Orlando/Tampa June 2007
Destination: Orlando & Tampa, FL
Dates: June 5 - June 9, 2005
People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Lisa, Denny, Marcia
- 6-5 Travel Day - Beach Day
- 6-6 Busch Gardens, Tampa
- 6-7 Pontoon Boat Day
- 6-8 Relax Day & Cape Canaveral Atlantis shuttle launch
- 6-9 More Busch Gardens & Travel Home
TUESDAY JUNE 5
It was an early morning. We left the house at 5:30am to head for the airport. We got there in good time, grabbed a tasty Quizno's breakfast and hopped on our flight around 7:40am. It was quite the challenge dragging our personal luggage as well as a pair of carseats, a stroller, and two kids through the airport.
The flight to Orlando was good. Jonah slept through his first airplane ride. Luke slept for about 5 minutes and was up the rest of the way. Luckily the flight was only half-full and so Mark and Luke had 3 seats to share. Luke played the whole trip.
We arrived in Orlando a few minutes early and met Mark's Mom and Dad in the terminal. From there we hopped in the rental mini-van and hit the tollways out of Orlando. It was a long drive heading for Tampa.
Our destination was Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. We got there around 1pm and ate lunch at a playground. Luke had a chance to play on the playground for a time and we also saw a good-size turtle walking around nearby. After lunch and some playtime we headed out to the Howard Park beach which is a sort of a peninsula at the end of a half-mile stretch of road.
At the Howard Peak beach we spent the afternoon. It was hot and sunny so the lotion was laid on thick. The swimming was only average because the waters were grassy. This whole area of the Gulf of Mexico is very shallow and very grassy. It washed up on the beach heavily leaving piles of grass. At least the water was warm! Mark and Denny did some snorkeling here which was very good. Even at 100 feet out from the beach the waters were only about 6-7 feet deep and very clear. While snorkeling they could see many fish and even some small crabs. This was Jonah's first trip to the beach. He mostly sat in the stroller. We put his feet in the water a little much as we had done with Luke at Daytona two years ago, but Jonah didn't like it. Not a big fan of water yet.
We headed to our rental house finally around 5pm. On our way we stopped at a great restaurant in Tarpon Springs called "Snookers" for a quick snack. They have a daily happy hour through the afternoon of $1 draft beers so we had to partake. They also had 25 cent wings on that day so we snacked some too. This restaurant Snookers also had a pond of alligators for everyone to look at.
When we finally made it to the rental house at Gulf Harbors in New Port Richey we settled in and got ready to barbecue for dinner. We BBQ'ed burgers tonight. After a late supper we drove down to the end of Gulf Harbors to their private beach to watch the sunset. This beach was also very grassy. The sunset was okay but the clouds just weren't right to make it a spectacular one.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 6
- pictures from today
- map from Busch Gardens (an old one with the no longer existing Python rollercoaster. This map however has greater detail and names for all attractions)
- map from Busch Gardens (resembles the map we had with us in the park, no names on it however)
Today was our first of two Busch Gardens days. We got to the park around 10am. We parked in the main lots, rode the trolley to the main park entrance and deaded in. The weather was perfect all day. No rain, lots of sun, and very warm. We began our day with a quick walk to the "Timbuktu" area where the Sesame Street show was going on. We were lucky to catch this event this summer so that Luke could see all the characters. The show was 20 minutes and had a beach theme to it. Luke sorta liked it while Jonah almost seemed to enjoy it more. He sat on one of the tables the whole time staring at the characters. After the show, we ended up riding coasters and seeing attractions until about 3pm in the afternoon skipping lunch (except for a quick bite of ice cream). We ate our late lunch at the Zambia Smokehouse which was similar to the BBQ's we had eaten at at Sea World the last 2 years. Food was fantastic and the seating pits you right next to the Sheikra rollercoaster. Unfortunately the Sheikra was not running while we were there. It was closed for 11 days so that they could make it "floorless". The coaster is reportedly the only 90" dive coaster in the country and looked very exciting. We ended up staying at the park until closing as both boys were doing great. During our last run to see the "Edge of Africa" animals we had some spectacular sights. The lions were up and about moving around. In one of the viewing areas we had a female lion sitting right up against the glass looking at us. Luke was up close and perhaps no more than a foot from this lion. A male lion also came up close later for us to see. We had fantastic pictures of the lions. As the park cleared out we also got to ride the Montu rollercoaster which is regarded as a top 10 rollercoaster in the country. We road it twice to end the day including a ride in the front row which was fantastic. The coaster is bottomless with your feet dangling and it does several loops and turns and makes for a great ride. Like yesterday, everyone for the most part survived the day without too much sunburn.
Some thoughts on the rides and attractions we got to do:
- Montu: as aforementioned, a fantastic rollercoaster twisting, diving, looping all while having your legs dangle.
- Serengeti Railway: The train ride was nice. It takes you around the Serengeti plain getting good looks at almost all the serengeti animals in the park. You also then tour the west end of the park and south end of the park heading past the main rollercoasters and other attractions of the park. The train makes a large loop which three different stops. The loop takes about 40 minutes to do.
- Kumba: another high speed rollercoaster with several loops and twists. This one is very heavy on the corkscrews and twisting you around. Sarah and Mark did not end up liking it as much as the Montu
- Congo River Rapids: this is your standard 8-seated tube riding down a river get splashes of water and waterfalls all trying to get you soaked.
- Scorpion: a very short rollercoaster and probably older as well. Does one loop from the initial hill and then makes a few circles before ending. A decent but very quick thrill.
- Stanley Falls Flume: your standard log-based water ride. Heading up a few hills down a few hills and the one big hill at the end trying to get you wet.
- Land of the Dragons: this is the kids area of the park. They have an assortment of kids rides (cars, boats, carousel, etc.) as well as a little water area for the kids to walk through and splash in. They also have a large play area where kids can climb through a treehouse and walk high on suspended cargo nets (with parents!). Luke was more than excited to have found this area.
- Gwazi: this is the old wooden rollercoaster. It is one of the longer rides but also one of the more uncomfortable ones. It was a bumpy ride and takes you up and down lots of hills. It gives you the weightless funny stomach feeling many times through the ride. We all agreed we were done with this after one attempt.
THURSDAY JUNE 7
This was our boat day. We picked up a pontoon boat in Tarpon Springs around 9am in the morning. We loaded everybody up and suntan lotioned like crazy. It was going to be a very sunny day. On the boat we were deep into the harbor from where we rented it so it took several minutes and miles to get out into the key. It was a nice ride and the boat was good to us all day. We headed out first to the Anclote Key State Preserve Island. We followed the boat channel out and headed for a major sandbar south of the Anclote Key island. The bar was very flat and a couple hundred feet long. Sarah and Lisa enjoyed picking up shells while Luke explored the sand and also grabbed some shells. Mark was exploring the waters and investigating how large our stringray concern should be. [A brief interlude: the owners of the house we rented mentioning the necessity of doing the "stringray shuffle" when entering the waters out in the Anclote Key. The stringrays sit down in the sand in these shallow waters and if you aren't careful you could step on them and coerce them to sting you. The idea then is to shuffle your feet in the water so as to scare the stringrays away before you step on them. Thankfully we did not have any run-ins with stringrays today but it was on our mind every time we were stepping through the waters.]
Without any shade on this sandbar we did not stay too long and got back on the boat. We made a quick run north to the south tip now of the Anclote Key island. We tried to get Luke to go exploring with us but he decided to stay on the boat with Mom and Jonah. So Mark, Sarah, Lisa, and Dad went exploring on the beaches. Mark and Dad went out several hundred feet into the shallow waters. Even at 200 feet out from the main beach they were still standing in only 2 or 3 foot waters. They headed out to a sandbar which extends south from the island and almost appeared to connect in the shallows to the larger sandbar island we were on earlier. Sarah and Lisa stayed on the main beach shell-hunting. Eventually we all met up on the island. At this time Dad was called back to the pontoon boat for Luke had thrown a "Little People" lion toy into the water and it needed to be retrieved. Mark, Sarah, Lisa went inland on the island to see the lighthouse that was a part of the state preserve. On the trail to the lighthouse they encountered a small stream of murky brown water which made the trail impassable. There was however a boardwalk about 30 feet away which was a second trail leading from the lighthouse to the beach on the eastern side of the island. So the three made there way through some thick grass and brush and then climbed about 8 feet up and over the side of the elevated boardwalk. We all actually made the climb, impressive! We took some pics of the lighthouse and headed back to the boat. We quickly set out from shore to hunt for the lion toy in the waters as it quickly drifted away but it was never found.
So the group headed to the north end of the island now with the hopes of trying some snorkeling. Mark and Dad hit the waters and tried to look around but the waters were cloudy and little could be seen. We didn't stay long there and headed farther north in the key to another sandbar about a mile north. Here we spent some more time trying the snorkeling (still no good) and walked around again on the sandbar. This sandbar wasn't quite so barren as the first and had some beach grass. There were also several other parties there on their yachts and other boats.
That was the end of our exploring. We headed on the pontoon back into Tarpon Springs harbor taking on more sun as we went. We got the boat back by 5pm and headed home to relax and save ourselves with aloe for the evening.
FRIDAY JUNE 8
We spent this morning resting and relaxing around the rental house. We were beginning to get things packed up and food eaten to prepare for our leaving tomorrow. We did lunch once more at Snookers to partake of the happy hour beverages and see the alligators. We were told to try the gruper fish sandwiches were fantastic.
We spent the afternoon driving on over to Cape Canaveral. Tonight was the launch of the space shuttle Atlantis. We wanted to get there early (like 5p) for the 7:38pm launch. Over a hundred thousand people were expected along the "space coast" to witness the launch. We got into Titusville (the little town on the coast next to Cape Canaveral) around 5:30pm. We expected bad traffic on the interstate and highways heading into town but it wasn't that bad. It wasn't until we hit US 1 right along the coast that we hit the major crowds. When we hit US 1 heading north of the Space Coast Regional Airport there were people lining up all along the edge of the road with chairs and coolers and cars. Every available green spot was being sold (at high prices like $20) for parking. We had heard from Uncle Bob of a park a little north of town that was recommended for viewing so we passed up the messes and headed there. The place was called Space View Park, it is a little peninsula of land extending out from Broad St. at the north end of Titusville. There was random parking in an abandoned lot west of Space View Park which we were fortunate to create a parking spot in. We headed down into the park and by the time we got in there just before 6p it was packed with people. They had a bathroom complex and several booths selling anything from t-shirts to food to ice cream. We settled our blanket down in a more open grass area west of the bathroom area and decided not to get the kids into the large mess of people right next to the water. We killed time talking and make a venture over to the Burger King not far away. It was packed! Lines for the bathroom were crazy and the food lines no better. We spent the better part of 45 minutes getting to/from Burger King and getting our food. By the time we got back it was 7pm already. The time until the launch went fast. About 5 mins till launch we had everything packed up and ready to go so we could bolt out of there quickly. Mark and Dad squeezed there way through the crowds of people and ended up being about 3 rows of people from the coast when the shuttle lifted off.
The launch was amazing. Our viewpoint was just over 10 miles from the launch site (which is about as close as any civilian observers get). We saw two launch pads and from our distance couldn't exactly figure out which one was the one. There was a radio booth where we were at giving updates so we could tell what was going on at least. Finally, as the launch began we could see the large white clouds coming from the launch site and very quickly the bright lights of the engines firing. We saw the shuttle lift up slowly into the sky and head for space. It left a distinct smoke cloud that we could follow into the sky. It was a short time after launch that the sound of it all made it to us and the crowd cheered at the large booms. Everyone was so excited. It was an amazing moment. We watched the shuttle up into the sky until it seemed no more than a speck of light. Mark and Dad each got video of the entire launch.
Once the drama was over we quickly tried to beat the crowds to the car. We were one of the first ones heading out but it was already too late. Gridlock built up quickly on the one exit from the lot heading to one lane of traffic on the side street heading for US 1. People quickly figured out it was quicker to drive the curb from the lot to get directly onto US 1. It wasn't long till we followed suit. Once onto the interstates the traffic wasn't bad heading to Orlando and on.
SATURDAY JUNE 9
Our last day on this relatively quick trip. When we were at Busch Gardens on Wednesday we redeemed our tickets that day for the free 2nd day tickets. So once we were all packed up by mid morning and all ready for the airport we headed back to Busch Gardens for a second go-around. This time we did a split up. Mark, Sarah and Lisa decided to hit the coasters while Mom, Dad, Luke, and Jonah headed straight for the kids area. The coaster trio did another ride on the Montu first thing and then tried something new. They waited in line (a surprisingly lone one, much longer than for the coaster Montu) for the Skyride. This Skyride takes you over the edges of the african animal exhibits and eventually drops you off in the Congo area of the northwest part of the park. We then rushed over to the Kumba and once more found short lines for the rollercoaster. And again, the Kumba, although a decent coaster, was far from as enjoyable as the Montu was. After these two coasters we checked in with the other group. They were hopping on the Serengeti railway to get Luke some nap time. They ended up doing two loops on the train. In the meantime the coaster trio rode the Scorpion once more, got Lisa a souvernir t-shirt and did a lot of walking around. Everyone met up at Zambia Smokehouse for another good meal. The afternoon was waning quickly by this time. The coaster group picked up Lisa's shirt and tried to head back down to the Montu with lots of walking. Unfortunately by the time they made it down there at about 3:30pm the line was about a 45 minutes wait. With a goal of leaving the park at 4pm for the Orlando airport we had run out of time. It was good nonetheless and we all got out of the park on time and headed for the cars. It was hot and sunny all day and despite that the crowds grew pretty heavy being a Saturday.
We got into the Orlando airport and returned the rental van with no trouble. Luke enjoyed riding the terminal train once more out to Terminal A in the airport. He also enjoyed watching the planes going about out the windows. The Michigan group's flight left first and they were on their way with the Illinois group following shortly. Everyone's return flights went well and each made it home pretty late.