we are late eaters, but after a full day in The Villages, we were definitely ready to eat. Fortunately we stumbled upon FarmShed, an American Diner, which was located in the Spanish Springs Village Square.

As looks can be deceiving, (and I guess the name FarmShed was a clue) we had no idea how nice of a restaurant it was until we went inside and had dinner there. As we would find out, the owners are very conscious of the “Farm to Table” concept in dining, and the food was not only fresh, but delicious! Here is DOS, just as we walked inside the entrance to FarmShed.

The atmosphere inside FarmFresh was a nice subdued ambiance with lowered lighting and table cloths. The service was outstanding, and compared to the outside Village atmosphere we had just come inside from, it was like a Heavenly Oasis! Nice and cool, comfortable seating, quiet, and truly a place to relax and have a wonderful meal!

We started by splitting a garden fresh salad, which we later found out was sourced from a nearby farm.

FarmShed had a nice wine list, and we opted for a bottle of Malbec, from Argentina.

For our main dish, I had the Ribeye, while DOS had the Brick Chicken, both of which were delicious! The Ribeye was seamlessly and gently sliced into strips, although you wouldn’t know that by first glance as it was presented as a single steak. The Ribeye was also cooked to a perfect medium rare, which you could tell with each delicious slice of beef!

We didn’t realize it until after the meal, but our server (actually we wondered why she was so excellent!) was actually the owner of the restaurant, along with her husband whom we met after dinner. The couple was originally from Calgary, and we exchanged a couple stories of our travels there, while complimenting them on their outstanding dining venue. They explained how they acquire the food from local farms, and as the restaurant name says “FarmShed” is truly the real deal here. We thanked them for such a wonderful evening meal, and promised to come back on our next visit to The Villages. Thanks so much to owners Carlo and Nichole for such a wonderful meal, as well as adding a high quality restaurant to the Villages!

After dinner, it was just a short walk back to our Marriott hotel in Spanish Springs. We had a wonderful first day at The Villages, and are already planning our trip back to make some vino at The Corkscrew, and have dinner again at the Farmshed!

Our second day in The Villages, we walked quite a bit, and even ventured back over to Sumpter Landing, which is where we normally stay when we visit The Villages. We had lunch at Cody’s Roadhouse and walked around the large Disney World-like boardwalk and lake.

After lunch, we headed back to our Townplace Suites Hotel in Spanish Springs. Even though the two Villages are adjacent to each other, we still needed a GPS to navigate us back properly! I’m sure the Village people know there way around judging by the dozens if not hundreds of golf carts we saw, but it took a GPS to get us back via our car!

Once back at our Marriott Townplace Suites hotel, we relaxed a bit before heading back out for our second night out on the town in Spanish Springs.

Once again, in the evening, we headed to The Spanish Springs Village Square, and tonight the place was absolutely jam-packed! As we weren’t local Villagers, we didn’t realize the importance of the band playing, but we quickly understood why they were so popular! The band, Rocky and the Rollers, had been playing at The Villages (as well as Vegas and other major venues) for years, and were highly popular there!

We had a quick bite to eat at the nearby Augustine’s 1812 restaurant, which had a nice smoked brisket buffet the night we were there. It seemed a bit of an oddity, while the food was good and the buffet was super inexpensive at $12.95, their regular menu prices were in a totally different league at double or triple that price for an entree. While that’s reasonable for fine dining, all of The Village people we saw dining there (including us) opted for the buffet!

While we weren’t in a hurry, it was a quick meal, and the best part is Rocky and The Rollers were still playing until 9pm, so we got to see the last act! It was nearly dark by this time, and with the changing lights and colors, it enhanced their performance and ambiance even more.

We finished off our evening with a walk over to The World of Beer and had a quick night cap while chatting with some locals at the bar. I had the nightly special, a Hawaiian Gold Cliff brewski for $6 and you get to keep the pint glass they served it in! Good deal, and good fun!

We closed the place down at the World of Beer, and it was a nice way to finish off our two night stay at Spanish Springs in the Villages. In the next post, we head back to Lake Sumpter and stay for one more night. For now, we walked back to our nearby hotel while a full moon shone overhead. Good night from Spanish Springs!

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