Friday, February 21, 2014

WDW - Animal Kingdom

After thawing ourselves out a little bit from the prior day's chilly adventure, on Wednesday, January 8th, we ventured to Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom theme park.

Of all four theme parks, this one is our least favorite.  But we still have a great time while we are there.  Animal Kingdom is divided into several sections:  The Oasis (basically the park entrance with walkways and animals on display), Discovery Island (which is where the iconic "Tree of Life" is located), Africa, Asia, and DinoLand U.S.A.  There is an area in the far back end of the park called "Rafiki's Planet Watch" which is centered around the concept of conservation, but we usually skip this part of the park.

This time the older boys took off as they normally do, but Steve and our 10 year old son went in one direction while I took our 7 year old son in another direction.  Our 10yo son is a bit of a thrill-seeker, so he wanted to go on the rollercoaster in Asia called "Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain".  However, our 7yo son had no intention of going on that scary ride.  So he and I went on the Kilimanjaro Safari in Africa.  Since it was early in the morning and cool outside, the wildlife were awake and quite active.  We saw everything from elephants to rhinoceroses to lions to giraffes!  It was quite interesting!

In the Discovery Island area, we saw a 3D show called "It's Tough to be a Bug" and walked some of the trails around the Tree of Life.

In DinoLand, U.S.A. we took all the boys on a scary ride called DINOSAUR, then let the younger guys play around on some of the carnival-like rides, including the Primeval Whirl and the Triceratops Spin. 

By this point, everyone was getting so tired and worn out, so we called it a day.  We didn't do everything there is to do in Animal Kingdom, but we hit most of the highlights.  We ended up going home early and spending the rest of the afternoon just resting.  Our feet were killing us after two and a half days on them, and we were just getting too worn out from all the fun! 

Back at Fort Wilderness, a few of the more energetic boys went swimming and hung out for a little while. Another successful day!

WDW - Magic Kingdom


We purposefully chose to visit Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom on Tuesday, January 7th, because we knew it would be a cold day and attendance would be lower.  We were right!

We started the day by riding the boat across the lake into Magic Kingdom.  It was an open-air boat, and it was only about 30 degrees outside.  Little kids were crying on that boat, and I can’t say that I blamed them.  It was cold!  Luckily, we brought our winter coats, hats, scarves, gloves… we were ready!

 There is so much to see and do at Magic Kingdom.  And even though it’s fantasy-oriented, even adults can be kids while there.  Once again, we let the big kids run off on their own, and Steve and I hung with the little kids.  That gave us an excuse to ride on the little kids’ rides!

 We started off our day by wandering up Main Street, U.S.A., which is where everyone starts their visit.  Main Street is a replicated street from the early 1900’s small-town America.  It’s filled with stores and barbershop quartets.  At the end of Main Street, U.S.A. is the famous Cinderella’s Castle and statue of Mr. Disney holding Mickey Mouse’s hand.  Once you arrive at the castle, you can go in any direction to visit the five different areas of the park:  Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.


We started off by going straight to Fantasyland to ride the Peter Pan ride.  It’s not a thrill ride, but it is a nice flying ride through the story of Peter Pan.  The line for the Peter Pan ride is notoriously long, so the sooner you can get on the ride, the better.  After that stop, we ran off to Tomorrowland to ride the Space Mountain rollercoaster.  Again, notoriously long lines.  But we were able to do both rides as our first stops, so we didn’t have to spend two hours in line waiting.

In no particular order, here are the rides we enjoyed and a list of our favorites:

In Fantasyland, we rode on It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mickey’s PhilharMagic (which is more of a 3-D show than a ride), The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo the Flying Elephant (which had moved to a new location since we last visited), The Barnstormer (junior rollercoaster), and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid (which is a new ride that we’ve never been on before).

 
In Tomorrowland, we did Space Mountain multiple times, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority people mover, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin (multiple times), and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor show.

In Liberty Square, all we did was go through the Haunted Mansion. I thought the younger guys would be scared, but they thought it was pretty cool!

In Frontierland, we rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (rollercoaster) which is my 10yo son’s absolute favorite ride in the world.  Unfortunately, this ride was closed for most of the day due to maintenance issues, so we were able to ride on it only once, much to my son’s dismay.  The only other thing we did in Frontierland was see the Country Bear Jamboree show.


In Adventureland we explored the Swiss Family Treehouse, rode on The Magic Carpets of Aladdin, and went on the Jungle Cruise and the Pirates of the Caribbean rides.


At the end of the day, we stayed to watch the show projected onto Cinderella’s Castle.  It was spectacular and a perfect way to end a perfect day, albeit a cold one.  As usual, the Magic Kingdom didn’t disappoint!

WDW - EPCOT


On Monday, January 6th, we had our first foray into Walt Disney World, and we chose EPCOT as our first adventure.
The park is divided into two main areas: Future World (East and West) and World Showcase.  We spent most of the morning exploring Future World.  We pretty much let the four older boys go off on their own, while Steve and I played with the younger boys.  And play we did!  Then in the afternoon we explored the World Showcase.
In Future World East, we rode on Spaceship Earth (EPCOT’s emblematic big golf ball-looking thing), Ellen’s Energy Adventure, and our favorite, Test Track.  Our youngest was leery to ride on Test Track because it goes so fast.  We were able to talk him into it, promising that it was really fun.  But then we couldn’t get him off the ride!  Unfortunately for us, we ended up getting trapped on the ride just as we were ready to disembark on the third time we rode it.  The ride malfunctioned, and we were trapped in our “test car” for about a half hour until we were finally released.  Regardless, it was a lot of fun.  We bypassed riding on Mission: SPACE because I remember riding that on a previous visit, and my head and stomach didn’t like it too much!  Blech!
In Future World West, we enjoyed The Seas with Nemo & Friends, Turtle Talk with Crush, Living with the Land, and our favorite, Soarin’.  We all really enjoyed that simulated glider ride.   We also took some time to enjoy the aquarium and watched the sharks, dolphins, and sting rays.

Onward to the World Showcase!  In the World Showcase, there are eleven countries represented.  We started in Mexico and rode the Gran Fiesta Tour which is a slow boat ride through Mexico.  Then we moved to Norway and rode the Maelstrom, which is a boat ride through the history of Norway.  And yes, I got wet on that ride.  Next we went to China where we watched an amazing show given by Chinese acrobats.  After China we went to Germany and Italy before heading back to Future World.  We missed seeing the American Experience, Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada.  We had seen them before on our previous visits, and this time chose to bypass them because we had the younger boys with us… AND… the weather was turning VERY COLD.  We started the day at a pleasant temperature, but the wind picked up and by the end of the night we were FREEZING!
Before leaving for the evening, we hit the store so one of our sons could buy a souvenir.  Because of the cold front, the store was PACKED with people trying to warm themselves.  When we left EPCOT, we had to pass through the underside of the Spaceship Earth which was acting like a huge wind tunnel.  I’m not so sure I’ve ever been so cold in my life!  Brrr!
We had a great time on our first day at WDW.  I personally love EPCOT because it seems to be less character-oriented and more “vision of the future” oriented, not to mention that I enjoy the different “cultures” in the World Showcase.  Someday I hope to return without kids in tow so I can linger and enjoy the park on a more adult level.  Nevertheless, we had a grand time!
 

WDW - Fort Wilderness


On Sunday, January 5th, we arrived in Orlando at WALT DISNEY WORLD! One of our favorite places to be!

As we have done in the past, we stayed within the resort at the Disney campground called Fort Wilderness.  We love Fort Wilderness!  It is by far the cleanest, most modern, best maintained campground that we’ve ever been to.  If the words “luxury” and “campground” can be combined in a sentence, it would be in reference to Fort Wilderness.

In the past we’ve stayed in their camping cabins, tent camped, and stayed in an RV spot when we had our older travel trailer.  This time we also stayed in an RV spot near the front of the campground, near Settlers’ Landing.

A family could come to Fort Wilderness and have a great vacation even without ever going into any of the Disney theme parks.  Fort Wilderness has horseback riding, pony rides, swimming pool, crafts, games, shuffleboard, shopping, dining, canoe rides… and at night there is always a campfire program with an outdoor movie and a boat parade on the lake complete with lights and music.  In the past we’ve seen peacocks freely roaming about the campground, but this time we frequently encountered a flock of turkeys!

Our only complaint about our experience at Fort Wilderness this time is that we unknowingly scheduled our visit to coincide with the Disney Marathon.  Unfortunately, for four straight mornings before the sun was even close to rising, we were awakened by loud thumping music designed to rev up the marathoners.  Ugh!  Otherwise, we had our normal pleasant time at Fort Wilderness.

 If you ever choose to stay on the resort at Walt Disney World, Fort Wilderness is one of the cheaper options – and worth every penny!

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Cape Canaveral

We left Key West on Friday, January 3rd, with a few days remaining before we were due to check in at our next destination.  So we decided to spend a couple of nights at a NASA campground at Cape Canaveral.

A rocket carrying a communications satellite was scheduled to blast off on January 4th, so we were hoping to be able to watch the launch from across the water where our campground was.  We were assured that we would have a great view from our spot.  However, the launch ended up being postponed due to weather conditions, so we missed seeing the rocket launch.

(Incidentally, the rocket was called the SpaceX Falcon 9, and it was carrying the THAICOM 6 telecommunications satellite to place it into geostationary orbit.  The purpose of the satellite was to provide telecommunication services primarily to Thailand, but also to Southeast Asia, Africa, and Madagascar.  It ended up being launched the day after we left Cape Canaveral.  So close, and  yet so far!)

Once again, we didn't have full hook-ups at our campground.  We had electricity and water, but no sewer. 

We didn't do a whole lot while we were at Cape Canaveral.  On Saturday, instead of watching the rocket launch, we stopped to experience Cocoa Beach.  However, it was so cold and windy at the beach that we only stayed about ten minutes!  We continued on to Patrick AFB to explore a little bit, hitting the commissary and BX while we were there.  Back at the NASA campground, Steve and the younger boys played some putt-putt golf, and we walked along the water to see if we could spot some manatees (apparently they are known to swim near there), but I think it was too cold for them to be near the shoreline.  We never saw one.

So we had only two short nights at Cape Canaveral, then left again on Sunday, January 5th.

Key West


After a short visit to Big Cypress National Park, we continued further south to the southernmost point of the continental United States – Key West!

On Monday, December 30th, we drove down US Route 1 as far as it would take us.  Called “the Overseas Highway”, the drive itself is quite the adventure.   Sometimes we were driving with water on each side of us, and sometimes we drove as slowly as 35 miles per hour! 



We arrived at Naval Air Station Key West, also known as Sigsbee NAS, and parked our RV.  But that’s all we did was park – no hookups again.  None whatsoever.  This was our first time fully dependent upon the mechanics of the camper to survive.
“No hookups” means you park in the middle of a field.  Luckily, there was a fine bath house with showers, toilets, and sinks, plus a laundry room, only a short walk away.  But for living in the camper, we minimized the need for electricity and water as much as we possibly could.  Since the weather was so temperate, we didn’t need to run our air conditioner while we were there.  In the evenings when it started to get dark, yet we weren’t ready for bed, we ran the generator for a few hours in order to provide lights and to recharge the camper’s battery.  We used jugs of water in our sinks and toilets, which we refilled near the bath house.  Our refrigerator ran on propane while we were there.  And thankfully our wastewater holding tanks didn’t need to be emptied until we were ready to leave Key West.  Yes, we managed to survive several days without being hooked up!  Quite an accomplishment when there are eight people living in the camper!



Key West is well-known as a preferred vacation spot for the LGBT community.  We were hesitant to visit Key West due to concerns that it would be "in our face", but we figured that since we were staying on the naval base that we would have minimal exposure to it.  We did venture into the city several times during the daytime, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t anything like I was afraid it would be.  Sure, there were several obvious examples of LGBT couples, but it wasn’t as “on display” as I had needlessly worried it would be.  The LGBT couples that I saw were actually quite… “normal”.  Imagine!

However, even with that, we did choose NOT to venture into the downtown area for New Year’s Eve celebration.  If it had been just Stephen and I, we might have.  But we just didn’t feel that the atmosphere of New Year’s Eve festivities was something we wanted our kids exposed to, LGBT or not. Instead, we went to another side of the island to the Boca Chica military beach and chose to miss out on the midnight "Lowering of the Conch Shell" that is traditional on the island. 
 
The Boca Chica beach is owned by the military, so it’s not open to the public.  As a result, we pretty much had the beach to ourselves!  Imagine, a private beach in Key West!  We had a great time that evening and stayed until past sunset.  The kids discovered some amazing wildlife while we were there.  We found a small conch on the beach (and it was alive!), several lion fish and clown fish, a huge crab, and many jellyfish.  Afterwards we headed back to our camper for a quiet and private “ringing in of the new year.”

 

















Early the next morning, while the new year's revelers were sleeping off their previous night's excesses, we rented snorkeling equipment and drove to the Zachary Taylor State Park which is renowned for its coral reef.  It’s a destination for snorkelers, to be sure.  However, since it had been so unusually windy since we arrived at Key West, the water was churned up.  Steve and the boys couldn’t even see their own hands in front of their faces once they were in the water.  Tried as we may, snorkeling was pretty much a bust.  We stayed at the park until lunchtime, and then returned to the naval base to do some shopping for souvenirs.  Not a bad way to spend the first day of a new year!








On Thursday, January 2nd, I had the opportunity to meet some fellow Escapees whom we have coincidentally been following down the east coast since Boston.  Preston and Andy are a fun couple who, like us, are “living the dream” of fulltime RVing.  They keep their travel blog (called “Epinephrine Adventures”) at www.epi-rv.blogspot.com, and they even mentioned me in their post of January 8th!  We had a short visit, but I really liked both of them and hope our paths cross again someday.

 

Later that day, I took the kids into the city for a glass-bottom boat tour.  We bought the tickets for a discount through the naval base, but it was still a bit of money for seven of us!  Regardless, it was a fun adventure.  But again, since the water was churned up, we didn’t get the best viewing possible.  We did see some neat things on the ocean floor, about seven miles from the shore.  It was a fun afternoon.  It was too bad that Steve had to miss it due to being required to telework that day, but the kids and I made the most of the experience regardless.




On our way home from the glass-bottom boat tour, we drove past the southernmost point of the continental U.S. I had hoped to stop for a picture, but it was so crowded and there was nowhere to park, so we saw it from the car window add we drove past. At least we can say we've been there!
 

On Friday, January 3rd, we packed up our camper and headed back up Route 1 to the mainland.  Key West is a unique place, sort of half Caribbean and half Savannah or New Orleans.  I am so glad that we took the time to drive down and experience it, as we might not get the chance to go back.