Go Further with Ford Fusion Energi Up The 101 Redwood Coastal Highway #GoFurther @Ford

We spent our Spring Break this year going up and down the West coast of the US. Starting near Seattle we started our trek in our Ford Fusion Energi and headed down to LA for a visit to Disneyland. The Ford Fusion Energi is more than your typical hybrid vehicle. This car also has a battery that gives us up to 20 miles of electricity and the fun part is when you’re coasting down the mountain side we were able to rack up to 4 extra miles of electricity with the regenerative breaking system. It was AWESOME. We saved quite a bit of money on gas with this road trip car. DSC00138

After our visit in LA at Disneyland we decided to drive over to San Francisco and then from there take Highway 101 up the coast through the redwood forest and then all the way back up to Washington. The roads are quite windy a not many passing lanes but our car had no issues passing anyone and staying within the lines. In fact with the lane assistance and cruise control on together this car practically drives itself. The car also likes to let you know when it thinks you are not driving up to snuff by saying you should stop for a coffee break. Then if you continue to drive poorly it will make lots of red noises at you and the warning goes from yellow to red. DSC00142

The Ford Fusion Energi is amazing on the beach. And the kids were so excited to see sand they stopped right outside my son’s door and just started playing in the sand. They had so much fun, we all had so much fun. DSC00139

The only negative is that there isn’t a lot of trunk space for a road trip but our roof rack provided us with all the space we needed.

DSC00162

Enjoy The High Life With a Hot Air Balloon Ride

Hot air balloon

All travel consideration provided by Experience Kissimmee.

On the last morning of my Florida trip, we had a very special activity planned as our grand finale: A hot air balloon ride! I’d never been on a hot air balloon before, so this was yet another first for me and something I was very excited about. Hot air balloon rides are very dependent on weather, so we crossed our fingers all week that we would be able to go. Luck was on our side and the conditions were right, so we left at 5:30 in the morning to watch the sun rise from a balloon!

Orlando at dusk

We arrived at Orlando Balloon Rides and went outside to watch the process of setting up and inflating the balloons while we waited to board. A few volunteers, including Melissa, helped hold the balloon in place while it inflated!

Melissa helps inflate the balloon

Balloon inflating

Me standing in front of the balloon as it inflates

Hot air balloon inflating

Once the balloon was inflated, it was time to climb in the basket and take off!

Inside the hot air balloon

Our hot air balloon pilot

Watching the sun rise from a balloon is simply gorgeous. We took off with two other balloons, and the captains would yell jokes at each other sometimes while we were in the air!

Hot air balloon at sunrise

Look at the spectacular views we were treated to during our ride:

Hot air balloon flies over trees

View of the ground and another balloon

Hot air balloon reflection in water

I’ve mentioned several times during my trip recaps that I have a healthy fear of heights. It was a little unnerving to me when we first launched because it takes a minute to adjust to being so far off the ground with just a basket between you and the sky. But I quickly acclimated! I did get some great shots with my Garmin VIRB camera, holding it with a death grip and pointing it down over the side of the balloon basket where my eyes didn’t dare to look (Or couldn’t see). I got a kick out of seeing the footage for the first time when I got home – my stomach lurches looking at this view!

The ride was smooth and simply lovely, with simply incredible sights. From this high up, Epcot Center looks like a marble!

Sun rising in the sky

The ground below

Two balloons

Beeb on the hot air balloon

I was coming down with a bad cold & had only gotten 2 hours of sleep when this was taken, so I’m not at my most photogenic, but you can see that I was there! Thanks Melissa for the photo!

Houses below us

Fog

Flying over water

Balloon coasting over water

Trees reflecting in the water

Sun shining down

Hot air balloon gliding along

Sun reflecting off water

The ride lasts for about an hour, and make a slow and gradual descent to the ground. Right before landing, you’re instructed to sit on the bottom of the basket and hold on to the handles in front of you – I was a little nervous about this part, but the land was completely effortless – you barely even felt it!

Getting out of basket

Once we landed and had the OK from our pilot, we climbed out of the basket. We landed in a field on a farm, and began the fascinating process of packing the balloon up.

Walking over the balloon

First, the pilot invited anyone who wanted to help to walk over the deflated balloon to flatten it! This was really interesting – at one point, the top of the balloon started falling back on us and we were cracking up!

Beeb kicking the balloon

Me kicking the balloon – photo courtesy Melissa.

Next, the pilot gathered the balloon up, and asked us to kick the sides of it so he could grab it more easily. What the photo above doesn’t show is that while I was doing this, I accidentally kicked the pilot. I’m so sorry!!

Holding the hot air balloon bag

Then, a group of volunteers held a large bag while the pilot and another group picked up the balloon and put it inside.

Putting the balloon in its bag

Once the balloon was in its bag, everyone leaned on it to help cram it in, just like it was an overstuffed suitcase!

U-Pick Citrus

Once the balloon was put away and loaded into its truck, we drove on the back roads from the farmland to a U-Pick Citrus grove right by the nearest major road. Here, we had a mimosa toast to our flight and looked around the storefront for a few minutes before driving back to Orlando Balloon Rides headquarters, where a breakfast buffet was waiting for us. We had to catch our flights home, so unfortunately we couldn’t stay, but I did have time to grab a piece of bacon and a Florida orange before driving straight to the airport to fly home!

Group photo with our hot air balloon pilot

With our hot air balloon pilot – photo courtesy
Experience Kissimmee.

Check out my video of the whole flight, from inflation to packing up the balloon:

I can’t think of a more phenomenal end to my unforgettable vacation than this hot air balloon ride – it was simply amazing, and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

For More Information:

Orlando Balloon Rides
1-800-586-1884
Price: $185 per person for adults, $95 each for children.
Website | Google+ | Facebook | Twitter

Riding in Style With Southern Elegance Limousines

Southern Elegance Limousines

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.


All travel and transportation provided by Experience Kissimmee.

During my trip to Florida, I was driven to each activity by Southern Elegance Limousines – and I do mean every activity. Our chauffeur, Miguel, would arrive impeccably dressed in a suit and tie, then drive our huge stretch limo into quite literally “The middle of nowhere” for an airboat ride. But the most hilarious adventure that occurred was when we needed to make a quick stop at a Walmart for supplies on our way home from Medieval Times.

So our stretch limo pulled up in this parking lot of a Walmart in Florida, and we got out still wearing our Medieval Times crowns. People were staring at us – when you’re the one getting stared at in a Florida Walmart, you’ve really outdone yourself.

People of Walmart

Kristy and I sitting in the limo as we depart. I’m sure you’ll see us on “People of Walmart” any day now.

But the adventure didn’t end there. When we arrived back at our vacation home from Walmart, the entire street was blocked off by police cars with flashing lights. As it turned out, a home on a neighboring street from a different vacation rental company had experience a gas leak, so everyone in the surrounding area was evacuated for safety. Since we were denied entry and weren’t sure when we would be allowed back in, our fabulous chauffeur simply parked our car and, staying after his shift had ended, waited until we were cleared to go back – about 30 minutes. This all occurred on the same day that I sat on an alligator, rode a zip line and held snakes – talk about an exciting, hilarious day! I find that when I travel, it’s these kind of unexpected adventures that make the experience so enriching and memorable.

Limo interior

Besides the splendid adventures, a limo is just a nice way to travel. Obviously, there’s a lot more space, along with handy features like an ice cooler full of water bottles, a good stereo and fun Disco-style lights on the ceiling that illuminate at night. Miguel was wonderful and took great pains to make our trips smooth, pleasant and accommodate every need, from transporting us to gator wrestling matches to last-minute Walmart trips. He even agreed to get in a group photo with us!

Striking a pose with Miguel

Photo courtesy Experience Kissimmee.

If you will be in the Orlando area and want to book a chauffeur, I highly recommend Miguel at Southern Elegance Limousines!

For More Information:

Southern Elegance Limousines
Miguel Hernandez
Phone: 1-866-654-1700
Quotes are available here.
Website | Facebook

Kissing an Alligator, Feeding a Lemur & Other “Wild” Experiences!

Blowing kisses to an alligator

Blowing kisses to an alligator!


Travel & related consideration provided by Experience Kissimmee; cuddles provided by Mr. Alligator!

In addition to offering airboat tours, Wild Florida is also home to an extensive Wildlife Park. After we finished our ride, we made our way to the park to check out the animals!

Wildlife and Nature Park

One of the first things you notice in the park is the fabulous birds running around!

Peacock

Perched peacock

Parrot

I loved getting a chance to see more of Florida’s natural beauty up close. The Hawk Swamp boardwalk winds through trees growing out of the swampy water below – it was so stunning in the morning light, and very different from any other forest I’ve observed in real life before.

Sun shining through the trees

Beautiful trees

Trees growing in the swamp

Swamp

As you make your way into the park, you can take part in a hands-on alligator demonstration. The staff introduce you to a small gator and give a little Q&A session about gator facts; this was the second time on my trip to Florida that an alligator handler said, “If you need to get away from an alligator, run straight or trip the person next to you.” ;) Contrary to popular myths, running zig-zag won’t help – it was advised that you should try to find a tree to climb. Fortunately, I didn’t have to climb any trees to get away from my new buddy!

Beeb with a little gator

But first, let me take a gator selfie:

Gator selfie!

And the gator fun doesn’t stop there – they also have an area where you can actually feed alligators with pellets!

Hungry gators

Here’s a video of me feeding a gator!

I think I crossed off every possible activity with gators on this trip. I held an alligator, sat on an alligator, rode a zip line over alligators, fed an alligator, and, yes, ate an alligator. And before my trip, I said to Jai, “I hope I get to touch a gator when I’m in Florida.” My hopes were exceeded!

But if gators aren’t your thing, maybe you’d like to a feed a lemur instead? Wild Florida offers a special enclosure where patrons can go in small groups to feed and play with lemurs. I sat down on a bench while lemurs darted around and above me, climbing all over the place – our guide recommended leaving cameras behind, as lemurs are very curious and will grab things from you and run away! No way was I going to risk my DSLR with a group of cheeky lemurs. ;) However, I had my Garmin VIRB with me, which is specifically designed to withstand being bumped and dropped, so I brought that along and got a video of the experience:

These guys have the softest little hands – they’re so light as they hop all over you! Getting to pet and feed a lemur grapes was a fantastic experience and I’m thrilled I got to do it!

Meeting a sloth

I also got to enter an enclosure and stand right next to a sloth – how cool is that?! Kristen Bell would’ve had a nervous breakdown here.

Toucan

The sloth enclosure was also home to beautiful birds that we got up close and personal with!

Stacey makes a new friend!

Stacey makes a new friend!

Outside, we were looking at photos on Kristy’s phone and laughing when we heard a loud voice start laughing behind us. It was this guy:

Cockatoo

We had a fun “Conversation” with this Cockatoo!

Tortoise

Wild Florida is also home to a tortoise exhibit.

Zorse & Zedonk

Finally, we also saw a Zorse, which is the offspring of a horse and a zebra, and a Zedonk, which is the child of a zebra and a donkey!

Wild Florida group photo

With our tour guide at the Wild Florida Wildlife Park!

Between the airboat ride, the great nature and animal exhibits, and the opportunities to interact and feed so many amazing creatures, Wild Florida was a true treat for me.

For More Information:

Wild Florida
Phone: (407) 901-2563
3301 Lake Cypress Road
Kenansville, Florida 34739
Wildlife Park Admission: $18 for adults and $15 for children; admission is included if you purchase an airboat tour ticket. More information on price options available here.

Website | Instagram | Facebook | Pinterest |YouTube | Twitter

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.

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.

Website | YouTube | Facebook | Pinterest | Twitter

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.

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.
Website | YouTube | Twitter | Facebook

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.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | Google+

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.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | YouTube