The Grande Lakes Resort in Orlando played host to the first trip with our nephew.
Tag along with one of our favorite annual traditions in this edition of Check-In Florida.
A look at the best Orlando resorts to beat the Florida heat this summer.
There was a time when I considered Space Mountain to be nothing more than a glorified kiddie ride. Being the steely roller coaster vet that I was, taking on the likes of Millennium Force multiple times in a single day, riding Space Mountain was done purely out of deference to nostalgia. Right around my late 20's, something changed - I became more aware of my own mortality and no longer viewed roller coasters as a worthy way to cash it in. But Space Mountain was the one coaster that I continued to ride without the least bit of fear. Until a few weeks ago...
|Too old or not, I'll never skip a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris.|
In roughly 25 years of riding Space Mountain, I had somehow managed to never ride in the front seat. This might seem unlikely, given the estimated 125 times I've heard the words "Space Shuttle, this is flight safety. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. You are clear for launch." Yet I am convinced that despite the long odds, the front seat was never mine. Why? Because there's no way I could forget the runaway tin can of self destruction which I experienced the other day.
Watching the Real World
Although the show which gave us reality TV had been around for years, it wasn't until I went to college that I started watching The Real World. As a new twenty something out on my own for the first time I could now relate to the plot, and was known to waste entire Sundays on an all day marathon. From the Las Vegas to Key West casts, I never missed an episode, and I'm sure on some level which I probably shouldn't admit, I wanted to trade places with them.
|Best Cast Ever.|
Eventually, the show started to go downhill; the casts became too predictable as did the plotline, so I made the jump to the Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Here, many of my favorite old cast members took part in a made up competition which allowed them to put off getting a real job for yet another year. It also kept the Real World's place on my DVR longer than it should have, but eventually the Challenges became just as lame as the original. I guess if you're too old to be on the Real World, then you're too old to watch the Real World.
Talking to Little Kids in the Elevator
Little known fact: so long as they aren't crying, drooling, or excreting green stuff from their nose, I'm a sucker for little kids. Especially at Disney, where their sense of wonder seems to hover somewhere around the stratosphere. I was also granted through my Dad's DNA the gift of gab, which has given me the ability to strike up a conversation with just about any random stranger. The problem, as MJ frequently points out, is this gift didn't come with an all important filter...
I'm sorry, but if I board an elevator with a family whose kid is dressed as Buzz Lightyear, I'm going to ask him if he's seen Zurg lately. Sometimes the question is met with an equally friendly response by kid and parents alike; other times you'd think I asked the kid for his address and what school he attends. Apparently, there is this thing called "Stranger Danger" for which I am now old enough to qualify.
|So what you're saying is, Sandy Bullock can dress|
up as Jessie, but I can't ask her kid about Zurg?
In the movie Office Space, there is a classic scene where the character Michael Bolton is lip synching in his car to some hard core gangsta rap. Next to his misadventures with the printer, this is my favorite part of the movie because, well...that's me. You see, I grew up in the day of Tupac, Biggie, and Dr. Dre - when hip hop was actually good; not this garbage current artists and the like call "music." Although I have always been a fan, it has never occurred to me to attend a hip hop concert. That is until MJ not-so-subtly informed me that some guys named Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were coming to town...
|"They had a broken keyboard...I bought a broken keyboard."|
There is plenty to like about Macklemore's music - his self proclaimed "David Bowie meets Kanye $hit" gives a new spin to a genre in desperate need of some creative energy. But from song one - minute one at his concert, I couldn't help but question if I'd made a terrible mistake. The bass literally vibrated my brain and every other vital organ in my body. It was alarming enough that at one point I Googled the potential health effects of too much bass. Convinced I wasn't going to die from sound waves, I went on to enjoy the rest of the concert, but I walked out quoting Chandler Bing after he and Ross try to reconnect with their youth at a nightclub...
"That music...I mean, do they have to play it so loud!?"
Allow me to start by making one thing clear: I hate running. Seriously, does anyone that runs actually believe it to be fun? I mean, I have never once finished a run and said "Yes please, can I have another?" Health benefits be you-know-what, running is just never a good idea, but every once in a while MJ convinces me to join her for a few kilometers of torture, just as she did for last week's Turkey Trot.
|See what I mean? I hate running...|
Now, I am a lousy runner - 11 minute miles are considered a blistering pace - and I have come to accept the fact that I'm a bottom of the pack finisher in every race I enter. What I haven't come to grips with, however, is that I am also guaranteed to get beat by every 8 year old in the pack. The only thing worse than having to will yourself to finish that last half mile of a lousy 5k, is having Little Johnny zoom by you with afterburners in his shoes. It would seem that my best running days are well behind me.
They say 40 is the new 30 - at least that's what JayZ said on his last album, anyway - and with each passing year I'm starting to see what they mean. It would just be nice for the ever growing list of things I'm officially too old to slow or halt altogether. Then again, it's probably safe to say that "quoting JayZ" was just added to it...
Enjoy Your Stay
Boy did I think I was hot stuff. I mean, not only did I just pull into school driving my awesome 1988 Chevy Celebrity, but now I was without question the only kid in America sitting in homeroom with an iced coffee. For the first time in my life, I was a trendsetter. That coffee shop they had at Harbor on The O.C.? Yeah, you're welcome Seth and Ryan.
|She was a sweet ride.|
But as is often the case with teenagers that think they've got the world figured out, I had no idea how that morning stop for an iced coffee would impact my life, and my travels, for years to come. To this day, I can count on one hand the number of times I have had a hot cup of java, and while iced coffee has become far more mainstream, there are still times when finding a proper dose can be a challenge. I can't tell you how many times I try to order it in a restaurant and the server looks at me as if I've asked them to explain a Credit Default Swap.
|Very happy after finding the Clover machine in Monterey.|
Although the challenge of finding a fix might drive me Britney-Spears-at-the-barbershop-crazy from time to time, for the most part I've come to enjoy the quest for iced coffee, especially when traveling. As soon as the sun peaks through the strategically placed gap in the hotel's blackout curtains, I'm up, dressed, and out on a mission. But it's not just the coffee I'm after; it's the experience found along the way.
|Yeah..this was breakfast. Big whoop?|
After years of morning iced coffee jaunts, I've come to learn there just is something insanely beautiful about walking the streets of a city while almost everyone is still asleep. In San Francisco, I stood outside La Boulange for several minutes as one of the world's iconic buildings - the TransAmerica Pyramid - played peek-a-boo in the fog. On the walk to Jean Philippe at the Bellagio, I discovered that Las Vegas is a very different place early in the morning. And few times have I felt more connected to Mother Nature than sauntering through the French Laundry's dew covered garden en route to Bouchon Bakery in the sleepy town of Yountville.
|Could have sat here all morning...|
The journey to find iced coffee has even become one of my favorite routines during our many trips to Disney. When we stay at one of the Epcot resorts, catching the sunrise over Crescent Lake is easily the best part of visiting the Swan and Dolphin's Java Bar. Well, that and their amazing chocolate frosted donuts. Otherwise, when staying at any other Disney hotel, I start every morning by driving clear across property to the Contemporary Resort. For some reason, the security guard out front always looks at me funny when I tell him I'm only there for coffee at Contemporary Grounds...
|Hard to beat the morning stroll at Disney.|
In all of our travels, however, no where has the iced coffee quest been more challenging than when sailing the high seas. A cruise ship might have a crew of 2000 from all over the world, but I can assure you none of them will know how to make an iced coffee. Enter: Oasis and Allure of the Seas - the savior to iced coffee loving cruise ship passengers everywhere. Their full fledged Starbucks - where you can even pay with the smartphone app! - has officially ended my morning misery while also ensuring that I'll never sail on another class of cruise ship again. OK, so the "as many free donuts as you can carry with two hands" shop might be equally responsible for this decision.
If only that sixteen year old kid knew the impact that trip to Dunkin' Donuts would have on his future life. With the luxury of hindsight, there isn't a single thing I'd have told him to do differently that day. Sure, it's just iced coffee, but both my everyday sanity and travel memories just wouldn't be the same without it.
Enjoy Your Stay
Where golf adds an additional layer of achievement that can't be found in other sports is our ability to play in the same "stadiums" as the greats of the game. While most can only dream of setting foot on the playing surfaces at Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, or Old Trafford, all one has to do to make a tee time at Pebble Beach is simply make a phone call and submit a request to bump your available credit with American Express. And while I may never forget the first time I laid eyes on the Eiffel Tower or Westminster Abbey, not even they can top the feeling of teeing it up at on one of the iconic venues in golf.
So after a year where a multitude of courses were scratched off my old bucket list, I've decided it's time to make a new one. These courses are in no particular order, the only criteria to their selection was that they had to be reasonably "public" and not require knowing a Rockefeller to gain entry.
The Home of Golf - is further explanation really needed? To marvel at the R&A clubhouse and then turn and stripe one down the first hole in golf's preeminent shrine is a dream of anyone that's ever picked up a club. The Road Hole and the Swilcan Bridge would certainly be a thrill, but for me perhaps the best part of the day would come after the round with a pint at the Jigger Inn.
Emirates Golf Club
This entry has really nothing to do with golf. Sure, the course plays host to the Dubai Desert Classic, but the real reason for adding it to the list is Dubai itself. Climbing aboard an Emirates A380 and checking into the Burj al Arab has ranked high on my general bucket list for quite some time. Playing golf in the desert would just be a bonus.
Bandon Dunes is all the rage. Of course, it's for good reason. A stretch of Oregon's coastline has been transformed into a golfer's heaven, with multiple courses plunked down right alongside the Pacific in recent years. While any of the lot would certainly beat a day at the local Muni, Pacific Dunes is usually regarded as the best in brand. Of course, there's not much to Bandon besides golf, but I'm not really to sure what else anyone could need...
Often regarded as the "king of Scottish links courses," Royal Dornoch intrigues me for many reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that it was the home to legendary designer Donald Ross. His upside down bowl shaped greens drove me nearly bonkers at Pinehurst; no doubt I'd love to walk in his footsteps across the pond. Plus, hanging a bag tag in the adjacent Royal Golf Hotel bar is a new bucket list entry of mine, which would obviously be scratched at the same time.
When MJ and I visited Pebble Beach, I chose to visit Point Lobos over the opportunity to play Spyglass Hill - a choice I would gladly make again. Still, I resolved back then that if we ever returned to the area, I wouldn't let Spyglass pass my by a second time. Sure it is a great, world ranked course, but the real reason behind this resolution has nothing to do with Spyglass. I know me, and there's no way I'd come that close to Pebble Beach without finding a way to tee it up there again.
I'm pretty sure no amount of eloquence could do Old Head justice, so I'll let the photograph do the talking. I mean seriously, would you look at this place?
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers - has a nice ring, doesn't it? Muirfield is regarded as the best of the courses on the Open Championship rota, and is said to be the "Augusta National of Scotland." While driving down Magnolia Lane is nothing but a pipe dream, the Honourable Company has a more open policy for non-members, with a few tee times each week made available online - guaranteed to be booked solid a year in advance. Sure, it would help to know somebody with a little pull, Sam Baker would do the trick, but otherwise I hope to one day duke it out with the rest of the fanatics online.
Like Royal Dornoch, Pasatiempo makes the list because of its affiliation with one of the great courses designers in the game: Alistair McKenzie. The Englishman regarded Pasatiempo to be his best layout, which boggles the mind considering he was the genius behind Augusta National and Cypress Point. Since odds are stacked against me ever being able to compare the three first hand, I'll just have to take him at his word.
It is safe to say that this bucket list is easily my loftiest set of goals ever recorded. Bringing it all to reality will take years, untold thousands of dollars, and will seal the fate of an unfathomable number of ProV-1s. To that I say, bring it on.
Enjoy Your Stay
"I want to go to the Magic Kingdom and Sea World. They have penguins at Sea World."
Let's just say, this was the first of numerous curve balls I had to adapt to in this uncharted territory of travel with kids. MJ and I have a somewhat neurotic rule when it comes to our trips to Disney - once we are on the Mouse's property, we don't leave until it is time to come home. Quite obviously, a visit to Sea World would mean we'd have to break this long standing, if somewhat silly, rule. But for Bug, we were more than happy to make an exception.
It had been many years between visits to Sea World, and I knew as we passed through the turnstiles that much had changed since then. For starters, the park is now owned by buyout kings Blackstone Group, which brought the end of the wonderful Hospitality Centers - translation: free beer dispensaries - operated by longtime Sea World owner, Anheuser Busch. Not 90 seconds into our day, we found ourselves in line for a photo with "Shamu" and I wondered just how badly I'd start to miss the park's former proprietors.
Sea World is a completely different animal than the Disney theme parks. Although there are several rides and roller coasters, the bulk of the experience centers around the various shows around the park. This makes planing quite a bit more important than normal theme parks, because the shows are only offered a handful of times each day. We picked up a schedule and decided to start the day by scouting out some good seats for the dolphin show.
This show was something along the lines of Flipper meets Cirque du Soleil. The synchronization of the tricks the dolphins performed was pretty impressive, and I was happy to have missed being in the "splash zone" by just a single row.
We had about a half hour to kill before we needed to head to Shamu Stadium - by Bug's estimation this was just enough time to stop and feed the stingrays. Despite my aversion to anything which involves getting my hands dirty, I remembered this to be one of my favorite "attractions" at Sea World. Not much had changed. After going through two trays of stingray food - shrimp - we walked away a little slimy and very wet. Still, it was $10 well spent.
For a late October afternoon, it sure felt like summer in Central Florida and I was beginning to miss the Hospitality Centers of old. The trek clear across the park to Shamu Stadium certainly would have been more enjoyable with some of Augie Busch's finest, but then again it was probably for the best. I had failed to take into account that Sea World's "kiddie land" was on the way to the stadium, and we had to make several unexpected detours, one of which was their equivalent of the Mad Tea Party.
Finally, we arrived at Shamu Stadium for the show which made the orca famous in the first place. The show had changed dramatically since my last visit - changes which were sadly the result of tragedy. This combined with details from the documentary "Blackfish" - which I have yet to see myself - put the show into a new perspective for me. There is no denying it was a spectacular display, and the orcas are some of the most beautiful creatures on the planet. Still, I walked away with something of a moral dilemma.
By now, all of us were very hot, very hungry, and Bug was beginning to feel a little wonky. Thankfully, there was a cafeteria style restaurant nearby where we could refuel. We loaded up our trays and began to make our way to the only open table in the dining room - a booth next to a half wall separating the cafeteria line. As MJ got within a few feet of the table, a dad lifts his roughly 2 year old kid over the half wall and sets him in the booth. A family in the adjacent booth observed the whole thing, and was gracious enough to give us their table as they were leaving. While attempting to bring my blood down from its boiling state, Bug proceeded to point out that "Well if that boy didn't already know how to steal, he does now." Apparently, kids really do say the darndest things.
The relief was short lived, as it was time to go claim a spot in line to feed the dolphins. Well, MJ claimed a spot in line while Bug and I went and fed the stingrays again. Eventually, they filed us into the dolphin cove, where everyone plunked down $7 for a few slimy sardines. Naturally, the experience was worth every penny, even if the whole thing only lasted about 3 minutes.
Finally, it was time for the whole reason we came to Sea World in the first place... Penguins. The new Antarctica section of the park is easily the best themed area in the place. It could have been my imagination, but as we stepped into the faux-ice covered land I could have sworn the temperature dropped several degrees. Probably theme park placebo effect...
The new land is anchored by the Empire of the Penguin ride, which thankfully was only sitting at about a 20 minute wait. The ride itself was OK at best, but it had one of the best endings of any I've experienced. Well, I'm probably a bit biased here, because that opinion was formed entirely by Bug's priceless reaction as the final scene of the ride put her face to face with real life penguins. We lingered around in the freezing cold of the penguin habitat for quite some time - well beyond the point of losing feeling in my fingers and toes. When Bug had finally seen enough of her favorite animal, we decided to call it a day.
Or so I thought...
It seems that to kids - and Aunt MJ - the best way to warm up from visiting "Antarctica" is to go on a water ride where you're guaranteed to get soaked. I had no one to blame but myself for the predicament. At the beginning of the day, I promised Bug that we would ride Journey to Atlantis - among countless others made that day - and naturally, she had not forgotten. In the end, I walked off nearly bone dry while the two of them were completely drenched. Thanks Universe...I owe ya one.
We took the long way out of the park so Bug could do a little trick or treating at the Sea World Spooktacular. Although I was just as drained as the previous day's adventure to the Magic Kingdom, I was happy to make the detour thanks to the promise of Junior Mints. The event was clearly quite fun for kids - even if their 20 character hashtag made me roll my eyes in disgust - and Bug came away with plenty of treats to hold her over on the next day's plane ride home.
As we trudged across the massive expanse of asphalt that is the Sea World parking lot, our collective steps were probably a bit slower with the realization that the weekend was basically over. In the end, I was happy that Bug had chosen for us to go to Sea World - even happier to have been there to see her face light up at the sight of those penguins. Soon we were passing under the giant, and somewhat obnoxious, sign for Walt Disney World, when Bug piped up from the back seat...
|My two favorite ladies and one travel blogger in training.|
"Uncle Deej...do we still have time for dinner at Rainforest Cafe?"
Another unforgotten promise. You can probably imagine my answer.
Enjoy Your Stay
Special thanks to Sea World Orlando for hosting this Adventure with Uncle Deej.