While I did manage to keep everyone updated on our vacation via my Facebook page I just couldn’t bring myself to take time to blog about it while we were there. Who can blame a girl? With that said, I have a lot of information to share and I’m hoping that this won’t turn into a short novel in the process. Off we go…
The first 48 hours in Orlando was spent swimming at the rental house…and I mean LOTS of swimming! There’s something about waking up and walking out the back sliding doors to this cool, blue pool that your mind is convinced is calling your name. So, we did just that. Besides, swimming is free and it makes for some incredible memories down the road. Plus Steve & Alexis made a raft out of the noodles to see it they would withstand the pressure of someone jumping on them. So, in essence, we worked in some science experiments while on vacation. Yay for education! 😛
Late Sunday evening we picked my Mom up from Orlando International Airport. Warning, when driving from Davenport, Florida to Orlando while on the way to pick someone up be prepared…there are lots of toll booths along the route. We spent almost $5.00 getting from Point A to Point B. Fortunately we turned on our GPS and set it to ‘avoid tolls’ on the way back; mark this down as Orlando Tip #1.
While it took an additional 10 minutes of driving it was nice not having to stop every 5 miles to give more change (that we had used up on the way there) to the State of Florida. Florida, I absolutely love you, but you REALLY need to address the situation without charging so much. As many cars that pass thru your tolls I don’t see why it’s absolutely necessary to have so many in such a short distance. Granted, we drove 30 minutes, but — and there’s always a but — most of the tolls were in the latter 15 minutes of that drive.
Travel Tip: To avoid the toll chaos, apply for one of these. You’ll still have to pay, but you won’t run into a situation where you don’t have the required change needed to pass without having to take an envelope to pay within 10 days of passing through said toll. We now have to write a check for 50 cents and mail it to Orlando because of this. No, there are no, “Get out of paying the toll” free cards available — they will take a picture of your license plate to ensure that.
Moving on, we spent Memorial Day hanging out at the pool once again (I was convinced at one point that my daughter had somehow transformed into a real, live mermaid) and BBQ’ing some pork steaks, hamburgers and hot dogs. Sure, it was nothing over the top that we couldn’t do back home, but it was fun…and inexpensive. Budget, budget, budget!
Tuesday morning we dropped my Mom and daughter off at Disney World. Steve & I had decided that we weren’t going to go because neither of us had a lot of interest in it. My Mom is a very active person and she could handle our 8 year old in the park just fine. While they were there, Steve and I hit a flea market (they’re all over in Orlando and surrounding areas) as well as some Gift Shops. We then went back to the rental house to unwind and enjoy some kid-free time. How did we do that? Simple! I took a nap…a much needed as I hadn’t been sleeping well, nap. Plus we all know that shopping can be a very exerting activity; right? 🙂
Around 10pm we headed back to Disney World to pick them up as my Mom had called to let me know that they were moving the parade up earlier than expected due to the rain. When we arrived they were still walking to the tram to get back to the pick-up location. I had pre-ordered some Giordano’s pizza (yes, they have them in Orlando now — 3 to be precise!) to pick up at 10:30 so we figured we should go pick up the pizzas and head back to Disney World afterward in order to give them more time to meet us.
Now here’s where the fun begins. Giordano’s (the one we ordered from anyway) was a mere 6 mile drive from DW. It’s also located off one of the busiest streets in Orlando. What should have taken us 15 minutes to drive (per past experience) turned into a 45 minute trip TO (just one way) the restaurant. The restaurant closed at 11pm. We didn’t arrive until 11:15. It took us 45 minutes to drive 6 miles!
Fortunately he kept the place open long enough for us to pick up the pizzas and was super nice about it and kept the pizzas super warm for us. Because of this we gave him a $10 tip and he tried to decline it…we insisted.
Now we’ve got to get back to DW to pick up my Mom & daughter. At this point it’s 11:20pm — an hour and 20 minutes past the time I had last spoken to them. I am a worry wart by nature. With so much time passing since we had last spoken I’m now concerned that they are the only 2 left in the park at some obscure waiting area that wasn’t very well lit and next thing I know, those rare anxiety attacks that I get, sets in.
I’m trying not to let my husband know what is going on as he, too, was worried. It’s not that DW isn’t safe, but that particular area is set-off from most of the park. Then there’s the fact that my husband & I know how to handle certain situations if they arise so we feel “semi-comfortable” in taking care of ourselves in less than desirable situations, but the thought of something occurring when we weren’t around to ensure the safety of my Mom and child was leaving me feel very uneasy.
So here he is trying to get back to them as quick as possible and it seems to be taking forever. Forever being less than a 1/3 of the time that we spent getting FROM Disney World TO Giordanos’, but…when you’re concerned time seems to stand still.
I eventually mutter, “I’m having an anxiety attack” and he puts his hand on my leg and tries to reassure me that, “Everything will be okay. We’ll get to them soon…”. While I’m moderately comforted by his words, mere words alone will never calm down anyone who has an anxiety attack. I just keep reminding myself to breathe and telling myself that everything will be fine, that they’re safe and we’ll be there in minutes.
About 5 minutes later, I spot them sitting at the ‘looks like a bus station’ area and waiting patiently — all is well. A sigh of epic proportions consumed me. We pull right up to them and I felt the anxiety literally melt away. “Okay, they’re safe…they’re with us now” are the words I repeated in my mind while listening to my daughter tell me about her exciting day at the park at exasperating levels. I’m not even sure that I was completely listening as I was just happy she was back in my sight and safe.
Fortunately the drive back to the rental home was uneventful and filled with memories made between granddaughter and grandmother. We arrived and ate our Chicago style pizza with a vengeance and it tasted wonderful!
On Tuesday we slept in and took our time preparing to go to the beach — Daytona Beach. There were threats of rain happening all around us with dark clouds, sunshine fighting hard to burst it’s rays through those clouds and knowing we would have to drive an hour and a half to get there. We didn’t want to drive all the way out there and not be able to enjoy it. Fortunately, Lady Luck was on our side though as the sun won an epic battle and we were able to drive to the beach knowing we would still have ample time to enjoy it.
About an 1hr, 30 minutes later we arrived in Daytona. Daytona is an incredible city with so much to offer to any tourist. Not only do you have the Daytona International Speedway to admire in all it’s majestic flair, but there are shops abound…and then there’s the Atlantic ocean. I couldn’t wait to see it, to stand in it, to admire it. However, we had to stop at a Dollar Tree to buy my daughter some buckets for the beach; she had to have something to collect her seashells in and build sandcastles with, after all.
I cannot tell you what it does to me to see that beautiful and endless body of water. It takes my breath away and makes me smile from the inside, out. We parked on the beach (I refuse to park anywhere else when we go there) and before my husband was able to put the car in park (tip: Read this website for the rules before you go) I was out and walking right towards the ocean with my camera in hand. It was like a magnetic draw, pulling me closer…and closer…and there it was… the tide.
The tide was rolling in right at my feet and it felt so refreshing. The sound, the smell, the scenery was everything I had remembered. It’s a spiritual lift of gigantic proportions. I had taken over 400 pictures that day and tried to capture the emotion in every shot – some of the ocean, some of my family playing in the waves and a few of messages we had written in the sand to loved ones back home. We collected seashells, chased the waves, ran from the waves, got sand between our toes and in our hair, listened to the seagulls in all their glory and I even spent a few minutes just closing my eyes and listening and breathing it all in. Alexis had parked herself on the beach and was almost daring the waves to knock her over. It was perfect!
We spent 2 1/2 hours repeating the process until it was time to go. The beach was closing at 7pm and we had to leave. I must have literally told it goodbye a half a dozen times. Getting the sand off of you is a chore in itself and it will be a mission impossible no matter how hard you try or how much you prepare. In addition, in the midst of trying to keep as much sand out of our rental car as possible, my daughter had knocked my eye glasses out of the car (we didn’t discover this until the next day). Once we were as sand free as we were going to get, we left. I took one last look back at the beach… I hoped I could somehow force that visual to stay with me until we could make it back there again.
On our way out I asked my husband to stop at a gift shop so I could purchase some memorabilia for our daughter. It was such a great shop ran by the nicest older lady. We must have spent almost an hour just looking around at everything they had in there. By the time we were done we had bought Alexis a t-shirt & personalized cup that both had the words, “Daytona” on them; we bought Steve a Bike Week t-shirt, me a photo album specifically for those pictures from the beach, a super cute hot pink and black visor that also read, “Daytona Beach” on it and some other odds and ends.
I laughed to myself when I thought, “Now if only I could find a way to buy the beach & ocean and bring those back to St. Louis!” — I would have tried; believe that!
During the drive back to the rental house Alexis and I spent some time taking funny pictures of ourselves on my cell phone while my Mom (who much like myself gets ill while riding in the back of vehicle) sat up front with Steve. Alexis was giggling her little head off at the results of those pictures. Shortly after we both passed out and slept all the way back. It was sweet because I knew the ocean and the same calming effect on her as it does me. It brings forth a total state of relaxation like nothing else ever could…or ever will.
Needless to say, we both slept very well that night.
On Wednesday morning we woke up and prepared for my 2nd favorite place — SeaWorld. If you know me, you know my love for orca’s. I am so fascinated by them! On our way out of the subdivision I began looking for my eye-glasses. I couldn’t find them in the glove compartment; where I had been keeping them when I wasn’t wearing them. So we made a quick trip back to the house to see if I had put them in another place. They were nowhere to be found. Steve, my Mom and I had looked everywhere – even triple checking. It then dawns on me that my daughter must have dropped them when she got a plastic bag out of the glove compartment that I asked her to put her sandals in (to prevent sand from getting everywhere). I knew, instantly, that SeaWorld was a no go; at least for that day. There was no way I would be able to go and enjoy myself if I couldn’t see everything in all it’s fine detail.
So Steve & I found a Lens Crafters in Orlando and set on our merry way to replace my lost glasses. We left Alexis with my Mom to swim at the house so her day wouldn’t be a complete wash. Fortunately Lens Crafters ended up having my prescription (I had an exam there last August) and my frame was on sale — we call this WINNING! One hour and $300 later…I was able to see again.
While we waited we went shopping at Old Navy and ate lunch at the Panera Bread Company. I had their tuna sandwich on honey wheat bread – something I used to eat, almost daily, when working at the police department in St. Louis. It was so tasty! Steve had the Turkey Club. We then stopped at Stogie’s so Steve could finally purchase the cigars that he had been wanting to get while in Florida. Now I have to mention that I had never been in a cigar bar before, but even more interesting is that I had never been in a bar that had hookah’s. My inner 18 year old self was giggling. Walking through the humidor was pretty neat to say the least. While Steve was talking to the guy who worked there and eyeing the various different cigars I was checking out the cigar boxes. What is it about cigar boxes that are so neat? The guy who was working there (he could have owned it, I don’t know) was smoking a cigar and talking to Steve about different types of cigars (why some are less expensive) while attempting to encourage me to buy my first cigar — even pointing out that they come in various flavors that women like (i.e. coffee, etc.). I declined. At least now I can say that I’ve been in a cigar bar and walked through a humidor – not that it was ever a bucket list item.
After our trip in there we left and headed back to the house. Mom and Alexis were clearly having a great time in the pool as I heard Mom scream, and Alexis giggle, as I was getting out of the car.
A few hours later Mom, Steve, Alexis & myself headed to Logan’s Steakhouse for dinner where our waiter, a Chicago area native named Dan, served us with a great attitude. Logan’s reminds me of Texas Roadhouse (with the exception that Logan’s is a bit more expensive), but not quite as good. Close, but no cigar! See how I played that in there? 😉
Steve had ordered the all you can eat steak & shrimp. Now I can eat boiled shrimp with spicy cocktail sauce and most fish (if it’s not a strong smelling fish) won’t bother me, but when they brought the fried shrimp to the table I almost gagged. It was such a strong smell that I grabbed my Mom’s glass of wine and started taking deep breaths of it. I couldn’t wait to get out of there at that point. Fortunately Steve decided not to eat any more of it, covered the plate with his napkin to dull the smell and we left.
It’s now Friday and this was the day SeaWorld (tip: purchase your tickets online to save $10) would happen. I was back to my giddy self and ready to go see my favorite orca — Tilikum. It had been 4 years since I had last seen him and that was prior to the unfortunate incident that took place with his trainer, Dawn. I was thrilled to know that the next show was starting an hour and 15 minutes after our arrival to the park. I told my Mom that Steve & I would go wait in line for good seats (tip: if you want to sit in the splash zone, or simply be close enough for a great view, arrive 30 minutes before they open the gates — that’s approximately 1hr, 15 minutes prior to showtime — and wait at the center entrance behind the rope) while she and Alexis went to do something else. So they visited the Shark Encounter while Steve and I waited in line. We were the 3rd group of two people in the gate. We could have sat first row center, but I had my camera with me so I selected just right of center about 8 rows back. We bought one of the SeaWorld ponchos to put my camera under whenever the orca’s would splash — it was $8 and now I have a nifty poncho to show off back home! That and my camera made it out of Shamu Stadium completely dry. I consider this a win/win!
Mom & Alexis arrived about 10 minutes prior to the show starting and when it began I felt the little girl in me surface. Before they ‘officially’ started the trainers had every military personnel stand, active and veteran alike, so they could be thanked. I had to nudge my husband to stand as his modesty almost didn’t allow it. Then the show began!
It was when they finally let Tilikum out of his pool area to take part in the show that I got tears in my eyes (told you that I adore him!) — there was my favorite 22 1/2 feet long, 12,000lb favorite orca. He was using his fins to wave to the crowd and splash some water into the crowd. He jumped, he dived, he splashed us some more. I was stupid happy!
He was in the finale with his grandson Trua, but just as the finale was just about to end, they put Tilikum back in his private pool (he sometimes shares it with Trua and his daughter Malia – Trua’s Mom) and he was gone. I love that whale and his left-leaning dorsal fin! I didn’t want him to go…I didn’t want to go. I wanted to go pet Tilikum something fierce, but we all know that’s not going to happen. I know some of you might not understand why I think he’s so neat. I know the controversy behind his trainer’s death is not something some people can see past, but you have to understand… her own family knows it was just a ‘freak accident’. If Tilikum really wanted to kill her, he would have ate her — he didn’t. While I believe orca’s are highly intelligent, they can’t possibly comprehend that humans (their trainers, specifically) can’t breath under water. IMHO, he was just having fun with her, not realizing that her small, human frame couldn’t withstand the pressure and that she was unable to breathe. I’ve wondered how badly he had to have mourned her — he saw her every day – or perhaps felt a sense of guilt, or confusion, as to what happened. That’s why I feel for him.
Because of SeaWorld, alone, I have learned so much about orca. How they mimic behavior, bond with their ‘pods’, etc. I know that we can never release Tilikum back into the ocean (he was captured around Iceland) because he wouldn’t know how to survive on his own and the odds of another pod ever accepting him into theirs would be extremely rare. At this point, he is much better off staying at SeaWorld and being loved by those who know and understand him best. He is well loved, respected and treasured. To think, or suggest, otherwise means that people (i.e. PETA) don’t know one thing about orca. It would be the equivalent of taking a domesticated animal who has lived in a home being fed, medically treated, loved and adored, then releasing them into the wild with no more than a “good luck!” message of “hope”; that is cruelty at it’s best.
Now off my rant and back to SeaWorld — after the One Ocean show we headed off to see the Blue Horizon show with the dolphins. Unlike the orca show the trainers were allowed in the water with dolphins. They’ve changed the show up a little since I last saw it: now they’ve added acrobats to it. While it’s neat to see, I was there to see dolphins — not humans doing acrobatic tricks and diving into the water. With that said, there’s a plus to this as the dolphins weren’t over-worked and given much time to relax during the show.
After that we stopped at a water gun station where you compete to who can aim the best. Steve won Alexis a 14″ stuffed Emperor Penguin. I came in at a close 2nd. I see future competitions at the shooting range soon!
From there we went through the shark encounter — still the same as ever. Neat to see them swimming in a natural-like environment. I still feel disappointed that there are no Great Whites. The sharks that they have in the aquarium are not large in size and I find it hard to be “scared” by them.
We tried to see the new Antarctica exhibit (a ride with one-on-one penguin interaction), but it had only opened up a week prior to us being there and the line was phenomenally long. The least amount of time expected to wait was 1hr, 30 minutes. Don’t mind me when I say this, but…ain’t nobody got time for that; particularly when the park closes at 7pm. They need to work on this in a bad way, but maybe we’ll be fortunate enough to see it next time. Besides, with it being fairly new they are still working out the kinks. I’ve read that it’s stopped working several times so maybe it’s for the best that we didn’t get to go. The last place I want to be stuck is in a 30 degree environment with a bunch of penguins who literally spray their…um…”stuff” when going to the bathroom (side note: that happened on me at the penguin exhibit at the St. Louis zoo; no joking!).
I was starting to feel a little low (I’m diabetic) so I told my husband that I needed to get something to eat; preferably high carb. So we headed off to the main restaurant there while Mom and Alexis rode the Flamingo paddle boats. A couple of chocolate chip cookies, french fries and a hot dog later and I was feeling back up to par. (tip: to save money on drinks purchase their souvenir cup and get refills all day for $1 each)
So after meeting back up with the girls we headed to Journey to Atlantis. I absolutely love this ride because not only do you get a roller coaster experience, but a water ride as well. You go on a boat (it seats 8) and it starts out like a roller coaster. Part of it is inside in pitch black and you have no idea what is coming up next which gives it that extra thrill. The even more exciting part is, you don’t know if it’s going to be a water ride part or the roller coaster. The first drop, for those that want to know, is the large drop into water where you WILL get soaking wet! (tip: Place your items in the lockers to the right of the entrance of the ride; it will cost you a mere 50 cents and it is required before they’ll let you on)
Keeping in mind that my husband hates roller coasters… I prepared him as much as possible via YouTube videos of what to expect. No amount of preparing did the trick as he said, “Those videos don’t show the G-force!” as the ride was about to end. I then asked him if he would be seeking a divorce… I’m pretty sure he contemplated it on the last part. The last part consists of a major drop down, in pitch black darkness, with no warning whatsoever. Uh, love you honey!
Tip: Take $5 cash with you so you can use the “Family dryers” they now have installed after the ride. Unless you like walking around with squeaky shoes and drenched clothing that is.
After the Journey to Atlantis (which my daughter is STILL saying scared her to no end, 4 days later) we shopped around one of the gift shops. Hey?! A woman has to shop!
We decided with it being 6:30 that we had better leave the park — there’s nothing else we could have done in the remaining 30 minutes that the park was going to be open. Oh wait, there was…we found yet another gift shop…and we spent even more money. Not a lot, but I did manage to find a pink and black keychain with the letter “J” (for Jennifer) and a picture of Shamu on it. It’s not firmly attached to my camera.
And on the way out, my husband surprised me by buying the largest stuffed orca in the place. I hugged him, and kissed him and told him that he was mine — he became my own personal Squishy (think NEMO)! Just in case you’re confused I’m referring to Shamu — not Steve. I hug him, and kiss him, and tell him that he’s mine already.
We left the park and headed to International Drive to the new Senor Frogs. I haven’t been to a Senor Frogs since I worked in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. This one was much better and so much more fun. We ate terrific food, had FUN drinks (in yard glasses and palm trees), had balloon air hats made for all 4 of us and yes, we stopped at their gift shop too! We left before the late night party crowd began to arrive so it was the perfect time of night to go with a little one. (tip: Be prepared for the ‘forced’ valet parking and the attendants letting you know that they work on tips. They share a parking lot with Denny’s and you can’t park anywhere without them parking it for you)
From there we headed back to the rental house and the realization that our 10 day vacation was about to come to an end. We were heading back to St. Louis in the morning by car and Mom was flying back early the next morning. We all began packing all of our stuff when we got back and making sure that we had everything we came with and everything we bought ready to go. Alexis decided to go to bed, but Steve & I decided that we wanted to take one last swim in the pool. So we swam a few laps, sat at the edge and talked about our next trip and things we would do. We even talked about moving down there because when Alexis graduates high school we have every intention of doing so.
The next morning Mom woke me up to lock the door behind her and I sat in the lanai area waiting for 9am to roll around so I could wake Steve & Alexis up. Neither of them were all too excited about leaving. Quite frankly I wasn’t either. Leaving is the hardest part of a vacation, but there was a part of me that was ready to get home (back to my deck), see my furkids, sit on my favorite couch and get back into the swing of things. We showered, finished packing the remaining stuff from the fridge (drinks, etc.) and loaded up the car. I took a few pictures on the way out, but the one with Shamu with our last name attached to the Mickey Mouse ears, was my favorite.
As we drove down Highway 27 from Davenport we found this place called “Showcase of Citrus“; it’s a smaller version of our locally owned Eckert’s farms where you can pick your own fruits. Since we didn’t have time to pick our own we chose to buy the 13lb bag of the juiciest Florida oranges I have ever tasted (no really, we have to eat them over the sink – they’re that juicy), some Alligator jerky (yes, you read that correctly), the largest and most ripe tomatoes I have ever seen (they make for great BLT’s — we had those last night for dinner) and the best all natural orange slushie that I have ever tasted; I highly recommend you try them!
It was the best way to spend 30 minutes before officially getting on the highway back home.
All in all — I thoroughly enjoyed Orlando. A part of my heart is still there waiting for me to come back to visit once again. It’s my home away from home without a doubt. Something my husband said to our daughter stood out the most, “You’re a Florida girl by heart — just like your Mommy” and that pretty much sums up how I feel about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love Missouri — this is home and there’s no place like home. However, there’s a part of me that will forever be drawn to the Sunshine State.
To see my reviews on hotels and attractions in Florida please visit my TripAdvisor.com profile located here. To see more pictures and on-the-spot commentary on our trip please visit my official Facebook page located here.
On a final note we rented a 2013 KIA Optima for our trip. Please keep in mind that my husband drives a Jeep and I drive a Suburban so we weren’t crazy with how low the car sits. Some things you may way to know: the steering is very tight, it was equipped with Sirius satellite radio, USB port (great for phones, etc.), auxiliary port (if you want to hook up your iPod), was GREAT on gas mileage and had a HUGE trunk. My only complaint was the aforementioned steering (too tight for my liking) and the windshield wipers. While driving through a thunderstorm they didn’t seem to keep the rain off the window enough for visibility purposes.