Palm Trees, Magic, and Scaly Creatures

My parents rented a house in Kissimmee, Florida for about a month from late January until the last week of February. Since my dad retired, they have been traveling much more. They graciously offered to pay for the flights of Ben (my brother), Mim (girlfriend), and myself (me). It was a no-brainer decision to go.

The three-flight trip was long. To save some money for my parents, I arranged the cheapest flights possible which sacrificed a bit of time. It was a solid 10-hour day of cursing Air Canada and trying to navigate their in-flight entertainment system through the phone. Eventually I settled on the safety tri-fold and a nap. We arrived at Orlando airport to the reception at the gate by my parents. They looked happy, happier than I have seen them in some time. They just looked refreshed. I suppose Northern Ontario winters can wear on the soul.

The first thing I noticed about our ride to the house were the multi-coloured lights scattered throughout the landscape. From vibrant Ferris wheels to the fantastic fanfare of fireworks in the distance, this was a place clearly geared to putting on a show. The house is great. Mom and Dad rented it through a company called Loyalty Homes. It had a pool, game room, and comfy furniture. A solid base of operations for the week.

The following day was low-key. We went to a place called Disney Springs, a place mainly for food, trinkets and gifts, and clothing. More importantly, it was a good foretelling of the tourist experience that was bound to occur throughout our stay. Many beautiful buildings host the gift shops and eateries. We saw families with Mickey Mouse ears, touristy t-shirts, and the common crying child. One thing worth noting (for the whole trip), is the poor situation of the tourist toddler in Disney. Picture a child that will not remember the experience, riding in a stroller, and enduring the endless eye-level asses that walk about. No wonder they cry. It started to rain which prematurely ended our little adventure. The family traveled to one of the outlet malls for a bit of shopping. A decent good start to the trip.

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom was on the agenda today. My dad stayed behind to watch some of the Daytona qualifying/clash racing. What sucked about the experience is that it was entirely my fault. I somehow missed the fact that you can acquire free line jumping on a few select attractions. In all likelihood, I missed the safari ride due to this. What a gorgeous place though. Everything was named after Harambe, the late gorilla. We saw a variety of animals ranging from birds, monkeys, gorillas, tigers, and the Komodo dragon. The big takeaway from the day was no furry creature or scaly beast, but a tree. Situated in the middle of the park was this massive sculpture of a tree that had carvings of various animals around its trunk. A description does not do it justice so a picture is necessary. Overall it was a fun place to spend a few hours. Again, do not repeat my mistake. Use the Fast Pass.

The second outing to Disney’s vast theme park empire brought us to Disney Hollywood Studios. This place had much more to it in comparison to Animal Kingdom. We figured out the whole FastPass thing so we managed to get in faster lines for a few things. We puttered about and checked out some neat Star Wars memorabilia. The park also had this First Order march full of Stormtroopers to the sound of these massive drums. We went on this neat little indoor train ride that covered some pretty significant moments in movie history. Due to excellent timing, we caught this Muppet 3D show which was absolutely hilarious. After getting a picture with Mickey, we spent the rest of our time looking at little shops and exploring this massive area. I found this park much more engaging. My one big regret was again, not looking into FastPass for Animal Kingdom. I would’ve loved that safari.

We went back to the Springs after our time at other parks to see the full area since we got rained out. It turns out Disney Springs kicks ass. There are way more bars and restaurants than I thought. We picked up some tickets to a craft beer tasting along with some music at Orlando House of Blues. That night should be a good cap to finish the trip. Rain is coming so I anticipate not much is going to happen tomorrow. I don’t mind considering it has been a pretty busy time.

So the family decided to go to Universal Studios. After initial gasping at the price, we still decided it was worth a go. I had always wanted to go see the place. From what the almighty Internet said, it seemed like quite the experience. We have become quite accustomed to the parking situation at theme parks. Disney Springs had a system where parking rows displayed how many spots were left in that row for instance. After finding our spot, we exited the parking garage. We were let through security in a manner similar to the airport. We continued walking until I found myself absolutely awestruck. Standing at the top of the descending escalator, throngs of people were, like me, trying to find their way to the park entrance. Eateries and shops littered the massive path. Behind those, two massive entrances lay behind a large, (likely man-made) lake. To the left: Islands of Adventure and to the right: the Main Park, and between them was a rotating globe with the unmistakable Universal stretched along the equator.

Our plans were to simply go to the main theme park, mainly for cost purposes. We chose the main park because from February through to March, there were Mardi Gras celebrations (more family oriented). The park was massive. I found the value for paying a costly premium much more appropriate in comparison to the Disney Parks. Bear in mind, we did not go to the famed Magic Kingdom.

We walked around, saw a fun little parade, and much to my chagrin, rode the roller-coaster. There was a Blues Brothers tribute which was really fun. The highlight of this was Diagon Alley, a famous area in the Harry Potter franchise. You could enjoy butterbeer, buy various gifts, and my favourite, buy a wand. Obviously the wands are purchased at Olivander’s. Here’s the kicker, they’re interactive. There are spots around the area that do a variety of fun things when you “cast a spell”. Things light up, things move, but my favourite moment was watching a mere toddler make a street lamp shower water on unsuspecting muggles (non-magic folk).

After the Harry Potter area, we went to Krusty Land, enjoyed some Simpsons nostalgia, had a Duff, and continued onward. The Mardi Gras parade was amazing. Even more amazing was the crowd being pelted with bead necklaces. I had a good haul. Mim had me beat by one. The floats blossomed with colour, dancing, all with the fanfare of catchy music throughout. Truly a day of fun and exactly what a theme park experience should be.

Mim and I had decided to spend a day to ourselves and explore some of the things the rest of the family was not so keen to do. Dad wanted to say in and Ben was still fighting an American cold. Mom wanted to go shopping on her own. The plan was go do a lesser known attraction and then go to a nice dinner and theater.

My friend Stu talked about a place where you can interact with some of the most dangerous creatures in the United States, the aptly named Gatorland. Gatorland is an area that hosts some of the area’s more exotic creatures. My initial impression was a short time spent looking at a couple of alligators. Gatorland ended up being one of the more memorable destinations. The area had Florida panthers, bobcats, giant tortoises, various birds, and then the crocodiles and alligators. The alligators were organized by age and then were assigned to the larger area when they were more mature. There are a ton of them. We purchased a package that allowed us to take a neat little train ride along with some hot dogs to feed that gators with. You can also zip line over the gator pits.

Gators are now my favorite animal. These things do not give a shit. They lay there, birds walking by. Most of the gators did not react when you pelted them with turkey meat. Some did and they were entertaining. Birds are even more brave as they tend to steal the hot dogs that bounce of the gators’ noses. The area also had Nile and Saltwater crocodiles. Basically, they are alligators except twice the size and twice as mean. Alligators are also delicious. Their white meat tastes like ruffed grouse (the better kind) while their dark meat tastes like spruce grouse (the worse kind). The photo ops were fun too, we got to sit on a gator prior to the wrestling show. You learn a lot about them during the entertainment as well. A highly recommended attraction.

That evening Mim and I had reservations to Capone’s Dinner and Show. The place had a buffet and free refills, on wine. It was because of this that most of the recollection was through pictures and what Mim said happened. As you walk in, you get a mug shot and at the end of the night they use this photo to plaster your face on a newspaper from the 1930s.They also give you an arrest report of your party. It was a super cool memento.  The evening went very well. The show was entertaining and the food was good.

I woke up with an awful hangover so I took most of the Saturday off, napping off and on, complaining all the while. In the afternoon we went to the House of Blues in Disney Springs for their craft beer tasting and to watch some bands. We stayed until The Groove Orient finished. That band was unreal and ridiculously talented. I’d post a video but I am not willing to pay for WordPress…..yet. There is no better way to end a vacation than with some good live music and some good beer.

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The flight home was long enough considering how early we were up. The only noteworthy thing of that day was getting off the plane in Timmins. With an unfavourable difference of temperature (30 degrees Celsius), I wanted to go back. It was good being home though and getting back into the swing of the daily routine.

Florida is a good place to pick a vacation. The attractions are great and the February climate was perfect. Go if you can, you’ll be happy you did.

3 thoughts on “Palm Trees, Magic, and Scaly Creatures

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  1. Awesome write-up Sandy! We ate at some great restaurants too. It was a fun trip for all and glad that yourself, Mim and Ben enjoyed your time there. I look forward to the next trip.

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  2. It was such a thrill to vacation together in Florida and just spoil my boys and my girl, Mim. It was something Dad and I wanted to do for such a long time and finally, yes. It was such a joy to see how some things – storm troupers, Bart Simpson things, Daigon Alley, just the beautiful weather bring smiles to your faces. I enjoyed every minute of your visit and yes we will be doing it again. Building memories…..

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