Saturday, October 09, 2010

Orlando Trip Report, cont.

Looking for a slightly more relaxed day, we decided to hit the WonderWorks Museum, then grab some lunch. The WonderWorks Museum really is a wonder. It's basically an interactive science museum. Every exhibit offers something for little people to do and experience, not just look at. We felt the force of 70-mph winds as we learned about hurricanes, heard the different roars lions make depending on what they are communicating, froze our shadows on the wall, played music with our feet on a huge piano, got to see what the inside of the space shuttle would be like, and landed a plane in the flight simulator. I even got to lie down on a bed of nails and take a ride in the rollercoaster simulator! Clay loved seeing himself dance to techno music on a colorful screen, push the "wonder wall" and see his handprint appear on the other side, and climb up into the life-sized spacesuit to peer out of the face shield.

He had a blast, and he's already asked if he can go back to the "upside down museum." It's not cheap to get in, but you can come and go all day (It's open from 9 a.m. until midnight.), PLUS you have the next three days to return and enjoy the theatre and ropes course in the basement. And all of it will cost you about a third of what you'd pay to get into Sea World. And it's air conditioned. (Did I mention it's air conditioned?) Highly recommended.

By noon, we were starved. Adamant that I wouldn't eat another sad lunch of theme park pizza, we headed to Cafe Tu Tu Tango, which I'd read about on chowhound.com. It's a locally-owned tapas place with tons of original art all over the walls. We ordered something for Clay off the kids' menu, then set about deciding what we'd have. We chose the carne asada (a mild steak served with guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, lime and tortillas), the dynamite shrimp (which were DELICIOUS with some kind of amazing Asian sauce and lots of toasted sesame seeds), the vegetable skewers (cherry tomatoes, onions, patty pan squash, and baby zucchini, grilled and served with a delicious tahini dipping sauce) and (my favorite) a plate of sliced pears over arugula, drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction and topped with decadent crumbles of really good blue cheese. This was served with the most delightful pecan crisps - like little crunchy crackers of pecans. The complementary flavors of sweet, musky, and peppery were amazing, and the pecans gave the dish great crunch.

We finished off with the banana pizza, and thin-crust pizza topped with strudel, roasted banana, cinnamon sugar, a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel sauce. (OMG.) We washed it all down with mango tea.

Everything we had came to about $50. Not a cheap lunch by any means, but we paid $30 only one day before to eat crappy pizza in the heat, kwim? (Perspective, people.) I would go back there in a heart beat. It was completely worth it.

We lazed around at the condo pool the rest of the day.

Day four was supposed to be our GatorLand day. Unfortunately, it started raining (hard) the night before, and the morning dawned gray and forbidding. Not wanting to chance it, we decided to plan a day of indoor activities and shift GatorLand to Thursday.

After a big pancake breakfast (Gotta love Bob Evans. Our waitress even remembered us from a few days before.), we originally thought we'd go to the Orlando Science Center. However, there is ONE day a week that the center is closed. You guessed it. It's Wednesday. We were looking for something impromptu, and we spotted a model train exhibit off International Drive. We pulled in to discover that this location also offered quick helicopter rides. Sounded like a morning!

We started off with a short helicopter ride around Orlando. The whole thing last about 5 minutes. We hopped into the helicopter, donned our headsets, and took off. Riding in a helicopter is probably the closest I'll ever come to feeling like a bird. Unlike flying in a commercial plane (or even one of those small 7-seaters), you feel that precious little exists between you and the air. Views are great. We rode up and down International Drive, seeing some of the attractions we'd already been to (Sea World, the WonderWorks Museum) from above. Take-off was almost a bit of a shock, feeling how easily the helicopter ascended. Again, Clay was a little trooper. He didn't flinch or ask to hold my hand or even act scared.

After our flight, we toured the small model train exhibit. The exhibit is about 2,000 square feet, but the more you look, the more you see. The folks who put it together also have a sense of humor, tucking in characters from the major theme parks here and there throughout the scenes. Shrek peeked out at us from behind a tree. Shamu floated in one of the lakes. We saw two young wizards on their brooms, flying amidst some mountain tops. We enjoyed the train exhibit for a while until some little people in our travel party started acting out - running away from parents, yelling, and HITTING their daddies. Unfortunately, such behavior cut our model train trip short. Little people had to be hauled out to the car, screaming, while ignoring explanations that bad behavior meant going back to the hotel instead of staying out and having fun.

On the drive back, we were treated to the dulcet sounds of crying and loud begging to go back to the train exhibit, which we blithely ignored. Sigh.

Once back at the hotel, we enjoyed a nice nap before the evening's festivities. We'd planned dinner at the House of Blues and an evening Cirque du Soleil show to round out our rain day, and we wanted everyone to be well-rested and READY TO BEHAVE before we ventured out again.

Refreshed and ready for some good eats and an evening of entertainment, we loaded into the car and headed for Downtown Disney West. Our mission: to pick up our Cirque tickets and find some grub.

Picking up the tickets was easy. Our GPS system led us right to the Cirque theatre, and parking was free! Tickets in hand, we strolled right over to The House of Blues for an early dinner. We happened to hit the restaurant right during happy hour, so I had a $3 margarita and ordered my dinner from the half priced appetizer menu. I had a bowl of gumbo and the rosemary flatbread. Yum. Hubs chose the cheeseburger with fries and a beer, and little man had a pizza. The food was really good, and with drinks, our tab came to around $45.

We still had about 30 minutes before we needed to head to the theater, so we poked around Downtown Disney for a while. We bought Clay some brightly-wrapped chocolate coins at The Candy Cauldron, then perched on a bench overlooking the lake while he sampled some. Nearby, some musicians started playing music with a synthesizer and a steel drum, and Clay had to go over and dance for a bit. We leisurely made our way back to the theatre and settled in for the show.

It was great show, too. There's not a bad seat in the house, and I had no regrets about buying the cheapest tickets. They even have boosters for the kids, so little people can see all the action, no matter where they are seated.

Clowns, acrobats, some amazing bicycle tricks, trapeze artists, jugglers, and a crazy trampoline act (Clay's favorite) were all on the agenda. A troupe of four little Asian girls moved with such quickness and precision that they almost appeared animatronic. The only thing that gave me pause - I had thought, based on the advertisements for the show and the fact that it's hosted by Disney, that the staging and lighting would be lighter, more fanciful. In truth, the stage, set, and lighting (even the music) are much more somber that I would have expected. Nothing scary, but not as lighthearted as I thought it would be.

After the show, we headed back to the condo for sleep. After I put little man to bed, I filled up the amazing jetted soaking tub, poured myself a glass of wine, and settled in for an hour or two. Sigh. I need more vacations.

Stay tuned for more . . .

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