By Florence Beth Snyder

Rollins College is the kind of place where Sir Paul McCartney drops by to discuss songwriting with the United States Poet Laureate before a student audience in the exquisite Knowles Memorial Chapel. Such once-in-a-lifetime magic comes as no surprise to folks familiar with this captivating Winter Park campus.

Rollins College is Florida’s oldest post-secondary institution. Founded in 1885 as a co-ed, liberal arts school, Rollins aims to “educate students for global citizenship.”

The 80-acre campus wraps around Lake Virginia and connects with the rest of Winter Park’s “chain of lakes.” It’s a water wonderland stuffed with fish and surrounded by the flora and fauna for which Florida is famous.

Local entrepreneurs offer scenic and educational boat tours, as well as equipment and expert guidance for those who want to break a sweat kayaking; cool off with some water skiing; or test their skill at hooking a largemouth bass.

Sailing is among the more than two dozen NCAA Division II sports at Rollins, and the school’s connection to Lake Virginia is so deep that the school takes its nickname — the Tars — from the old English term for sailors of the Royal Navy at the height of the British Empire.

The  Hauck Research Center is an essential destination for those who love flowers and plants. Webcam traffic at the The Greenhouse picks up as word spreads that its Amorphophallus titanium will bloom. The plant is enormous and notoriously difficult to cultivate. It blooms, if at all, once a decade and smells, unfortunately, like rotting flesh.

But most of the time, you don't need a strong stomach or a weak olfactory to enjoy The Greenhouse. Visitors are generally welcome Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., but because the Hauck is a working research lab, Rollins recommends that visitors call ahead to verify: (407) 646-2399.

Art lovers will want to explore the George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Orlando.

Art lovers will want to explore the George D. and Harriet W. Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College in Orlando.

- Willie J. Allen Jr. for VISIT FLORIDA

“Art that makes you think” is the motto and the mission statement of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins.

The Museum is home to “the only encyclopedic collection in the Greater Orlando area.” The Cornell holds more than 5,000 objects from antiquity to the contemporary.  Recent acquisitions include paintings by renowned artists Gilbert Stuart and Paul Cezanne.  

The Annie Russell Theater, now in its 83rd year, brings “provocative and playful” performances to an appreciative audience which has learned, over decades, that the talent-in-training at Rollins fulfills its mission of “setting the stage for life” with theatrical comfort food from Broadway to Shakespeare.

Come early on show nights in the Fred Stone Theatre, because seating is first-come, first-served when the Second Stage players and the Rollins Improv  troupe are in the house. Performances are free and open to the public, and feature works not often performed in central Florida.

The Bach Festival Society is Central Florida’s oldest operating performing arts organization, and the third-oldest continuously operating Bach Festival in the United States. It has expanded to include a Choral Masterworks program and Visiting Artists performances, along with educational and community outreach programs to encourage participation in music at all levels.

You'll need more than a day to enjoy all that Rollins has to offer, and it's easy to turn a day-trip into a relaxing getaway at the AAA Four Diamond-rated Alfond Inn at — and owned by — the College. The luxury boutique hotel houses the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, which spotlights paintings, photographs and sculptures by contemporary and emerging international artists. The hotel’s profits help to fund student scholarships.

When you go…

Rollins College
1000 Holt Ave, Winter Park, Fla. 32789