Wild Florida: Airboat Tours to Remember

Wild Florida airboat tour

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

As a first-time visitor to Florida, I was particularly excited to take an airboat tour with Wild Florida. Getting to see local habitat in such a classic way seemed like something that would be a very memorable and fun experience!

Approaching Wild Florida airboats

Airboat

Our group climbed onto one large airboat with our guide, and off we went! Ear protection is provided, and while not required, recommended because of how loud the engine is. You might want to turn your speakers down a little before playing this video from my airboat tour:

The tour was fabulous – riding an airboat is so enjoyable, and it was so much fun coasting over the swamps as we passed alligators, birds, and cows. Yes, cows will wade out into the marsh and calmly chew on grass while gators lurk in the water nearby. I wasn’t expecting to see cows out there and it made me laugh!

Can you spot the gator?

It’s neat observing alligators in their natural habitat and seeing with your own eyes how they blend seamlessly into the background. It was hard to spot many of the alligators that our guide pointed out, as I found myself frequently mistaking sticks and logs for gators and gators for logs!

Riding the airboat

Catching a wave

Our guide would stop anytime he spotted something interesting and point out alligators and birds to us. He told us all kinds of cool factoids and answered questions; one of our group said, “What would happen if one of us fell in?” to which another one joked that the gators would say, “Mmm, dinner!”. Our guide replied, “No, the gators would swim away from you because they don’t want to be dinner!” Although alligators are very dangerous animals, they are also scared of humans and not quite so vicious as, say, crocodiles. Our guide told us that most of the incidents in recent years with humans getting bitten were the result of people feeding wild alligators (!!). It was interesting to learn more about gators and explains how I was able to step inside a pen with Chester and not get immediately devoured. ;) (Don’t try this at home, etc. etc)

He also told us about the alligator hunting tours he offers – it never even occurred to me, but gator hunting is permitted and quite popular in Florida. Hunters buy a special permit and may kill up to 2 alligators per year. Our guide offers hunting tours because the cost for non-locals to buy a hunting permit is much higher – not to mention that it probably isn’t the best idea to go chasing alligators with a harpoon by yourself…

Our group asked him about some of the reality shows they’ve seen featuring alligator hunting, such as Swamp People, and our tour guide told us that most of the hunting techniques for gators that are legal in Louisiana are illegal in Florida, so they conduct their hunts a bit differently. Who knew!

Alligator sunning himself

We got a good view of this guy sunning himself!

Beeb on the airboat

Here I am on the airboat with the gator behind me! Thanks to Melissa for the photo.

As a bird lover, I also enjoyed seeing the wide variety of native birds, including the Northern Crested Caracara and a Bald Eagle nest.

There is a Bald Eagle nest tucked into the top of the center tree.

There is a Bald Eagle nest tucked into the top of the center tree.

Bird perched on sign

Touring the Central Florida Everglades

I truly enjoyed exploring the Central Florida Everglades in such a fun and memorable way! Check out this video compilation of some of the highlights of my tour:

We saw this little gator as we exited the dock!

We saw this little gator as we exited the dock!

In addition to airboat tours, Wild Florida also offers a full wildlife park, which I’ll be showing you in my next article. This place truly has so much to offer and I’m so happy I had a chance to visit!

For More Information:

Wild Florida
3301 Lake Cypress Road
Kenansville, Florida 34739
Phone: (407) 901-2563
Tickets: 1/2 hour tour is $25 per person for adults and $22 per person for children aged 3-12; price also includes admission to the Wildlife Park and a hands-on alligator demonstration. Other price points available for longer, private and nighttime tours – price list available here.

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Savor the Flavors of Spring at Arcade Lights Tasting Festival at Pike Place Market #ArcadeLights

arcade lights pike place market

Pike Place Market is famous for its veritable feast of restaurants, bakeries and takeout counters. But on Friday, April 25, 2014, the Arcade Lights tasting festival will nearly double the culinary offerings of the Market with local and regional vendors of artisan sweet and savory foods, craft beer and wine.

Arcade Lights, an annual one-night, after-hours event, features more than 60 local purveyors – from one of Seattle’s most popular breweries, to the newest food artisan selling their handcrafted bites exclusively at farmers markets. As a longtime starting ground for small, local businesses with big ideas, including Starbucks, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Mt. Townsend Creamery and Delve Kitchen, Arcade Lights gathers the best and the brightest purveyors under one roof for one night only. The challenge is what to taste first!

Here’s more information about this delectable event:

What:

Arcade Lights, a one-night celebration of local food and drink

When:

Friday, April 25, 7 to 10 p.m.
(6:30 p.m. for advance ticketholders)

Where:

Pike Place Market’s North Arcade
Pike Place at Pine Street

Tickets:

$33 advance, $40 at the door: arcadelights.com/brownpapertickets.com

Details:

More than 60 local food and drink artisans will be showcased at Arcade Lights, including Whidbey Island Winery, 7 Seas Brewing Company, Fremont Brewing Company, Hood Canal Brewery, Simple & Crisp, Seductive Specialty Foods and Sunset Café.

Each ticketholder will receive 10 tokens redeemable for food and drinks (additional tokens are available for purchase), as well as a keepsake glass. To stay up to date on social media, post or search the #ArcadeLights hashtag.

Proceeds from Arcade Lights benefit the Pike Place Market Foundation, a non-profit organization supporting the following human service agencies at the Pike Place Market: Pike Market Child Care and Preschool, Pike Market Medical Clinic, Pike Market Senior Center and Downtown Food Bank. For more information, visit: www.pikeplacemarketfoundation.org.

Off To Spend Next Weekend in Tennessee With Westgate #WGLorettaLynn #WGEvents

I haven’t been to Tennessee since I was in college. My roommate in college and her best friend quickly became my best friends and for one of our Spring break vacations we went off to Tennessee. Of course we did the Memphis stuff but her grandmother lived in the Smokey Mountains and it was so beautiful I can’t wait to get back there. I’ll tell you a huge secret (THERE IS NOTHING LIKE SOUTHERN FOOD)

image

Through some new friendships I’m part of 6 bloggers headed to Smokey Mountains and Gatlinburg for a fun Westgate Event. From April 25-27 we will be staying at the Beautiful Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa . This is just one of the properties owned by Westgate and look at how amazing it looks. I can’t wait to get there!

imageWestgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa is an incredibly themed mountainside resort with world class accommodations and amenities. Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa sits on approximately 255 acres, with 55 acres developed, adjacent to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the largest national park East of the Rockies.

I don’t know much about the itinerary yet I’m just so excited to be hanging out with friends, learning about the location location in Tennessee. Our contributor Ashley stayed at the Westgate Vacation Villas in Florida a year ago. Westgate is really good at also providing you with entertainment options and we’re going to be seeing the iconic American country music singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn perform. So good food, a great place to stay, and entertainment. I’m so there!

Follow along:

@WestgateEvents on twitter# with hashtags WGLorettaLynn #WGEvents

Facebook: facebook.com/WestgateEvents

Instagram: #WGLorettaLynn #WestgateResorts.

Touring The Chocolate Kingdom: My Kind of Palace!

Chocolate Kingdom

Tour and travel consideration provided by Experience Kissimmee.

When I looked at my itinerary for my first-ever Florida trip and saw a placed called Chocolate Kingdom on the list, I was all over it. A palace full of chocolate? Yes, please!

The Chocolate Kingdom is a chocolate factory & store that offers a tour showing how chocolate is made along with its history. We started off by watching a video featuring a prince and a dragon, who the guide “Talks” to via monitors throughout the tour. Here’s a castle made completely out of chocolate, with little edible figurines of our royal friends:

Chocolate castle

Our tour covered the origin of chocolate and went into detail about how it first came into use and how it is produced today.

Top cacao producing countries

The chocolate tree

Harvesting pods

History of chocolate

The travelling history of chocolate

Processing chocolate

After our little history lesson, we tried our hand at a marshmallow catapult. I never did get my marshmallow in the dragon’s mouth, but it was fun trying!

Marshmallow catapult

Next, we took a peek into how chocolate is made today:

Sorting and cleaning beans

Cocoa beans

Refining and conching

During the tour, you are given a variety of different samples to taste, including cacao nibs, a spicy chocolate drink similar to that consumed by the ancient Maya, and other sweet treats. Once our tour concluded, we also had the chance to try our hand at dipping marshmallows in chocolate:

Dipping marshmallows

After I dipped my hand into the chocolate vat, my latex glove was completely soaked in chocolate, and my friends were cracking up laughing when they noticed me licking all the chocolate off my glove before tossing it in the garbage. WELL! I couldn’t let all the chocolate go to waste! ;) After we left, I noticed that during my marshmallow dipping, I had managed to cover the bottom of my dress in chocolate. What a chocolate fiend I must be!

Chocolate fashion

These chocolate dresses are way more fashionable than my dress covered in chocolate was. ;)

Chocolate wine

Once you finish the tour, you can create a custom chocolate bar or pick up another tasty treat in the gift shop. Chocolate wine? Yes, please!

For More Information:

Chocolate Kingdom
2858 Florida Plaza Boulevard
Kissimmee, Florida 34746
(407) 705-3475
Admission: $16.95 for adults, $12.95 for children aged 4-12.
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Challenging Myself on The World’s Tallest SkyCoaster

Skycoaster

All travel and related consideration courtesy Experience Kissimmee; all terror provided by me!

I did a lot of adventurous, out-of-character things while I was in Florida. I’m no thrill seeker by any stretch of the imagination, but I found myself zip lining over alligators and going for a hair-raising, upside-down ride on the Manta roller coaster. And mere hours after I got off the Manta, I found myself at Fun Spot USA, home to the world’s tallest SkyCoaster.

What is a “SkyCoaster”, you ask? This ride, which Jai has dubbed “The world’s biggest swing set”, is a little like the cousin of sky diving and bungee jumping. Riders are strapped into a large harness and pulled up 300 feet in the air. Once they reach the top, they must pull a rip cord which sends them lunging over the amusement park, flying back and forth until eventually slowing down and coming to a stop. Our hosts had shown me a little YouTube clip of the ride the day before which made me go, “Hmmmm“. When we arrived at Fun Spot and I looked up at the SkyCoaster, it was like vertigo – I felt physically ill just seeing it and picturing the possibility of me going on it.

One thing that’s important to know about me is that just seeing videos of people parachuting – which Jai looks at often for fun, as someone who used to sky dive – freaks me out. I don’t consider myself to be phobic of heights, but rather to have a completely rational fear of them. But although I don’t think there is anything wrong with my normal nervousness about being up high, I also see the value of challenging myself. Because I am so uptight and anxious in general, I think that doing anything I can do to face fears helps my quality of life overall, even if they are things that don’t relate to my day-to-day stress. But could I really do something this extreme?

Although we were brought here as media, we had free reign to say “No” and bow out of this activity. We had passes to do whatever we liked at the park, so we could have easily chosen a more serene activity. Many of our friends clamored immediately to do the ride, while I sat back with Stacey and Meredith. Meredith said “Thanks, but no thanks!” while Stacey and I were on the fence but leaning towards “Nope”. I insisted that I wanted to watch the others do it first so I knew what to expect, so we all headed up to an observation area with benches to mull over our fate.

Watching the Skycoaster climb up with the first 3 victims riders, Stacey said, “No way! I’m not doing that. They’re crazy!” I felt sick watching it. As we sat there, our conversation turned from “Nopenopenopenope” to “Well, I don’t want to regret not doing it…maybe we should? What do you think?” The manager at Fun Spot gently cajoled us by saying that we shouldn’t pass up the opportunity, especially since we’d get videos of our ride to share on our blog – she knew exactly what to say to a blogger! I hope you know that I suffer for you, dear readers! ;)

Stacey and I decided that we wanted to talk to the others after they got off and then make our final decision. After they encouraged us, we looked at each other and said: “Okay, I guess we should…” I felt sick and scared, but I knew that although it would be terrifying, it would only last for a few minutes, and I’d be glad I faced the fear once it was over. This was one of those unusual opportunities that comes up in life and I wanted to take advantage of it. But that doesn’t mean I was happy about it! It was April Fool’s Day, and I felt like the real fool was me.

Grimacing before the SkyCoaster

They told me to smile for this photo are we put our harnesses on, so I plastered a fake grimace on my face!
Photo courtesy Melissa at Surf And Sunshine.

Up to 3 people can ride SkyCoaster at the same time, so Stacey and I insisted that another person had to do it with us. Melissa had literally stepped off her first SkyCoaster ride and said she would go right back up again. She also agreed to pull the rip cord, since neither of us would. What a brave girl!

Boarding the SkyCoaster

Photo courtesy Melissa.

I felt so genuinely scared approaching the SkyCoaster – I didn’t even pretend to look happy for the photos. So many fears darted through my mind: What if my harness isn’t attached properly? What if something goes wrong and I fall? Who am I entrusting my life to? It’s just like the zip line: It’s enough that I’m doing it, there’s no way can I pretend to look photogenic too!

Getting strapped in

Photo courtesy Melissa.

After putting our harnesses on, we were led to an accordion lift and attached to the SkyCoaster, then turned upside-down to begin our slow ascent up. These hilarious photos capture my fear perfectly:

Starting our ascent

Three amigos

The face of fear

Heading into the sky

These photos provided by Melissa’s camera and Nori’s shutterbug skills! Thanks girls!

As we moved up, I had a death grip on Stacey’s arm – sorry again about my sweaty, clammy palms! ;) She and I had just got done riding the Journey to Atlantis together, so we bonded through fear that afternoon. While we climbed up, Stacey said, “I’m so sorry, I can’t remember either of your names right now!” to which I replied, “It doesn’t matter!!”. As we watched the Earth disappear under our feet, Melissa told us reassuring things to try and make us feel better since she had just done this herself. Stacey took deep, cleansing breaths to try and calm herself as she repeated her mantra: “I surrender to my love of adventure…I surrender to my love of adventure…” Meanwhile, I was completely silent. The others remarked later that my reaction was the most worrying since they knew I must really be scared! They asked me how I was as we got closer to the top, and I sputtered out a robotic “I’m OK!”

Making our way to the top

Photo via Melissa.

I started having a panic attack inside as we got maybe halfway up, knowing there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I was on the verge of tears and thought I might bawl, but I didn’t cry. Because I had kept my eyes shut for most of the ride on the Manta, I made myself keep my eyes open this time so that I could get the most out of it. For as long as I live, I will never forget the view from the top, looking down at the long beam of the SkyCoaster careening down into the water below.

Top of the SkyCoaster

Photo by Meredith at Suburban Coupon Mom.

Melissa told us that she would count to three, then pull the rip cord. 1…2…3!!!!!

Flying down SkyCoaster

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Photo via Melissa.

Now, this is the part I did close my eyes for! We hurtled down 30 stories – you know that sensation of momentary weightlessness you get on a plane sometimes, where your stomach lurches into your throat? That’s what it feels like as you turn upside down and careen forward, then jerk back and swing in the other direction.

Hurtling across the water

Photo courtesy miss Melissa!

Swinging over Fun Spot

Pic via Melissa.

As we swung wildly over Fun Spot, I let out my second expletive of the trip, then quickly said: “I’M SORRY I SWORE!!” because I knew the whole thing was being recorded for our commemorative video. Fortunately, you can’t hear me saying it in the finished video – I thought I was going to have to bleep myself out. ;) As far as I’m concerned, I can’t be held responsible for anything I say on SkyCoaster!

Wheee!

Photo courtesy Meredith!

After the first two fly-bys, the swinging starts to slow down and become more fun. This is a great example in action of how facing your fears acclimates you to them: Normally, swinging that far off the ground would have bothered me, but after being 300 freaking feet in the air, it felt like nothing! Once we were lower down and moving slower, I enjoyed myself. The Fun Spot manager had told us that “Everyone has their hands out at the end” and I thought, “I won’t!” – but she was right, and I did eventually wave to everyone once I was closer to the ground!

Proof that I did let go of Stacey's arm...eventually!!

Proof that I did let go of Stacey’s arm…eventually!! Photo via Melissa.

As I mentioned earlier, SkyCoaster films videos of the entire ride that are available for purchase afterwards. So to give you a better idea of the enormity of SkyCoaster, may I present my flight in full:

Did you enjoy hearing me scream my way down 30 stories? ;) The funniest part about watching this video is the fact that I noticed Maroon 5′s “Harder to Breathe” started playing in the background right as we were about to pull the rip cord – that’s like my theme song! I’m usually very aware of my surroundings, but I didn’t notice it at the time; I didn’t even hear the announcer telling us that it was time to pull the cord. My fear had total tunnel vision at that moment!

As the ride slows, you are thrown a large plastic loop which you grab to stop yourself; you are then lowered back onto the accordion lift. As I got off the ride, I was giddy with relief and excitement that I had done something brave. We were so proud of ourselves for doing it!! SkyCoaster was one of those experiences that, while really, really difficult, was also very rewarding. As I got off, I said, “I can go on any roller coaster now and it won’t be as bad as that!” – well, I’m sure they’ll invent something, but you know what I mean. ;) I faced a huge fear and couldn’t wait to tell Jai. Just watching sky diving videos with him makes me queasy, so I knew he’d be very proud of me. He texted me back after Googling Sky Coasterexclaiming, “That’s almost like base jumping!”.

That night, when I laid down in bed to go to sleep, I closed my eyes and saw that same vertigo-inducing view from the top, with the SkyCoaster beam extending down endlessly below my feet. What’s funny is that I got another panic attack just thinking about it and felt pretty anxious for about 15 minutes – yet another example of how our brains can perceive imagined stimuli and react almost as if it were actually happening. I actually thought that experience was helpful too; and that was the only time after the ride that I felt that, so don’t worry, I didn’t come off the ride with SkyCoaster trauma!

For those of you who don’t want to hurtle yourself off SkyCoaster, Fun Spot has a plethora of other activities you can do. The SkyCoaster ride took up most of my time, but I was able to sneak in one more ride on the Go Karts – I was expecting these to be a pretty mild race around a circle, but the Go Karts actually ended up being more extreme too, with a steep slope that had me riding the brake the whole time! Talk about a white knuckle afternoon! ;)

Fun Spot had a great carnival atmosphere that I wish I’d had more time to enjoy – I was entertained by the hot pink tilt-a-whirl blasting Lil’ Jon, which reminded me of somewhere the Jersey Shore gang might visit. On our way out, we got to stop and nibble on some cotton candy, which I think is a prerequisite to any amusement park!

Cotton candy!

I only spent about an hour at Fun Spot, and it is one I’ll never forget. I can’t believe that I rode the SkyCoaster and I’m so glad I got to have the experience and do something so far out of my comfort zone! What little I saw of the rest of the park was great and I’d love to return when I have more time. I even told Jai I would do the SkyCoaster again if he does it with me!

For More Information:

Fun Spot USA
2850 Florida Plaza Blvd
Kissimmee, Florida 34746
(407) 397-2509
All-Day Armbands: $35.95 for patrons over 54″, $26.95 for patrons under 54″.
Sky Coaster Admission: $40 per person individually; $35 each for two people; $30 each for three fliers. Videos available separately.

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My First Visit to SeaWorld

SeaWorld Group Photo

Group photo with our tour guide – photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee & SeaWorld.


All travel consideration, including park admission and dining, provided by Experience Kissimmee.

My Florida trip was full of firsts, including my first trip to SeaWorld. Carrying on our theme from the previous day, we arrived in the morning and started off with a thrill ride as our very first activity. Despite the fact that I don’t usually get much of any sleep during trips, nothing jolts you awake more than a heart-pounding ride at 9 AM! We started off on the Manta, an extreme roller coaster that speeds you around and around in every direction. I don’t usually enjoy even mild roller coaster rides, but my attitude on this vacation was that I wanted to challenge myself and have as many new experiences as possible, so I got strapped in, turned upside down, and began my flight through the park:

Waving hi from the Manta!

Rochelle waves hello from the Manta! Photo courtesy Meredith at Suburban Coupon Mom.

I kept my eyes shut for most of this ride. Why, you ask? Just watch this first-person video of the ride and you’ll see why. Aaaahhhh!! Not that you could tell I was scared or anything:

Terrified on the Manta

This priceless photo courtesy SeaWorld & Experience Kissimmee!

Later that day, we also took a ride on the Journey to Atlantis. When the ride started, I was expecting another steep drop and let out a scream as soon as it started. The ride then proceeded to gently go straight. ;) All my buddies on the ride were cracking up!

The ride DOES have some big drops that happen later on, though:

Our ride down Journey to Atlantis

Thanks to Meredith of Suburban Coupon Mom for this photo!

Let’s get a closer look at that:

AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

This is a water coaster, so you get splashed at the bottom, which feels good cooling off in the warm Florida climate!

Antarctica: Empire of The Penguin

Much less intimidating ride to me was Antarctica: Empire of The Penguin. This ride spins you gently around as an interactive cartoon penguin movie plays and leads you to the exhibit of real, live penguins which you then get out and take a closer look at.

Melissa loves penguins!

Melissa was so excited when she saw her favorite animal, the penguin!

This penguin looked like he had a mohawk.

Penguin keeper

When we weren’t twirling around on rides, we were walking through some of the many, many aquarium exhibits on hand:

Fish

Stingrays

Oh, the huge manatee!

Tip For Parents:

Each member of SeaWorld’s educational staff carry trading cards about animals, with each person being assigned their own animal. When your children see one of these guides and ask them a question, they can get one of these cards and try to collect them all.

Sea turtle

Their sea turtle exhibit, TurtleTrek, includes a 360 degree 3D movie experience. As you stand inside this dome, you watch an animated movie made from the perspective of a turtle swimming through the ocean. It’s really interesting to watch the effects in this setting – it gives your brain the sensation that you’re actually moving at times, and it’s cool to turn around and see all of the panoramic action.

Dolphins

We also got to meet several dolphins!

Dolphin Nursery

We watched mommy & baby dolphins swim and jump at the Dolphin Nursery – talk about cuteness!

Mom and baby dolphins

Dolphin closeup

Dolphin swimming

I also got to feed a dolphin:

Beeb pets a dolphin

Here I am feeding a dolphin! Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee & SeaWorld.

There are boxes of fish available for purchase so that visitors can feed and gently stroke the dolphins; it was a really neat experience for me.

Dolphin show

SeaWorld is perhaps most known for its shows, and we saw “Blue Horizons” while we were there. I didn’t really know what to expect, and wasn’t aware that the show was also full of aerial acrobatics, music, birds, and costumed performers with a script. It’s pretty over-the-top!

Aerial acrobat

School of dolphins jumping

Birds in the show

Dolphin jump during show

Acrobats

Dolphin trick

Costumed acrobat

Dolphin jumps out of the water

Acrobatics at Dolphin Theater

Two dolphins jumping

Riding dolphins

Blue Horizons finale

Tip:

Download the Seaworld Discovery Guide app for iTunes or Android to do a scavenger hunt around the park and earn a little prize. The app also has information about the parks, maps, and other helpful information to make your trip easier.

Dolphins weren’t the only animals we got up close and personal with – I was surprised to learn that at Stingray Lagoon, you can actually pet and feed stingrays.

Stingray swimming

Petting a stingray!

Stingrays are so cute and have such smooth skin. As they swim by, they’ll flap their fins towards you and splash you with water! This is another activity where you’ll get soaked, but again, it feels good in the Florida sun since you dry off pretty quickly.

Feeding the stingrays is an odd sensation, as you can see in this video! It was so much fun and one of the highlights of my visit.

Baby stingray!

Right by the feeding station, you’ll find a display where you can observe baby stingrays. Awwwww!

SeaWorld veterinarian

We also took a behind-the-scenes tour of SeaWorld where we saw the in-house veterinarian and heard about how they handle things like a walrus’ dental appointment! The animals are checked for a wide variety of things during their medical appointments, and much of this information is also used for research. Many of the employees are also working on their PhDs, and use their findings in papers. One recent project was researching sea turtle digestion by examining samples that were taken in order to check up on the health of the turtles.

During this portion of the tour, they talked about some of the processes that go into maintaining the facility, such as the myriad of water samples which must be taken three times a day, every day.

SeaWorld rescue boat

They also took us to see some of the vehicles used for transportation between facilities and also animal rescue projects.

This is how you move a whale!

What you are looking at here is a portable aquarium that is used to move whales, usually due to a facility closing or to avoid inbreeding. This one is decommissioned, so it doesn’t have glass panes on the sides as it would when being used. This “Whale mover” has been loaded onto planes. Forget snakes on a plane – imagine a whale on a plane! It’s pretty incredible what modern inventions can do.

Manatee hospital

This truck is a “Manatee Hospital”! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, a local government agency, will contact SeaWorld when there is an animal in distress and either transport the animal to them or have SeaWorld dispatch their crews on-site. SeaWorld then cares for and rehabilitates the animal in this area “Behind the scenes”. When the animal heals, the government will dispatch someone to examine them and decide if they can be released back into the wild or are too injured and should remain at SeaWorld; this final decision rests with the government.

Manatees

The goal with these rescued animals is always to rehabilitate them to where they can be released back into the wild. We were instructed to stand behind a specific yellow line when we observed these animals, so that they won’t get too acclimated to people and interfere with their release. We were lucky enough to visit the manatee pool at feeding time, and observed the carers quickly dumping the lettuce into the water and retreating so that the animals wouldn’t have too much human exposure.

Manatee feeding time

SeaWorld’s rescued manatees are purposely kept in a pool without too much stimulation, as they want them to use all of their energy on healing. Manatees are commonly injured in collisions with boats.

Baby manatee snout

This is a special holding tank for rescued baby manatees, where we caught an adorable peek of a baby manatee snout popping out of the water.

Rescued sea turtle

We also saw the tanks for rescued sea turtles.

Rescued tortoise

This tortoise had plaster applied to fix his broken shell!

Earth day tip

While we toured this section of the facility, our guide shared an interesting conservation tip with us. She recommends cutting the tops off plastic water and soda bottles prior to recycling them, because loose plastic trash is easily blown out of dumpsters and into the water; small sea animals will crawl inside plastic bottles that end up in the ocean and end up trapped. Many of these creatures are babies that grow up with a plastic bottle around them, causing deformities. I had never heard this before, so I told her I was going to share it with everyone and that made her happy!

SeaWorld’s practices regarding conservation, ethical treatment of animals and human safety has been the subject of much debate and controversy recently after the release of the documentary Blackfish. For further information on this topic, you can click here to watch Blackfish on Netflix, then click here to read SeaWorld’s point by point rebuttal posted on their “Care For Killer Whales” page.

SeaWorld lighthouse

For More Information:

SeaWorld Orlando
7007 Sea Harbor Drive
Orlando, Florida 32821
Phone: 1-888-800-5447
Click here for park hours & show time information
Admission varies depending on when you visit, what package you buy and what sales are available – click here for current ticket prices.

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Luxury Accomodation & Dining at Meliá Orlando Suite Hotel

Pool at Meliá Orlando

Dining consideration courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

During my last night in Florida, we headed to Meliá Orlando Suite Hotel for a quick tour and dinner. The hotel has been designed with luxury in mind, with art-inspired decor lending a nice ambiance to the experience.

Artwork at Meliá Orlando

Room at Meliá

We got a peek inside one of the rooms, which had a nice balcony view of the large pool below.

Balcony

I felt like this pool was calling to me to sit down and relax with a Piña Colada!

Chairs poolside

After a tour around the building and a quick elevator selfie, we sat down for dinner!

Dinner at Meliá Orlando

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

After starting off with a selection of fabulous appetizers, we started in on the main course. I ordered a sumptuous steak cooked to perfection with potatoes and asparagus. They told us that the steak was so tender you could cut it with a fork, and they were right.

Delicious steak!

As you can see, the portion was massive, but although it pained me to leave food on my plate, I had to leave some space for dessert:

Decadent dessert

Beautifully presented and delicious – my only complaint is that I did not have more than one stomach with which to finish all of this food!

With Maria from Meliá Orlando

Striking a post with Maria from Meliá Orlando; photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

Before we left, we struck a pose in front of our limo with Meliá sales manager Maria. Everyone we met at Meliá had such a sense of fun and were all for jumping in our silly photos! I love it!

The Meliá Orlando Suite Hotel was a fabulous place to dine and certainly looks like a fun place to stay, too. I would happily eat another one of their steaks the next time I’m in the area!

For More Information:

Meliá Orlando Suite Hotel
225 Celebration Place
Orlando, Florida 34747
Phone: (407) 964-7000

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Watching Ye Olde Joust at Medieval Times

Medieval Times

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee & Medieval Times.


Hear ye! Hear ye! My seat at this royal spectacle graciously given by ye friends at Experience Kissimmee, so that I might serve as your official scribe and bring news of the joust!

During my stay in Florida, I experienced another first when I visited a Medieval Times location. I’ve never been to one of these since they don’t have it in Oregon, but I had heard quite a bit about them. Medieval Times is like a combination dinner buffet/Las Vegas-style extravaganza, housed inside a faux castle and providing you with a show (very) loosely based on Medieval Spain.

One thing that makes the Orlando location unique is the fact that is has an “Authentic Medieval village”, their Medieval Life Museum. We only had time for a very quick tour before our show started – tours generally last 45 minutes – but we got a quick peek at the exhibits on hand. Apparently, the artifacts on display are a mixture of genuine and replica.

Blacksmith shop

Religious praise book

Pottery making

Fork making

Canopy bed

Tools

We were assured that the torture devices on display were just replicas….or were they?! Luckily, we didn’t get on their bad side and thrown into the blogger dungeon, so we didn’t find out. ;)

Torture chamber

Shackles

After a quick peek around the museum, we headed inside the main “Castle” to sit down for the show. You are given special color-coded cards upon entry that lead you to a particular section in the arena. Each section has its own knight; we sat in the blue section, so we were given Burger King-style crowns and blue pennants to wave in support of the Blue Knight.

Blue Knight

Upon seating, a handmaiden appears to ask what kind of grog you’d like; I went for a Ye Olde Pepsi. In order to make it truly Medieval, no cutlery is provided – just a plate. The whole time, I thought about how much Jai would have loved this place, since he despises dishes and will tell you about how useless they are any chance he gets. Fortunately, for those of us who aren’t used to gnawing on a drumstick with our bare hands like Jai, wet naps are provided! I’m usually a bit prissy when it comes to this sort of thing, so it must have been entertaining watching me trying to eat a piece of chicken with my hands while simultaneously waving my pennant for the Blue Knight and trying to Instagram my dinner with greasy chicken hands. ;)

Food & grog

Food, grog, and ye olde moist towelette

Everyone gets the same meal (Unless you are vegetarian and request that dish), so it starts off with a bowl of soup and piece of bread. For the main course, you receive a seriously giant piece of chicken, a BBQ rib, and a potato wedge. For dessert, you receive an apple tart and coffee. The handmaiden walks down the line with a large tray and tongs, dispensing each new course onto the diners’ plates; it was a novel way to eat a meal! The chicken was pretty plain, but I thought the meal was adequate enough and certainly a million times better than what I would have eaten in 1100.

Chicken leg

Hey, YOU try taking a good photo in the dark with chicken grease on your hands!

While you eat, you are presented with a 2-hour show in the main arena, hosted by the Royal Court. The Knights gallop out on horseback and have a grand joust along with swordfighting and other grand theatrics; a hawk even flies over the audience at one point. They go all out staging a show with acting, lighting, animals, and stunts! You can check out my Instagram video of the action by clicking here.

Medieval Times procession

Royal court

Blue Knight receives a flower

Knights on horses

Medieval Times fight

I found Medieval Times to be a very one-of-a-kind experience and quite entertaining. I enjoyed myself and would return!

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! For More Information:

Medieval Times
4510 West Vine Street
Kissimmee, FL 34746
Phone: 1-866-543-9637

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Our Wyndham Hotel Stay & Howard Johnson Happy Monday Deal Giveaway

I was provided 20,000 Wyndham Rewards points that covered a 1 night stay at their Days Inn & Suites Arcata California, (The Howard Johnson was full but the Days Inn is still a Wyndham property) during our road trip for our Spring Break vacation. My opinions are my own.

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Howard Johnson hotels are all about making people happy, whether it’s providing an extra pillow or local dining suggestions during your trip. We had a great stay at our hotel and the people checking us in were so nice. That’s why they’re extending that feel-good vacation sensation to your everyday workweek and turning Monday “Blahs” Into Monday “Ahhhs” with their “Happy Monday” promotions! image

Happening throughout the year, their current offer is good for 35% off any trip completed before May 22nd, 2014. Whether you’re making plans to head out of town for university graduations, getting a head start on summer vacation, or just looking for an excuse to make a new memory – with competitive savings and over 350 hotels, Howard Johnson loves to make you smile! And don’t tell them that we jumped on the bed

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I have stayed at a many a Howard Johnson over the years, they are the perfect hotel to stay at for a road trip. To redeem your points you have to either make a reservation on-line or over the phone. Over the internet your room isn’t guaranteed to be held because they want a credit card on file to hold the room. SO while I was on the road I made my call and they booked my room. We had a ton of fun on our adventure and loved having a place to stay overnight.

We loved having breakfast the following morning. image

Now the people at the Howard Johnson are also offering 20,000 points for one of you guys my readers.

Enter to Win:

20,000 points

To Enter:

Tell me where you might be going for vacation

Extra Entries:

Use the rafflecopter and leave a way for us to verify

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All Star Vacation Homes: Your Home Away From Home

All Star Vacation Home

Accommodations and travel courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

During my visit to Kissimmee, I had the pleasure of staying in an All Star Vacation Home in Acadia Estates. This was my first time staying in a vacation home like this with other bloggers, and it was a wonderful experience!

The sign on the door to my room!

The sign on the door to my room!

The home is spacious, beautifully decorated, and outfitted with a full kitchen and its very own game and entertainment room, which includes a projector, movie theater seats, and arcade games with unlimited plays.

Home theater

Pac-Man & air hockey!

My Pac-Man kept getting eaten by Blinky.

Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift

I made a hot pink car to race in this game!

If THAT doesn’t sell you on the home, then let me tell you about the bedrooms!

My All Star Vacation Home bedroom

My All Star Vacation Home bedroom

Pretty lamp in my bedroom

Spacious closet & flatscreen  TV

Spacious closet & flatscreen TV

My bedroom in Acadia Estates

My vacation home bathroom

My vacation home bathroom

All Star Vacation Home shower

Amenities at All Star Vacation Home

Cleansing bar

My bathroom included soaps, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion. Although I knew the home came stocked with starter paper supplies and towels, I wasn’t sure if it would include the same toiletries as a hotel; so I wanted to mention this for anyone who might have been wondering as I was! One less thing to carry in your luggage!

Each blogger got their own bedroom and bathroom, so there was no need to share a bathroom or wait in line during the morning to get ready. All our rooms were private with their own lock, so if we wanted to retire for the evening to go to sleep, we could do so; we could also choose to sit in the living areas to spend time together, which was so much more fun than any other blogger trip I’ve been on. Usually, on these kind of trips we all have our own hotel room, which limits the amount of time we can spend together. By all staying in the same house, we could plug our laptops in the common areas and get work done while still hanging out, eating a snack, or even doing laundry; we had SUCH a blast, and without compromising privacy, either.

Living area

Living area decor

Hallway

Staircase to upstairs rooms

Decorative centerpiece

Computer area

A computer is provided on-site along with WiFi. The PC had a pretty old operating system, but naturally we all brought our own laptops being bloggers! Still, it got the job done for viewing our zip line photos since it was the only machine around with a CD drive!

Vacation home kitchen

Kitchen counter

Kitchen table

Place settings

Breakfast bar

Pretty napkin ring

The first night we arrived, we all got into our PJs after dinner and settled into the movie theater to watch the season finale of The Walking Dead. Other nights were spending chatting while we updated our blogs, looking at photos from the day’s activities, playing pool, and laughing! This is the single best way to spend time with friends on vacation, in my opinion.

Walking Dead viewing party

Walking Dead viewing party

The homes themselves are beautiful and modern, with keyless entry. The home also included a pool and hot tub, located right behind my bedroom, which afforded us a lovely scenic view of hot air balloons launching! We took advantage of the hot tub after zip lining, although we had trouble getting the temperature hot even after someone came out to adjust it – we didn’t have time to try it again, but the water might have needed more time to heat up! The only other issue I encountered was my shower curtain rod falling off the wall (Not while I was using it!), but we called maintenance and it was fixed right away. I noticed that water pooled on the floor every time I took a shower, but that seems to be a common problem I run into in modern hotel rooms – I think it has to do with the shower design.

Palm tree

I loved my experience staying in this All Star Vacation home and the next time I make it out to Florida, this is where I want to stay! The home I stayed at was 3 miles from Disney World, 10 miles from Sea World, and 13 miles from Universal Studios, so if you’re in town to hit up the attractions, this is a great location.

For More Information:

All Star Vacation Homes
Phone: (321) 281-4966
Email: reservations@allstarvacationhomes.com
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