Saturday, March 16, 2013

Orlando Area in Florida

Tue, Feb. 12th - Sun, March 17th
Tuesday we moved to the KOA campground in Apopka near Orlando.  Wednesday we drove around downtown Orlando and stopped at Mead Park in nearby Winter Park, where Mom and I hiked some of the trails in the park.   Saturday we drove over to the Yalaha Bakery to meet up with our daughter's in-laws.  Saturday mornings they have live, old-time music on the patio at the bakery.   
On Monday, Feb. 18th, Mom and I left on a four-day cruise out of Port Canaveral.  Looking back, with all the cruise ship incidents in the recent news, I feel lucky that we had no problems on our trip.  There were 12 decks on our ship with 2,653 passengers and 865 crew. 
This is the glass elevator in the center of the ship with a white grand piano at the bottom where someone was usually playing "elevator" music.  Our ship was the Monarch of the Seas with Royal Caribbean International and was about 25 years old and is being sold to some company in Italy or Spain in April. 
This rock climbing wall at the back of the ship was about four decks high. They also had a basketball court, ping pong tables and a video arcade in this area for the kids. 
Our cabin steward, Lilat, always had something fun waiting for us when we returned to our cabin.  Our waiters in the dining room, Stephenson and Charles Bronson, were lots of fun, too.   The crew members were from 35 different countries.   Our waiters were from India and worked on a seven month contract, seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, and then got two months off to go home and visit their families.  One of them was married with two children, but the money they make is so much more than any job they could get at home, that they think it is worth it.  
This is one of the tables at the midnight buffet on the Lido Deck with ice sculpture and fruit sculptures.  They have 37 tons of food on board and serve over 16,000 meals a day. 
This shows one of the several small boats used to transport the passengers from the ship to the private island of Coco Cay, owned by Royal Caribbean.  The small boats hold a couple hundred people and come and go every 20 minutes all day long.  The crew fixed a big BBQ buffet on the island.  
A view from the beach back toward the ship.  The water was beautiful, but a little cold.  There were still some swimmers and snorkelers out there.   
A comedian we watched one night started his show by saying that if there were any boys between 13 an 16 at his show, they didn't belong there, because there were about 175 girls between 13 and 16 running around the ship dressed (or should I say undressed) like this.  They must have been from some Latin American country, as it sounded like they were speaking Spanish, and they seemed to be traveling as a group with a "chaperon", or more accurately a leader or organizer, as there didn't seem to be much chaperoning going on.
Mom and I went on a guided nature walk on the island.   We were excited to see three iguanas high up in this tree.  We learned lots of interesting things about plants and trees and their health and medicinal uses. 
A little further down the trail, we came upon this guy right in the middle of the trail.  He was probably five feet long.  Our guide said not to get too close, as they use their tail like a whip. 
This huge ant hill was over three feet tall. 
This was our view as we left the nature trail and headed back to the BBQ buffet lunch.  We had to be back on the ship before 5:00 PM when we set sail and sailed all night. 
We arrived in Nassau at 7:30 the next morning.  The crew was doing their regular life boat drills as we left the ship for a day of shopping and sightseeing. 
Mom and I in the shopping market.  We signed up for a tour of the city.  Nassau is on New Providence Island and is the capitol of the Bahamas.   The Bahamas cover an area of 100,000 square miles in a long line between North and South America.  There are 700 islands (defined as at least three miles long) and 2,000 cays and rocks (less than three miles long).  Drug runners travel through the Bahamas from South America where most drugs are produced to North America where most drugs are used, bribing corrupt officials along the way.
There were several forts on this island and we stopped at two on our tour.  This is a view from Fort Fincastle of the city and the four cruise ships that were in port.  Our tour guide took us by a new resort area is being built on the beach.  He said the company that was building it went bankrupt when the economy took a nosedive.  Now they have merged with the government of China and are busy building the resort that will cost $1.3 billion by the time it is done.  There are several thousand Chinese workers on it, but that is okay with the Bahamians who are unwilling to work higher than the second or third stories of the hotels.
Another view from Fort Charlotte.  Only 17 of the islands in the Bahamas are inhabited.  Nassau on New Providence Island is the Capitol and has a population of about 300,000 (3/4 of the population of the Bahamas).  About another 100,000 inhabit the other 16 islands.

Another stop on our tour was Ardastra Gardens, Zoo and Conservation Center where we saw this Capybara.  It is the largest rodent (constantly growing incisor teeth specialized for gnawing) in the world (followed by the beaver and porcupine) averaging 2' tall at the shoulders, 4' long and 75-145 pounds.  They are excellent swimmers with partially webbed feet and can survive up to five minutes under water.  Their lifespan is 4 to 8 years in the wild.  Related to the guinea pig, they are highly social animals and can be found in groups as large as 100.  Native to South America, they usually live in groups of 10 to 30 run by a dominant male.   It eats grass, grain, fruit and its own feces in order to maintain a bacteria in its digestive system that helps it break down its food.  It is not endangered, but is hunted for its meat and hide and for a grease from its thick, fatty skin, which is used in pharmaceutical trade.  I wonder if he's lonely.  
I think this was a Macaw giving us a quisical look. 
This bush is Red Hot Cat Tail from Southeast Asia. 
Albino Peacock. 
The main event at Ardastra Gardens is the World Famous Marching Flamingos who perform daily at 10:30, 2:10 and 4:10.  Their drill sargent brings them in the arena and commands them to change directions and march and stop in front of each section of bleachers.

Then members of the audience get to join them and stand on one foot like the flamingos do. 
They feed them carotene to make them more pink. 
Back at the ship, we are the last to leave port at 11:30 PM.  One of the ships is already far out to sea and this is the second one heading out.  
This is the third ship out of port and our engines are just starting up.  While we were out cruising, John and the in-laws picked up Hilary and Jeff and the grandkids at the airport on Wednesday. 
John picked us up Friday morning and we met them all Friday evening at a local fish fry.  From there we went to visit some friends of the in-laws who took us all for a ride in their 1923 Moon Car. 
A little sweetie taking Grandma for a walk while everybody else is getting a ride in the Moon Car.
When we got back to the in-laws winter retreat, I was able to take my little princesses for a swim, while Grandpa went off with our grandson and decided to play tennis with him.  They brought him back to the house in the back seat of the car with his foot propped up.  OOPS!  Ignoring advice to see a doctor, he iced it for a few days and said he would be fine.   Mom and I drove to Winter Park Saturday to see the movie "Quartet".  It was very good.  Carter came over on Sunday to spend a couple days with us.  We went to the movie "Life of Pi", also very good.  Carter took us out to Chilis for supper.  Tuesday John, Jeff and Carter went to a baseball game with Jeff's folks. Mom and I stayed with Hilary and the girls.  Tierney and I went swimming for about three hours.  Then I fixed lasagna for supper for everybody and John picked up Dawn at the airport after the baseball game. 
We had already bought three-day passes, so the next Wednesday and Friday we hiked all over Universal Studios with John hobbling along. 
Here we are waiting for Hilary, Jeff and Carter who were in line for a second ride on one of the Dragon coasters.  We are about to get in line for the highlight of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Butter Beer!  It's something like cream soda and rootbeer and you can also get it frozen, which we found out was awesome!  This is the only place you can get it, so we had some both days we were here. 

Dawn and Carter in front of Hogwarts Castle. 
We had lunch at Mel's, but we didn't see Flo or Alice.  Oh wait, that was Mel's Diner and this was Mel's Drive-In.  Never mind. 
After lunch we were trying to decide which ride to go on next.  Carter wanted to ride the Hulk again, which is the green roller coaster behind us.  
Or maybe we should head over to Dr. Doom's Fearfall way in the distance. 
Or maybe we should try the Hollywood R.I. P. Ride, the Rockit.  Carter cannot get enough of the roller coasters.  I get the jitters just looking at them, but I had to go.  After all, my 78 year-old Mother went on all of these rides and every ride we went on with no hesitation.  So I could hardly wimp out!

The Coaster Maniac!   The ET ride was my favorite.  It reminded me of the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland.  You just calmly fly above the city, looking down at the city lights just like ET did in the movie, when he was riding on the bike with the boy that took him home. 
Wimps in plastic ponchos waiting in line for the water rides! 
Needless to say, the rest of us got completely drenched, but it was a nice warm day and we dried out in no time.  
Next we went on Disaster! A Major Motion Picture Ride...Starring YOU.  Jeff and my Mother got picked from the audience to star in the movie.  Jeff was a construction worker on a city street as disaster hit and Mom was Mutha Nature working in her garden.  Then they herded us all onto a trolley ride, where buildings came crashing down around us, a bus rolling over and sliding toward us and a dam or something broke and a big wall of water comes gushing toward us.  We were all supposed to scream in fear for the camera.  Then they put it all together and played the movie back for us, so we could watch it.  Kind of fun.  
 These guys gave new meaning to tall, dark and handsome. 
Here comes the parade.  Dora the Explorer is coming on the next float.  On Thursday in between our two days at Universal we drove over to the unique little shopping town of Mount Dora and spent some time at Trimble Park, so the girls could play.  Grandma Clem took us all out for supper at Big Bear Smokehouse BBQ.  Yum, yum.  Saturday afternoon we stopped at the flea market on our way over to Jeff's folks for a taco supper.

Sunday we had a day of rest while the kids were with the in-laws and Grandma took us and Dawn out to DQ for supper.  Monday we bowed out on a third day at Universal and kept the little girls at the campground, while the big kids went back for more coaster rides, butter beer and shopping.  I think we had more fun, but that's just Grandma talking.

Tuesday the kids flew home to Montana and we took Mom and Dawn to Daytona Beach.  John walked a short way with us, but then waited in the car for us.  Originally known for early beach auto racing, it is now the world's most famous beach.

And, yes, I know I look like my Mother.  About a dozen different people on the cruise ship asked if we were sisters.  They were so embarrassed when I said she is my Mother, I finally just started saying "yes" when they asked.  My Mother doesn't seem to be the least bit offended by this.  Go figure!

There are over 23 miles of beach at Daytona Beach, with alternating sections of drive-on beach and no-traffic beach, each about five miles long.  It costs $5.00 for an all day permit to drive on the beach.  We also drove by Daytona International Speedway where they give tours.  The stands went on for several blocks as we drove by.  It is huge!

Quite by accident I caught Dawn's flip flops in mid-air as she dropped them to put them on.  Surfing began in Daytona Beach in the 1930s on handmade wooden boards.  Beach racing began here (1948 to 1958) to set land speed records with stock cars and motorcycles racing a 4.1 mile split course from Ponce de Leon Inlet, half on a 2 mile asphalt road and half on the beach.  The turns were banked through the dunes.   On the way home we could see the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse at Ponce Inlet, where Halifax River and Mosquito Lagoon meet.  It was built in 1887 and is the tallest in Florida and the second tallest in the nation.
The bikinis here were not as skimpy as those on the cruise.  When the bikini was introduced by a Frenchman in 1946, it was like a bombshell had dropped.  No model would wear it.  He named it after the nuclear bomb site at the Bikini Atoll.  Beauty pageants worldwide banned it in 1951.  Starlet Brigitte Bardot was credited with popularizing it around the globe.  Swiss Actress Ursula Andress wore it in the James Bond Movie, "Dr. No", making movie history in 1962.  By the mid 60s, Raquel Welch, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield had all worn it.  In 1964 Sports Illustrated published its first swimsuit issue and today it is the most popular swimsuit design in the world. 
After leaving Daytona we drove south through New Smyrna Beach where we stopped at the Dolphin View Restaurant for a very nice seafood lunch of Flounder and Mahi Mahi.  We didn't see any dolphins, but the view was nice and the food was delicious.  Wednesday we took Mom to the airport and Thursday John took Dawn, as her plane left at 7:00 AM, so they left really, really early.  The next day John went to the urgent care clinic, where they gave him crutches and sent him to an orthopaedic clinic.  They gave him a boot to wear and made him an appointment to see the surgeon on Monday.  Wednesday he had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon.  He is now in a splint with his foot propped up on the couch for the next two weeks.  Then they will probably put him back in the boot for a couple weeks and then there will be therapy for another month or so.  So we will just be staying put here for a while and not doing much.  So I probably won't have much to blog about for a few months.