Time to get at the computer and write about this year's vacation! We have been home for two days already and before I start forgetting the details I better get in gear and begin. We left on a Friday morning. We had to change planes in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, which wasn't too bad since the airport Schiphol is quite big and it is full of shops, so we slowly strolled from one end to the other (we had to because we arrived at one end and the connecting flight was leaving at the other FAR end of the airport!), watching the people and the stores. So when we finally arrived at our departure gate we didn't have much time left for boredom. The flight overseas was pretty uneventful. Just the usual things, safety demonstrations, drinks and nuts, a warm meal, then duty-free shopping (but we didn't buy anything except for the headphones!), we watched a movie, and in the end came another warm meal. It was the first time we did immigrations and customs in Orlando, but we soon had the familiar feeling when we had to get our baggage. Off to the rental car agency (Hertz) and on the highway! We got a Chevrolet Malibu this time, which was nice and comfortable. Nicole didn't like the fact to sit quite low and not seeing much out of the window (we sit a lot higher in our car at home) but she eventually had to get used to it. She fell asleep on the ride to New Smyrna Beach, which is about 1 1/2 hours from Orlando. It was evening in Florida, so it would've been already early morning at home so of course she was tired from the long and exhausting journey. I told Christian to talk to me so I knew he wouldn't fall asleep while driving! We picked up the keys for the house we rented at the travel agency in a small shopping center just a few minutes away from the house. While we were there we bought a few essential things for breakfast next morning, like coffee, milk, toast and cereal. As I said the house wasn't far away, just two blocks down the road and we were happy to finally arrive.
The first impression was - wow, this is great! There were just a few small houses - four houses to build a complex, is that called a quadruplex? - gathering around a small swimming pool, Nicole was wide-awake again when he saw that! LOL After I had figured out how to open the door locks, we were surprised how nice the house looked from the inside as well. A living room with a cathedral ceiling, small bath and a master bedroom and right beside the nook for the washer/dryer combination a stairway went up to a loft, where Nicole's bed was. She loved that! A wooden porch from the living room, with deck chairs, led directly to the pool. I was really happy how neat everything was. We just unpacked briefly and went to bed. The time difference of 6 hours backwards wasn't that easy to adjust to, since we were wide-awake at 3 am in the morning! This was surprising for me, since we normally don't have any difficulties flying westbound. Maybe it was because we didn't arrive in the middle of the night which we did on the previous trips but late evening, so after a couple of hours sleep we would normally wake up in the morning, but we woke up very early in the morning this time. No big deal though as we had adjusted only two days later. The next morning we had firstly to go grocery shopping of course. In that small shopping center was a Food Lion supermarket we frequently used. I have to admit though, that I was kind of shocked, mildly said, to see the prices of meat, fruit and vegetables. I didn't remember groceries being so expensive, on the other hand we never really stayed in a place with a full kitchen and the opportunity to cook full meals before, and of course the pretty bad exchange rate does take its toll as well. The rest of the day we spent at the pool. Nicole's second name could be Ariel instead of Robin, since once she gets into any kind of water, pool or ocean, she isn't likely to come out soon again! Since her swimming lessons were half a year ago she almost drowned when she first went into the pool, so eager to swim and not really remembering the movements. But it took only half an hour and off she went - swam! In the end she dived and snorkeled without any hesitation. Later we also went to the beach, which was only across the street and through a walkway, took us only 3 or 4 minutes to get there. The beach was quite spectacular, wide, but it was low tide! The water came pretty near the walkway during high tide. We stayed at a car free part of the beach, the next beach access for motorists was about 1 or 2 miles north. So - we unfortunately never found out where exactly the position of the web cam was!
The weather wasn't exactly what we had expected during the first couple of days. It was very cloudy and it wasn't really warm. Well, warmer than at home, but that was easy! It even rained several times, which I didn't like at all, but who would like rain during a vacation? I did understand though since we had learned that Florida was going through a severe drought for more than two years already. Many water fountains had been already shut off due to the lack of water. Actually we were lucky to have not too much rain during these days, as Miami down south suffered from very heavy rainfalls. I envied the Northeast because they had a heat wave! LOL We always watched the local news on Channel 13 or the Weather Channel in the mornings so that we knew what to expect of the weather. We did stick to the local news after a while because I thought that I just needed a temperature and to know if it was cloudy or not. The Weather Channel was a little too detailed to my liking - would you think it is necessary to broadcast the exact minute of the rainfall for some areas? It did warm and clear up after a few days and during our second week we had the most beautiful summer weather! It warmed up and warmed up and during our third week it became hot! A little too hot for me sometimes, but wasn't that exactly what I asked for? Anyway, in summary we had really good weather.
On our first Sunday we just drove around to get used to the area. We went up to Daytona Beach, which is about half an hour by car. Unfortunately no race was there on the Daytona Speedway during our vacation, Christian really likes car races (especially the Formula 1) and watching a race there would've been nice for him. We hit the mall just across the speedway and spent the rest of the day - where? - at the pool! There were days when she was asking me to go into the pool before breakfast!
The next day we drove past Cape Canaveral to Cocoa Beach. Home of the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop! I have seen stickers on cars here in Germany, so I thought the store would be worth a visit. It was, although it is of course more for surfers and people into water sports than just normal tourists like we are. I did find a great watch though and we bought a couple of small things for Nicole to play with in the pool. It was raining on and off so we were happy that we did not decide for the Kennedy Space Center. We did that later. Another day we were driving down to Titusville where I went looking for office stores to buy computer stationery! I wasn't too lucky, but later somewhere else (I don't really remember where that was) I found a good selection at the Office Depot, much more than at Office Max or Staples. J Of course I ended up buying more than I planned, but this is also due to Wal*Mart having smaller packages of nice computer stationery as well!
Then on Tuesday we went to Walt Disney World. We had a five-days pass bought at home from the travel agency, which was a great deal, since it was something like "go 4 days, get one day free". I mean, everybody knows that the admission fees are immense, not only at Disney, so I went for that offer. We decided on Epcot for the first visit. Nicole loves doing that slow ride in Spaceship Earth and I love walking through the World Showcase, including a visit of my favorite places, the Mexican restaurant Cantina de San Angel. In the travel magazine on the plane we learned that the parade Tapestry of Nations is still performing at Epcot, although Disney usually doesn't repeat anything. I had never expected to get a chance to see this beautiful parade again. We stumbled into it in 1999, when Disney did it for the millennium's celebrations. They also showed part of it at the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Sydney! We loved it so much that we bought the CD with the music in 1999 and Nicole often listens to it when she goes to bed. So, we were so excited to see it again! But - it was too windy. As you can see from the pictures of the parade, the performers wear high costumes and they cancelled the parade for safety reasons. Adverse wind conditions was the exact term they used. L So, we thought, maybe another time. Two days later we went to the Magic Kingdom, which we enjoyed very much. I couldn't actually believe it, but Nicole wanted to try the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, a small roller coaster. Christian and I are both not too crazy about roller coasters, but we gave it a try. Nicole liked it so much that she wanted to go a second time right away. I liked it too! We both were screaming so much that we had a sore throat for a while. In the afternoon they did the Magical Moments Parade. Before that a High school Band was marching and playing - I don't remember the name of the high school, something with H like Huntington or something. But that isn't the point. Everybody was laughing, because a female duck ran ahead of the band and didn't go off the parade route! When the Magical Moments Parade arrived, it began to rain and it did not only rain, it poured! We packed our stuff and fled into the stores, but of course everyone did, so the stores were packed. Not very much later we decided to skip Epcot for the evening, they wouldn't perform Tapestry of Nations anyway in these weather conditions! We had dinner at a Ponderosa restaurant on International Drive and we froze our butts off! Their air conditions must've ran on high and we were wet. Yuk. So, we decided to wait for better weather until going to Disney again. It was my birthday the following Monday and I had planned on Epcot that day, sitting at the cantina with a grande margarita, watching the fireworks show Illuminations at 9 pm. We did exactly that, but went to Animal Kingdom before until late afternoon. Animal Kingdom is closing at 5 pm anyway, so we used the day to see almost everything in that park until we went to Epcot again. It had begun to warm up and it was very humid. But still windy and we didn't have much hopes to see the parade and we were right. At the minute it was supposed to start, they announced the cancellation. Again almost two hours later, when they were supposed to perform again. I was sad, but at least we had a nice place in the cantina to watch the fireworks. Really, these fireworks are the most impressive I have ever seen! A wonderful composition of light, music and fireworks. These seats in the Cantina are highly demanded, so it is recommended to look for one directly at the laguna very early, about 3 hours before. Many people asked us if we are waiting for the show or if we are about to leave. No way I gave up my space! It was a long and exhausting day but this is what I had in mind for my birthday, so I really enjoyed it.
It took us until the last week of our vacation to go to Disney again, exactly one week later we went to Animal Kingdom and Epcot again. It was a short visit at Animal Kingdom as we had seen almost everything the week before. But - I had bought some khaki shorts, which were too big for me! Size Medium. Who would've ever thought I'd be too small for a size Medium??? So, I was checking the stores for a size Small, but all what was left was XL and XXL! At the last store I was lucky and found the last pair in size Small. J We strolled around a little bit and at noon went over to Epcot. We still hadn't seen The Living Seas, where they have Manatees and The Land with a boat ride and a puppet show called Food Rocks, about good nutrition. All I can say is Peach Boys and Pita Gabriel! J And we almost couldn't believe it, but this day we were lucky - Tapestry of Nations was on! Since Nicole also wanted to see the fireworks again, so we decided to make it a long day again. This also gave us the chance to sit early at the Cantina and watch the parade twice! It is at 6.30 pm and 8.10 pm. The first time I went with Nicole and Christian watched our seats and the next time he went with her and I watched. Unfortunately he didn't take his camera, since one of the performers reached down to Nicole and danced with her! In the meantime I had a very nice chat with a nice elderly guy who sat at the table next to us. Roland from Gary, IN, if you read this - a big hello from Germany! J I really was happy to have finally had the chance to see this wonderful performance. The costumes, the music, all blends so well, it almost made me cry. It was a wonderful day.
I mentioned before that we had the 5-Days-Hopper Pass for Walt Disney World. It includes the water parks River Country, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. What I didn't realize was that you can add two visits of these water parks to 5 days in the theme parks. I always thought I had to substitute one park day for a water park day. When we realized that we added a day at River Country, which we really enjoyed.
Disney wasn't the only reason we went into Orlando. My favorite park is actually Sea World. I looove Orcas, they are some very majestic animals. At Sea World you can visit a second day for free, you just have to exchange your tickets, which we did. I would've loved to make a reservation at Discovery Cove, where you can swim with dolphins, but since there's the age requirement of being 6 years old, and Nicole was 5 years 10 months, we didn't do that. It would've broken her heart if we went in and wasn't allowed. So, we stuck to Sea World, petted the stingrays and fed the dolphins, and saw four shows with the killer whales. They have a baby killer whale called Baby Shamu who is only half a year old. He is allowed to go into the shows with his mom but he isn't trained yet. Still, he is jumping already! On the second day, Nicole announced that she wanted to sit in the soak zone at Shamu Stadium during a show to get wet. And the people sitting in the first 14 rows do not only get wet, they get soaked with ice-cold saltwater! I hesitated but said ok, we could sit at the edge, Christian sitting in the upper level holding the cameras. To her disliking we only caught a few drops! So, she wanted to see the next show and again we went down a few rows. And when the big killer whale came in (he is the biggest killer whale in any marine park in the whole world - he is 22 feet long and weighs almost 12000 lbs!) she went down and boy, she got soaked! After the first splash she came up again, dripping everywhere. But I also got wet, but it was a hot day so I actually enjoyed it! J But I promise, next time we are going to Florida, whenever that may be, I will make reservations to spend a day at Discovery Cove, that must be a wonderful experience.
At Sea World you can buy an oyster and have it opened for a pearl. We did that last time too and I found a wonderful blueish pearl, which I had mounted into an awesome pendant, three dolphins forming a circle. This time I was looking at the jewelry and the lady behind the counter asked if I would like to have an oyster opened. I told her about my pendant (which I wore intentional of course) and showed it to her and guess what she told me? They would have matching earrings now! I needed nothing more to convince me. So, I tried again and bought an oyster. The pearl inside was yellowish and way too big to fit into one of the earrings. She offered me to trade the big one into two smaller ones, white ones. I accepted and Christian gave me these lovely earrings as a gift for my birthday, Mother's Day and anniversary together! (They were expensive...) We then chatted for a while and she said that maybe next time we are coming they might have a matching ring J. I told her that I definitely would look for it!
Since a friend of mine told me about special Reebok shoes (Hi Kami!) with so-called DMX cushioned soles and as I had planned on buying running shoes anyway, we hit the Belz Factory Outlet Mall one day. And she told me, the Reebok outlets would usually offer "buy 1 pair, get the 2nd 50% off", it proved that this Reebok outlet had the same deal. We ended up buying 5 pair of shoes... Here I had once seen a pair of Reebok DMX and over there the variety is so big that I could hardly decide. After Belz, we visited the Disney Marketplace to visit the world's biggest Disney store and then we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Can you tell that I'm an absolute shop-a-holic?
Another big day was our visit at the Kennedy Space Center. It was only about a 3/4 hour drive and we went on a beautiful but windy day. Unfortunately no launch was scheduled during our stay, the next one is on June 14th. But we were there on May 5th, which is the 40th anniversary of the first American in space, John Shepard. We did the NASA Up-Close bus tour which leads you to a viewing area between launch pads 39 A and 39 B, where the space shuttles are leaving for the International Space Station. We saw a movie in the IMAX cinema, The Dream Is Alive - and it is really a dream for me to fly into space. I'm definitely not able to pay - what was it? - $ 44.000.000 like Dennis Tito, and even though NASA today says, space is not a place for tourism, I do think that one day flying with the space shuttle or any other upcoming vessel, will be as normal as flying with a plane these days.
We usually alternated busy days with lazy days. After a long day in Orlando, we stayed home the other day and spent time at the pool or at the beach. As I said before, Nicole mutated into a mermaid! Some days we got advice not to go into the ocean. Some very dangerous rip currents occurred. So, we just put our feet into and looked for shells. Also, I had heard before that in that area sharks were seen. Before we left I said that I didn't want to go into the ocean when sharks are there, but there were no warnings and nothing in the news so we went and we didn't see any - thankfully! Usually we had strong winds coming from the ocean, and the waves were several feet high. In the end the wind had changed and blew from the Gulf Coast, which made the ocean at the Atlantic Coast unbelievable calm. I could really swim instead of just jumping when a wave rolled in. We really enjoyed these lazy days, followed by an easy meal cooked at home, or eating out. They have some great seafood restaurants there, I can fully recommend JB's Fish Camp (I had the spicy shrimp and oh, they were absolutely delicious!) and Chases On The Beach. Yummy!
We also made shorter trips, one south to the Canaveral National Seashore, just a few miles south of New Smyrna Beach. The water between the shore and the mainland is called Mosquito Lagoon and I know why! Man, these little buggers sure hit us heavily. We stopped at a dock and even saw a wild manatee passing by, some wild dolphins were playing in the water. And a huge pelican came sitting there and didn't even bother that we took a picture of Nicole standing in front of him. We stayed at the beach for a short time watching the fishermen and collected a few more seashells. The other short trip was around Ponce Inlet (between Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach) to visit the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. Last time, in St. Augustine, Nicole was not allowed to climb up the lighthouse there, so I hoped for the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. No way, it is under reconstruction and nobody can get up. So, it was just a trip to a very nice gift shop.
We spent our last full day at the beach, in the afternoon we had to pack our stuff. Turned out we had bought so much that even the third and empty bag we brought, wasn't enough! I had to go and buy a 4th bag, a small one though. On our final day we left quite early to spend our 5th and last day at Disney, the Magic Kingdom. It was hot, hot, hot and near Disney a bushfire was burning. Still the parks remained open. But we did smell the smoke once in a while when the wind would blow it towards us. It looked unreal somehow. Scary in a way. From Disney we directly drove to the rental car station and then with the shuttle bus to Orlando International Airport. We were pretty close at the time, so not much later we took off for Europe. We flew overnight and got a few hours of sleep. We arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam at 10 am. There is a place where you can have a massage, I saw that on our flight to the US and I thought it would be a nice idea after a long flight. So, I treated myself to this wonderful relaxing and reviving acupressure massage for 20 minutes. If anyone has to changes planes in Amsterdam after a long flight, go there and visit the booth, it is definitely worth it! We still had quite a long time left until our connecting flight could be boarded. We arrived on time in Berlin but one bag was missing. Not a big deal, we had that several times before and usually the baggage arrives with the next plane and they deliver it right to your door. So we took a taxi home. The tiredness was kicking in at 8.30 pm and we didn't make it much longer! I have never expected to make it through the day due to the time difference anyway. And really, the airport called the next morning to tell us that our bag is on the way.
That's it! I don't know when we will be able to go overseas again. Don't know where we'd go either. I'd opt for Canada, since we'd be dependent on the summer holidays, but Florida is definitely an option for families, they have just the right mixture of excitement and relaxation. You never know! Until next time...