Florida – Orlando and Clearwater Beach
I’m one of those kids who has never been to Disney World. I know, this confession might elicit gasps of disbelief from the general American populace, but I just wasn’t really into that sort of thing growing up. To me, the characters of my own invention were more compelling than Mickey or Minnie (nothing against Mickey or Minnie!). I have, however, been to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., so I suppose I got my fill of Disney rides and amusement there.
Fast-forward to 2014. This time around, R and I met up with a small group of friends to hang out for a weekend in Orlando. I hadn’t seen some of these folks in awhile. We had all lived in New York at one point but in past years some had disbursed to different parts of the U.S. for new work/school opportunities. We shared a house that was booked on HomeAway and wasn’t far from the airport.
Naturally, Universal Studios was on the agenda.
Welcome to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, complete with its butter beer and turkey legs kiosks!
We got on a really long line for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a 3D-dimensional ride that has you barreling through an underground vault right past a gargantuan fire-breathing dragon. It was accompanied by intermittent bursts of hot air and ice-cold sprays of water.
It’s not unheard of to wait on a line for a ride for an hour or so, but we waited a grand total of 4 hours for this one! Somewhere along the way, mechanical issues cropped up and the ride had to be repaired. Unfortunately, management didn’t think to notify us of this fact until we’d been standing around (or squatting/sitting on our haunches…) in the dark basement for several hours . When we finally got the OK to move ahead, the line itself wound around a long spiral staircase. Not a great time to be afraid of heights or claustrophobic – yikes!
In hindsight, I think all that waiting made us enjoy the ride even more. Although it sucks that on one hand we feel like we wasted our time, when I put on those 3D goggles and was primed for take-off, I was so pumped!
We passed by Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Shrek 4-D and Empire of the Penguin. The gents opted for some stomach-churning roller coasters, while the ladies left in search of the less-gravity-defying Dr. Seuss rides. At night, the theme park turned into Halloween Horror Night, with spooky rides and haunted houses.
On our last full day in Orlando, we had Chick-Fil-A for breakfast. Nothing like a biscuit sandwich and hash browns! Even though we arrived 10 minutes too late for breakfast, the staff was so kind and accommodating and offered us whatever was left on the breakfast menu. Yay for Southern hospitality!
Then it was off to SeaWorld, to (not) feed the birds…
Gawk at pink Caribbean flamingos…
Watch the dolphin show…
And see Shamu the whale up close…
We hit up Polar Parlor Ice Cream Shop for some giant cones (gotta love the green shrubbery shaped into an ice cream scoop).
After Orlando, R and I headed to Clearwater Beach for some one-on-one time. 🙂 With its warmth, white sand and shoreline for miles, I was quickly in my element.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa and ate breakfast at SHOR American Seafood Grill. R had cage-free scrambled eggs, chicken sausage and hashed browns. I had multigrain pancakes with caramelized bananas, granola, maple syrup and butter. Other menu items had more of a Floridian flair, such as the Key Lime Waffle, and the Crab and Asparagus Omelet.
On our first full day, we didn’t do much but stretch out on the beach and read our Kindles. Ah, this was the life…
When dusk set, we walked down to the pier and caught two dudes performing a rousing straightjacket magic trick that had one guy wrapped tightly in chains. The buskers got a crowd of 15-20 people watching their antics and breathe with a collective sigh of relief when the bound guy – with seconds left on the clock – was able to escape from the chains.
On another day, we enjoyed a 90-minute couples massage that almost lulled me into sweet slumber.
We visited Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The story of Winter and her mechanical tail has been popularized by the film, Dolphin Tale, featuring Harry Connick Jr. and Ashley Judd.
Dolphin Tale 2 introduces Hope, another rescued dolphin.
Nicholas the dolphin came out to play, too. A dolphin trainer taught a visitor how to mimic some moves for Nicholas to follow.
I noticed a whole lot of turtles in Clearwater Beach, from a blind turtle whose favorite food is lettuce…
To colorful turtle statues.
Name cards with the turtles’ bios help visitors learn more about these animals.
We greeted sharks…
And touched stingrays!
I liked this one napkin holder at Crabby Bill’s that proclaimed: “Don’t worry…be crabby!”
How can you not smile at that? 🙂
Clearwater Marine Aquarium
249 Windward Psge
Clearwater, FL 33767
37 Causeway Blvd
Clearwater Beach, FL 33767
SHOR American Seafood Grill
301 South Gulfview Blvd
Clearwater, FL 33767
11350 University Blvd
Orlando, FL 32817
7007 Sea World Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
Universal Studios Theme Park
6000 Universal Blvd
Orlando, FL 32819