Rare find: Cheap, tasty hotel food in Orlando

Yes, those are French fries. Real, freshly cut French fries. And they’re awesome.

What’s more awesome is that you can get those French fries, and the accompanying double bacon cheeseburger for $5.99 at the new CoCo Key Hotel and Water Resort in Orlando. And you can wash it down with a $1.50 large soda.

Oh, and that cheeseburger? Freshly grilled right in front of you and put on a bun that was baked in-house that morning.

A bargain on a hotel room is not hard to come by in Orlando these days, but if you have to pay $18 for a sandwich and $3.99 for a soda at the hotel, is it really a bargain in the end?

That’s why I was so impressed with the food prices at this new resort. Besides the aforementioned burger and fries at lunchtime, CoCo Key offers up an amazing full breakfast buffet, complete with an omelet bar, for $11.99 ($5.99 for kids). There’s also a reasonably priced full-service restaurant open for dinner.

CoCo Key is the latest renovation of the original hotel built on Orlando’s International Drive – which opened as the Hilton Inn South in May 1970, 17 months before the ribbon was cut at Walt Disney World.

The big attraction here is the 54,000-square-foot water park on property, which has three big water slides and plenty of splash play areas and shallow pools for little kids.

The hotel partners with Universal Orlando Resort to offer vacation packages and free transportation to the park. (You can also get shuttles to SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica and Walt Disney World.) Regular rates start at $99 per night. Resort execs say they are booking packages like crazy in conjunction with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening in June.

Just eat at the hotel before you go to the park, because I can pretty much guarantee you that Hogwart’s food will be more expensive.

Budget travel with a twist: Try out for TV commercial singing competition for water park passes, cash and more

Here’s a budget travel twist. Sing your way to free water park passes and some cash. With American Idol over until next year’s search for the next star, CoCo Key Water Resort is putting on a singing competition to tide any warblers over and find a star for one of its commericals.

This nationwide search wants talent and creativity mixed in with fun. The way I see it, this is a seriously doable win if you can carry a tune and have some personality. All you have to do is submit a 30 second video recording of yourself singing the CoCo Key jingle. If you have a group of talented folks like friends, family members, or even the high school choir, you can do a group entry.

The contest deadline is June 10 which means your video has to be in the judges’ hands by then.

Don’t know the CoCo Key jingle? No worries. You can find the jingle, entry form and contest details at www.CoCoKeyJingle.com What will you win besides a commercial spot if you’re chosen?

First off, you’ll get some of that 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol talked about–but longer. A commercial plays over and over. What with the CoCo Key website and YouTube, some sort of fame is guaranteed. You’ll also win a $500 U.S. savings bond and year passes for four to CoCo Key. There may be other prizes depending upon the water park. For example, Cherry Valley Lodge in Newark, Ohio and the CoCo Key at the Shereton Cincinnati North are kicking in other goodies to bring the total win to a $1,250 value.

Here’s what’s great about the competition even if you don’t win. You get practice auditioning. Maybe you won’t win this time, but it’s a stepping stone to the next opportunity. Practice makes perfect. Right? Luke Adams, the deaf contestant on the Amazing Race tried out four times before he finally nailed it. Although he and his mom didn’t come in first, they did win a Travelocity trip due to their first place Pit Stop landing on this season’s first leg, AND they were one of the three teams to finish the entire race. Not too shabby.

The morale of the story is: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

If you’re within driving distance to a CoCoKey there are live auditions. The Newark and Cincinnati locations have auditions on May 31 from 10 AM to 3 PM. The first 100 people to try out get a day pass to that particular park. Showing up early is recommeded because space is limited.

I can vouch for the food at Cherry Valley Lodge’s Sunflower Restaurant. It’s superb. We were there at Easter. If you’re in Cincinnati and looking for cheaper eats near the Sheraton, there are several fast food options. We at at a Panera when we went to that CoCo Key last year.

If you are near the CoCo Key in Boston, MA; Fitchburgh, MA; Mount Laurel, NJ; Omaha, NE; Rockford, IL; Chicago, IL; Kansas City, MO; or Waterbury, CT, check with that CoCo Key to find out about live auditions. There are auditions happening at each. Here’s a link to other contest tips. People under 18 can do the video, but parents need to do the submission. The well over 18 years old crowd are welcome too. There’s not an age limit.

Here’s a video of CoCo Key that has the jingle, to put you in the mood.