A week ago today Heather & myself left for a trip to Florida. The main reason for the trip was to visit with some of Heather’s FL based relatives. A few live in Europe and would also be flying in this week. The plan was to hang out periodically through the week and then meet up for a grand party on Saturday evening. The plan worked!
We arrived after an uneventful $80 flight via JetBlue (During which I watched the NY Giants victory parade). We took a walk in downtown Orlando, grabbed some grub, played in the hotel’s jacuzzi & pool & turned in kinda early (for a vacation anyway). Wednesday we met up a few cousins at Blue Springs state park. They normally have manatees a-plenty in the winter but with the near record-breaking heat, the hot-spring river didn’t draw them the way it normally would and we saw only two sea cows. Well, we really only saw a nose. Every 5-10 minutes they expose a nose, take a breath and dive back under the water. Exciting! Sometimes they blow bubbles too! The highlight of the trip was meeting Margot – the most recent addition to the family. She’s a very tranquil soul who only gets fussy when startled by flash photography & sudden rides in a rented minivan. From Blue Springs we drove East to New Smyrna Beach where we’d be staying at a B&B on the intracoastal waterway. We were promised pelicans & dolphins & saw both frolicking (aka fighting for food) in the waters. We took a nighttime walk on the beach, found a few local geocaches & had a very enjoyable evening.
There were only two solid dates on the calendar: The Party & The Launch. Thursday at 2:45 we planned to be somewhere near Cape Canaveral watching the Space Shuttle Atlantis take off. It was just a happy coincidence that there was a launch this week but we couldn’t have planned it better. The weather was dicey early on but it cleared up and the NASA declared everything was Go for liftoff. We took our time driving down Route 1 (yeah, the same one we drive on in NJ) and marveled at the lack of traffic we were supposed to be hitting. We did hit some congestion but after driving in Joisey this Florida stuff was non-traffic. We decided to view the fireworks from Space View Park in Titusville just across the water from Cape Canaveral. You can get closer if you don’t mind waiting a few hours to leave on the 2-lane bridge that serves as the only way on/off the island. As it was we did just fine. As we overcompensated for the traffic we were 2 hours early so we busied ourselves with finding local geocaches & shopping. I’m happy to report that we were able to discretely find a cache in the very park where everyone was waiting around to see the launch. Behold my stealth! The shuttle lifted off on time & without incident. It wasn’t as impressive as I hoped and the high humidity dampened the sound but it’s still quite a sight to see and I’m glad to have seen it.
That evening we headed a bit further South and met up with the only cousin we hadn’t yet seen and her impressive family. Amy & Greg have 6 kids. They range from a few months old to 9 years. I’m still reeling from the energy of that many kids in one place! Fortunately they’re all well behaved and you can use your grill all year in Florida so the “meet & meat” was a complete success. On the way home Heather couldn’t resist stopping off to find a geocache named “Bovine Royalty” which advertised itself to be a magnetic key-holder stuck on a dumpster behind a Burger King. Hey, they can’t all be out in nature, right? We found it easily and had a snack afterwards so it’s all good.
The next day we returned to Orlando by the scenic route. VERY Scenic! We took the backwoods routes to make sure we went past some swamps so we could take an air boat ride. They zip along the swamps propelled by a huge fan in the back. We had an 90 minute tour with Airboat Bill & saw quite a number of gators. At one point our boat was surrounded by about 2 dozen! They were just babies, but it pays to remember that The Mammagator is nearby and watching VERY closely. If you ever find yourself where there be swamps I recommend a tour. Besides seeing lots of cool critters we also learned a good deal about the local Seminole tribes, their shell mounds and the local animal & plant life. While out in the boonies we discovered a roadside stand selling a local delicacy – Goober Peas AKA Boiled Peanuts! They’re easy to make – just soak the peanuts for half a day then boil them in a tasty broth (salty, savory or cajun). They turn out more bean than nut but very tasty. Later, we met the folks for a nice Italian dinner. Yeah, the days were full!
By this point we were just about worn out and ended up sleeping late. We spent a few hours in the morning in one of the city’s more famous parks (Lake Eola) and a lesser known one (Fern Creek). Getting to explore a part of the city where tourists don’t normally go was an exciting proposition. While taking a walk to snag a geocache I spotted a guy spray-painting the side of a shoe store. He was being paid by the store to add urban chic to the area. For lunch we ate in a famous local eatery without knowing it was historic until after we got home. “Beefy King” predates all other fast food in Orlando and makes a sweet hot ham & cheese. Yum! Because the majority of the family was going to be in town this weekend Sherry organized a huge party (hosted by her beau Hutch). The shindig featured a nice place, tons of food and lots of interesting people to meet. If Heather & I didn’t have to get up early for our flight we could have stayed a lot longer.
We enjoyed a complimentary buffet for breakfast and hit the airport early. Then the flight was delayed for wind & snow in Newark. A few phone calls later we learned that it wasn’t snowing in Newark so this proves that even the airlines have no idea why their flights are delayed. Turns out there was a good deal of wind over New Jersey and our flight had to make an extended approach which caused lots and lots of turbulence. This created a definite need for the fancy blue bags they stash in the seat pockets. I wont elaborate but to say that there was a shortage of those bags and it was not a pretty scene. Back on the ground the weather was also pretty nasty – 30s, wind-chill in the 20s & snow flying sideways. Welcome back to Jersey! We got home at a reasonable hour and I spent a few hours unpacking, unwinding & logging cache finds. Oh, and of course looking through the pictures that we had taken. This here is a link to the full photo gallery. Enjoy!