Hogsmeade Village and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure.

Hogsmeade Village in Islands of Adventure

Hogsmeade Village in Islands of Adventure

Arrival in Hogsmeade village

Arrival in Hogsmeade village

We arrived in Hogsmeade village via the Hogwarts Express, such a great way to arrive in Hogsmeade village. The first sights on arrival are the snow capped village houses and the Hogwarts castle spires.
The gray block buildings stand on cobblestones. Windows of stores — some functional, some faux.
Rising from the far end of Hogsmeade village, past a gateway guarded by gargoyles, is a stone castle representing the home of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Hogsmeade Village

Hogsmeade Village

Hogsmeade village is home to a selection of Harry Potter themed shops and refreshments. As well as Diagon Alley it has a Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods selling  Hogwarts clothing including jackets, t-shirts, sweatshirts, shoulder bags, caps and scarves; plus house crest banners, stationery and other gifts. There are movie prop replicas, magical creature toys plus a variety of assorted toys. Honeydukes, where you can find all kinds of joke articles. Honeydukes is a sweet shop selling sweets generally unavailable in the US, the shelves are lined with all manner of colourful sweets, including Acid Pops, exploding bonbons, Cauldron Cakes, treacle fudge and other chocolates. Dervish & Banges is a shop that stocks all your Quidditch needs such as Quaffles, Golden Snitches and brooms,Hogwarts school uniforms and clothing including robes, scarves, ties, t-shirts and sweatshirts.

Hogs Head Pub

Hogs Head Pub

The only restaurant in Hogsmeade village is the Three Broomsticks Tavern, serving traditional British breakfasts or fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasty, or chicken platter. Next door at the Hog’s Head Pub you can get a selection of real beers, including US beers, Newcastle brown, Guinness, Stella Artois, Hogs Head (specialty beer for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter) brewed by the Florida Beer Company set in a dark, dank rustic atmospheric setting. The family can enjoy Harry Potter favourites including Butterbeer, pumpkin juice as well as wine, spirits and mixed drinks.

Hogwarts Castle

Hogwarts Castle

Forbidden Journey Greenhouse

Forbidden Journey Greenhouse

Inside Forbidden Journey, dark arts classrom

Inside Forbidden Journey, dark arts classroom

The main attraction is the The Forbidden Journey. This ride is the signature attraction in the Wizarding World located inside Hogwarts Castle. It is a flight simulator type of ride where the suspended coaster-type seats dangle off the end of a robotic arm. it provides six axes – six degrees of freedom, with synchronized motion that can be programmed to replicate all the sensations of flying, including broad swoops, steep dives, sharp turns, sudden stops, and fast acceleration. You will be whisked through Harry’s world flying you around the castle and through the grounds of Hogwarts. Expect to participate in a game of Quidditch and an encounter with some giant spiders while being chased by Dementors. The feeling of acceleration playing Quidditch left me with motion sickness but hey I’m a lousy traveller on ships so nothing unusual.

Walking up to the ride through Hogwarts Castle is also a treat. A slow walk through the queue takes roughly 15-60 minutes, longer if you care to stop and watch each of the scenes several times. The Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom three separate bits of dialogue between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as well as three different spells that get cast in the room, each with its own unique special effects. We only saw one as the queue was moving quickly. You’ll see the Greenhouse, Dumbledore’s Office, and even encounter the Sorting Hat! And finally you arrive in the “Room of Requirement,” which acts as the loading area for Forbidden Journey.
At the conclusion of the ride, you exit into Filch’s Emporium of Confiscated Goods gift shop so an ideal opportunity to browse.

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express

We finished Islands of Adventure by taking the Hogwarts Express back to Universal Studios. The four minute return journey provides a different experience through the windows than the journey from Universal. It’s great fun for all the family and quite “Potter” magical to see the smiles on the faces of the young children during and exiting the ride.

You then disembark onto Platform 9¾ of King’s Cross and proceed down some stairs into a 2010-era King’s Cross Station, before arriving at the London waterfront area, adjacent to Diagon Alley.
We did the ride back early evening (7pm) with the sun just about to set; it was the end of a most enjoyable days experience.

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Universal Studios Diagon Alley and the Escape from Gringotts

Universal Sudios

Universal Sudios

Universal Studios Orlando has been brought right up to date and is simply stunning! They have incorporated some great technological advances that make new themed rides like Transformers and Escape from Gringotts a must see!

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley, is also home to gift shops, restaurants and other tourist attractions. Several of these are recreations of locations in the Harry Potter books while others have been created specifically for the park.

Entering Diagon Alley

Entering Diagon Alley

You enter Diagon Alley behind Leicester Square Station just like in the movie and Harry Potter Books and are presented with a scene from London life with the rail bridge suspended across the roadway. Before entering Diagon alley there is the Knights bus and Eros fountain to enjoy.

Diagon Alley is largely made up of shops and restaurants and dining all done in the Harry Potter theme. Universal Studios has the largest collection of Harry Potter merchandise than anywhere in the world. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you’re going to love the walk up to Gringotts bank, absorbing all the wonderfully designed and realistic architecture of Olde London.

Diagon alley has a Ollivanders Wand Shop, where you can buy interactive wands which allow you to cast your own magic spells! The wands interact with various objects throughout Diagon alley, uncovering hidden treats and animation. Other shops include; Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes (jokes), Magical Menagerie (stuffed creatures) and Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment (supplies & gadgets) to name a few are great for browsing and soaking up the atmosphere.

Gringotts money exchange

Gringotts money exchange

I especially liked the Gringotts Money Exchange. The most realistic interactive animatronic Goblin is at the counter, he talks and answers questions. Try ” Where is Harry Potter? ”

Gringotts Wizarding bank

Gringotts Wizarding bank

 

 

 

 

The main attraction is the Escape from Gringotts ride which is set inside Gringotts Wizarding bank. This is stunning in itself with its mis-aligned exterior columns and where a huge forty-foot fire-breathing Ukranian Ironbelly dragon (as seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) perches atop the dome. The dragon doesn’t move, but every 10 or 15 minutes he unleashes a jet of flame; get your camera ready when you hear him growl. (see adjacent photo).

Gringotts Goblins

Gringotts Goblins

Inside Gringotts, you walk through the bank’s grand marble lobby with lavish chandeliers where you see goblins hard at work. The Goblins are so realistic, fantastic state of the art animatronics. They move and and look up at you from their ledgers and weighing scales as you pass by.

You then take a simulated lift several miles underground to the ride. The ride is a is a steel roller coaster with a track length of approximately 2,000 feet and encompasses motion-based vehicles, detailed sets, physical effects, and 3D projection so you need to wear the glasses. The ride takes you through the vaults of Gringotts as you face several characters (trolls, dragons etc) from the Harry Potter films leading to a face-to-face encounter with Lord Voldemort. It is is suitable for young children (of a minimum height), but still amazing fun for adults. We went on it three times as you get a different perspective it seems different depending on where you sit in the cars. I would say it is the most detailed, and immersive ride I have ever been on.

In addition to the shops, there are some atmospheric restaurants in Diagon alley. The Leaky Cauldron which is near Gringotts bank serves authentically hearty British pub fare like bangers and mash, cottage pie, toad in the hole, Guinness stew, and a ploughman’s platter for two. Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour for Butterbeer soft-serve or unusual hard-pack flavored ice cream like clotted cream, and chocolate chili.

Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley

Hopping Pot in Diagon Alley

For alcoholic drinks try The Hopping Pot or Fountain of Fair Fortune, the beers are produced specially for Universal and include; Wizard’s Brew (a heavy porter) and Dragon Scale (a hoppy amber) beers. Other beers such as Amstel, Stella Artois are US brewery beers are available.
We relaxed with a beer ($8) at the Hopping Pot. It felt like I was back in London !

Knockturn Alley is dark and Gothic, a labyrinth of twisting passageways where the Harry Potter baddies hang out. A covered walk-through area with a projected “sky” creating perpetual night, it features spooky special effects in the faux shop windows.

Diagon Alley is an enveloping experience and is brilliantly done, I’m not a follower of the franchise yet loved it. For those who follow Harry Potter then it is undoubtedly the highest standard of experience one could hope to have.

Kings Cross Diagon Alley

Kings Cross Diagon Alley

PLATFORM 9 3/4™ for the Hogwarts Express

You can board* the train and travel between both Hogsmeade and London via the Hogwarts Express but only if you have purchased a Park-to-Park admission ticket or have an Annual Pass.

It is a completely functioning full-scale replica of the Hogwarts Express created to connect King’s Cross Station at Universal Studios to the Hogsmeade station at Islands of Adventure. Instead of viewing the Orlando environment through the train windows the “windows” on the Hogwarts express are clever film screens that display scenes of Harry’s passage between London and Scotland. I will not say more, so enjoy the experience.

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Homosassa Springs State park – Florida natural wildlife and Manatees

We had seen manatees in their natural habitat at Blue Springs State park on the St Johns River but decided to go to Homosassa Springs State Park as one can see resident Mantees all year, not just the wild ones that venture into the springs during the winter season and it has a wildlife park that displays native Florida wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles, river otters, puma, cougars, snakes and native birds including a variety of owls, eagles, flamingo, herons etc.

Interestingly the park also has a 55 year old rhino (Lu) left from the time it was a private park. Feeding times are part of the daily educational events in the park, as is feeding of alligators, wildlife encounters and watching the resident Manatees from the underwater observatory or on the many side walks aside the natural spring.

The state park is about 82 miles north of the villa with the drive up the Us27 and Florida Turnpike taking about 90 minutes. The admission fee was $13 per adult.

Entry off the Us98 was via the visitor and discovery centre and an enjoyable pontoon boat ride to the pay entry point. The boat Captain and narrator (Bob) gave an entertaining talk about the native wildlife and the park giving details on the history and habitat and various features as we passed by. The volunteers in the park were very helpful.

 

Visitor centre

Visitor and Discovery centre

Homosassa Springs entrance

Homosassa Springs entrance

Shown below are some of the birds and animals photographed during the walk around the wildlife trail, included are owls, bald eagle, cougar, and otter. The underwater observatory is right next to the natural spring and besides the Manatees it was full of fish that come in from the gulf. It is named the fish bowl owing to the numbers of fish and observatory.

Owls at Homosassa Springs

Owls at Homosassa Springs

Bald Eagle at Homosassa Springs

Bald Eagle at Homosassa Springs

Otter at Homosassa springs state park

Otter at Homosassa springs state park

Cougar at Homosassa springs park

Cougar at Homosassa springs park

Resident Manatee at Homosassa springs

Resident Manatee at Homosassa springs

Close up of resident Manatee

Close up of resident Manatee

Show below is feeding time for Lu the hippo and a plaque giving the winter Manatee season for the arrival of wild Manatees who come in for the warm water of the springs.

Lu the Hippo at at Homosassa springs state park

Lu the Hippo at at Homosassa springs state park

Manatee season at Homosassa springs state park

Manatee season at Homosassa springs state park

This park is great to visit all year long, it took us about 4 hours to walk around the boardwalk trail and watch the encounters and feeding time. Finished off by a relaxing boat ride back to the entrance. A great way to see native Florida and a great visit for children.

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Celebration – Farmers market and Celebration Town Tavern

We decided to visit the Farmers market at Celebration, about 20-30 minutes from Solana Resort. Celebration is a planned community in Osceola county, Florida and was originally developed by The Walt Disney Company. The farmers market is a short distance from the down-town Market Street, located at Lakeside Park, 631 Sycamore Street, and open Sundays 9-10 am -3 pm.

We enjoyed perusing around the market, where there were (in January) a wide variety of food and craft vendors selling fruits, vegetables and arts and crafts.

A good number sold speciality food items, ranging from home made salsa, breads, local honey, candied fruits etc. We purchased  some candied fruit mix (Cantaloupes, pineapple, Kiwis, strawberries) and mixed nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans) at a price better than local supermarkets. We also got a great selection of home-grown fruits and vegetables, my only observation was that there were few organic products.

Following the market we walked to the Celebration Town tavern which is located near the intersection of Market Street and Front Street, facing Lake Rianhard. I really like this place which is New England themed with lots of baseball memorabilia. The atmosphere is casual and the outside area is relaxing for a beer or food. We had the $5 starters in Happy hour (3-7pm), the battered onion rings and chicken wings were really good value, with the  battered onion rings being some of the best I’ve ever had.

There is a great selection of bottled beer (see link) and a reasonable selection of draft beers, with a selection of ciders, Sam Adams and the usual Buds and Miller, I found the Sam Rebel a good ale, hoppy and refreshing

Definitely one of my favourite spots for casual relaxation on an evening out. Well worth a visit.

Celebration Farmers Market

Celebration Farmers Market

Celebration Town Tavern, Florida

Celebration Town Tavern, Florida

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Farmers market and Hollis garden at Lakeland, Florida

Following various artcles on the attractions at Lakeland, Fl, we decided to visit the Farmers market which meets on a Saturday between 8am-2pm at 200 North Kentucky Avenue, Lakeland. Its approximately a 25 minute easy drive on the I4 from Solana resort. The market displays produce from local growers and artisans, with a great selection of fresh produce (much being organic), plants and local handcrafted items, with about 40 stores displaying when we visited in early December 2014.
I purchased a homemade non-tomato base salsa in a 16 oz pot from sassygirlssalsa made from a selection of different beans (black, pinto, black eyed) peppers, onions,celery, corn and chilli peppers. I went for the hot version; I loved it. There was also an opportunity to taste various types of local unprocessed honey from Red roof farms. I opted for the wild flower honey, which is great on its own, or my favourite is on hot oatmeal for breakfast. Attached a few photos to illustrate the location and displays. Well worth a visit.

Lakeland farmers market

Lakeland farmers market

Farmers market at Lakeland

Farmers market at Lakeland

On the same visit we also visited Lake Mirror and Hollis gardens which are in the down-town area of Lakeland, nearby to 702 East Orange Street. The gardens were gifted to the city of Lakeland by the Hollis family and contain more than 10,000 flowers and ornamental shrubs, shade trees and a Grand Staircase.
Its a very relaxing location with Lake Mirror in the background, admission is free. We walked around Lake Mirror which is a gentle walk along Frances Langford promenade (a popular movie star and singer who was born in Lakeland)and past colonnades.
We also saw a good variety of wild birds, black swans and a turtle enjoying the December sunshine. Attached a few photos to illustrate the lake and gardens.

Incorporating the gardens and lake into a trip to the farmers market is an enjoyable alternative to the many other Florida attractions.

Hollis Garden, Lakeland

Hollis Garden, Lakeland

Hollis garden, Lakeland, Florida

Hollis garden, Lakeland, Florida

Turtle on Lake Mirror, Florida

Turtle on Lake Mirror, Florida

Wild birds on Lake Mirror, Lakeland

Wild birds on Lake Mirror, Lakeland

 

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Lakeridge winery – Clermont, Florida

We decided to do something a bit different on this vacation trip so visited the Lakeridge winery some 25 miles north of Solana Resort. This winery has been open since 1989 and has vines on the gentle rolling hills above a lake near Clermont, Florida. This winery ranks as one of Florida’s largest premium estates and produces table and sparkling wine from the Florida native grape of Muscadine and hybrid varieties.

We attended a really well run complimentary winery tour that started with a video giving history of the winery and the grape varieties followed by a tour of the production facility and a wine tasting session where we got to sample at least 8 differing types of red and white wines, including a sparkling wine. We then had chance to browse the shop and select any wines which we may want to purchase. The tour lasted about 45 minutes. I’ve attached a couple of photos taken during the visit. The first shows a view over the vineyard to the lake, and the second photo shows the stage where outdoor events take place, for example in October 2013 they are having a vintage and classic car show in the grounds with music on the outdoor stage.

View over Lakeridge Vineyards

View over Lakeridge Vineyards

Lakeridge Winery outdoor stage

Lakeridge Winery outdoor stage

An enjoyable visit and made more so by the banter of the tour guide who besides being very informative got some good humorous interaction going.

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Blue Springs state Park – St Johns River and Manatees

We had never seen manatees in their natural habitat so took a trip to the  Blue Springs state park  which is about 52 miles north of Disney World, at Orange city, virtually all the way on the I-4. The admission fee was $6 for the car.
We arrived at 0900 and booked a trip on St. Johns River Cruises and Tours. We were setting off at 10:00 a.m. (they also depart at 1:00 p.m). This is a two-hour narrated nature and ecological cruise on the St. Johns River (an interesting river as it flows North). I would definitely recommend the trip (priced at $22 for an adult) it was a fascinating glimpse at real florida. The boat Captain and narrator (Peter) was excellent providing details on the trees, birds and animals that we saw and that live on the various stretches of land and islands that we passed. The river was about 3 foot higher than usual owing to Hurricane Issac. The vessel is quiet and does not scare off the birds and animals along the banks, with the Captain slowing down the boat to a stop for more detailed photography and discussions.

Alligator warming on the St Johns River

Alligator warming on the St Johns River

Shown below are some of the birds and animals photographed during the boat trip, included are Anhinga, great blue heron, great egret, black vultures, lots of turtles warming on logs and of course several alligators and baby alligators. There were also flowers in bloom like this wild purple Aster.

Turtles on log on St Johns River

Turtles on log on St Johns River

Great Blue Heron on the St Johns River

Great Blue Heron on the St Johns River

Anhingas on the St Johns River

Anhingas on the St Johns River

Black vultures on St Johns River

Black vultures on St Johns River

We then took a walk to the Thursby house, built in 1872, which remains standing and you can walk around the downstairs rooms and see what life was like for one of the first settler families in this region.
Past the house and onto a self-guided boardwalk leads through the lush forest with sable palms, saw palmetto and other native trees up to the Blue Spring. The manatees had returned to the warmth of the spring, which runs at a constant 72 degrees, creating a safe haven for the West Indian manatee.
The Blue waters spring shown in the photo below pours out some 100 million gallons of fresh clean and clear water.

The Blue waters spring source

The Blue waters spring source

Thursby House at Blue Springs state park

Thursby House at Blue Springs state park

Blue Springs state park boardwalk

Blue Springs state park boardwalk

I saw probably 30-40 manatees in the spring waters off the St Johns river, many young ones swimming next to the mother. The white colouring on some of the Manatees are scars, probably from being hit by speedboats and other water craft. We spent a few hours watching these gentle giants frolic and enjoy life in the crystal clear waters of the spring. Manatees have no natural enemies, and can live to 70-80 tears old, but are vulnerable to death from cold stress when water drops below 60 F, hence their migration to the warm spring waters. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, too right when there are only a few thousand left in Florida.

Manatees at Blue springs state Park

Manatees at Blue springs state Park

To finish off a great day at this fantastic state park we spotted a couple of bald eagles together , shown in the photo below.

Pair of Bald Eagles at Blue springs state park

Pair of Bald Eagles at Blue springs state park

This park is great to visit all year long, and when the Manatees leave in spring (the swimming area is generally closed November 15 through March 1) then it’s great for swimming, tubing or snorkelling. Professional divers even go scuba diving into the Blue Springs underwater cave.

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Cape Canveral Cruise on vacation in Florida

Cruise out of Cape Canaveral – villa holiday Florida

On our last holiday to Florida, we decided to take a cruise going out of Cape Canaveral on Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). We had booked the cruise about 6 weeks prior to our vacation, going direct with NCL we opted for the Eastern Caribbean on the Norwegian Sun and were able to select our deck and room number with the agent. As this was a special anniversary and our first ever cruise we decided to go for a balcony room. We loved the balcony room, and would often sit out on an evening (during the spare moments when we decided not to partake in the ships various entertainments) and during the night we would sleep with the door open to hear the wonderfully relaxing sound of the sea and waves breaking across the ship.

The itinerary covered 3 Caribbean islands, in visit order of Nassau, St Thomas and St Maarten all very different in vegetation, tree cover and architecture. We set sail at 4 pm and were able to view other cruise line ships in dock, like the Royal Caribbean and Disney’s Carnival Dream cruise ship.

We arrived in Nassau on the Sunday morning, berthing adjacent to the Royal Caribbean ship, the Oasis of the Seas, a 6000 passenger capacity ship and Disney’s Carnival Dream entering port not long after us. We walked up to the top of town to see Government house which is the official residence of the Governor General of the Bahamas and then onto the top of the Queens Staircase which was hand cut into the limestone. We walked through the mini-gorge of the Queens staircase and then onto Fort Fincastle which was built in 1793. We did a tour of the castle which was interesting and provided some excellent views of the island. We had a coffee in Bay Street and then got back on ship ready for a late afternoon departure.

We arrived in St Thomas at Charlotte Amalie on the Tuesday lunchtime, berthing alongside the Explorer of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.  We had a full 8 hours in port to do some sight-seeing. We did not do any organised trips but decided to do the Paradise point Sky-ride, a cable car ride to a restaurant and walks with some excellent panoramic views of St Thomas (and where we spotted the largest Iguana I’ve ever seen outside of a Zoo)  followed by a walking tour taking in the 99 steps, Blackbeards Castle and some of the historic houses. We finished by browsing the duty free shops of Charlotte Amalie and relaxing at Emancipation Park.

Our last Port of call was in St Maarten, arriving on the Wednesday morning in Philipsburg the Dutch side of the Island. This was going to be a beach and relaxation day so we caught a taxi around the Great bay to a resort called Divi Little Bay Beach Resort and rented some loungers for a half day. In the afternoon we did a walking tour of the downtown and promenade area of Philipsburg.

We departed Philipsburg in the evening, had two days at sea before arriving back at Port Canaveral.

The weather in March was fantastic, dry and not too hot. The Norwegian Sun freestyle dining was really flexible and suited us, we generally did the formal dining rather than Buffet service and found the dining experience to be excellent with good food and choice with really friendly and helpful service. In all a wonderful first ever cruise.

 

 

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Music Event at Bok Tower Gardens

We visited the concert under the stars at Bok Tower Gardens on May 1st, 2010. This was the 20th annual concert performed on the great lawn at Bok Tower with the Imperial Symphony Orchestra; a regional community orchestra of approximately 80 musicians, mostly  volunteer; playing a selection from Dvorak Symphony #9, Gershwin, a medley of early American Hymns and a music selection from the 60 bell carillon in Bok Tower.

Bok Tower Gardens music festival

A photo of the great lawn and orchestra tent is shown below, both early evening and after sunset.

Bok Tower Gardens at sunset - Music festival

It was a beautiful evening, weather warm and breezy but not too hot, the gift shop was open and beverage points available however, most visitors took a picnic plus rugs and chairs to enjoy the ambiance of the evening. Pre-concert music was by a local band, Mustang Sally and the Hamjos followed by a picnic contest and the classical concert at 1930 with sundown at approx 2015.

Bok Tower

We really enjoyed the evening, with good music, surrounded by Florida Oak trees, and other spring time flowering trees and bushes with the 205 foot neo-Gothic Bok Tower as a back-drop, the whole setting was delightful. Some photos of the Bok Tower are below.

If we are on vacation at this time of the year in the future we will definetly attend again.

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Villa Holiday, Orlando, Florida

 

We arrived at our villa, after a flight from the UK to Sanford Airport, dropped off luggage and then out to the near by Publix supermarket for some food shopping.
After a good night sleep we headed off the next day to Cape Canaveral near the Kennedy Space Centre. We had heard on our flight over that the Atlantis space shuttle launch had been delayed until the following day. Fantastic news – we could drive over to see our first ever launch. After about an hour of driving we were at Cape Canaveral. We were surprised by the number of cars, but quickly found a car parking place after following a few local cars who were obviously out to witness the launch. We were all getting excited, we borrowed binoculars from a friendly American family, who on hearing our English tomes started chatting away. Lots of cheering as the shuttle launched, I managed to get a few photos but it was all over quite quickly.

Shuttle lift off Cape Canaveral

Shuttle lift off Cape Canaveral

 

Space Shuttle Atlantis trajectory - Cape Canaveral, Florida

Space Shuttle Atlantis trajectory - Cape Canaveral, Florida

Had a wonderful trip to SEAWORLD, a great day out and great shows like Blue Horizons and Shamu the whale. The park was reasonably quiet in September so thankfully no queues so we saw every show and had time for interesting talks with the attendants and keepers.

Seaworld orlando Believe show with shamu the whale

Seaworld orlando Believe show with shamu the whale

Dropped our young adults off at Wet n Wild water park while they had a fun in the water we did some leisurely shopping and relaxing around the pool and resort clubhouse. We also left them to tour Universal studios Island of Adventure and theme park while we did even more leisurely shopping, eating at the cheesecake factory and relaxing around the pool and resort clubhouse. Decided to do something different than the round of Disney World and other theme parks and took a drive to North Orlando to Wekiwa Springs State Park. As soon as I arrived I knew this was my type of day.  The waters in the park are absolutely crystal clear, at a constant temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit and you can go swimming, snorkeling and canoeing, or fishing and horse riding if that is of interest. The springs flow into the Weiva River and eventually to St Johns river, within the 7800 acre park is an abundance of natural wildlife and plants, including blue herons, egrets, ospreys, kingfishers, tortoise, alligator, deer and much more. See more at the Florida State Park website
We decided to rent some canoes made us feel like explores in a wild land. There were a few other canoeists on the river so it really felt lke we were getting away from it all. The water was never deeper than a few feet, so at any time (checking for alligators or snakes) one could jump out of the canoe and take a refreshing dip in the water. Not that we did mind you, but we did note a few people swimming.

 

Wekiwa state park canoeists

Wekiwa state park canoeists

Wekiwa springs – tired canoeist

Wekiwa springs – tired canoeist

Wekiwa Springs – strange fish

Wekiwa Springs – strange fish

Wekiwa springs – swimming

Wekiwa springs – swimming outdoors

We made an early start and drove to the Gulf coast, stopping off for breakfast on way. Arrived at Honeymoon island state park at 10.00 hours. I walked the three mile Osprey trail, where I spotted several Osprey and wild tortoise although it is possible to spot American Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks, or Great Horned Owls,  armadillos, and various snakes. Again not many tourists, mosquitoes were a pest so long trousers and long sleeved shirts are a must. Take your buckets and parasols because the white sand of the nearby beach is gorgeous. A short boat trip takes you to Caldesi Island, which claims the title of the number one mainland beach in the
USA. Wonderful peaceful beaches with great shells for gathering.

Honeymoon Island state park Osprey trail

Honeymoon Island state park Osprey trail

Honeymoon island wild tortoise

Honeymoon island wild tortoise

For me, we had some fantastic days out and places like Wekiwa springs state park and Honeymoon Island State Park were the real Florida and something not to be missed. We had some great evenings out at Downtown Disney World and Celebration, meals in Carrabba’s and the restaurant on Route 27 called Cracker Barrel. Cocktails at Chillies and cheesecake at the Cheesecake Factory…….. fantastic.

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