Florida February 2009

Destination: Orlando, FL

Dates: February 13 - February 22, 2009

People: Mark, Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Seth, Denny, Marcia


  • 2-13 Driving Day
  • 2-14 Driving Day
  • 2-15
  • 2-16 Busch Gardens
  • 2-17 Sea World
  • 2-18 Busch Gardens
  • 2-19
  • 2-20 Holy Land Experience
  • 2-21 Driving Day
  • 2-22 Driving Day


We had the car leaving our house early this morning, like 7am. It was Mom & Dad Witte plus Sarah, Luke, Jonah, Seth. Basically everyone except Mark. They hit the road and took I-75 all the way to Florida. The group looked for a McDonald's PlayPlace to do lunch. They made great time travelling with the boys all day. Seth even got another taste of ice cream along the way. They finally made it to the southside of Atlanta where they found a Sleep Inn to stay the night.


The group had a shorter drive today. They got left from the Atlanta area at a good time in the morning and made the last bit of the drive along I-75 to the Orlando area. They made it there around 3pm and got our keys from the office that owned the Villa we were staying in. The Villa was actually in Kissimmee. The evening was spent getting settled and grabbing a few essentials from Walmart.


The group went to church at a congregation in the Orlando area. Being winter-time still the congregation was average age 70 and up. They were greeted nicely. The afternoon was spent swimming with the boys, which included both boys falling in the pool at least once. Mark did worship at his home congregation and helped lead worship. He received a ride to the airport from the DCE, Kim. He flew into Chicago, changed planes, and then arrived in Orlando at 8pm or so after some good flights. The group was slightly delayed in picking him up because of a long Walmart stop. Mark was pleased to arrive in the warm weather after leaving Detroit and Chicago with weather in the 20s.


We headed out early this morning trying to get on the road by 8am to get to Tampa and Busch Gardens. We were a little late but still made it to Busch Gardens about 9:30 or so. We met our friend Amanda and her fiance Mike at the gate and headed into the park. We walked towards the Montu to catch the rollercoaster early in the day. The boys stopped to check out the Budweiser clydesdales along the way. The line for the Montu, was short, only 10 minutes or so. Mark and Sarah waited for the front row which added about 5 minutes, but as always, was well worth the wait. After the ride we all decided to part ways, Mom and Dad took the boys over to the Land of Dragons play area while the younger adults road rollercoasters.

Mark, Sarah, Mike and Amanda went next to the Gwazi, the wooden coaster. We road the Lion side and it was one bumpy ride. Had some good hills and weightlessness, but was soooo bumpy. We went to the Rhino Rally next. In our two visits to Busch Gardens in 2007 we never got to ride this. Mike and Amanda told us it was a great ride. And they were right. They load you up into a large jeep with a funny-talking driver and they take you on the rally course. In the early part you drive over some hills and through some brief water crossings. Along the way you see several different types of animals. Then they take you to a larger river crossing where the driver stops the jeep, gives a funny talk about getting stuck in the river and suddenly your jeep starts floating down the river on this raft they drove onto. Once in the river you pass a waterfall or two with the potential of someone getting wet. You end the river run at a fallen bridge area, where they are able to drive off the raft and finish the rally course. It was very entertaining and we had an exceptional driver to add to the entertainment.

We headed up to the Kumba next for one more rollercoaster before lunch. This is a decent coaster, several corkscrews and a good hill and loop or two. We did lunch at the Zambia Smokehouse and it was very good (and expensive) as always. We hopped on the trains after lunch (so the boys could nap) and did an entire loop around the park from the Stanleyville station.


We started this morning leaving the condo just before 9. It was a little chilly in the morning, somewhere in the upper 50's. We brought some extra clothes along for the boys, the high for the day was only 69 or so. We made it to the park, which wasn't very far, and there weren't all that many cars near the entrance. As we got into the park, the lines were much longer at the security checkpoint. Both of the Busch parks have checkpoints for bags, they scan your tickets, and then they take a fingerprint. Although SeaWorld didn't actually have us put a fingerprint for some reason.

As we headed into the park one of the first things we were greeted with is the sight of the new rollercoaster, the Manta, which is opening sometime later this summer. It is an inverted car coaster and looks like a great ride. We headed past it quickly though trying to catch the 10am show for Seamore and Clyde Take Pirate Island.

This show is always a hit and we enjoyed it again today. In the cooler morning air we were all a bit chilled sitting there watching. The boys seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. It was their standard sea lion show with the occasional sea otter running through to funny music.

After the Sea Lion show we wanted to be sure to hit the first Shamu show of the day at 11:30 (just like everybody else. On our walk over there we stopped by the Shark Encounter. We were planning to head in, but we couldn't take the stroller and Seth was sleeping. We did stand by the outdoor pools for a few minutes so Luke and Jonah could watch the sharks, fish, and stingrays swim. When we did make it over to Shamu's Stadium we were glad we hadn't wasted too much time. it was about 11:10 and the stadium was already 2/3 full. By show-time the place was nearly full.

They were doing their Shamu show called "Believe". They had a lot of dialogue focused on believing in your dreams (in particular to become whale trainers). The tricks with the orcas were minimal, though the few they did were good. All in all we enjoyed the Seamore and Clyde show much more.

After Shamu's show we took a moment to decide what to do and decided we were hungry. We ate at Joe's Mango Cafe which was right next to Shamu Stadium. We had a nice view from there over the lake within SeaWorld. After our lunch we headed over to Shamu's Happy Harbor. This was the kids area of the park. After a visit to the baby diaper center for some "refreshing" the boys had some great fun. Luke rode a ride called "Flying Fiddler", which was a crab with six seats across that would be lifted up 30 feet or so and then dropped. Mark and Luke rode this, with some concerns Luke would be too scared, but he loved it. They lift you and drop you about 5 times and Luke loved the whole thing. We tried crawling around on their cargo net course next with the boys. Both of them were hesitant to climb on the nets at first, but after a while got the hang of it After this we finally convinced Luke to give the Shamu Express kiddie coaster a try. Again, he loved it. Loved it enough that we had to go a second time right away. In the meantime Jonah was able to spend some time playing in the big sand area and he was later able to join Luke on another kiddie right which puts you in a boat which moves about back and forth spinning around along the way.

After this we did some walking again and head back to the other side of the park. We finally gave Shark Encounter a try and this time Jonah was asleep. Mark carried him through the whole exhibit. We were able to lay him in the stroller after exiting and he slept in their for a good hour plus. We went through the Penguin exhibit next. This is always enjoyable. They have a crowded room full of penguins which you can see up close while on a moving walkway. Then you can go back on an upper level and view the penguins at your leisure. We fed Seth a bottle while everyone was checking out the penguins.

Next on the list was their rollercoaster called Kraken. We rode this several years ago but could not remember it well. We thought we'd enjoyed it then and today we definitely enjoyed it. The cars allow your feet to dangle as you ride. The initial hill on the Kraken gives you some good G-force. There are several loops and a handful of corkscrews. On three different occasions it takes you underground including through a dark tunnel towards the end. IT is definitely a good thrill ride. Better than the Shiekra and Kumba which we rode over at Busch Gardens, though not quite as good as the Montu. Mark, Dad Witte and Sarah rode this today.

Next on our list was a walk to the alligators and manatees. There were several small gators to see and then the walk down a long ramp to the underwater viewing for the manatees. We saw several in the tanks, two swam around just enough for us to get some decent pictures. Next after this was the underwater dolphin viewing. This has always produced some great viewing for us. The windows they give you are quite large and give you almost 150 degrees of viewing with plenty of dolphins to see.

The above ground part of the dolphins is also exciting as you can try to pet the dolphins as they swim by. After some patience and about 20 minutes of time Sarah was lucky enough to get a dolphin to come by close and pet him on the head.

Our day was almost over at this point. Last thing was the Stingray Lagoon. Their food shop was already close (it was about 6pm) so we all we could do is try to pet the little rays. Couldn't convince the boys to reach down and try to pet them so the rest of us had to try. We left the park around 6:30pm and were fortunate things weren't too cold yet.

Back at the Villa we grilled hamburgers for supper and afterwards swum for a good hour with the boys. The outdoor air was about 55 degrees but the pool water was well heated. It was a lot of fun till we had to get out of the pool and made a mad dash for the inside.


We took a more leisurely approach today as we made a return trip to Busch Gardens. We didn´t leave the condo until about 9:15. On our way there we went looking for an ATM for Chase Bank. The GPS routed us to a location which turned out to be an entire JPMorgan Chase building with full security detail out front. We went to the security gate and asked about the ATM and the gentleman said its for employees only and he can´t let us pass. He had us turn around but was kind enough to tell us the Walgreens all have Chase ATMs, and sure enough he was right.

We made it into the park around 10:30 or so. We went first again to the Montu and found it had no line. The boys and Mom stayed in the Egypt area in a big sand play area. We rode Montu front row and had a blast again. When we got off the ride there were several open seats again so we asked if we could re-ride without walking around the whole line again and were given the okay. This meant we got 5 rides on the Montu this week and at this point, it is my thought it is my #2 favorite rollercoaster next to the Maverick at Cedar Point.

For the rest of the day I´m going to share a list of the places we stopped at and some commentary along the way:

  • Edge of Africa - Lions. This was just as exciting as last time we were here. There were two different lion viewing areas and the first one gave us decent views of a male and two female lions. The second area gave us a different view of the two females and they were walking around up close to the glass where we were at. They both kept looking right into the glass as if they were looking for something. It turns out there was another female in the pen next to them which they didn´t get along with. We got great video and pictures of this.
  • Edge of Africa - Hippos
  • Rhino Rally. We were looking forward to doing this again in the daylight, but as we walked up an announcement went over the loud speakers that said the water/river portion of this ride was closed for awhile. We bailed on this.
  • Timbuktu Desert Grill. Luke was tuckered out to the extreme as we settled down to eat here. He really fussed and complained and finally gave up and tried to go to sleep on both Sarah and Mark´s shoulders. We even laid him in the stroller and he finally rested a bit. As we were almost finished up with lunch he finally decided to eat a little bit. After this he was in decent shape again.
  • Timbuktu Kiddie Rides. Both boys enjoyed riding a kiddie train ride and a motorcycle ride. They each got in a ride on the carousel as well. We were happy Jonah was able to enjoy some rides.
  • Scorpion. This was Luke´s second different rollercoaster. We surprisingly didn´t have to do too much convincing to get him on it. This ride goes down a sharp hill to start and then goes through a loop, it then finishes with several corkscrew like circles giving some good g-forces. Once again he enjoyed the whole thing. We were all impressed.
  • Myombe Reserve Gorillas
  • Land of the Dragons. We spent a good two hours in this kids play area. The boys (as well as Mark and Dad) enjoying climbing in the kids play part called ¨Dragon´s nest¨ This was like climbing in a tree house and walking across long cargo nets to other parts. There were also climbing areas for the kids and the boys loved it. Jonah had some difficulty climbing down some of the sloped cargo nets as his smaller feet/shoes had a tendency to fall through the holes. The boys were also treated to some ice cream before we left.

As this evening hit it was easy to see the wear and tear of three big days at these major parks. Luke fell asleep on the way home and never woke up back at the villa. He completely missed supper and some evening swimming. Jonah was also crabby but he made it through supper eating well and swam with his daddy and papa for awhile after. Seth was just hungry. He ate an entire level-1 package of sweet potatoes and some peas as well. He also ate almost an entire bottle with some cereal in it.


This was our take it easy day. We all slept in as long as the boys would let us. Mark dropped Dad off at the Florida Hotel Convention Center for his conference all day. Upon getting back the group started getting ready to head to Downtown Disney to walk around and hit the LEGO store. The morning weather was cloudy with a bit of sun, by noon the rain would be coming. We made it to downtown Disney around 11:30. It was starting to sprinkle some on us, but not bad enough to keep us in the car. We walked past a handful of stores and spotted a nice set of park benches by the lake. We sat down for a picnic lunch there and the drizzle seemed to stop for us.

After our lunch we headed down to the LEGO store. There was a large store called Dinosaur which had a restaurant in it and a Build-A-Bear workshop for building Dinosaurs. Seemed to be a very popular place. Not far was the LEGO store was equally as popular. They had several stations for kids to build and play with LEGOs outside. And they had a large collection of various sets inside. While we were at LEGO the rains picked up. We bailed on the thought of walking to anymore stores and instead headed into McDonald´s next door to get ice cream.

When we got back to the condo it was nap time for almost all of us, except for Mark and Jonah. Jonah had napped through lunch time and was ready to play. He and Mark headed out to the pool for awhile. When the others woke from their naps they joined us as well. We even got Seth in the pool for the first time, and he did great. We had a floatie tube with a baby seat in the middle of it for Seth to sit in. He did great kicking his feet and trying to move that thing around.

In the evening Dad came home from his conference early to join us for supper. Mark grilled pork chops on the grill with some difficulty as the propane tank was nearing empty.


After much deliberation on what to do with this our last day we settled on going to a park called Holy Land Experience. We had given considerations to Sea World, Gatorland, Green Meadows Petting Farm, but settled on the Holy Land after hearing some good reviews.

When you enter the park you enter into a mock-up of the Jerusalem marketplace. They have several fruit-carts and the like trying to simulate what Jerusalem may have looked like. Their staff, or ¨cast¨¨(to borrow a term from Disney) was all dressed for the times/location.

After this Jerusalem marketplace there was a kids area with a model of the crossing of the Red Sea. You could also walk into the great fish´s mouth and see Jonah inside. They had several fake animals the kids could see, a Noah´s ark to walk through and two stone pillars the kids could push on to be like Samson.

From here you walk past a mock-up of the Dead See Qumran caves and then to an area about the empty tomb. We heard a brief talk here talking about the tombs of that day, in particular the one that held Jesus´ body for 3 days. They also had a stage nearby where there were actors simulating some of the events and speeches from Jesus ministry.

From here you walk to a mock-up of the great temple in Jerusalem. It was a pretty neat site from the outside. We ate lunch by this in what they call the Oasis Palms Cafe. From there was the most impressive part, inside their next building they had a complete scaled model of Jerusalem from AD66. It was quite impressive, especially to look up close at Herod´s Temple.

The next building was called the Scriptorium. This had about 12 rooms which you toured with an automated tour. They would have you enter the first room and hear a talk with some sights and sounds, and then the lights in the room would indicate it was time to head to the next room. It did this the whole time. Each room tried to describe the history of the Scriptures for us. The first room was Biblical and started with Genesis 1:1 and talked about God´s revealed Word to us. The subsequent rooms talked about early history in Egypt and later with several ancient documents on display along the way. Eventually they got to telling us about Wycliffe and Tyndale and the English Bibles even mentioning Luther, the German Bible, and the Reformation along the way. The last room spoke of twelve of the great voices over history from the Scriptures including Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, and others.

We spent the evening driving to the Florida Mall to pick up Dad from his conference banquet. They had a most interesting store there called M&Ms World. It was a store filled of just what you think. They had tons of M&M candies you could buy. You could fill up bags by the pound of your favorite M&M colors. They had all sorts of novelties related to M&Ms and even had a Wii playing station where you could try out an M&M game for the Wii. We spent a good half-hour plus there. They even had this ¨scanner¨´which you could stand under and it would ask you a question or two and then tell you what M&M color your mood was and what that meant. Sarah and Jonah both did it and both turned out maroon.

Dad left his conference banquet early and we only spent 20 minutes or so walking the rest of the mall. We headed back to the Villa one last time and packed up to get ready to leave tomorrow...very early.


We had a goal of leaving the Villa between 4:30 and 5:00am and we were gone by 4:55am. We headed out of Orlando in the dark and cold (it was near 32 degrees!). Along the way we ran into lots of pockets of fog from the warmer water in the random lakes going into the cool air. We stopped for breakfast and gas at a GOasis in Georgia.

The afternoon driving went quickly. We took a nice long lunch stop at a rest area somewhere in South Carolina. The driving past North Carolina and into Virginia gave us a nice look at some of the Appalachians (for the first time that I can remember). We made it to our end goal for the day, which was Charleston, West Virginia at around 7pm. We found another Sleep Inn there at a good deal. They had a nice family-style cooking restaurant next door to the hotel where we had some supper.


We slept in just long enough this morning to get some breakfast. We were on the road by 8am headed for home. We were greeted this morning with snow and some ice. It was truly a good thing we decided to bring those ice scrapers along on this trip. The roads were in pretty decent shape. We made good time heading into Ohio. We decided to take the US highways across Ohio through Columbus and then on up to Toledo. This proved to be a great idea as they moved quickly. We made it back home about 3pm.

The End.