Bob Evans Pancakes!

I’m sitting this morning at the counter of a Bob Evans restaurant in Marion, IL. I’ve never been to a Bob Evans before and Tammy really thought that I would like it. Bob Evans focuses on breakfast and I, as it seems most men do, feel that breakfast is certainly the best meal of the day. I took the opportunity to have a counter seat. While I would never sit at the counter in normal activities, traveling always makes me want to take a single seat at the counter. In small towns with diners this always gives you an opportunity to mingle with the locals, usually also old men that are now completely and totally absorbed in their morning breakfast (something in the genes).

I drove 900 miles (902 to be exact) yesterday. That is the distance from Kissimmee, FL to our present location. The drive was only interrupted with gas stops, restrooms and food (in that order). Oh, and lest we forgot Georgia. The state that messed up our drive on the way down didn’t fail to provide again. Persistent road construction and backed up traffic provided about 90 minutes of frustration on the drive.

Tammy came down with something, we don’t know what, but she felt terrible on Thursday and still felt bad yesterday so she rested and I drove. She got really sick and Thursday night we had to find a Walgreens to get supplies and medicine for her. She was shivering, her throat hurt and was getting hot and cold spells. She’s doing better now, but isn’t out of the woods so I’ll likely be driving a lot today as well. Anyway, I’ll get back to the trip at hand now.

I left things with our planned trip to Animal Kingdom and Epcot. Let me tell you this, Animal Kingdom, for my dollar, is the coolest Disney park they have. It’s amazingly well done and shows that it is the newest of the Disney parks. This is the only park that had recycling containers and the benches were made out of that special “recycled” wood. The feel of the park is great, really. It felt much more open, the constant vegetation and great design of the park made it really feel like I place that you would just sit and relax in. One note, Animal Kingdom also does FastPass, but we really didn’t need it. We got a FastPass for the Safari but everything else was easy to get on in the morning (that changed in the afternoon, but we were done). Our guide book told us to go to Animal Kingdom in the morning since the animals are more active, so we got there first thing. We went on the Safari as I mentioned, we also went on the river raft and the two walking animal tours. The entire day was great. We also decided to get our pictures with the Disney characters in the Animal Kingdom. The cool thing about that being that they are all dressed in their safari gear. It was a really great time and we stayed until the mid-afternoon.

After a thoroughly enjoyable time at Animal Kingdom, our afternoon and evening spent at Epcot seemed a little less impressive. First of all, Epcot should really be two different parks. Future World (the part that you associate with the big “ball”) was very uninspiring. You can tell it hasn’t been updated for some time and it was just not that well done. The second part of Epcot is the Nations display. Here there are little sections of various nations with their architecture, culture and food on display. This was really cool. However, both Tammy and I had severely aching feet and tired bodies from our morning at Animal Kingdom. It’s a bit too much to try to do two parks in one day, so we really only saw this part of Epcot on a superficial level, I would like to go back. We did stay until park close and see the IllumiNations fireworks show that they do everynight. It was very impressive and even a bit moving at times (particularly when watching it with the backdrop of the war in Iraq). Notable however from the display was the presence of any middle eastern country, seemed rather odd.

Doing Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Epcot in two consecutive days left both of us rather tired, so we eagerly looked forward for many reasons to Wednesday when we went to Discovery Cove.

Let me start by saying two things. Discovery Cove will make you do a double-take when you see the price, it’s 4 times the price of a day at any Disney park. Also, you will be challenged to schedule (you must reserve your spot at Discovery Cove) your visit unless you are about 6-months ahead of your planned trip. However, deal with both because this place is great.

Discovery Cove is operated by Seaworld and is based on the tour that they used to do where you got to meet the dolphins, but taken much further. At Discovery Cove you will swim in a huge (man-made) tropical reef stocked completely with an amazing variety of fish, wade in a ray pool where you can touch and feed stingrays, visit one of the most amazing bird aviaries that I’ve ever seen, enjoy the coolest “swimming pool” I’ve ever experienced and the signature event, you will get to have a Dolphin Encounter. In your encounter, you go out with 5-7 other people and two trainers and you meet and play with a dolphin for about 20 minutes. The experience is great and you start to understand the power and elegance of these amazing creatures. The entire day is a wonderful, relaxing time filled with “oh wow!” moments. Discovery Cove is limited to 1,000 visitors a day (that’s the reason for the reservations) which helps tremendously to make it such an enjoyable experience.

Our last day in Florida concluded with a quick trip to Seaworld (when you go to Discovery Cove you get 5-days of complimentary admission to Seaworld). I had only been to Seaworld once before which was a miserable, rain-filled day in March in Texas when I was at Hellweek and none of the shows were going. So this time I got to see the Dolphin show and the Shamu show. Very cool.

After that we went to Downtown Disney for dinner and to take in the Cirque du Solei show that is permanently hosted there, La Nouba. This show was specially created for Downtown Disney and is the fourth Cirque show I’ve seen (O, Dralian and Allegria being the three others). Theatrically La Nouba was incredible, only bested by O. However, both O (at Bellagio in Las Vegas) and La Nouba (at Downtown Disney) have permanent stages where Dralian and Allegria were traveling in the “big top” or tent so they are at a disadvantage. Unfortunately though La Nouba had the least impressive acrobatics of any other Cirque show I’ve seen. Additionally, the presence of BMX bike tricks intermingled in the show was very disconnected and obviously only added to please the kids visiting Disney. The lights, music and performance quality were great and all-in-all still a very enjoyable time.

That brings us full circle back to the counter here at Bob Evans. The multi-grain pancakes, newly added to the menu, are quite good. And as expected, the three seats to my right have filled with gentlemen my senior enjoying a morning cup of coffee and deciding if they wish to have any breakfast or maybe just a slice of pie. They keep leering at me due to my audacity to have a laptop at “the counter”.

Just a bit more driving today and we’ll be back home.

Magic Kingdom

Woke up early and can’t fall back asleep. Figured I would just write a little. Tammy is sound asleep next to me. I wish I had the ability to sleep that well. We went to sleep early last night so even though I’m up at this crazy hour (and I’ve been up for about an hour), I actually still got over 6 hours of sleep.

We went to the Magic Kingdom yesterday and it was great. It was sunny, in the mid-70s with a breeze. You couldn’t imagine a better day. It was a stark counterpoint to our first day in Florida which rained the entire day (sometimes quite heavily) and it was in the 60s. We took “advantage” of the rain day and went to the Kennedy Space Center where most of the attractions are inside.

KSC was very, very cool. It was really inspiring to be at the same place that so much history has occurred at. We took the “Up Close” tour of the facility (all from a bus) which got us closer to the launch pads for the shuttle and Saturn V programs. It’s amazing to see these things up close. The size of everything in this place is of a different scale. The Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) where they build the rockets and then move them to the launch pads is the largest single-story building in the world (a Saturn V rocket can stand upright in it).

It was interesting to be here only a month after the Columbia was lost on re-entry. Perhaps most touching was the memorial to astronauts that have lost there lives in action and the picture of the Columbia crew in front of it. The memorial was really striking in it’s directness. The sun wasn’t out when we were there so we weren’t able to see the way it reflects sunlight through the astronauts name (a fitting memorial for an astronaut in my book), instead they were illuminated with lights.

We also went to the IMAX 3D show about the International Space Station (ISS). That thing is really incredible. It makes Skylab and Mir look like an old trailer house. It’s really quite far along already and it will be really amazing to see in a few years when complete. They said when it is complete that it will be the 3rd brightest object in the night-sky and easily viewed with a telescope (another good reason to get a telescope).

We returned to Orlando that evening (in the rain still) and went to Wonderworks. Wonderworks is a place where they take all the neat “game” things at a science museum and they get rid of the museum part and just make it a big play room. It was a lot of fun. They also have the worlds largest laser tag game on the top floor and Tammy and I played. Tammy won the whole game! She got 2,650 points (compared to my measly 800+) and beat everyone in our session.

Enough of the rainy start to our vacation and spending time indoors (we could have done that in Minnesota after all!).

Yesterday we went to Walt Disney World for the first day. We spent the entire day in the Magic Kingdom. It was a great time to forget everything else and just have fun. We spent the day going on various rides and just having a really great time. Before I get into the Magic Kingdom, you need to know about FastPass. So, the most annoying thing about Disney is the tremendously long lines. Well, Disney (in modern times) has found a great solution, FastPass. A handful of rides (the most popular) have FastPass booths where you can put your ticket in and get a “reservation” for a couple hours later. You return in a couple hours and walk right in to the front and your on the ride in mere minutes. Sounds to good to be true right? Well, it works.

We had a great strategy devised for the Magic Kingdom. The first thing we did was get a FastPass for Space Mountain and then while waiting for the pass to time in we went on Alien Encounter. Alien Encounter gets only an average rating. Not very scary, but the animatronics were pretty impressive. However, for a ride where you literally don’t move it was okay. After that we walked over to Splash Mountain and got our next FastPass. This is critical, you can get your next FastPass as soon as your next one times in, not after you use it! As a result, you should always have 2 FastPass reservations out. Then, while waiting for our FastPass for Splash Mountain to time in we went and rode Space Mountain (walking by the hundreds of people in line). It’s best, in my opinion, to only stand in the normal line on rides that don’t have FastPass options. If you stand in for the ones that do, you wait forever! We continued like this the whole day and had a blast. In addition to Alien Encounter, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain we went to Tom Sawyer’s Island, Thunder Mountain, Swiss Family Robinson, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.

It was a “magical” day at the Magic Kingdom. Who says this place is just for kids! (With the exception of Fantasy Land which is crazy with kids.)

Today (in a short while here) we are going to Animal Kingdom and Epcot. I’m really looking forward to both of these, they should be great. (Tammy just woke up and asked my why I’ve been up all morning, who knows!). I’ll see if I can add some more later.

Oh, before I sign-off, I almost forgot about the drive down here. It wasn’t really that bad (as “good” as 24 hours of driving can be!). However, Georgia was terrible. Traffic and construction in Atlanta slowed us down by 20-30 minutes. And then, about an hour south of Atlanta we had the worst road construction I’ve ever seen on an interstate. Cars were backed up for 15 miles (so we surmise from the signs). Luckily, some quick atlas work and help from the GPS by yours truly and we routed around it (however, it still ate probably an hour of time but who knows how long if we just waited there). We stayed in Padukah, Kentucky the first night, nothing special.