I had the opportunity last week to travel to Florida with my adult children and their families. We had planned this 11 day trip last March after a huge snowstorm and weeks of frigid temperatures – nice warm weather seemed like a good idea! We left home in long pants in 1 degree C weather and arrived in Florida to 29C! We were driving down in my daughter’s van, so it made sense to go along…… for the 26+ hour trip. I believe that driving a vehicle rather than taking an airplane makes better environmental sense as there are way less CO2 emissions per person. The kids were great in the car on the long trip, by the way.
It was great to see the changes as we drove along into warmer climates: One of the most beautiful areas was the southwestern New York state and Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains, even though most of the driving was in the dark! I’m fond of the Appalachians as this chain of mountains continues up along the Gaspe, where my family is from. I noticed right away that the Americans don’t seem to embrace recycling and environmentally friendly products (like paper tea cups – they use styrofoam) like us Canadians do and I only saw one wind generator in the US and NO PV solar panels, even in the Sunshine State of Florida. We observed our first sign of spring in the Washington D.C. area: blossoms on the trees. My apple blossoms usually don’t appear until the middle of May, a full two months later. It was refreshing!! We started to see leaves on the trees in the Carolinas, then in Georgia, Palm Trees! THAT was a sure sign of the south! By the time we arrived at our resort near Orlando Florida, it seemed like Summer with temperatures in the high 20sC. Luckily, we planned a “down day” as it rained during our first day there, so we basked in the pouring rain in the hot tub.
We visited 3 “theme” parks while we were there: Disney World (x2), Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Universal Studios Island of Adventures. I must have walked over 60 km during the 42+ hours we spent inside the parks. I must say, those theme parks are a well-oiled machine, moving hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis, quickly and efficiently. From the time you arrive in their $14.00 parking lot, you are directed to a tram to take you to the front entry way. Then a ferry, monorail, or bus moves you to the official front entrance where your bag is searched, THEN to the gates. For each person who spends the $90+ to get inside, I’m sure they spend another $200 on food, beverages, ice cream, and souvenirs (well not me, as we made sandwiches and brought apples and water). It WAS pretty impressive. The attention to detail was apparent in the clothes the employees wore to match the attraction they were working at, to the design and props of the attractions a.k.a. rides. Well obviously Disney and Universal HAVE the coin and the technology to do it right.
My favourite part of Disney World was ………hmmm it’s hard to pick one thing. I liked the Pirates of the Caribbean ride because I like Jack Sparrow and the movies……I liked the Haunted House because I remembered it from 35 years ago when we went……they had lots of sit down, air conditioned shows to watch like Mickey’s PhilharMagic which was a 3D show with many of the favourite animated characters………the Steam Train that encircled the park……..and the late Walt Disney’s vision, the Carousel of Progress…….and the People Mover. What I DIDN’T like were the long line-ups: some rides had 2 hour wait times! We figured out how to use the “fast-pass” system and lessened the standing in line-ups, but it was brutal on my feet and legs. Disney World seemed all about getting as many people inside the park, spending lots of money and making their children happy with little effort spent on environmentally friendly products like cups and water bottles. I was curious, at the end of the day while watching the spectacular fireworks over the castle, about what their electricity bill must be daily….. what their gross receipts and expenses must be……and how many people are actually inside the park on a March Break day…..mind-boggling!
Disney’s Animal Kingdom was quite different. The theme was obviously about Conservation of the planet and animal species. It was pleasant to walk around with the hoards of other people in the jungle-like shade. It seemed well laid out too with sections like Africa, Asia, Rafiki’s Planet Watch (and Conservation Station), and Dinoland USA. I think my favourite attraction was the Kilimanjaro Safari (along with thousands of other people as the “fast” wait time was about a 4 hour return – you swipe your admission card and a return time card is spit out). The open-air safari was very well done with the wild African animals roaming free in a very large Savanna style area with no visible fences like most zoos. The knowledgeable driver/guide pointed out the different species and informed everyone about their endangered status, conservation measures worldwide and by the Park, and gave informal tidbits along the way. I give it a 10 out of 10. Another fun time was the Kali River Rapids, simulating white water rafting down the Chakranadi River in Asia…..I was a little hesitant about a ride that moved fast with sudden drops, but I couldn’t resist in the 31C degree heat! It was a blast and quite refreshing as I got completely soaked! There were several interesting trails which we didn’t go on (my Son and his family did) because our feet and legs were hurting. Animal Kingdom was a little more low key and we enjoyed it immensely.
Universal Studios was a “horse of a different colour” and seemed to be geared to the older crown instead of younger children. We just HAD to go and see for ourselves the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter”. It was AMAZING!! The Hogsmead town was true and exactly to scale. It was incredibly well done. We went there first, thinking that we’ed get on the Harry Potter ride through Hogwarts before the crowds got there….hahaha, well so did everyone else and the wait time was 2 hours with NO “fast” pass available! Instead, we wandered around abit because the “street” set-u p was SO awesome, then went to various areas like a terrific Magic Show; the Lost Continent; Dr. Seuss-land; then on to Marvel Comics area (crazy busy); Jurassic Park where we went “white water rafting” again and got drenched, thankfully; then completed the circle back to the Harry Potter area. After a supper break, we stood in the 45 minute line for the Harry Potter ride and it was fabulous. The line-up took you through Hogwarts where you would see the details of the castle from the movies: the greenhouse; holographic Harry, Ron, and Hermione talking to you; the talking people in the paintings; the library with Dumbledore talking to you…..just EVERYTHING you’d seen in the movies right there exactly! It was a VERY pleasant wait as the line-up snaked around until you got to the ride. And what a ride it was! I’m not a roller coaster person. I don’t like sudden drops and I was concerned about the signs along the way warning about motion sickness, dizziness, and sudden stops, twists, and turns on the ride. But it was mainly done with video screens and props as it seemed like you were following Harry Potter on a broomstick all around……very quickly. The ride actually moved quite abit and had you almost upsidedown at times. Man it was AWESOME!
Luckily, my cousin Graham and Valerie (and their son Nigel and his family) from London, England were in Orlando at the same time, so we got to meet again and have supper together. We only spent one other day at the resort relaxing around the swimming pool and hot tub. Our accommodations at the Villas at Fortune Place were very nice: a 2 bedroom plus loft townhouse with a fully equipped kitchen. I was quite happy to sit in the vehicle for the 29 hour straight drive home (thanks to my son-in-law Mike for doing the majority of the diving especially overnight, while the rest of us slept). I arrived home in the “frozen north” of Canada to unusual 27C degrees, ALL the snow melted, and day two of the river ice break-up! It seems like summer back home!
I just finished hanging all my laundry outside as it’s supposed to be around 24C degrees (all week)……scarily unbelievable. I guess it’s back to the real world……..