The time has come: A winner has been announced in the RockYourVacation contest! All month, you’ve been hearing about how to cast your vote for who should take home this dream vacation, along with a close-up look at what they can expect through my own adventures. And now, it’s time to give a big hand to Brandy, whose fun “We Will Rock You” video took home the grand prize. Brandy and her family will get to travel to Kissimmee and enjoy a tour of Gatorland, watch a joust at Medieval Times, get a behind-the-scenes tour of SeaWorld, ride on both an airboat and a hot air balloon, and so much more. When they’re not out enjoying these exciting activities, they’ll be relaxing in style at their 9-bedroom vacation home!
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!
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!
Once the balloon was inflated, it was time to climb in the basket and take off!
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!
Look at the spectacular views we were treated to during our ride:
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!!
Then, a group of volunteers held a large bag while the pilot and another group picked up the balloon and put it inside.
Once the balloon was in its bag, everyone leaned on it to help cram it in, just like it was an overstuffed suitcase!
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!
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!
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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.
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.
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!
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:
One of the first things you notice in the park is the fabulous birds running around!
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.
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!
But first, let me take a gator selfie:
And the gator fun doesn’t stop there – they also have an area where you can actually feed alligators with pellets!
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!
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.
The sloth enclosure was also home to beautiful birds that we got up close and personal with!
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:
We had a fun “Conversation” with this Cockatoo!
Wild Florida is also home to a tortoise exhibit.
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!
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:
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
We got a good view of this guy sunning himself!
As a bird lover, I also enjoyed seeing the wide variety of native birds, including the Northern Crested Caracara and a Bald Eagle nest.
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:
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:
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.
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:
Our tour covered the origin of chocolate and went into detail about how it first came into use and how it is produced today.
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!
Next, we took a peek into how chocolate is made today:
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:
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!
These chocolate dresses are way more fashionable than my dress covered in chocolate was. 😉
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!
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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.
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!
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!
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:
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!”
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.
Melissa told us that she would count to three, then pull the rip cord. 1…2…3!!!!!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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
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.
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:
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:
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:
Let’s get a closer look at that:
This is a water coaster, so you get splashed at the bottom, which feels good cooling off in the warm Florida climate!
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.
When we weren’t twirling around on rides, we were walking through some of the many, many aquarium exhibits on hand:
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.
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.
We also got to meet several dolphins!
We watched mommy & baby dolphins swim and jump at the Dolphin Nursery – talk about cuteness!
I also got to feed a dolphin:
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.
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!
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.
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.
Right by the feeding station, you’ll find a display where you can observe baby stingrays. Awwwww!
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.
They also took us to see some of the vehicles used for transportation between facilities and also animal rescue projects.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We also saw the tanks for rescued sea turtles.
This tortoise had plaster applied to fix his broken shell!
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.
For More Information:
7007 Sea Harbor Drive
Orlando, Florida 32821
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.
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.
We got a peek inside one of the rooms, which had a nice balcony view of the large pool below.
I felt like this pool was calling to me to sit down and relax with a Piña Colada!
After a tour around the building and a quick elevator selfie, we sat down for dinner!
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.
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:
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!
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
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.
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. 😉
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.
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. 😉
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.
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.
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:
4510 West Vine Street
Kissimmee, FL 34746