Our fun sugar cookies!
The Bradshaws: a family of crime-fighters!!
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 . . .
We returned last weekend from a week in Orlando with little man! Since he's still too little for most of the offerings at Disney, we decided to stay at a resort and dip our toes into several different types of activities. Here's the skinny:
We left Saturday on a 3:15 p.m. direct flight from Jackson to Orlando. We flew Southwest because they were the only airline offering direct flights, and it paid off! Our flight left on time, and it was blissfully uneventful.
I worried that Clay might be nervous or scared (It's been two years since he's flown.), but no such thing. We buckled him up with his CARES 5-point harness, and he settled into his seat. We had to taxi for awhile on the runways, and I think he had a moment there where he thought we weren't going to fly at all. He turned to me and said, "This airplane isn't flying." But pretty soon, we started zooming down the runway, and he got excited when we took flight.
I think it really helped that we checked out all those books from the library ahead of time about going on vacation and riding a plane. Numerous times, he repeated lines from the books about buckling up, showing the agent his ticket, and taking a trip. It was really cute!
I worried, too, that he might get sick. Nope. In fact, once we were airborne and the newness wore off, he laid his head in my lap and went to sleep for about an hour. Can't ask for much more than that, can I?
When we landed in Orlando, we were starving, so we stopped at Oishi, a little sushi/teppanyaki place, for some food before checking into our hotel. I felt like I could eat a horse, so I ordered edamame as an appetizer (hubs got the gyoza), then shrimp tempura (which came with miso soup, salad, and rice). Brian got a sirloin and chicken hibachi dish, and we got chicken and rice for the baby. The food was soooo good, and it came out quickly.
After we'd filled our tummies, we hit the road for Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa. We found it without too much trouble. It's a stone's throw from Sea World and Disney, and it's adjacent to a HUGE outlet mall! (Woo hoo!!)
I was extremely pleased with out unit. We got a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a full kitchen, sitting room, and washer/dryer. We found a fabulous deal on it at the Orlando Convention and Visitors' Bureau site. The resort has a spa, a business center, a couple of restaurants, and a gorgeous pool with a huge pirate ship/slide in it. Our master bath had a roomy jetted soaking tub in it, and I made use of it shortly after we checked in. We got little man to bed and turned in early.
The next morning, we hit the road in search of pancakes. We found them at Bob Evans, which is apparently a chain restaurant, just not one we have here in the metro area. And, boy, was it good. Lots of delicious food, quick, and not very expensive. Hubs loaded up on eggs, sausage, and blueberry crepes, and I had waffles and bacon. Little man amused himself with pancakes topped with blueberries and a few bites of our food. YUM.
We swung by Publix on the way back to the resort to stock up on fruit and other snacks (plus a bottle of wine) for the unit, then hit the pool.
Clay loved it down there. The children's side of the pool is a zero-grade entry pool, so I just pulled my beach chair into the water a little bit and relaxed while Clay splashed around. He found some other children to play with, and we also climbed up the pirate ship a little bit and swung in some of the poolside hammocks.
By 4:30, we were hungry again, so we made our way to Ming Court, purportedly one of the best Chinese restaurants in Orlando. It did not disappoint. First of all, the restaurant is beautiful. Winding dragons, stone elephants, and lions decorate the entrance, along with beautiful koi ponds. They even had a machine that dispensed fish food for 25 cents. We let Clay feed the fish for a bit before going in to our table. Decor inside is as delightful as out. Clay absolutely loved the giant, colorful dragon suspended form the ceiling. We ordered pineapple juice and a chicken bento box for him, and hubs and I both splurged on the Enchantment Wok. (It's was $25 per person, which is much more than our usual fare. We'd skipped lunch, though, and we were starving. Plus, the waitress recommended it.)
We were thrilled with the result. Dinner began with a flavorful wonton soup, and then out came a heaping plate of fried rice and a large platter of crispy scallops, meat with peppers and onions, and sweet shrimp. OMG. It was sooooo good. Looking at all the food, I was afraid we'd be wasting most of it. Nope. We ate ALL of the meat and the veggies, and most of the rice! Clay loved his food, too. Of course, the french fries were his favorite, but then he hopped on the chicken, the noodles, and bites of what we'd ordered. He finished up with a small dish of ice cream with strawberries liberally strewn around it.
Seated in the dining room, one is surrounded by windows showcasing landscaped pools, waterfalls, and statuary. Calming music and the sounds of birds play over the restaurant's sound system. The whole thing is a wonderful experience. And though we chose one of the more expensive things on the menu, there were many entrees in the $10 to $15 range, plus a wide variety of appetizers and a la carte items for as little as $4 or $5. I highly recommend this place. It is a nice restaurant, which I would normally not suggest for those dining with little kids. However, because we were they very early (4:30 p.m.), we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. Nice!
On day two, we girded our loins with a healthy breakfast at the condo and set out for Sea World. We'd bought our tickets online ahead of time, and we arrived at the park right at 9 a.m., when they opened. We breezed through parking and check-in, and then we were off to see the park. We started our day with a trip to the top of the Skytower, a rotating ride that gives you a bird's eye view of the entire park. Because it was early, we were the only people on the ride! Clay scooched his bootie around on the seats, craning for more views.
Then, we checked out the Dolphin nursery, which we had completely to ourselves. According to the trainer stationed there, they had calves as young as two week's old in the pool! We sat Clay on a perch atop the hand rail, and he got a great look at the mothers and babies. This was almost magical.
After that, we headed for the Shark Encounter. This was a great exhibit. You tunnel through an aquarium, so sharks are on either side of you, and above you as well. I thought Clay might be scared, but he wouldn't even let me hold him! It was in this exhibit that I really started to feel like we were at Sea World. We almost made lunch reservations at Sharks Underwater Grill, but they didn't open until noon! (We had plans to go to the Shamu show at 12:30 p.m.) We contented ourselves with an up-close look at some of the rays and smaller sharks in the pool in front of the restaurant.
We also checked out Penguin Encounter, which had soooo many penguins in it that I feared they might be crowded. Tons of different varieties of birds, with shaved ice dropping in slowly from the ceiling! There was even a big, viewable tank where you could see the birds swimming. I was surprised by how graceful they were in the water.
After that, we were in just the right place to see Clyde and Seymour Take Pirate Island, a show featuring sea lions, otters, and a HUGE walrus. I thought the story line was pretty dismal, but Clay loved seeing the animals, and out of all the shows we saw at Sea World that day (a total of four), this has seriously been the one he has talked about most.
After that show, Clay was so enamored of the sea lions that we headed straight to Pacific Point Preserve. At this attraction, you can see the sea lions as they bask in the sun and swim in the pool. You can also buy small fish and actually feed a sea lion yourself! We couldn't resist, and the sea lions were expert beggars. Clay threw a fish RIGHT into a sea lion's mouth! (A bird got another, but we were on such an animal high by this time that we hardly cared.)
By now, it was about 11:30 a.m., and we were getting hungry. We had an hour to grab a bite before we had to be at Shamu Stadium for the 12:30 p.m. show. We decided to stop at the closest place - Seaport Pizza - and get lunch. Yuck. The pizza was awful, and you weren't even able to eat in an air-conditioned space. We should have forged ahead, despite our rumbling stomachs, to find something better in the park. This was a waste of $30. I would gladly have paid a good deal more to sit somewhere nice and cool and eat decent food.
After lunch, we joined nearly everyone in the park that day at Shamu Stadium to see Believe, one of the park's signature shows. They were only offering it twice that day, at 12:30 and again at 5:30 p.m. We had a feeling Clay wouldn't make it to the evening show, so we wanted to be there for the afternoon viewing. The killer whales were amazingly beautiful. Clay's jaw completely dropped the first time he saw one, and he loved this show.
After it was over, we stopped by the Garden of Discovery for some animal interactions (parrots, a falcon, and some other animals) before arriving back at the Nautilus Theatre (Ahhhh, air conditioning!) for the 1:30 p.m. showing of A'Lure: The Call of the Ocean. This was one of my favorite shows of the day. It was Cirque-style, with tons of fun effects: two giant seahorses that came out into the audience, bubbles that fell from the ceiling, jets of water spewing out, acrobatics, aerialists, amazing costumes, and dance. We all loved this show, and it gave us a chance to sip some water and get cool.
When this show let out, we realized there was nearly a whole side of the park we hadn't seen! We made our way to the Jewel of the Sea Aquarium, which Clay absolutely loved. It's aptly named, a little jewel-box of a space adjoining a gift shop. The fish swim in tanks under your feet and above your head, in addition to tanks positioned all around the room, The jellyfish were beautiful (and the only ones we saw in the whole park), as were the coral and tropical fish.
We left this aquarium and stopped by the Manatee Rescue and alligator exhibits. The underwater viewing at the manatee exhibit was the BEST. It was almost as if a couple of the big animals were doing underwater tricks for us! They swam straight up to the glass to have a look at us, showed us their big tummies, and did slow turns in the water.
We realized now that little man was starting to flag. We decided to sit a bit and have a cold drink while we watched Blue Horizon, the dolphin show. This was another favorite. The dolphins were so social, and they did some fabulous tricks with the trainers. Again, not the best of storylines, but all you really want is to see the animals. There were some colorful costumes and some neat gymnastics in this show as well. The trainers dove into the water from impossible high perches, hardly making a splash when they entered the water.
We cruised on by Dolphin Cove, but we didn't stop to feed the animals this time. We headed for Stingray Lagoon, where Clay and I were both brave enough to put our hands in the touch pool. The stingrays have learned how to splash people, and a big group of them will come over to the side of the water and splash their fins on the surface, sending water everywhere!
It was nearly 4 p.m. by this time, so we stopped in the gift shop to pick out a memento (Clay chose a big stuffed killer whale), and headed back to the condo. We sacked out for about an hour before heading afield to find dinner. We wound up down International Drive at Maggiano's Little Italy. It appeared to be a chain, but it's one we don't have back in Jackson. (Plus, I was jonesing for some Italian.). I got the Rigatoni "D," a delicious blend of rigatoni pasta, chicken, whole sauteed mushrooms, onions, and cream sauce. Brian had the lasagna special, and Clay had spaghetti and a giant meatball. Add some salads and a glass of wine (for mom), and you've got dinner. We came back to the condo and tumbled, exhausted, into bed.
More to come!
One woman's personal blog on theatre, literature, art, and life in a mid-sized Southern city.