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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Swimming with the Manatees Video 12.17.11

Swimming with the Manatees 12.17.11

After 4 full, and I do mean full, days at Disney World we took it easy for a couple days.  Well, as easy as possible with Mom & Dad!  Haha…   We took off Geocaching on Friday and had a great system going, picking up about 20 caches in an afternoon.  Saturday morning we ran some errands & picked up a few more caches before heading back to the condo to pack everything up and get ready for the road trip to Texas (and my folks back to Kansas). 


But we had one more thing on our list to do before leaving Florida – go to Crystal Springs and swim with the Manatees.   Woohoo!

We signed up with Capt. Mike’s Sunshine River Tours and had a wonderful Captain, Capt. Donna who took a group of 12 out to the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge area.  The Manatees flock to this area as there are warm water springs that remains a constant 72 degrees and since they carry so little body fat, can only survive in water temps above 68 degrees. 

After suiting up in wetsuits (an experience/show all in itself, huh, Mom?!  I know, we said we wouldn’t talk about that…haha!) we watched the mandatory ‘don’t harass the Manatees’ videos and jumped onto a pontoon boat to go out to the sanctuary.

Arriving outside the King Spring we jumped in the lukewarm water out to the Keyhole, between two sanctuary markers.  We swam over to the area and watched & waited.  Finally our patience paid off – we had several encounters.  The first was a mother and her calf, who was nursing. 

A mother
and her calf Manatee

A mother
and her calf Manatee

The Michael and Mom had one playing with them….

A mother
and her calf Manatee

This one loved getting it’s back rubbed and, just like a dog, would roll over onto it’s back and have you rub its belly!

A mother
and her calf Manatee

A mother
and her calf Manatee

The whole experience was so amazing!  There were hundreds of Manatees in the water, nearly everywhere you looked you saw more.  Michael even kicked one on his swim back to the boat.  Doh!  :-)  I was frozen after being in the water for an hour or so, so much so that I was shivering and Mom was having an asthma episode so we went back to the boat. 

Ah…mazing.  Wow…

More to follow…

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Disney World Day 4 – Animal Kingdom 12.15.11

We’re slowing down…haha!  We were all pretty lazy this morning but made it up & out finally.  Luckily, the Animal Kingdom doesn’t have ‘that’ much to do & see!  And the park closes at 5pm so we’re planning on ‘hopping’ over to the Magic Kingdom to see the fireworks & parade.

Photo at Animal Kingdom

We rode the ‘must do’ rides – the Kilimanjaro Safari where we saw lots of interesting wildlife (even if the driver tried to snap our necks with her erratic driving!)



& Expedition Everest….

Everest Animal Kingdom

We watched the Festival of the Lion King show & Finding Nemo show, checked out the 3D It’s a Bug’s Life show (too cute!!), and of course, the Jingle Jungle Parade.

Kingdom parade

Kingdom Jingle parade

After the park closed, we hopped on over to the Magic Kingdom and made it just in time for the Main Street Electrical Parade…

Street Electrical Parade…

Street Electrical Parade

And although we were all absolutely beat, hungry, and frustrated at the poor service at the restaurant…Mom & I hung in there to see the fireworks over Cinderella’s Castle, which were fantastic.

over Cinderella’s Castle

at Magic Kingdom

Ahhh….we can’t feel our feet, there’s way too many people here tonight, and we’re bushed…we’re going home.  Haha…

Tomorrow….sleeping in!  wink, wink…

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Disney World Day 3: Hollywood Studios 12.14.11

The best thing about today was it was Dad’s birthday!!  Woohoo!  We got him a button to wear that said “Happy Birthday Dad” and made him wear it….much to his chagrin….as every employee of the park who saw it, as well as some of the park goers made it a point to say ‘Happy Birthday’ to him….all….day….long!  Every time we turned around, someone else was wishing him a Happy Birthday!!  hahaha….  I think he may remember that one for quite a while.  :-)

The second best thing about today was going to Hollywood Studios.  I think we were all looking forward to this day the best for one reason or the other.  The rides, the fireworks, the squished pennies, the geocaches…it was all perfect. 

Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios

We stayed busy again today, making sure to ride all of the fun rides.  Toy Story Mania, Rock n Roller Coaster, the Twilight Tower of Terror (Dad’s favorite!), Star Tours in 3D…

Tours at Hollywood Studios

The Great Movie Ride, the Studio Backlot Tour, Lights, Motors, Action! Show, Muppet Vision 3D, Indiana Jones…and more!

We found a spot to watch the Countdown to Fun Parade and then walked over to the Osborne Festival of Dancing Lights on the Street.  This is where the entire area is decked out in lights and blinks & flashes to the time of the music.  You’ve seen them before on the internet but it was even better in person.  The sheer amount of lights was astonishing and then we learned it takes 4 months to put up all the lights!  Wow! 

of Dancing Lights at Hollywood Studios

Studios Festival of dancing lights

Oh but that’s not all!  We saw another lightshow/fireworks/Character parade at Fantasmic.  Nice…  AND…managed to find all of the squished penny machines in the park.  Woohoo!

We left the park around 9pm – another 12 hour day!  We’re still having fun though!  :-)

& Rene at Hollywood Studios

Tomorrow….Animal Kingdom and back to the Magic Kingdom

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Disney World Day 2: Magic Kingdom 12.13.11

Oh boy!  Another action packed day!  Today we got an early start, had Mom’s squished penny machine maps in hand, & were ready to find our geocaches…in addition to riding the 7 rides I had plotted out, watching the 3D Mickey’s PhilharMagic show, & seeing Cinderella’s castle all lit up with lights.  No problem!  :-)

First a mandatory photo in front of the Castle…  

photo in front of Cinderella

Then we were off!  We rode Peter Pan’s Flight and soared like Tinkerbell, rode Space Mountain in the dark, were thrown for a loop at the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, were absolutely soaked on Splash Mountain, chilled out on the Winnie the Poo ride and Buzz Lightyear’s ride (I had high score!), got the bejeesus scared out of us at The Haunted Mansion, and laughed like crazy at the insane narrator on the Jungle Cruise.  Whew! 

We called it a day early as they were closing the park down for the special Mickey’s Christmas party but stayed until the Cinderella Castle Light Show was over. 

Cinderella’s Castle all lit up for Christmas

Another fantastic day.  Again, we used our FastPasses when we could and stood in incredibly short lines at all the rides.  This week has to be the best week to come to Disney World!  Shhh….don’t tell anyone!

Tomorrow….Hollywood Studios.  :-)

A week at Disney World – Day 1: EPCOT 12.13.11

Oh boy, oh boy!!  A week at Disney World!  With my parents!!  Yippee!!!  :-)

Michael’s Mom has a timeshare and we found a place in Orlando, only a couple miles from Disney World, that is a two bedroom with a kitchen, perfect!  We met Mom & Dad on Sunday afternoon at the condo & unpacked for the week.  I had done a bunch of research on Disney World and learned there are several websites devoted to how to plan your visit so that you can do & see everything you want to in a week.  I had pages of notes and poured over the attendance estimates of each park, deciding which to go to first. 

As it turned out, EPCOT was the park to go to on Monday.  So after Michael and I sitting through the mandatory, torturous, timeshare presentation, we were off!  :-)

EPCOT Center

I had lots planned for EPCOT and to be honest, worried that I was going to kill Mom with all of the walking.  But she hung in there as we traipsed around the park.  Each of us had an itinerary:  I wanted to ride all the ‘main’ rides & see all of the shows/fireworks I could.  Dad wanted to find the Geocaches in the park & Mom wanted to get all of the smashed pennies she could find.  No problem!  :-)

At EPCOT we went Soarin over California, made it out of Test Track in one piece, had a blast at Toy Story Mania, and almost lost our cookies at Mission: Space.   And the lines were zilch – the longest line we stood in was ‘maybe’ 10 minutes but we still used our FastPass as often as we could – there’s something gratifying about walking to the front of the line, even if it’s only a 10 minute wait. 

Space at EPCOT

We did all of the 3D rides & shows, designed our own ride in the Sum of All Thrills and were Storm Struck with a simulated tornado.  And that was just on the Future World side. 

the Test Track at EPCOT

We went to the World Showcase side next, making sure to ride Maelstrom and the Gran Fiesta while trying to take in all of the shows, picking up pennies when we could find them, & making our way to the U.S. pavilion.

The one show I was most interested in seeing at EPCOT was called the Candlelight Processional which was a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator accompanied by a 50 piece orchestra and a glorious mass choir.  There were 3 times available – 5:00, 6:45, & 8:15 and we showed up around 4:45, just to see how the lines were.  I asked one of the employees if we had a shot getting in and she said yes, for the 6:45 show.  I took a double take and made her repeat her statement.  Yes, if we’re in line now (2 hours early!) we would be able to see the show.  Huh.  Was it that important to have all of us stay in line for 2 hours?  Well….I really wanted to see the show….but 2 hours?!  But Michael became the hero, volunteering to stand in line while we explored the area.  I know, what a guy!! 

And the show WAS worth it!  The narrator that evening was Neil Patrick Harris, from How I met your Mother & Doogie Howser.  He was great but the orchestra and choir were simply amazing.  They walked in all holding a candle and consumed the stage, singing songs during the telling of the Christmas Story.  They sang 12 songs in all – from O Holy Night to Joy to the World and it still makes my skin tingle.  The show was wonderful.

Processional at EPCOT

The final show of the night was IllumiNations, a show across the water with laser lights, smoke, fire, & fireworks.  Oh how I love fireworks!  :-)

at IllumiNations at EPCOT

We were exhausted – it was near 10pm and we had been going all…day….long!  But what fun it was.  While we did a lot, there is still lots to do & see that we simply didn’t have time for.  Hmmm….sounds like a reason for another visit!! 

Tomorrow…Magic Kingdom!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Surprise! A Disney Cruise to the Bahamas 12.11.11

We’ve spent the past week sitting still at a Campground outside of Port Canaveral.  I know, it doesn’t happen too often that we sit still but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing.  That and simply relaxing – doing a lot of nothing.  Reading, sitting in the sunshine, walking, and not a lot else! 

But since we had a few extra days until we met my folks in Orlando, we booked a last-minute 3 day cruise on the Disney Dream to the Bahamas – Nassau & Castaway Cay.  Sweet! 

Dream Cruise Ship

This was our first Disney Cruise and we were both leery of being surrounded by kids but figured we could hang for 3 days.  Either that or we would be driven absolutely crazy!  Haha…  But to tell you the truth, we both absolutely loved it.  There was so much to do we came back exhausted and ready for another!  I just can’t say enough good stuff about the cruise – everything was spectacular.  Not only the food, entertainment, & activities but especially the staff, which was one of the best and most warm & welcoming I have ever experienced.  We couldn’t walk by any of the staff without getting a smile and a Hello from them.  We have been on other cruise lines – NCL & Carnival – and this one topped them by far.  In fact, we were both plotting when we could take the next one….on the Disney ship.  I know, crazy, right?!  Haha..

The Disney Dream is a gorgeous ship, commissioned just this January.  The ship was incredible and was decked out with Christmas decorations.  Christmas trees were around every corner, garland & lights were hanging everywhere and Christmas music was playing 24/7 (and we didn’t even get tired of it!). 

the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Our cabin was a comfy size with an extra large balcony….nice… 

Our cabin
on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Once we were on board, we threw down our stuff and quickly scoped out the ship, making sure to spot all of the ‘adults-only’ places on board.  :-) We settled in to Cruise mode with a couple cold drinks with little umbrellas on top and before we knew it, it was departure time! 

on the bow of the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

We stood at the bow of the boat while the lines were untied & it started moving.  We waved at all of the folks waving to us on shore and jumped out of our skin when the ship horn blasted….though it sang songs!  Like “When you wish upon a star” and the Disney them song.  It was a bit overcast and chilly and by the time we were about half way out of the Port, it started to drizzle on us.  Our dinner time was 5:30 so we went back to the cabin to get ready…but along the way ran into Minnie!  Woohoo!!  She gave us some Minnie kisses and we posed for a photo…

Minnie on
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

We met several of the Disney characters during the cruise as there were meet & greets every day at different times & areas through the ship.  Though there were lots of opportunities to meet all of the Disney characters including all of the Princesses, villains, pirates, and even Santa Claus himself!  We saw most of them…and had photos taken with…


with us on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Chip and Dale…

Chip and
Dale on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship


Goofy on
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

And of course Mickey!!

Mouse on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

The meals on board were delicious – each item artfully prepared with scrumptious ingredients.  The portions were just right and the waitstaff helped us choose between the many options.  And if we couldn’t choose, they would bring us both!  I had that problem one night, I simply couldn’t choose my entrée as both the black bean cakes with chipotle sauce and filet mignon were both calling my name.  I oscillated for a while and finally asked our server, Ronald, his opinion.  He said politely I should go with the filet and said the black bean cakes were not his favorite but then said he would bring out both.  And he was right.  Haha!  This is the menu for the last night….which would you choose?!

Menu from
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Menu from
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

menu on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Menu from
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

I absolutely LOVE scallops so that’s what I chose….and it didn’t disappoint!

Dinner on
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

There were 3 main restaurants, each one a different theme and decorated to the nines for the theme.  One was an Enchanted forest which was from the Alice in Wonderland movie and was all in white & green and the lighting changed during the course of the dinner, simulating sunset.  Another was called Animator’s Palate and had large flat screen TV’s on the walls and while waiting for your food, Nemo & Crush & all the characters from the Finding Nemo movie came swimming by and talked to you….literally….and you talked back!  I still don’t know how they did it but some diners had full on conversations with the characters on the screen (they didn’t talk to us, sob!).  It was way cool.   Our servers followed us to the different restaurants to take care of us.  They were great – remembering what we liked to drink & having it ready for us when we sat at the table.  They were very personable and we enjoyed chatting with them every evening. 

servers on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

After dinner every evening we went to the Main Event – Broadway style shows featuring the Disney Characters.  The first one was called the “Golden Mickey’s” – similar to the Golden Globes…where they gave out awards for different categories like Best Villain, Best Hero, Best Princess, etc.  It was very entertaining.  The next night was called ‘Villains Tonight’ and it wasn’t my favorite but still cute.  The last night was called ‘Disney’s Believe’ and was fantastic – I don’t know if there was a dry eye in the room.  All three were very professional & great shows.

Shows on
the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

And that’s just on the ship…not to mention our two stops in Nassau & Castaway Cay.  Nassau was…without sounding incredibly cruel….a dirty little town with gorgeous crystal clear water & white sandy beaches.    


It wasn’t my favorite.  Maybe I would have another opinion if I wasn’t being dropped in the heart of tourist central but I wasn’t impressed with anything other than the beach.  We took a taxi to one of the main resorts, the Atlantis, where we walked around the marina & beach. 

Atlantis resort in Nassau

Rene in Nassau

We relaxed for a while, chatted & walked the area with another family we had met on the ship, wandered through the shops & street vendors, found a geocache, and eventually made our way back onto the ship just before departure.  It was OK.  I can say I’ve been there but wasn’t overly impressed.

The next day we were in Castaway Cay which was, oh so phenomenal.  I can’t say enough about this place – it was spectacular and we didn’t want to leave.  We even asked that they leave us behind and pick us back up next week, but they wouldn’t go for it.  Bummer.  :-)  Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island and truth be told, I was originally not interested in this stop.  I figured it would be too, ummm, kidsy?  I know that’s not a word but there would be splashing in the water and crazy running kids disturbing my reading & relaxing.  Spoiled, aren’t I?!  ;-)

We received a map the night before and lo and behold….there was an Adult only beach!  Woohoo!  Those Disney folks have thought of everything!  Haha…  We rented bicycles and set off to check out the island.    (An over the shoulder photo…)

& Rene on bicycles in Castaway Cay

We found the lookout tower and searched for another geocache (hey, is that a GPS in your hand?)

& Rene on Castaway Cay

And went in search of the Adult-only beach…..and was not disappointed!!  :-)

This was heaven.  The water was crystal clear & blue, there were lounge chairs &  hammocks (which I fell asleep, I mean read a book in), friendly folks around….it was perfect.  Lunch was served right on the beach and they had these amazing waiters who had an uncanny way of knowing exactly when you needed your icy drinks with little umbrellas refilled.  Oh my gosh, I did not want to leave.  We were about the last people on the beach and it was all Michael could do to drag me back on board.  Now this island is exactly what I had in mind when I wanted to see the Bahamas.  No vendors on the beach, no traffic, no lines, just a white sandy beach.  Ahhh….I can still see it clearly. 

Heaven in
Castaway Cay

Back on board we stayed busy…listening to steel drums on deck while we sailed away, building a gingerbread house (my first!), watching the entertainment, laughing at the couples who were not having any fun at all (even on vacation there are arguments & disagreements - we know this for a fact working in the industry and still find it funny).  One of my favorite things to do was to watch the Disney Characters interact with the kids, to see how excited they were (or not!) to meet them, to have the special time with each of them.  It was very heartwarming.

House making on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Oh and the fireworks!  How could I forget!?!  We knew a couple of the staff from working with them in Alaska – the Shore Excursions Manager, Jennifer, & the Cruise Director, Clayton – and were treated to a special, private viewing for the fireworks show on the 2nd night.  What a treat!  The night was pirate night and they gave out special Pirates in the Caribbean bandanas for everyone to wear and had a fun dance party where the main pool was before shooting off fireworks. 

& Rene on the Disney Dream Cruise Ship

Oh geez, there is so much else we did & saw, I could write a book!  :-)  As I said in the beginning, it was an incredible cruise!  I can’t wait to take another Disney Cruise somewhere new….I hear they’re going to Hawaii….that may be next!  Oh and the wariness about being surrounded by kids during the cruise?  Disney’s kids clubs kept them busy enough that I hardly saw and wasn’t bothered too much after all…smiles…

Wait – we’re not done with Disney!  Next week…a week at Disneyworld with my parents.  Woohoo!!  :-)
More to follow…