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Florida Vacation 2007, Day 8: Convention and Departure
11/10/2007 10:30:00 PM

The final day in Orlando...  Our morning was fairly uneventful.  We checked out of the Caribe Royale around 10:30 AM. We headed out in search of the hydroponics convention, which was only about one mile away.

Although it took a while to get going, the convention was completely worthwhile.  We got to meet lots of different vendors in the industry, and we picked up massive amounts of samples.  I'll post a manifest of everything upon returning home, and hopefully we'll be able to do some reviews of all the new nutrients that we acquired.

Several new items and techniques caught our interest.  Personally, I'm pretty interested in the Indoor Sun line of LED lights.  At this point, I'm thinking that they're too good to be true, but the concept has me very interested.


The crew at the Grodan booth was great.  I loved the "tomato in rockwool" costume.  Great roots.


Also, I'm looking forward to trying out the C02 Boost generator.  It's a natural generator, which works something like fermentation.  It's all natural, and quite self-contained.  I want to give it a shot. 


We've stopped for the night just north of Savannah.  Tomorrow we'll meet up with Sutko and Outta somewhere near Raleigh, NC.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 7: Sea World Encore
11/9/2007 9:09:00 PM

Today, we made an encore trip to SeaWorld.  I had better luck getting high quality photos, as I already knew the course that the shows would follow.  Also, we finally had the chance to get good pictures of the polar bears.  They're not always in a visible area, so we were lucky this time.


Additionally, we got better pictures at a number of different places.  Here are a few of the Orcas:


The Orca show was different this time.  I managed to catch a double-jump with the camera:


Also, the Orca show included a mother and baby Orca... The baby was just learning, but it made for a great photo:


Also, I finally managed to get a good picture of a "Leafy Sea Dragon".  It's far-and-away the strangest fish that I've ever seen.  It's in the seahorse family, and it remarkably resembles a plant.  Take a look: 


Another new trick... I figured out how to shoot photos through the glass of the underwater viewing windows:


Dinner was at Ming Court.  We heard that the food was good, so we decided to give it a try. Jessawick liked it.  I was pretty indifferent.  It wasn't bad; it just didn't stand out as especially good.  After dinner, we stopped in at the local grocery store.  We wanted to get some "real" food, and try to get back to eating a more normal diet.

Tomorrow is the hydroponics convention.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 6: Assorted Randomness
11/8/2007 11:22:00 PM

Today was a combination of randomness.  Since we had limited items left on our Orlando agenda, we bounced around more than a little.  Our morning started with a trip to "Old Town" Orlando.  "Old Town" was highly recommended to us (incidentally, by the same fellow who recommended Arabian Nights).  Also, it's the location of the Haunted Grimm House.  Here's our joint assessment of "Old Town": It's a hopelessly inept tourist trap.  There is nothing there that offers any type of redeeming value.  It's consists of a few faux "streets" filled with shops and "attractions".  Most of them are peddling junk. The typical stuff mostly... martial arts "supplies" (also known as the "dragons and swords shop"), the discount gift shop (stuff so hideous that you're embarrassed to even consider buying it), the bars and restaurants that serve downright bizarre food, and caricature "artists" by the boatload.

We originally planned on visiting the Grimm House, but on seeing it in person, we thought better of it.  It's pretty lame.

There's a short version of all this:  AVOID OLD TOWN, ORLANDO.

Having met with disappointment in Old Town, we decided to spend a while "finishing out" Universal's Islands of Adventure (the more ride-based of the parks).  Since it was getting on towards lunch time, we called ahead for reservations at Mytho's (the restaurant in the "Lost Continent" section of the park).  Supposedly, it's won a lot of awards for excellent food.  The place is beautiful.  We took pictures both inside and outside.  Additionally, we'd both say that the food was far better than expected.  The food was very well made, and the restaurant was really a cut above "theme park food".  It's reputation is deserved. I'm glad we ate there.


We caught a few of the rides for an encore round.  "Poseidon's Fury" really is well planned and executed.  We didn't get any photos during the performance, but we got plenty of the exterior.

After roaming all about the Islands of Adventure, we came back to the hotel for a bit.  We like the hot tub.

We had reservations at Fulton's Crab House this evening.  Yes, the Fulton's in Downtown Disney.  We missed it on the last trip, and figured we'd give it a shot.  I'd heard that it was pricey, but I really had no idea... When we looked at the menu, we found that most entrees were over $45.  I like good food just a much as the next guy, but even Red Square isn't *that* expensive.  I'd estimate that a bill for two people would be near $180.  We decided it was ridiculous, and went to Raglan Road (the Irish Pub) instead.  Raglan Road always has great food, and the house band is always entertaining.  The only negative about our visit this evening was our seating... We were directly in front of a speaker, and they like to run the whole show pretty loudly.  On the whole, we'd always recommend Raglan Road.  They were the highlight of the Disney Dining Plan from our trip last year.  They're reasonably priced on a cash basis as well (like tonight).

I got a few pictures of the Irish dancing this time.


Ok, it's late now.  I miss Lightroom.  Must get better laptop.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 5: Universal Studios & Blue Man Group
11/7/2007 11:12:00 PM

Today, we spent most of the day at Universal Studios, and the remainder at the adjacent Islands of Adventure (the Universal "ride" park).


I'd say that the highlight of Universal Studios is the "Mummy's Revenge" ride. It's actually quite unique, as it's partially roller-coaster and partially thrill ride.  In many ways, it's similar to "Expedition Everest" at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Also, the Monster Makeup show is quite good.  It's partially informative, but mostly just very funny.

I rather like the Islands of Adventure.  Admittedly, we haven't been completely through them yet; but thus far, they're pretty good.

Tonight, dinner was at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.  Although I normally don't like to eat at chain restaurants named for fictional characters, tonight was an exception.  We had tickets to the Blue Man Group, and it was decidedly convenient.  In fairness, the food was much better than I expected.  I was pleased.

The final event of the day was the Blue Man Group.  Jessawick got us tickets a few days ago.  The show was absolutely fantastic.  It's really difficult to describe.  It's somewhere between an interactive concert and performance art.  My description is sorely inadequate.  For a comparison... I really like Cirque du Soleil, but Blue Man is better.  Given the choice, I'd see Blue Man.  They didn't allow photos, so I have nothing good to include.  If you ever get the chance to see them, take it.  At this point, Blue Man and Discovery Cove are the best items of the entire vacation.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 4: Time Shares & Sea World
11/6/2007 9:24:00 PM

We should have known better, but our curiosity got the better of us early this morning.  The concierge desk offered us breakfast and $75 cash if we would sit through a presentation about time shares.  Since it started at 07:30 AM, and was only to last 90 minutes, we'd figured that it would be over by the time the SeaW orld opened.  We were clearly mistaken.

Firstly, I'll skip most of the boring details.  Here's the lowdown on what they offered:

The "cheap" version of the time share was about $20k. The one they were pushing hard was about $25k.  Each one had an annual maintenance and association commitment of over $1k.  In exchange, you would get one week per year use of the property.  They offered a decent "exchange" program, where you could obtain use of outside properties.

We just didn't see the value in it.  Secondarily, lots of their business policies were very questionable.  They were pushing a 15.9% interest rate.  They weren't prepared for any difficult questions either, such as "what's the historical rate of maintenance fee increases?"  Eventually, they just got tired of me asking intelligent questions, and became quite unpleasant to be around.  We ended up wasting an extra 40 minutes, but gained the knowledge to never get roped into such a diversion ever again.

Our next stop was Sea World.  Although Sea World is a different park than Discovery Cove, they share common ownership.  Jessawick had a blast feeding the sea lions, dolphins, and sting rays.


Obviously, we had to go see the Shamu show.  That's one large black-and-white beast.  I was glad that I lugged around the huge 70-200 f/2.8 lens all day.  I miss having Lightroom handy.  My laptop is almost six years old, and it's just not possible to make it work in any practical manner.  I'll need to do lots of photo processing when we get home.


The walruses (walri?) were amusing.  They're larger than one would expect.


The Walrus and Sea Lion show is great.  Here's a photo of their stadium:


Also, Sea World has a section for penguins and polar bears.  Here's a good one of a penguin:


We had dinner at a carribbean restaurant.  The food was pretty good.  Orlando has this strange obsession with the Anheuser-Busch company.  Although they appears to be a great corporate citizen; I just can't will myself to like their beer.  It's such a shame that it's just so bad.

Florida Vacation 2007, Day 3: Discovery Cove & Taverna Opa
11/5/2007 9:07:00 PM

Today was the trip to Discovery Cove... In theory, it's the central point of the whole trip.  The morning started pretty early, around 7:00 AM.  Before leaving the hotel, we (Jessawick mostly) stopped off at the concierge desk to see about tickets to the Blue Man Group.  We've got tickets for Wednesday.  Since the Blue Man Group is located in Universal Studios anyway; we're going to make Wednesday the Universal day.

We arrived at Discovery Cove around 8:00 AM.  I really like the way that Discovery Cove is managed, and the all-inclusive nature of the visits.  For example, Discovery Cove is the only attraction thus far that has offered free parking.  We signed in, and got our assignments for the dolphin session.  We were scheduled for 9:55 AM.

After check-in, we wanted to check out something that we'd read in the literature...  Supposedly, Discovery Cove offered free use of prescription diving masks.  The rumor is true.  I've got to say, the prescription diving mask really made the day much more enjoyable for both of us.  It was really nice to be able to see.

But I digress...  08:58 AM.  Disaster call from work.  Remarkably, I hadn't ditched my cell phone yet, so I was able to take the call.  Although I have not yet verified it myself, it sounds as if we had total failure on one of our main routers.  That's never a good thing, as from the sound of it, it put most of the office out of commission.  More on the work disaster later.

Since we had some time before the dolphin swim, we sought out breakfast.  Remember, Discovery Cove is all-inclusive.  The food was very good.  Admittedly, breakfast was fairly simple, but the food is plentiful and of excellent quality.  Following breakfast, we checked out the coral reef.  The reef is really quite impressive.  I also learned something about swimming goggles... Things are closer than they appear.  I learned something else too.  Don't kick really hard when you're swimming, if you can whack your foot on something painful.

Ok, back to the reef.  It has depths of varying degree, with 14 ft. being about the deepest.  It's salt water, with hundreds of species contained in it.  They've got Stingrays that have got an 10-12 ft. "wingspan".  They're ginormous.  In the words of one of the staff:  "They're like Mini Coopers that swim".

At just before 10:00 AM, we had our "appointment" with the dolphin.  The facility has three different dolphin pools, and they run three separate groups at one time.  Our dolphin was quite friendly and sociable.  We got one of the younger dolphins at the park, "Coral".  From what they told us, she was the first of the babies that was born at Discovery Cove.  You could see that she'd spent lots of time around people, and she was great at her "job".


The dolphins and the trainers had worked it all out, and it ran very smoothly.  Although I should have probably known better, the sheer size of the dolphins surprised me.  They're about 8 ft. long, and they weigh about 650 lbs.  They're a big honking sea creature.


The dolphin swim session ended with getting a ride around the cove.  Coral towed us around, while we held on to her fin.


I'll admit that after the dolphin swim was over, I called back to the office to hear about their dilemma.  It makes perfect sense, if I leave; we have a critical failure.  From what I heard from the office, it sounds as if they were able to secure a replacement part, and get operations running again, even if in a limited fashion.  I think they're ok at this point; or at least ok enough to continue for a few days.  I felt better immediately.  I realize that I take work too seriously; but I do; and that isn't likely to change.

I decided that it was time to get dry and warm.  I like being dry and warm.  Once again, I've got to mention how nice the whole Discovery Cove experience was...  Their facilities were great.  Private showers and changing areas, quality shampoo right at hand.  Very pleasant experience.  They really run a good operation.  I spent an hour or so shooting photos of the dolphins from the shore.

Lunch was of excellent quality.  They offered at least 8 different selections, and the results were great.  As mentioned before, it was all included in the price of admission.

Around 1:30 PM, we took the horticulture tour of the facility.  They really have a lot of interesting plants.  They've managed to create a tropical jungle in a very short time.  Good tour.

We spend the rest of the day between the Stingray Pool, the Lazy River, the Reef, the Aviary, and more dolphin photos.


We departed Discovery Cove around 5:30.  I'd heard that there was a Taverna Opa in the area; so we went to investigate.  Greek food is great, and Taverna Opa is a blast.  I've visited the one in Miami before.  This was a first for the Orlando branch.  Just like Miami, the food was exceptional and the meal was a lot of fun.  I highly recommend you visit a Taverna Opa, should you encounter one.  Greek yogurt rocks, as does the entertainment.


Florida Vacation 2007, Day 1
11/4/2007 12:11:00 AM

Although we got a bit of a late start, due to my last photo class at DCAD, we're officially on vacation now.  We've been on the road since 1 PM, and we've seen lots of I-95.

It's a little after midnight, but we've made it to our first destination.  Wild and exciting Ridgeland, SC.  Truthfully, Ridgeland isn't much of a destination, but it was a good stopping point; and it puts us within easy reach of Orlando for tomorrow.


11/8/2006 7:17:00 PM
Ah, the disasterous return home...

On our final approach to Delaware, we encountered a small technical problem. The Focus went into a totally uncontrolled hydroplane on I-95N near Elkton, MD.

We spun twice, and hit the guardrail twice. All during high-speed rush hour traffic. Here's the really remarkable part:

Neither of us died. Neither of us were injured. In fact, the car was even drivable. However, it's going to need lots of repairs. It has damage to the front bumper, front quarter panel, rear quarter panel, rear bumper, shocks, and possibly a new hood. Time to face the raging insurance premiums.

Ah, the memories...
11/7/2006 10:17:00 PM
  1. Check Out
  2. Interstate
  3. Sutko
  4. More Interstate
11/6/2006 9:05:00 PM
Today we attended to the loose ends of our vacation. We also engaged in the age-old art of Christmas shopping.

We started the morning with a trip to the Downtown section. We had Christmas shopping on our mind. We found our way to the shop that outfits the little "princesses", as we have some of them on our collective list. Guess what we found? Cousins:

After the trip to Downtown, we returned to EPCOT to finish visiting all the sites that we had missed previously. Admittedly, we were killing time on the runup to the backstage tour of the greenhouses. The greenhouse tour was exceptional. The hydroponic and aeroponic farming methods that they use are quite incredible. Admittedly, a lot of EPCOT's effort goes into the showmanship; but they do have a number of neat techniques.


Most of the EPCOT farming techniques are impractical in the "real" world, as they require a sterile and very controlled environment. However, given the controlled conditions, the yields are very impressive. I'm thinking of putting together a wheatgrass setup using their aeroponic nutrient-spray technique. I should be able to adapt it to a continual flow using a small aquarium pump system for the nutrients.

The EPCOT gardens manage to operate with a minimal amount of dirt. However, using their methods, it makes sense. Plants need nutrients and water. Dirt holds these items for the roots to absorb. If you help the plants with the absorbtion, you can manage without all the dirt. The hanging pumpkin gardens are a great example.


Following the tour, we visited the Coral Reef for an early dinner. Now we understand why the waiting list was so long. The food was incredible. Jessawick had the Ahi Tuna. I had the Blackened Catfish. Both were exceptional. The whole restaurant is sunken into the ground, with a sidewall view of the large aquarium tank. Dinner and a sea-turtle show.

We puttered about EPCOT for the rest of the day. We revisited several of the countries. Jessawick rode a Segway.


We're going to start the journey home tomorrow.