Day 5: Homeward Bound

Leave it to me to get sun-burned the last day I’m here… 
(Seriously? The ONE DAY I don’t put on sunscreen….)
After we woke up and checked out of our hotel this morning, we hit the pool and it was cloudy at first, but the devil rays of the Florida sun came out eventually and now the tops of my arms sting with a salmon tint. 
Oh well. 
We didn’t end up going to the beach today, but I don’t mind because I honestly am pretty physically exhausted… The week away in the sun has been fantastic, but I’m also glad to be returning home to my own bed, to my own schedule, to my own bad eating habits (😁).

En route to airport

Tampa airport is mighty fine
We got to the airport around 5:00 for our 7:00pm flight (woo! I get to see the sun set this time!) 
And as the plane accelerates and aims it’s nose to the sky, I’m super thankful to have had this week… With J, with peace, with experiences I won’t ever forget. 
Goodbye, Tampa! xx ),:

Day 4: A D V E N T U R E

Today was tiring, but my butt doesn’t hurt anymore!

Woke up, got ready and packed up to leave the resort to head to Universal Studios. Apparently it was split into two parts– The Island of Adventure and Universal Studios. Both of them have the Harry Potter Wizarding World, so it was a matter of choosing which one we preferred (we were pretty much just in it for the Harry Potter world). 
When we got there we strolled through a hero world, a cartoon place, Jurassic Park, Hogsmeade, and some random jungle part. 
The lines were all super long, and since our express passes were only used on some of the rides, we did stand in line for half of our time, it felt like. 
-drinking te infamous “Butterbeer” (from the books) for the first time 
-eating shepherd’s pie at the Three Broomsticks (a dining establishment also featured in the HP series)
-riding the virtual theme ride inside Hogwarts
-a river raft “escape from raptors” ride in Jurassic park
One ride, however, had a line we waited in for over 75 minutes… Probably not because the ride was super awesome (though it was clever and enjoyable), but mostly because it was huge and three weeks old. It turned out to be similar to the inside Hogwarts experience, with a virtual 3D reality-feel, but with a jungle and King Kong theme. It just felt a bit short for the long wait we endured. 
And now the part where I stop talking and provide pictures!
Entrance into Universal!
Hulk coaster! Didn’t get to ride it though :/
Gorgeous opening view to snow-covered Hogsmeade.

😀 !!!

In line to ride the inside thrilling virtual ride in Hogwarts

MY FIRST BUTTERBEER. Delicious. Absolutely scrumptious.
Leaving Hogsmeade
Obligatory couple pic with Hogwarts in back and Butterbeer in hand
Vincent the Octopus (crocheted by my awesome friend Sara!!!) resting in front an “ancient” jungle fountain waterfall

The new ride that we waited 75+ mins in line for.. “The Island of Kong” or whatever… cool design, wouldn’t say worth the wait.

big water ride! (Buzzsaw falls? something like that…?)

^^ walk through Hero themed part

Hard Rock Cafe in distance!

awesome sunset behind the hulk coaster
We’re traveling back to Tampa tonight (where our flight came in) and will probably go to the beach tomorrow before our flight. 

Day 3: Magic. Kingdom.

AHHHH my butt hurts.

And I don’t even know why… Is it possible for your butt to hurt after walking all day? 
We woke up early this morning to eat leftover Cowfish and slather ourselves with sunscreen before we headed down to Magic Kingdom. 
The shuttle bus was located relatively close, so getting down to the park was super easy and convenient. I’ll hand that to the Disney resorts… They literally do everything in their power to limit your walking before getting into the actual park. 
And once you get there… Besides it being hot and sweat-inducing…. It really just overwhelms. Every where you look there’s something interesting to examine… The park designers made everything aesthetically pleasing, and the “cast members”, as they call their employees, are all dressed in whatever theme happens to surround them. 
It’s almost impossible to do everything in a day– there’s too much to do. So J and I tried to hit up spots that I didn’t have a chance to do last time I was here on spring break. But it never gets old. It’s so well done and clean, and you honestly just feel like you’re living your childhood again (especially when they play the themes from all the Disney movies throughout the park). 
It’s too magical for words– have some pictures!
This is where we ate lunch with Pooh and Piglet and friends!
Ducks. Ducks everywhere.

SEBASTIAN! Inside the Ariel ride
Exotic birds. Exotic birds everywhere. *insert buzz lightyear meme*

(Apologies– my phone died halfway through the day so I couldn’t get all the magic on film :/ )

We finished off the day with an all-American dining experience along the Main Street USA part, and then ended the night with a visit to the main pool at our resort, where they were playing the movie Frozen poolside. 
And now
I’m going to pass out from excessive butt pain. 

Day 2: Failed Armadillo Hunts and some Excessively Blue Men

We woke up a bit later today (hallelujah), ate some pizza (margarita pizza for breakfast wasn’t that bad), showered, and packed up all of our stuff from the place we were staying in in Sarasota, and hit the road for an agonizing car ride to Kissimmee to “go hunting for armadillos”.  (And by hunting, I mean finding.)

We headed to a nature preserve owned by Disney, which featured a ton of trails through grass and palmettos (in the blistering heat), and walked along until we hit a river, which was slow moving and had a shallow entrance, where we saw many nubs of trees (evidence of being chewed down by some teeth-baring animal, likely beavers). We even found an official geocaching box by accident behind a log near the shallows. Rules found inside the box stated that in order to remove treasure from within, the finder had to leave something behind, and write the details of the finding as well as the treasure barter in a tiny log book also in the geocaching box. 
When we couldn’t take the heat any longer (slash when we ran out of water) we made the trek back to the car and continued driving until we hit our reserved  villa in Orlando. Located on Lake Buena Vista, it’s a cute, spacious place (with the oddest of couch pull out beds) that backs to a gorgeous view of a fountain and greenery. 
View from the balcony of our villa!
We showered and got ready to rumble with the night life– we were scheduled to see the Blue Man Group perform in the pre-park (the glitzy shops and restaurants and shows before the actual theme park) of Universal Studios. 
If you’ve never seen the Blue Man Group, I highly recommend it. I’d seen them on TV and I had debated upon whether to see them in NYC when I went with my choir (but I chose to see Phantom on Broadway over BMG because when you’re in NYC how can you not lol) because they’re such a fun group and you never know what to expect. 
As their name suggests, they’re a group (3 guys, specifically) of guys completely blue, (save their black shirts and shoes) who, instead of speaking at any point in their show, mystify and delight with off the chart catching-marshmallows-in-mouth skills, painting with magic paint gumballs in their mouths on canvas skills, hilarious physical comedy, and an intriguing use of digital media and musical talents (PVC pipe organ!!!). It’s honestly just an all around great show to be at, for all ages. They’ve got the adult humor, but so much physical comedy that kids die laughing too. Honestly just check them out here:
They may look creepy but they’re so funny and challenge you to look at the mundane in a whole new hilarious way. 
J’s mom, me, and a Blue Man.

This was my first time to Universal in a long time, and it was cool seeing how big and glitzy it’s become. After BMG we set out to ease our hunger at an odd place called Cowfish– they had mixed sushi and burger cuisine– very funky and tasty. I had a CBCLT (a burger with cheddar, bacon, Cowfish sauce*, lettuce, and tomato), with a Grasshopper hand-spun shake (mint chocolate chip).

*cowfish sauce = ketchup, honey mustard, Wostershire sauce and some other like sauces all mixed together– it was deceptively tasty). 

me, causally riding a cowfish
And now, in the cool of the AC of out secret villa hide out… I’m gonna pass out. 

Day 1: Gators and a Beach that Didn’t Burn

What an exhausting day.

Woke up entirely too early, ate a breakfast, and then hit the road to go to Myakka River State Park, where we were scheduled to take a canopy tour. 
For those people who like hiking through the woods, it was a similar experience, except the mud/mulch/twig trail was replaced by a light colored silt, and the pines were replaced by palms and various other tropical plants. Halfway through the wall we stumbled across a wooden tower, which, if you climbed its 6 or some-odd stories, you could see over all of the tropical greenery for miles. However to get to the tower, we had to walk through some rain water and then cross a narrow wobbly bridge.

So worth it. 

After our trek through the palms, we opted for a boat tour across the Myakka River, which sprawled for miles before us, but was only 5 feet deep at its deepest point. 
The man giving our boat tour was like a nerdy-botanist-grandfather-Santa, with the right amount of fact and fun. 
It was on this tour that I learned facts about alligators and other wildlife that I’d never heard before. 
For example: *clears throat*
-You cannot determine the sex of an aligator in the daytime. However, because their eyes reflect light at night (like cats), you can see that females eyes appear yellow and the eyes of a male appear red (so next time you’re in a gator infested place and you wanna shine a light around and see what color eyes you come across, you can identify them by gender!)
-Alligators have sensors that detect water vibrations (independent of all facial orifices) and help them identify where their food is. 
-Gators are canniballistic
-Gators can navigate based on the stars (scientifically proven, out tour guide said…!)
-Alligators are opportunists and hunt mostly at night, while remaining mostly hidden and in the shade during the day
-According to our tour guide, you can measure a gator’s snout in inches, and whatever number that is, that’s how long the gator is in feet (a gator with a 6 inch about will be around 6 ft. long). 
-Gators in Myakka mate in April and May
-Gators slap their jaws in water to be territorial (mostly done by males). 
-Gators, like most other animals, are polygamous. 
– According to our tour guide, running in a zig zag pattern doesn’t really help you get away faster 
-Gators have 6 distinct mating calls: one of which that sounds like a lawnmower, and a throaty roar (tail comes out, mouth opens and it sounds like a dinosaur roar).  Our tourguide’ impression of the gator roar was rather spot on, actually. 
-Female gators stomp out a ten foot circle, in which they lay between 15-20 eggs (each season!), and they start hatching around Labor Day. 
-The sex of a gator is determined 21 days into incubation period, by the temperature of the eggs. Eggs with males inside are hotter than the eggs containing females. In fact, 5 out of 6 eggs that actually hatch are females, mostly because hot male eggs taste better, and get eaten by other animals. 

– 3 out of 100 hatched alligators will make to breeding age, mostly due to the vulnerability of baby alligators and the tendency of hungry predators to prey on them
– there are around 1.3 million alligators in FL and 2 million Louisiana

-the gator is a Keystone species in Mayakka– meaning that if the alligator goes extinct, it affects all of the other species in the habitat. And the gators keep the balance in the ecosystem. 
-Other keystone species in Myakka: gopher tortise (endangered) (digs tunnels under ground, creates homes for other animals) and Indigo snakes (also endangered), which are HUGE but not poisonous; (they don’t constrict their prey, they just eat other snakes, and they live with the gopher tortoise! 

Sorry to just spew facts at you… I just found them interesting. 
After our boat tour (sorry, no alligator pics :/ I had an aisle seat and it was super hot so the ones we did see quickly submerged themselves into the water seconds after they were pointed out) we headed to fuel our hunger at a restaurant in Siesta Village called “The Hub”, a tropical, pan-Latin/baja cuisine with “the best margaritas in town”. 
After fueling up, we made our way down to the Siesta Key beach, a beach with 99% quartz sand, which, unlike the dead coral of other beach sand, stays cool on your feet (even in 99 degree weather like we had!). The water was so clear and blue, and so _warm_!! 
Normally I get in the water to cool down, only to complain seconds after submerging my feet that “it’s freezing!”
Siesta Key water, however, is one hell of an exception. You walk in, and it’s like wading in a hot tub with the waves replacing the bubbles of the jets. And it was so _salty_! Normally, I wouldn’t mind getting ocean water in my nose/mouth/eye… But the amount of salt in that water was crazy.  One upside, however, was the calmness of the water, and how I was able to wear my sunglasses in the sparkling blue without having to worry about rogue waves snatching them away. 

After we were done frolicking in the softer-than-soft sand and warm water, we left the beach (just as a few warning rumbles of thunder took over the sky) and headed back to our house rental. Not long after, we were engulfed in a torrential downpour that only tropical places like Florida can provide. But the sound of the rain on the windows was its own kind of magical, and J and I will most likely fall asleep earlier tonight after a long, hot, salty day.