To be honest, we’ve never been big on taking guided tours as we wend our way through the Sunshine State. However, recently we have become aware of a group in central Florida that might change our minds.
   Ingeniously dubbed “Mosquito County Tours,” it’s the brainchild of Mandy Longo.
   About a decade ago, she began taking walking tours hosted by local residents in during her travels across the country. After such experiences in far-flung locales such as San Fransisco, Manhattan, and even Birmingham, Alabama – Mandy fell in love with the experience.
  Living in Orlando, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, it became increasingly apparent that most people think of “O-town” as “Disney” or “theme parks”…which is absolutely not the case.
   Moreover, she also found that many locals don’t know the rich history and dining experiences Orlando has to offer. So in an effort to provide this experience for out-of-towners and locals alike Longo began doing tours herself.
   She began by doing tour fundraisers for the Audubon Park Garden District. It’s one of Orlando’s 10 Main Street Districts, It’s the area where she grew up and still lives today -which made her ultimately qualified to lead the group.
  The tours were an unqualified success and left guests asking for more. That’s  when the idea for Mosquito County Tours was born.
   The original county name for most of central Florida (before Orange, Seminole, Osceola, or any other counties existed) was Mosquito County – which is where the company name originated.
  Planned for the next several weeks are forays to the Audubon Park District Brunch Tour, the Barley Row Craft Beer Tour and The Mills 50 Food & Walking Tour among other things.

   In deciding where to take her groups. Longo said she started off by selecting the areas of town she knew, enjoyed and was able to share their stories. However, as time went on, she branched out buying history books on other areas of town that she was familiar with, but didn’t really know many details.
   “I have learned so much, and I am constantly coming up with new ideas for tours as I learn new and interesting facts about a certain part of town,” she said. “I am amazed at how much history there is here that is, in a way, hidden.”

Whether locals or visitors, Longo said she has been amazed that most folks are completely unaware about the history of Orlando and its many neighborhoods and districts. She says her greatest joy is sharing the oral narrative and helping keep the stories alive for another generation.
  Longo said it appears the craft beer tours may be her most popular excursions.
  “People seem to be more interested when there is a beverage involved and any time I do a food tour – the reviews and comments I get from people afterwards are astounding!” she said,
   It appears that initially, people seem to be more hesitant to buy a ticket for a food tour because of the higher price point However,  afterward her feedback shows tour members appear to feel as though they got much more than what they paid for and are quite happy with it.
   “Once people go on one tour they are hooked and want to return for more fun experiences – and that makes my heart happy,” she said.
   Any time you get people together for fun and fellowship, there always are great stories to tell, Longo recounts an experience on one of her tours – a progressive dinner where the group walked to seven different stops in one neighborhood sampling food along the way.

  The menu included; cocktail, soup, appetizer, salad, cheese plate, main course, and dessert. The place where the appetizer was to be served actually was a new restaurant that was about to open, but hadn’t officially yet opened to the public.
   It was to be a sneak-peek into what this new place would be like.
   Longo said the owners were so excited they went all out –  providing not only an appetizer but a full table of food as well as wine.

“We all had so much fun that the owners told us to come back after we had completed the tour. So we traveled on and went to the rest of the stops. When the tour was finished we headed back to the new restaurant and partied until midnight with more food, wine, and a lot of music and dancing! It was a lot of unexpected fun!” she said.
   Those wanting additional information about Mosquito County Tours can call Mandy Longo at (407) 432-1597 visit the Mosquito County Tours Facebook page or try their web page.