Archive for March, 2015

Florida Vacation – Crystal River & Zephyrhills

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As Karen and I left our good friend Taty in Orlando, we headed towards the Gulf to Crystal River.  The first thing we did when we arrived was to drive to Fort Island Gulf Beach, a beautiful little beach with white powdery sand and a boardwalk to a fishing pier.

Karen on the white sandy beach

Karen on the white sandy beach

I had to get my toes in the Gulf of Mexico

I had to dip my toes in the Gulf of Mexico

Beautiful sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach

Beautiful sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach

One of the things on my bucket list was to swim with manatees in Crystal River.  In the winter, this area has the world’s largest collection of manatees in their natural environment.  The manatees keep warm by staying in and near freshwater springs, which remain a constant 72 degrees year-around.  The spring areas help them survive the difficult winter months and give them a place to rest and recover from the cold.  Crystal River is one of the very few places that one can still passively swim with these large, docile animals, and I was so excited to finally get my chance to do so.

Only shot I got while I was swimming.  But I was thrilled to capture him.

Only shot I got while I was swimming. But I was thrilled to capture him.

We chose to take our tour with American Pro Diving Center because of its excellent reviews and we were not disappointed.  We had been hearing reports the last couple of weeks that the manatees had left the river because the weather had warmed up so much.  Our guide Glen warned us that there were fewer manatees in the river but he would do his best to find us one.  He took us into Kings Bay where for the first 1/2 hour we didn’t see any manatees, but lots of kayakers and birds.

Karen spotted the first manatee!

Karen spotted the first manatee!

Such a thrill to  see these gentle creatures!

Such a thrill to see these gentle creatures!

Then Karen spotted one!  We were thrilled.  Glen got into the water and told us to gently enter the water and take turns coming close to the animal.

The manatee is playing peek-a-boo with Glen

The manatee is playing peek-a-boo with Glen

A baby manatee came right up to Glen and rolled over to have his belly rubbed.  Then the mother came up, and then another and another.  We ended up getting to see two groups of manatees!  Even Glen was amazed at how many we saw.  I am SO blessed and so happy to finally get to be up close and personal with these wonderful animals that Christopher Columbus as well as other voyagers called mermaids!

I'm a happy, happy lady!

I’m a happy, happy lady!

We left Crystal River absolutely elated about our experience with the manatees and drove back to Zephyrhills where Karen lives!

Shirley, me and Karen catching up

Shirley, me and Karen catching up

It just so happened that yet another couple of friends that I had met while working in Alaska were staying in Zephyrhills.  We had such a fun time catching up with them on what they had been doing since we had seen them last.

Shirley, Paul and Karen line dancing

Shirley, Paul and Karen line dancing

They invited us to line dance with them.  OMG what fun!  I’m totally hooked :-)!

Good old country music at Barb's Cafe

Good old country music at Barb’s Café

The next day we invited Paul and Shirley to a very eclectic little café to have an early supper and listen to music.  Barb’s Café normally closes at 1pm.  but on Fridays they open back up from 3:30 to 6:30pm for supper and music.  No alcohol is served.  Only regular and diet coke, sweet and unsweetened tea.  And here is the menu we got, handwritten on a small piece of paper.

Barb's Café Friday afternoon menu

Barb’s Café Friday afternoon menu

Now this was nothing like the meals we had enjoyed at the Grand Floridian or French Café in Orlando, but it was just as much fun!  I mean, talk about a good, home town experience!  I was advised by the waitress NOT to have the fish, but I’m told that the liver and onions were excellent!

Karen, Eunice, Shirley, Paul and I at Barb's Cafe

Karen, Eunice, Shirley, Paul and I at Barb’s Café

Linda, me, Karen and Eunice all dressed up for the Luau

Linda, me, Karen and Eunice all dressed up for the Luau

Now let me tell you, Karen and her friends know how to have a good time.  Besides line dancing, drinking green beer on St. Patrick’s day, bicycling around the park, doing water aerobics, and much more, the clubhouse had a luau one night that we all got dressed up for.  What an entertaining night!  The dinner was delicious, the music was great, and we danced like no one was watching.

Line dancing at the luau

Line dancing at the luau

One thing I really wanted to see while in Florida was an alligator.  Now I saw alligators at the Gaylord Palms Resort where we stayed in Orlando and at Animal Kingdom at Walt Disney World, but I really, really wanted to see an alligator in the wild.  So on my last day in Zephyrhills, Karen said “let’s go find an alligator!”

DSC02856We drove down the road a way to a boat launch.  Lo and behold as soon as we walked down the boardwalk to the river there was an alligator!

A canoer paddling next to an alligator, yikes!

A canoer paddling next to an alligator, yikes!

The first alligator I've ever seen in the wild in it's natural habitat!

The first alligator I’ve ever seen in the wild in its natural habitat!

I couldn’t have been more thrilled!  Another perfect ending to an absolutely perfect trip!

 

 

 

 

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March 30, 2015 at 5:57 pm 3 comments

Florida Vacation – Disney World Animal Kingdom & Epcot

 

Karen and I heading into Animal Kingdom

Karen and I heading into Animal Kingdom

Today I headed out, along with my friends Karen and Taty, two ladies I met while working in Alaska, to Animal Kingdom to have more fun and adventures.

Kilimanjaro Safari ride

Kilimanjaro Safari ride

First  thing on the agenda was the Kilimanjaro Safari ride.  Now normally I am not a fan of animals kept in captivity.  But after reading how much Disney does for the welfare of wildlife I felt much better about having a look at these animals.  Since 1995, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF) has contributed more than $27 million dollars to support conservation programs in 114 countries.

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So off we went in our jeep through the 110 acre wildlife reserve through open plains, shady forest landscapes and rocky wetlands.  We saw giraffes, elephants, hippos, rhinos, ostriches, and of course alligators.

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Around every turn throughout the park there are entertainers including the African drummers that I loved the most!

African drummers

African drummers

We also went to a few shows including Finding Nemo, an interesting musical version of the film.  People carried around huge puppets of the characters and with the added special affects you almost felt like you were under the sea.

Flights of Wonder

Flights of Wonder

Another good show was the Flights of Wonder.  I was so impressed at the education that was taught during the show and message that “The future of the earth is in our hands. Be inspired to do your part today!”

The Lion King

The Lion King

But my very favorite show, and the highlight of the day, was the Lion King.  What an absolutely awesome production!  No one should miss this show.  From babies to grandparents, it will be a highlight of your day, I guarantee it!  I was so moved.

Expedition Everest!  Oh yes, I did it!

Expedition Everest! Oh yes, I did it!

Then on to some rides.  I normally don’t go on fast, roller coaster type rides but I know that Karen LOVES these kind of rides so I decided to take a leap of faith (that I wouldn’t die of a heart attack) and go on a ride with her.  All I can say is, I did it!  I did it!!!  And I lived to see another day :-)!

Getting ready to go on the Kali River Rapids ride!

Getting ready to go on the Kali River Rapids ride!

Then we headed to the Kali River Rapids ride to get in our raft and head down the river.

Kali River Rapids ride

Kali River Rapids ride

I’m not sure which one of us got the wettest, but when we got off the raft we were all drenched and laughing.  Time to go home!

Taty drenched from the river rapids ride

Taty drenched from the river rapids ride

The next day we pulled ourselves out of bed and got ready for another full day.  We started out at a lovely little French Café that Taty goes to frequently and had a wonderful breakfast of crepes and croissants.  Then off to Epcot!

Taty and I at the entrance of Epcot

Taty and I at the entrance of Epcot

I loved all the topiaries throughout the park.

Karen and I sitting in front of some topiaries

Karen and I sitting in front of some Disney character topiaries

More Disney characters

More Disney characters

We went to the Coral Reefs to see all the fish and marine life.  We went on the Spaceship Earth ride that took us on a ride through the history of communication.  Pretty interesting and well done!  After getting our fill of rides, off we went to a trip around the world at the World Showcase Lagoon.

The flowers were amazing!

The flowers were amazing!

All around the World Showcase Lagoon we walked through several countries.  In France we watched the Impressions de France film on a huge screen.  We listened to an outdoor concert in America.  We walked through the streets of Morocco.

Karen, Taty and I in "Morocco"

Karen, Taty and I in “Morocco”

In Italy we watched street performers and had pizza and sangrias.

Street performers in Italy

Street performers in Italy

Cheers to good friends and good times!

Cheers to good friends and good times!

Before we knew it, it was getting dark and time for the IllumiNations:  Reflections of Earth fireworks show.

Epcot at night

Epcot at night

All I can say is WOW!  What a beautiful and moving display!

IllumiNations

IllumiNations fireworks on the lagoon show

And the perfect way to end the day and our time with Taty.

My wild and wonderful friend Taty

My wild and wonderful friend Taty

The three Mousekateers!

The three Mousekateers!

And now it’s time to say good-bye…  Good-bye Disney World!  Good-bye Taty!  You helped make all my dreams come true.

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March 27, 2015 at 6:00 pm Leave a comment

Florida Vacation – Grand Floridian, Downtown Disney & the Gaylord Palms Hotel

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In 2006 I decided to change my life.  I quit my job, rented my house out and traveled to Alaska to work for Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge for the summer.  I have not for one minute regretted that decision.  I have enjoyed each and every new experience I have had since that time nine years ago and continue to travel and experience new and fun things.

I’ve also met so many people, some of which have become good friends who, although I don’t have the opportunity to see very often, have lasted the test of time.  One of those friends I met in Alaska is Karen who, after living in several states around the country, has settled in Zephyrhills, Florida along with her husband Jon.

Grand Floridian Resort

The majestic Grand Floridian Resort

I recently flew to Florida to visit Karen and do a little traveling and have some fun in the beautiful sunny March weather.  First on the agenda was to drive to Orlando to meet up with Taty, another lady who we met in Alaska and now works at Disneys Grand Floridian Resort.  Taty met us at the hotel and treated us to a wonderful breakfast, tour of the hotel, and hours of catching up.

Breakfast with Taty and Karen

Breakfast with Taty and Karen

It's a Mickey waffle!

It’s a Mickey waffle!

Catching up with old friends

Catching up with old friends

After taking a ride on the monorail catching glimpses of the parks and stopping off to check out the Polynesian Resort, we headed to Downtown Disney to see the sights and pick up some souvenirs.

Being silly at Downtown Disney

Being silly in Downtown Disney

Taty and Karen with Mickey and Minnie

Taty and Karen with Mickey and Minnie

A dragon made completely out of legos

A dragon made completely out of Legos

Hot air balloon ride in Downtown Disney

Hot air balloon ride in Downtown Disney

Taking the boat back to the parking lot at the end of a long and happy day

Taking the boat back to the parking lot at the end of a long and happy day

After a full day of seeing as much as we could cram into one day, three tired and happy gals took the boat back to the parking lot and headed to our hotel, the absolutely magnificent Gaylord Palms Resort.

Gaylord Palms Resort atrium.  View from our room.

Gaylord Palms Resort atrium. View from our room.

The Gaylord Palms Resort is like a world all it’s own.  The lush, tropical atrium recreate three Florida environments.  We walked along the wooden walkways over misty bogs through the Everglades section with the moss hanging from the trees, thick vegetation, streams and waterfalls, alligators (that you can watch being fed twice a week), and a wooden shack restaurant.

Alligators at the Gaylord Palms Resort

Alligators at the Gaylord Palms Resort

The Key West section has shops that resemble the relaxed, friendly atmosphere of the island.  There are also several species of fish in the streams and ponds that are fed several times a week.

A touch of Key West at the Gaylord Palms Resort

Karen standing at the Fountain of Youth just outside the Key West section of the Gaylord Palms Resort

The St. Augustine atrium features a small-scale replica of Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest fort in North America. Designers studied the ruins of the original, built by Spain in 1672 in what is now St. Augustine, to emulate its mysterious, romantic aura.  The fort displays treasures from the Spanish ship Atocha, discovered by Mel Fisher after a 16-year search. It includes a Wedding Gazebo, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth, and several restaurants and bars.

Small-scale replica of Castillo de San Marcos at the Gaylord Palms Resort

Small-scale replica of Castillo de San Marcos at the Gaylord Palms Resort

Outside there are two pools.  The family water park with a multi-level tree house playground and a huge screen that shows movies each evening called the ‘dive-in’, and the beautiful, quiet adult pool with private cabanas and two hot tubs.  The list goes on and on.  You could spend a ton of time here and never get bored.

Kids pool

Family water park

Adults only pool

Adults only pool

Next we head to Animal Kingdom and Epcot.

 

 

March 27, 2015 at 1:16 am 1 comment