As we drove into downtown Orlando via Interstate 4 one night recently, my daughter, eyes wide, exclaimed: “I’ve never been here before!” I replied, “Of course you have!” It struck me then that a nighttime excursion is rare for children, most of whom are tucked into bed just as the summer sun sets. And a nighttime visit to the shiny, glittery city is simply magical.

Our destination: The Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops — yes, a fancy popsicle store with origins in St. Augustine that’s nestled along Central Avenue near Lake Eola. (Forgive my photos. We left the fancy camera at home.)

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Now I’m not a big fan of popsicles, and I feared my high-fructose kids would snub these $3.50-each “artisan” pops. Boy, were we surprised! Roni’s watermelon pop and Rhett’s strawberry-lemonade pop tasted like fresh, sweet fruit. My pistachio coconut tasted like nothing I’ve ever had before (in a good way!). I just wished I’d taken the server’s advice and had it dipped in chocolate. My hubby’s pop? Well, he made the wrong assumption — like I almost did — that the kids wouldn’t eat all of theirs.

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Even thought it was past 9 p.m., we took our treats and walked around Lake Eola. Sure, most of us have made this trek countless times during the daytime, but at night, it’s a completely different experience. The cooler summer night air encouraged us to linger. The kids felt like they were breaking the rules by playing  outside after dark.

First off, swans were out in droves, and they weren’t shy, with more than a couple getting close enough to nip the twins’ toes and elicit a delightful squeal.

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The “birthday cake” fountain shone in gorgeous colors that rotated as we walked. And at one point, Mayor Buddy Dyer’s voice came through the speakers directing our attention to the fountain, which proceeded to dance and change colors to the rhythm of big-band and jazz music. Keeping with our good-luck theme, a giant yellow moon broke through the clouds.

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As we approached the end of our walk, everyone was delighted to learn that the Lake Eola playground was still open (till 10 p.m.!). The kids frolicked while I watched, feeling like a real big-city mom.

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My daughter declared this the best day she’s ever had. (Not bad considering I’d just shelled out a small fortune two days prior for a Wet N Wild trip.)

IF YOU GO: After you get your ice pop, head clockwise around Lake Eola to end your trip at the playground. The fountain light and music show is every night at 9:30. Swan boat rentals are available until 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and through 7 p.m. other days ($15 per half hour. Each boat holds up to 5 people.). Oh, and beware the copious amounts of bird poop all around the lake. My little guy got some on his ankles when romping through the grass. Thank goodness for restrooms, also open nightly till 10. Address: The Hyppo: 431 E Central Blvd., Orlando. Lake Eola Park: 195 N. Rosalind Ave., Orlando. Street parking is available around the entire lake. Phone: 407-246-4485

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