If you’re ever in Kissimmee and looking for something sweet and educational to do for the whole family, consider a visit to Chocolate Kingdom. Located at 2858 Florida Plaza Boulevard, near a Fun Spot and a Pirate’s Cove miniature golf course, this strip plaza style building invites visitors in for a tour of a chocolate factory, complete with samples.This attraction, which does house a small working chocolate factory, is owned by the Schakolad Chocolate Factory. The owner, Baruch Schaked, learned how to make chocolate from South American and European chocolatiers, beginning his career back in 1969. He has brought his entire family into the operation, which gives the Chocolate Kingdom itself a personal feeling you don’t often find in Disney-area attractions.
You start your journey by entering through the gift shop (of course), where you’re met with an impressive chocolate counter full of imaginative treats. Standouts include a fondue-to-go kit ($10) and a variety of chocolate-covered items, as well as delightful truffles. I ate a white chocolate-covered orange truffle ($1) that was delicious – and I’m a dark chocolate fan! You can also buy chocolate liquors, chocolate-themed tote bags, mugs, chocolate body paint (available in dark and milk chocolate versions), and a book on chocolate, written by Mr. Schaked himself. In the shop, you’re also surrounded by several video screens that display chocolate facts, trivia, and jokes.
Worth noting here is something you don’t see every day: cacao trees. Behind a glass enclosure, you will see several actual cacao trees growing, ranging from one to three years old. Given that Florida is not the best place to grow these sensitive plants, that’s a minor miracle in and of itself. You can bet they get excellent care!
But never mind the shop; my friends and I were there for the factory tour. These tours take 45 minutes, and begin every hour on the hour starting at 1 pm. Chocolate Kingdom opens at noon every day, and closes at 8 pm. You can book your tour online through Chocolate Kingdom’s website.
Our tour started in a theater, where our tour guide and “chocolate ambassador,” Mark, kicked things off with a video about the princess of the Chocolate Kingdom becoming of age to marry. Our hero, Prince George the Good(-looking) and his wise-cracking dragon Michu hope to capture the princess’s heart with a pair of chocolate shoes, until – disaster! Michu sneezes on the shoes, ruining them. What can Prince George do now? Make another pair? But how, when he knows nothing about chocolate?
This, of course, is where Mark stepped in, revealing that he could at least teach them whatever they need to know. And thus began our tour, with Prince George and Michu stepping in from time to time for comic relief. We started with an overview video about how chocolate is grown, and how the beans are harvested and prepared for delivery to the factory. After that, we stepped out of the theater and forward to an exhibit area where Mark explained more about the process. Gourds holding cacao beans grow directly from the trunk of the cacao tree, and are cut off by hand. Each gourd contains between 30 and 50 of the beans, which are dried in the sun, roasted, and then shipped. Here Mark gave us the first of three samples to try: candied cocoa beans.
After that, around an Aztec pyramid, it was time for a little history. While the Olmecs were the first to discover chocolate, back in 600 B.C.E., it was the Mayans and the Aztecs who we most associate with its origins today. Back then, the Mayans crushed cocoa beans and used the powder to make a drink. The Aztecs valued chocolate so much that they used cocoa beans as currency. Neither of these groups had sugar, so they put other spices in their chocolate. Mark gave us a sample of a drink made to imitate what some historians think this ancient drink might have tasted like. Picture a dark chocolate drink with just a hint of a chili kick, and you’ll get some idea of what it was like.
Next, it was time for a little comedy relief. There’s no way Mishu can go into the Chocolate Kingdom with the way his flame flares up, so we have to help him and Prince George turn down the fire. What’s the best way to tone down a dragon’s fire? Marshmallows! So we passed a small chocolate river with a chocolate (doll-house-sized) palace into a room with a person-sized statue of Mishu with his mouth open. Sitting on a shelf in front of him were several small catapults and lots of marshmallows. Our job was obvious – and quite entertaining, even though none of us managed to get any of the marshmallows in Mishu’s mouth. We proceeded anyway, through the clearly-marked “secret factory entrance.”
Here we found a true small-scale chocolate factory. Mark explained and demonstrated each machine, from the cocoa bean roasters and separators all the way through the grinders, mixers, and so forth. He also gave us our third sample: three little shoes, each slightly smaller than my pinky, made of dark, milk, and white chocolate.
As a fun way to end the tour, visitors can make their own chocolate bar for an additional $5. What they mean by making it, of course, is that you get to choose one of three kinds of chocolate (dark, milk or white) and three out of 16 toppings: almonds, pecans, peanuts, cashews, pretzels, coffee, bacon (yes, bacon; it’s surprisingly popular, if our tour was any indication), M&Ms, cocoa nibs, caramel, mint, Rice Krispies, cayenne pepper, cranberries, marshmallows, and peanut butter chips. They make the bar right in front your eyes. The “toppings” are actually put on the small tray onto which your chosen chocolate is poured. The bar itself, after it is flash-frozen for 3-5 minutes and delivered to you, measures six inches by five inches by about a quarter inch thick; it’s really quite substantial, and an excellent value for the money.
I felt that the pricing in general, for an hour’s worth of entertainment, education, and chocolate, was quite reasonable. For the tour, it’s $15 for adults and $12 for kids 4-12 years old, but discounts are available. They also have several packages for both children’s and adult’s parties, group rates, a make-your-own-chocolate party add-on deal, and even a summer camp for kids 9-14!
I’m happy to report that the entire tour is handicapped accessible, as one of us was in a wheelchair. Restrooms, however, may be a bit difficult to locate; be sure to ask. All in all, Chocolate Kingdom gave us an entertaining and educational way to spend some time, and I’d be glad to go back there for a party with some friends. So take your family; you’re sure to have a sweet time!