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.