Saturday, October 09, 2010

Orlando Trip Report, cont.

Day five dawned ominously cloudy. For about half a second, I thought about skipping GatorLand again. But we forged ahead, and I'm so glad we did! It was cloudy during the morning, which kept temperatures cool, and it never rained.

Our resort was less than 10 minutes from GatorLand, but you'd never guess it. The park feels miles away from everything. We found the place easily, parked in the free lot, and headed towards the queue to get in. $80 or so later, we were looking at little and medium-sized gators sunning themselves in the entryway pools. We hooked a left to see the giant tortoises and HUGE snakes. Then, we headed past the train station (The train wasn't running yet.) and into the "jungle," where pens with individual types of gators were located. We saw Cuban gators, Australian gators, some "celebrity" gators and more. This part of the park was really beautiful. Think long, winding paths through dense foliage, with areas here and there where you could peer into gator habitats. Then, the path turns into a boardwalk that goes out over the water. You can get REALLY close to some huge gators. There were tons of beautiful birds out there, too. We climbed all the way up to the top of the lookout tower - three stories. You could see most of the park from there. Then, we looped back around to train station, where we hopped the first train of the day.

After our ten-minute ride, it was lunchtime. We let Clay play in the playground and on the splash pad while we got lunch from the snack bar. The brats with peppers and onions, chips, and drinks Brian and I got, as well as Clay's hot dog kid's meal with Goldfish crackers and Oreos, cost about $20.

After we'd had our fill of lunch, we headed for the petting zoo. On the way, we stopped to take goofy pictures with the huge fake gator they had set up. So fun! Clay loved the petting zoo. They had goats, cows and chickens. The goats and cows would come right up to you to be petted. (And hoping for food. If you tried to buy a little corn from the machine there, the goats would eat it out of the machine before you could even get your hand in there to retrieve it! Wily little critters.)

We tore Clay away from the barnyard long enough to see the Gator Jumparoo show. They ran raw chickens out on a wire, and those big gators jumped totally out of the water to eat them! Yikes!

We walked further down the right side of the park to see the snake exhibits, the albino alligators, some beautiful tropical birds, some deer and two turkeys. You could even feed some of the birds. If you waled into the aviary with some purchased bird food, they'd light all over you while they at it. Then, we found ourselves in the right place to see the Up Close Encounters show. We sat in a small, shaded stadium, and the park trainers brought out tarantulas, snakes and other animals for us to see and touch. Clay and I even got to hold a BIG snake at the end of the show. He wasn't scared at all!

By this time, we were getting pooped. After some cold drinks and a trip through the gift shop (Clay had to have a stuffed alligator; Brian and I got fudge.), we headed home.

I so enjoyed my trip to this park. It's almost like the anti-theme park of Orlando. It wasn't crowded, it's easily do-able (at a leisurely pace) in one day, and being out among the water and the trees is just relaxing. It didn't hurt that most of the park is shaded, either.

You'll still drop some dollars here, but it's nothing compared to what you'd spend at most of the other Orlando theme parks. It's just an easier, less rushed day.

After we finished up at GatorLand, we came back to the condo to take a nap before dinner. Refreshed, we set our sights on Downtown Disney again. We ate at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, where I had the pumpkin ravioli (with sage and nuts), hubs got the barbecue chicken pizza, and Clay had a cheese pizza with fries and fresh fruit. Yum! This place is loud, but the food was really good, and the location is super-convenient.

We were hoping to go up in the "Characters in Flight" balloon, but due to wind, it was grounded. We contented ourselves with walking around Downtown Disney for a bit and stopping for a second time at The Candy Cauldron for more chocolate coins. We ate our treats on a bench by the river before a trip back to the condo.

On our last day in Orlando, we decided to laze around instead of pack in more activity. We lolled around the condo in the morning, eating breakfast in. A little before lunch, we headed back to Downtown Disney. We had our sights set on the T-Rex Cafe. We'd seen the restaurant on our jaunts through Downtown Disney before, and Clay was dying to get in there. We breezed right in at about 11:30 a.m. (no wait) and took our seats in the ice cave. We could barely restrain Clay from running wild all through the restaurant until we could order our food.

After we ordered, our waitress held our table for us while we examined all the dinosaurs in the restaurant. They had a big T-Rex skeleton embedded in the ice cave, plus some wooly mammoths. We saw a pachycephalosuarus, some pteradactyls, stegosaurus, triceratops, a giant squid, and, of course, a few Tyrannasaurus Rexes. Clay loved this place, and there were more animatronic dinosaurs there than in the whole exhibit that came to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science during the dino exhibit.

And the food was really good. Brian got the ribs and a lava flow, and I had the roast chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The chicken was tender and well-seasoned, the mashed potatoes were nice and fIavorful, and, after a week of carb-rich meals, the roasted vegetables were just what the doctor ordered. I ordered Clay the roast chicken with mashed potatoes, and his apple juice came in a fun red cup that lit up. He thought it was awesome.

After we ate, we (of course) made a trip through the gift shop. I bought Clay a little collection of 8 dinosaur toys. They'll be great toys for the plane ride back.

From afar, we noticed that the "Characters in Flight" balloon was flying!! We hurried over, walked right up to the ticket window, and paid for a ride up. We got right on the balloon (no waiting!), and up we went! The views were great from the top of the balloon. You could see Epcot and some of the other Disney landmarks. There was also a nice breeze blowing. Wonderful. We took some pictures and headed back to the condo for a nap.

We spent the evening in, too. We ordered room service and lazed around, reading, packing, doing a little bit of laundry. Clay played with his dinosaurs, and we looked back over all of our pictures, talking about all the fun we had on our trip.

Conclusions - the condo was a clear winner. Having a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and a washer dryer is just unbeatable. We flew home with two suitcases full of clean laundry. I also came away thinking that GatorLand was one of the funnest things we did on our trip. Even though we spent quite a bit of money there, the pace was slower and the park was easier to cover in a day than, say, Sea World. The next time we take the bit on vacation, we may only go for 5 days instead of 7. I could tell that little man was getting a little tired on the last couple of days, due to the non-stop activity. Plus, then we'd have a few days of down time once we got back home.

All in all, we had a blast in Orlando! We'll definitely be back!

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