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Friday, May 29, 2009

Day 2 - The day with Shamu @ Seaworld

The Day 2 started off well after a relaxed waking up at 7 & a nice & filling continental breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was complimentary for the stay (which is normally the case for most hotels in the US) and was really filling. We have also developed a liking towards bagels, eggs, sausage & cheese off-late; but the real advantage was that little one would have a decent meal in the morning because this is her normal routine & breakfast at school – most of the days!

And the plan for the day was to spend time at Sea World Adventure Park in Orlando. We picked up the print-outs of the vouchers which we will have to exchange at the gate for the tickets, punched in the address in the GPS & started off. It was just 5 miles away from where we stayed & we were at the gates in less than 25 minutes. The walk from the parking to the gate gave us a taste of the day that was ahead of us, the temperature soaring at a 90F by 9:30 in the morning.

The crowd was big, being a Sunday and we started short-listing the attractions from the maps – after a photo-shoot with the mascot of Sea World – ‘Shamu, the Killer Whale’ near the entrance. Deciding to take the stroller was one of the best decisions, especially due to the heat. We walked past a few Flamingoes towards the Dolphin nursery and also stopped near the Sting Ray pond to see the ‘teacher’ of the famous Disney movie – ‘Finding Nemo’. Little one was expecting a larger fish as the teacher and was quite disappointed to see that the Sting rays aren’t as large as she thought it was. SH came up with the idea of going to see the Dolphin show that was scheduled to start at 11 in the Dolphin Theater. We thought of seeing the Dolphin Nursery & the Alligator pond so that we spend our time judiciously until the show starts. Little one wanted to pluck a bunch of flowers from the garden (and she managed to do that without us noticing it!!) to hold it in her hands & that led to some ‘exciting moments’ with dad & daughterJ.

We got our seats in time for the Dolphin Show which was choreographed as the story of a girl who meets her Prince intertwined with some suspense, drama and some exciting stunts by the dolphins. We also met Kirsten from Ohio, a year-and-a-half old boy who had come to visit the Sea World with his Mom & Dad – He was in the row ahead of us and was very friendly & playful with us (especially my hat & the sunglasses) – until the show started! The show lasted for almost 45 minutes and we decide to stop near the watering hole before we headed towards the Penguins Cove. The girls ordered the frostees and I had a large glass of lime-soda a.k.a Sprite. The Penguin cove was an indoor attraction & not surprisingly was very crowded – the heat must have been in the upper 90s by then. One of the interesting designs that I found in there was the multiple levels of Penguin spotting – the upper level was a hard floor level where people who want to stay for a while, take photographs & spend some time could use, while the lower level had an escalator belt that kept moving at a minimal speed so that the people who just want to see it as a part of their checklist, could do so without really feeling disappointed by the slow moving crowd! There was also a whole bunch of Artic & Antarctic birds apart from the Penguins that were show-cased in a glass enclosure with a temperature appropriate for them. And then, it was lunch time!!

After lunch (What else? Burgers, nuggets & fries…) at the waterside restaurant, we started off to the Shark Tank where after the display of various sea creatures, they take us though a glass tunnel under a large tank of Sharks. The conveyor belt ride was deployed even here, may be to reduce the congestion inside the tunnel by people getting crowded there. The mood of the crowd (me included) started switching, thanks to the heat and we decided that it is time to get into the crowd puller show - Shamu, The Killer Whale. We checked the map to see that it is half way on the other side of the park and planned to get there for the 2:30 PM show with a quick stop over at the Marine Carousel where little one rode on a little dolphin with her mommy standing by!

The Shamu show was disappointing mainly because of my ignorance (I think). Shamu is not a ‘Whale’ in the true sense. It is an Orca (sea wolf) and belongs to the dolphin family and are apex predators in the sea. They are the largest species in the dolphin family and an adult male can measure up to 6-8 meters in length. The reason why it is called a ‘whale’ is still unknown, though that is the commonly referred name to Orcas. So, partially due to my ignorance & partially due to the marketing gimmick of the Theme Park, I was really disappointed to see a gloated dolphin with some other distinct features like the eye patches & the dorsal fin as the Killer Whale! But that provided a good rest of 40 minutes in the open shade for a very hot day outside.

It was almost 4PM then and the heat had started taking a toll on each of us (yeah, the first day of fulltime out-doors after a very long time) and we decided that it would be beneficial for all of us to return back to the hotel before the situation gets worse and ending up spoiling a good vacation. Good sense prevailed and we decided to head back to the hotel, with a small stop over at the dolphin nursery. The guard at the gate had a very pleasant smile asking us if we enjoyed our day & we told him that we were tired of the heat & was unable to see a lot of the attractions. He took the initiative to process an additional set of tickets for us to come back to the park on any of the days within the next seven days – absolutely free of cost! – Talk about Customer Service!!

We reached back at the hotel by 4:15 and little one had already slept off in the car. We too had a quick nap for an hour to jump into the swimming pool at 6. By 6:45, we were all fresh and recharged and that’s when SH suggested that we go to the Downtown Disney Shopping Area. (Did I hear shopping!???!! LOL ). We had picked up some bare minimum groceries for the week while returning from Clearwater the previous day; SH prepared a quick dinner and then we went for a drive through the Downtown Disney. I was very particular that we drive very slowly near the stores, with special emphasis that we are not stopping anywhere… LOL

End of Day 2!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Day 1 - The 'Home Alone' Story

The end of another tiring week and by the time I & my girls came home on Friday, it was 30 minutes past 8 in the night. We were very excited, not just by the fact that it is going to be a weekend, but that we were going to be on a week long vacation!! At the same time, we hadn’t even started packing for the week. I am a very ‘light’ traveler, (there had been instances while as a bachelor, I had gone home from Bangalore empty handed – and Amma would be like…Did you lose your bag?) but things have changed since the last 7 years… My significant half (SH) is a ‘check-list’ traveler. She normally keeps a checklist of stuff that she plans to carry & ensures that they are packed (talk about quality control…) and 2 girls – they are a crowd!

It was past 1 AM by the time we finished packing, finished QC checking round 1 & 2 and retired to bed. With the fact that we have to catch a 7 AM flight and the airport 14 miles away from home, we decided to wakeup by 4 so that we can plan to push-off by 5:45. I was entrusted to change the daily alarm to 4:00 AM from the regular 5:45 AM, which I religiously did & we crashed.

That one jolted me up from the sleep!

“The alarm did not go off… It is already 5:30!!!” The long story short, we literally enacted the ‘Home Alone’ scene to start off in the car by 6. I did my first ever (in 2 years) over-speeding of 15 miles above speed limit of 65mph (in patches) and managed to reach the Airport by 6:20, returned my rental car at the counter, caught the air train to the terminal, went to the counter for baggage check-in, security check & to the gate, to see the half the crowd has been boarded & the rest of them in the queue. “Run, run, run… run baby run….” I bought some chocolates & some other stuff to engage little one during take-offs & landings and we finally boarded the Jet Blue flight 531 as the last set of passengers heading towards Orlando Florida.

The three and a half hour flight gave some time for SH to catch up more on sleep, little one to mess-up with the drawing board she carried & me to introspect why the alarm did not go off. After the take off was complete & the permission granted to switch on electronic devices, I switched on my phone to see what went wrong. It didn’t take longer for me to figure it out… Advanced settings are so convenient, but do not take care of exceptions! There was an option in the Alarm settings – ‘Ignore on Weekends’, because they knew most of the people will sleep longer on weekends & my phone did exactly what it is supposed to do. It ignored the Alarm on the weekend! Damn!!! So far so good, thankfully the vacation did not start off with a disaster & the excitement started to flow back in…

We landed at the Orlando International Airport at 10:45 AM (on time), collected the baggage & went to the car rentals office - Our companion for the next 8 days was a Chevrolet Equinox. I am no expert in SUVs (never owned one & have had some of the drives with friends), but I felt it was a decent one & comfortable. I started the GPS, punched in my hotel address & started towards our hotel in the Lake Buena Vista area. We decided to have our brunch before we checked in & had a Mexican brunch at Chevys (A Mexican restaurant chain). After an initial hiccup (check-in time was 3 & the rooms weren’t ready), we managed to check-in to the hotel at around 2 PM & got some sleep for a couple of hours.

At around 4, we started our drive towards the Clearwater Beach, Florida. It is around 100 miles from Orlando & takes about 2 hours to reach there. The sunset at the Pier 60 is a famous attraction and even though we visitied the place we couldn’t afford to stay until sunset which was around 8:30 PM because it would be too late for us by the time we get back & we may end up spoiling our next day too – especially since we hadn’t had a good sleep the previous night (After all, a vacation is to relax & unwind – right?) Little one & SH had a good time at the beach (I am very reluctant to get into the water) while I watched them from the shore & took photographs. The real paradox of the story is that among us, I am the only one who knows swimmimg & I am the most reluctant to get into the water (at public places)! Little one did a very thoughtful act of collecting sea shells to give it to her classmates when she returns back after vacation (And she did that yesterday!). I am pretty sure that ‘sharing’ was out of my dictionary when I was 4… LOL.

We wound up by around 7:30 after an hour and half in the beach to get back to Orlando. One sight that amazed me was the drive over the Howard Franklin Bay Bridge on the Interstate 275 just before you arrive at Clearwater, immediately after you cross the city of Tampa. It is approximately 8 miles long over the Old Tampa Bay. At one point of time, you feel like you are driving on a bridge at the middle of the sea – though you can see buildings on each side, pretty far away… We stopped over at a Thai restaurant for dinner to reach back at the hotel by 10:30 in the night.

End of Day 1

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The vacation of a lifetime!

Back with a big-bang after a month of hibernation! And yes, I am planning to write a tour-diary about our week long vacation to Florida from 9th May 09 to 17th May 09 (Heavy draught of topics - you guessed it.. LOL). Hectic schedules at work, stressful days of uncertainty, and what we really wanted was a break. A good long break to chill off from the day-to-day scrambling with work & home.

Our schedule looked something like this when we planned & it pretty much stayed on plan throughout the week, except for some tight moments… :)

Day 1 - 9th May 2009 , Saturday
- Take the 7:00 AM flight from Newark Airport to Orlando
- Drive down to Clearwater Beach (2 hours drive from Orlando) for the evening
- Return by 10 PM & crash.

Day 2 – 10th May 2009, Sunday
- Visit the Sea World Adventure Park

Day 3 – 11th May 2009, Monday
- Visit the Disney’s Hollywood Studios

Day 4 – 12th May 2009, Tuesday
- Visit the Disney’s Magic Kingdom

Day 5 – 13th May 2009, Wednesday
- Visit the Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Day 6 – 14th May 2009, Thursday
- Take the bus tour to Miami

Day 7 – 15th May 2009, Friday
- Visit the Disney’s Epcot Center

Day 8 – 16th May 2009, Saturday
- Visit Universal Studios, Orlando

Day 9 – 17th May 2009, Sunday
- Catch the 8 AM flight from Orlando Airport to Newark

And the day by day adventures will follow…