Saturday, April 25, 2015

Vacation at Discovery Cove in Florida

With the letter “V” I finally get a chance to talk about my vacation. I even have a couple of links to share.

So from April 4th to the 12th, I was in Florida. Although the weekends don’t really count because I was on the road (see letter U for details.)

For a long time I have been wanting to go to Discovery Cove in Orlando. One of the main reasons I liked the idea of this park is because they limit entry, so you don’t have the problem of a crowded park. I also love swimming and snorkeling. I grew up on Lake St. Clair, plus I had been snorkeling in the ocean, swimming with sea turtles from a cruise. It does take some getting used to, but being in the water with fish and watching them is great. The purchase included breakfast, lunch and unlimited snacks. Plus unlimited entry to Sea World and their water park Aquatica. So while it was about $300 per person if you include the Dolphin encounter, I think I would have spent the same paying for everything individually.

The first thing we decided to try was the grand reef stocked with fish and stingrays. The water was cold. They have to keep it a certain temperature for the fish. A few others were already in the water, so I dredged up my lake days and made myself get in. I soon found out the pond has deep sections with jagged ledges of rock. The first time I swam with my face in the water I saw about three sting rays swimming toward me. I turned around and headed for shore. Then just to get used to it, I swam back and forth across the pond. So the bolder I became, the more I saw. I couldn’t believe the size of some of those stingrays…as in five feet across.

Then we did the dolphin encounter. They take people into the Dolphin Lagoon in small groups and you get to meet a dolphin and touch it as she swims past. The dolphins here once worked for Sea World, so they are trained to do tricks. The trainer had the dolphin make all sort of funny sounds and a few jumps. The best part is you get to be pulled by the dolphin with a choice of shallow water or deep. We did the deep water and it was only a matter of treading water for a couple of minutes. It was easy to get towed by a dolphin. You just hold onto the top fin with your right hand and then the front fin with your left hand. After she was done pulling everyone, we touched the dolphin and she was a bit warm from all the work. Oddly, this is what she liked to do and she went over to a different group just so she could pull more people. Her mom was working the other group and they traded places. We were also feeding them a lot of fish.

There is also the fresh water oasis, which is a long lazy river with heated water. This one was much different than any others in water parks. It was all natural with a sand or stone bottom and no chlorine. It has a fast moving current and I’m guessing a little salt, but it wasn’t that noticeable. The best part was it has deep sections. We went through it twice and this river also goes through an aviary where you can get out and feed exotic birds. 

This was also the first vacation where I rented a house, instead of staying at a hotel. Oddly, it was cheaper than staying in a hotel (unless, of course, you’re staying at an economy hotel) I found it through the Airbnb website a friend recommended to me. My first experience with it went well and it was much more peaceful than staying in a hotel. It even had a screened in pool.

Be sure to check out the Airbnb website. It’s fun just to look at all the houses.

Only one more week of A to Z coming up. There’s no stopping now.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Unexpected Adventure

I couldn't find a "U" link that was interesting, so I'm going to tell you a story about my trip to Florida.

Last week, I was in Florida and I had driven down there from Michigan with just my daughter. Nothing happened on the road, but I found it hard to drive for such a long distance. My hands and leg kept cramping up on me. I had to get down there by Sunday because I had reservations. I stopped once for the night in Georgia and made it down okay just basically pushing past the pain.

Now my son was staying with his girlfriend’s family who happened to also be in Florida at the same time as us, but on the gulf side while I was in Orlando. I had this idea that we could meet up with him and he could drive back. So after five days of Florida, once again we were back on the road Saturday morning, but this time with Sean at the wheel. 

So hours later, we’re in the mountains of Tennessee driving next to a semi whose engine begins to fall apart. I see all this smoke and a part hits the windshield. I was sitting in the backseat and at first, I thought it was my engine. I thought for sure the windshield was broke, but it wasn’t. It was this semi breaking down next to us. 

Apparently it couldn’t get up the mountain. Sean hurried and got us away from it. Behind us, it was pulling over. Meanwhile oil was splattered all over the hood of my car.

Then while in Lexington we ended up in a long traffic jam for no reason, except the highway was down to two lanes. Finally we got out of that, checked in the hotel and went to Golden Corral for dinner. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but I didn’t really like it. It was buffet style, packed with people and gathering my own food in a crowd wasn’t much fun.

The next day we were back on the road and soon in Ohio on I75. Next thing I know, we have a flat tire. There was something in the road and there was another vehicle pulled over. So we had all this luggage in the trunk and had to take it all out to get to the spare. Other drivers were all trying to get into the left lane (at seeing two cars pulled over.) This thing in the road, whatever it was, even put dents in the rim. Sean changed the tire and was like “we can get in on this” I said no we have to get it fixed because if that goes flat then we have nothing. My GPS was very helpful. All I had to do was type in “Walmart” and it found one in 4.6 miles. Then press GO and it took us right to it. 

Other people were in the Walmart who had also hit the same thing in the road. There was even another guy who had tried to ride on the spare and ruined his spare. So that was a good example for Sean. Oddly, the Walmart was mostly empty. I guess we were there at church time, except for the tire center, of course.

An hour and a half later and we were back on the road. I had bought subs in there so we didn’t have to stop for lunch.

My conclusion is….never drive to Florida again. Not so much because of these incidents, but because I spent two weekends in a car.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T = Trip Advisor.

Trip Advisor is a site where you can write reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and just about anything trip related. I discovered this site through a writer friend who wrote some reviews for it. Next thing you know, I wrote a review just for the fun of it. Trip Advisor has a way of making you want to write reviews. I find it all very clever because they are getting people to add content to their site for free. I get these little emails that I earned a contributor badge or some other badge. Then my rating goes up. They also let me know how many people have read my reviews. One time they said I was in the top 25% of reviewers in my county. But the main reason I write reviews is because I want to support a worthy place or warn others about a disaster.

I was on vacation recently and used the site a lot to check out the reviews of various hotels. I also discovered that you can book flights or hotels through the site. They feature the best hotels, destinations, etc on their front page.

Amazon could take a few tips from them if they want to generate more reviews. While Trip Advisor doesn’t actually give you anything, they give you these little kudos that make one feel pretty good about leaving a review.