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Back from Florida (Oct 2009)

Author Topic: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)  (Read 9684 times)

experiment627

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #45 on: November 24, 2009, 07:29:48 PM »
DAY 2 - SeaWorld

We really enjoyed our day at this park, though it was crystal clear that it is not on the same level of any Disney park (yes, I include WDS in this statement). It's just an "amusement park", but a really good one. I had visited the park for the first time three years ago. And I am not sure I'd make a point of returning any time soon...

That said: we had a really good time.

The big novelty, of course, was "Manta", SeaWorld's new roller coaster. The special thing about it is that you are actually lying in the coaster, face down towards the ground (well, at least most of the time...  :wink: ) I am not much of a thrill ride fanatic and this was the first coaster of this kind for me. It was amazing.

There's a real sensation of flying and as you cannot see where the coaster train is going, you feel wonderfully disorientated. The most thrilling moments were when you pass the ground just half a metre below you.
"Manta" fits into SeaWorld perfectly and the queue with its fish tanks is beautiful. Unfortunately, the ride experience ends in a rather backstage-looking area. Which takes you out of the entire experience. So it is not a full winner for me, but a very, very close one... And probably still the best coaster I have ever ridden...

We pet some real manta rays afterwards and then watched the dolphin feeding before heading over to "Blue Horizon", SeaWorld's dolphin show. The show was beautiful with great animal performances (including parrots...), great artists and fitting music. It bordered being kitsch, but just so perfectly that I had tears in my eyes.
Though I am not sure that it was the show that caused this: the day was steaming hot and I had probably put too much sunscreen on my forehead... which was now running down right into my eyes...

We visited some of the other animal exhibits like the beautiful manatee habitat, the penguins, the shark tunnel and the beautifully themed polar habitat. What I missed, though, were some big fish tanks, like for example at SeaLife centres or at Epcot.

The best tanks, I would say, are actually in the gift shop at the "Journey to Atlantis" water ride, where you have got tanks below your feet and above your head.
"Journey", by the way, was fun - but with a weird storyline, which I couldn't really follow. The bored looking Sea World employee right before the big drop was also kind of a let down.
But it was a good ride - and in very good condition, I must say.

We skipped "Kraken", SeaWorld's other roller coaster.

The show with the seals ("Clyde and Seymoure Take Pirate Island") was a bit too silly for my taste, with plenty of American Idol and Facebook-jokes. The animal performers however were, once again, amazing.

We enjoyed a good counter service lunch at one of the places along the park's "Waterfront", a Mediterranean-style village. They've got a cool jewel-store there, where you can actually watch divers getting oysters. Kids can then assist in opening them to get to the pearl inside.

One other thing that amazed me at SeaWorld were its gardens: the whole park is very lush and tropical - with orchids growing on trees! (Which I had never seen before outside of a green house.) The gardens here are a step or two (or three...) of what WDW is doing...

SeaWorld's biggest stars are definitely the orcas, or "killer whales" as the park still calls them for some reason.
Again, great performance by the animals. But the storyline of a boy chasing his dream of becoming a trainer at SeaWorld was a bit much too take... And don't get me started on that "tribute to our heroes" right before the show where they showed this promotional video for the US armed forces. I am not a big fan of that.
We chose to stay seated while about 5,000 Americans stood up...

But it is amazing to watch these whales in action. Which brings us to the highlight of the day: we had booked tickets for "Dine with Shamu" in advance. ("Shamu" being the stage name for SeaWorld's largest orca whale.)

Behind the whale stadium, there's a smaller pool along which you can enjoy a buffet and first watch the show via a huge screen. After the show (and while you are having dessert), the trainers come out and introduce you to the star: Shamu, who is now swimming along the tables. The trainers explain how they work with the whales and let Shamu do some of his tricks.
And then suddenly this huge whale is right next to you, mouth wide open with his pearly white teeth. (Has anybody else read the sci-fi thriller "The Swarm" / "Der Schwarm", by the way...?  :wink: )
It was a very cool experience which brought you as close to this magnificent animal as you probably ever wanted to get. The food was good and plenty (though the setup is not the best for a buffet with long queues...) - and at 25 dollars quite affordable.


So, if you are in Orlando and want to get to a one-of-a-kind dining experience, this is something I really can recommend.

The day had been long and we were suffering from jetlag. But it was fun with some great experiences. I wouldn't say SeaWorld is a "must do" in Florida - or even Orlando. But it is a day well spent, that's for sure...

We walked back to the hotel and immediately crashed on our beds - and I fell quickly asleep, watching "Desperate Housewives"... What a vacation....
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »

experiment627

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #46 on: December 01, 2009, 06:58:00 PM »
DAY 3 - Shopping & Clearwater Beach

After a good night's sleep we packed our stuff and left the Residence Inn.

First stop of the day: Shopping!
We were headed to Orlando's Premium Outlet Mall to benefit from the excellent exchange rate.  8)

We were a bit early (still adapting to East Coast time) so we first stopped at Publix, a decent American supermarket, to get some snacks and drinks for the next few days.

We then parked at the outlet mall's parking deck (a big plus that you can get a spot in the shade here!) and started our shopping spree. I managed to max out my Visa card. We spent money at Levis, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Puma, Adidas (I still don't get why there are so much cheaper in the States when their headquarters are less than 100 kilometres away from where I live...), Timberland, Ralph Lauren and many more.
All in all, a great place to fill up your bags (so you can start praying when you get home that customs doesn't want to look into them...)

It was almost 14:00 when we decided to move on. We still wanted to enjoy some beach time  today. We left Orlando on the I4 towards Tampa and almost immediately after you've passed WDW, Florida becomes very rural. There isn't much to either the left or the right until you reach the suburbs of Tampa...

We had booked a night at the Sheraton Sand Keys Resort in Clearwater Beach, which I can recommend. The hotel is pretty nice with a wonderful, sandy beach.
The sand along Florida's Gulf coast is really great, with lots of tiny shells... There is an amazing variety of birds. I was especially amazed how many pelicans there are - and the way they fly so close above the water...

The water, too, was amazing. Very warm and pretty shallow. It was heaven.
... Except for the shockingly ugly condo-high rises and hotel bunkers (the Sheraton was a pleasant exception) along the coast. It really destroys a lot of Florida's beauty. And it was very evident in Clearwater Beach. It looked a bit like communist architecture - after having won the lottery.
Not a pleasant sight.

But there's simply nothing bad I could say about the hotel. Well, except maybe for one little thing: their coffee was abominable. But the burgers they served were all the more amazing.  8)

« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »

dagobert

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #47 on: December 02, 2009, 12:13:43 PM »
So it looks like that we haven't missed that much when we skipped SeaWorld two years ago.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »

davewasbaloo

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #48 on: December 03, 2009, 09:12:12 AM »
Quote from: "dagobert"
So it looks like that we haven't missed that much when we skipped SeaWorld two years ago.

It depends, I would rather go to Sea World than Universal, the Magic Kingdom or Disney Hollywood Studios. It depends what you are in to. I love Polar bears and Killer Whales, as well as liking Dolphins. Plus I love Atlantis and like their coasters.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »
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experiment627

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #49 on: December 03, 2009, 10:32:36 AM »
Quote from: "davewasbaloo"
Quote from: "dagobert"
So it looks like that we haven't missed that much when we skipped SeaWorld two years ago.

It depends, I would rather go to Sea World than Universal, the Magic Kingdom or Disney Hollywood Studios. It depends what you are in to. I love Polar bears and Killer Whales, as well as liking Dolphins. Plus I love Atlantis and like their coasters.

SeaWorld is a wonderful amusement park. We had a great time.

It's just that I would not recommend anyone to visit SeaWorld instead of any of the WDW parks. (Especially after the Studios turned out to be such a pleasant surprise.) Or to skip a day at the beach. Or do any of the other great things Florida has to offer.

But dining with Shamu was definitely one of the coolest things we did on our vacation...
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »

experiment627

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #50 on: December 03, 2009, 11:07:31 AM »
DAY 4 - Naples

After our night at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater Beach we continued on to St. Petersburg - where we got a bit lost thanks to the city's checkerboard grid and number of one-way-streets.

Finally we arrived at the Dalí museum, which claims to have the largest collection of pieces by the Spanish surrealist outside of Spain.
The paintings were magnificent and showed the evolution of the artist really well. Dalí was, in a sense, a thief - using existing art and combining it to new masterpieces.
I was a bit disappointed with the museum itself as it is rather small. I wouldn't make an extra stop for it again. However, they had just broken ground on a new museum which is supposed to offer more space for the Dalí paintings.



It was around noon and we were headed south. First along the coast which is a magnificent drive. But then one enters "Strip Mall Land". We passed countless fast food joints, supermarkets, hardware stores, drug stores (offerding swine flu shots), churches, car dealerships, pawn shops and funeral homes. A depressing sight.
And it was pretty much all over Florida...

We stopped at a supermarket, got some sandwiches (which were HUGE and one could have almost fed a family for lunch... no wonder the average American looks a bit heavier than the average European...) and some delicious and sinful donuts. (Go for the Entenmann-brand when you're in the States...)

We couldn't be bothered with the strip-mall-monotony of the highway anymore so we took the Interstate towards Ford Myers where you suddenly see nothing along the road except for subtropical vegetation...

After about two hours we reached Naples, which is amazingly pleasant. The city has escaped the horrible high-rise-architecture of the rest of Florida. The tallest buildings here are three storeys high. It's a very residential city with lots of homes - and a very high percentage of respectable mansions. Tropical gardens are everywhere. And palm trees sway in the light breeze from the ocean...



The Inn on Fifth was our hotel for the next three nights, which is still a small hotel without belonging to any chain. It had a very individual charm, which I enjoyed a lot. (Except for the heavy perfume they used in the lobby...) Service was good, but had a bit of a certain "Southern laziness" - meaning: they were quite relaxed. I loved it.
Our room (with its AMAZING bathrooms... I just love walk-in showers...) had a nice view of the pool on the second floor.



The pool was our first stop. I took a swim and then a nice sun bath while reading an Agatha Christie novel. Next to me there was a group of young English guys that looked a bit like well-cooked lobsters...

After such a lazy afternoon we walked down to the beach - which took us about 20 minutes. You can actually walk in Naples and drivers are very looking out for walkers. Real nice...

As I said: there are no high buildings in Naples. There are homes along the beach - which are then hidden by a line of palm trees. So you have probably the nicest urban beach in all of Florida. Because you just don't see any city...



We walked over to a wooden pier, as so many locals and tourists do. This is the spot to watch the sun set - and what a show this is!
The colours of the sky are breathtaking. Then you've got countless birds to watch. And swarms of fish below you.
And then everything happens rather fast. The sun just dips into the ocean... My rhetorical abilities are a bit lacking, otherwise I'd be able to paint such a wonderful picture of what we saw... But as it is you just have to believe me: it was beautiful.

« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »

davewasbaloo

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Re: Back from Florida (Oct 2009)
« Reply #51 on: December 03, 2009, 01:25:44 PM »
Quote from: "experiment627"
Quote from: "davewasbaloo"
Quote from: "dagobert"
So it looks like that we haven't missed that much when we skipped SeaWorld two years ago.

It depends, I would rather go to Sea World than Universal, the Magic Kingdom or Disney Hollywood Studios. It depends what you are in to. I love Polar bears and Killer Whales, as well as liking Dolphins. Plus I love Atlantis and like their coasters.

SeaWorld is a wonderful amusement park. We had a great time.

It's just that I would not recommend anyone to visit SeaWorld instead of any of the WDW parks. (Especially after the Studios turned out to be such a pleasant surprise.) Or to skip a day at the beach. Or do any of the other great things Florida has to offer.

But dining with Shamu was definitely one of the coolest things we did on our vacation...

Goes to show that people do indeed have different taste. I have no interest in the beach, that is what California and the Caribbean have on offer. And I do not really like Florida, especially the poor excuse for a Magic Kindgom. So for me, Florida is about Epcot, DAK, Sea World and Kennedy Space Centre. Those are the things that excite me. Everyone is different.

That said, I prefer the Universal Studios and Sea World in California, California's weather and beaches (and mountains, deserts, forests etc.). And I prefer DL or DLP to the MK and DCA or WDSP to DHS. So everyone has a different taste or experience.

I would urge anyone who has not been to Sea World and likes sea life to go.
« Last Edit: January 01, 1970, 01:00:00 AM by Guest »
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