18 February 2009

SeaWorld, Shamu, and 1,000,000,000,000 M & M's

Emily and I decided to take a short Valentine's Day vacation to Orlando this past weekend, not because it was Valentine's Day but because we just wanted to get away for a while. We had gone out for happy hour that night, which ultimately turned into many happy hours and we didn't fall asleep until 1am or so, but that didn't stop us from waking up at 6:15 am to get ready and be on the road around 7:30 am for our 3 hour trip north to Orlando.

Our first stop was SeaWorld in Orlando. For those of you who have not experienced SeaWorld, it is worth the $75 per person. A word of advice—buy your tickets online or buy them at a ticket outlet in Orlando so you can avoid the long lines Emily and I stood in awaiting to buy our tickets. Also, make sure you get there early as the parking lot fills up fast and the crowds come in the afternoon.

There are so many amazing animals and exhibits and shows to experience at SeaWorld. From alligators to sharks to belugas to killer whales, there is not an opportunity to be bored. The exhibits include the Wild Arctic where we saw polar bears and belugas; Shark Encounter where there were sharks of all shapes and sizes; Penguin encounter where we literally walked onto the set of "Happy Feet"; Sting Ray Lagoon, where we got to touch sting rays as they swam by in a shallow outdoor pool; Pacific Point Preserve, where we got to see sea lions up close during feeding time; Dolphin Cove where we saw dolphins play with toys in their pool; and of course who can forget the two marine shows we watched, "Shamu: Believe" and "Clyde and Seamore Take Pirate Island". Very amazing shows and this list is not all inclusive by any means. Emily paid for two one-day tickets but they are good for unlimited admission for the rest of the year. I guess it pays to be a Florida Resident. We plan on going back because even we weren't able to see everything SeaWorld has to offer.

Like any other Florida attraction, SeaWorld also has rides and also has an attached waterpark called Aquatica, where one of the rides is called the Dolphin Plunge where you can take a ride in a tubular waterslide through an aquarium. We chose not to go to Aquatica because there is just not enough time in one day to do it all!!! At SeaWorld though, there are a couple roller coasters and water rides. The roller coasters are Kraken and Manta and the water ride is Journey to Atlantis. For some reason, we decided to ride on Journey to Atlantis, which was a fun, thrilling water ride. The ride took us in a boat-like coaster through the underwater world of Atlantis, and once we hit daylight again, we raced down a very steep water track and got soaked at the bottom. Spectators can see the first drop from the front of the ride, but what the first time rider doesn't expect is the second, steeper, scarier drop at the end/back of the ride that is not in the public eye. I thought there would only be that one drop and then the coaster would take us up a steep incline and let us out but no...not the case at all. After we got pulled back up from the first drenching drop, the ride sped up, soaked us again, and dropped us harder and faster on a second, curvy, steep, fast slope and we finally slowed to a stop. I don't like roller coaster rides of any kind, water or not. Emily loves them. I decided to loosen up and give it a try...I have been on many coasters before at Six Flags but that was only a one-day, once in a lifetime thing and I will NEVER do it again. I couldn't stop shaking and I was soaked and hot and ready to leave. Good thing the water coaster was one of our last stops on our SeaWorld tour.

Our SeaWorld experience was very enjoyable, minus standing in line for the tickets, shows, and the water ride but what we were able to see and experiences was definitely worth the wait, especially since we got to see most of the exhibits from an underwater view, which was really neat. From there, we went back to our hotel, put on our swimsuits, and headed to one of the three pools at our hotel for a nice, refreshing dip in the pool. We were tired from the night before and the three-hour drive north, but we were also hot and sweaty from walking around all day at SeaWorld so a late afternoon swim was necessary. We then showered and got ready to head to Old Town, which is right across the parking lot, for some Saturday night drinking!

We had made plans to stay at the Suites at Old Town, which is a hotel at the Old Town attraction, which is one of the best attractions Orlando/Kissimmee has to offer. Old Town is an attraction that offers free parking and free admission because it is like a town within a town. There is a city street made of cobblestone with old style restaurants, shops, cafes, and bars. Almost every night of the week Old Town offers a different event and since we were there on Saturday night, we were able to experience the Saturday Night Cruise, where people bring their antique and classic cars and drive them in a parade and park them for our viewing pleasure.

Old Town also has rides like the Ferris Wheel and other typical carnival rides, except these run every day of the year, not just a few days each summer month. There are many great rides, food, and attractions at Old Town but the best attractions, and the scariest I might add, are the Human Slingshot and the Super Shot. The Human Slingshot is a ride where you get strapped into a safety harness/chair contraption and are then catapulted 365 feet into the air and are left bouncing until you come to a stop. NO THANKS! The Super Shot is a swing mechanism with wires between two towers. You are slowly brought up to 150 feet into they air as you lie down on a safety harness, either by yourself or with up to two other people—and then you once you are at the top, you let yourself go and freefall to the earth at speeds up to 80 MPH and are left swinging over water until you stop. Again, NO THANKS! But it is fun to see other people on these rides. I'm fine on the ground.

The best part about Old Town on a Saturday night, however, is going into one bar and ordering a beer, walking around town with it, and entering another bar for a refill. There is no traffic on this street, only during the car parades, so pedestrians are free to walk on the sidewalk or in the middle of the street as they wish. The hotel wasn't that great but it was a one bedroom suite with a living room, a kitchen with a table and a bedroom with two queen beds, along with a private balcony and the most comfortable pull down wall bed I've ever experienced.

Emily and I stopped at Tropical Breeze restaurant for a beer and we also grabbed a couple excellent burgers and frequented a few other taverns Saturday night and even watched some of the Saturday Night Cruise. We had lots to drink, played Skee-ball at the arcade, watched a kid ride the bull, and checked out some of the antique cars and then we decided to head next door and go to Fun Spot, with the world's most amazing go kart tracks ever!!! We stood in line for an hour, yes, an hour, to ride on the tallest, curviest, steepest go-kart track I had ever been on! It was a lot of fun but by 1 am, Emily and I were beat so we headed back to our hotel. When we got there, we weren't excited about sleeping on the rock hard mattress in our room so I tried out the bed in the wall, which was the comfiest bed I had ever slept on! Emily and I passed out on that bed for about 45 minutes before we woke up, brushed our teeth, and slept on a real, but hard bed in the bedroom.

That night before we left Old Town and made our way back to the Suites at Old Town, we were pulled into a discount ticket shop by a sales man and were convinced to sit through a 90-minute presentation on Sunday morning at Westgate Vacation Villas, where we would get a free breakfast and save about $60 on Wet n Wild Water Park tickets. You had to be married or in a domestic partnership to take advantage of this opportunity. Emily paid $40 for two tickets when they're about $47 each to begin with. We were promised a free breakfast, which we got, and we were promised discounted tickets if we sat through a 90-minute presentation about timeshares, which we did receive. The place was huge and there were many people there, all looking for cheap tickets like us, but I think we were the poorest people there since there were plenty of people actually buying time shares. Emily and I don't have an extra $37k lying around, nor do we have $3k for a deposit, nor do we plan on timesharing anytime soon. So, we ate breakfast, were escorted around the premises and sat through 3 HOURS of presentation and bullying to get us to buy a timeshare and we continued to say no. After three plus hours, a mediocre breakfast, and standing in line again, Emily and I finally got our vouchers for our cheap tickets, which we didn't use on Sunday, as it was chilly (65°F), cloudy, and was supposed to rain. We can come back from now until April to use our cheap tickets. Now, had we had more money, this would have been an AMAZING purchase but unfortunately, we are poor folk...someday it'll happen...someday.

After heading to Westgate for a timeshare presentation and free breakfast at 9am, we finally got our ticket vouchers around 12:30pm and headed back to Old Town for a quick shopping excursion at an amazing store called Black Market. It is a huge store full of stuff like beads, stones, shells, jewelry, etc. Emily and I bought beads there back in September when we drove up in the Cavalier and traded it in for my Saturn Vue. We loved the store so much we had to come back and Emily bought a couple pendants for her jewelry-making hobby. We also stopped at Kissimmee Popcorn and purchased Vanilla Nut popcorn and Apple Pie popcorn...AMAZING, by the way.

From there, we left Kissimmee and headed to Orlando. We arrived at the Florida Mall, for no other reason besides the fact we were heading straight to M & M's World. When you walk in to M & M's world from the parking lot, there are the green and red M & M statues there to greet you (not literally) but we came in through the mall entrance. The first thing I saw was an entire wall of different colored M & M's and tubes full of M & M's in the ceiling. AMAZING! Although the M & M's were $11.99/lb, we still purchased a pound for the experience. The store is HUGE and I totally know where I'm purchasing my gifts for birthdays and Christmas this upcoming year. Hope y'all like M & M's and M & M's souvenirs!!! AWESOME stuff!!!

Overall, it was a great weekend. Long drives, long lines, but definitely worthwhile. I would suggest visiting Orlando to anyone at anytime no matter your age. It's one of the most fun and interesting places in our country/world!!!

For more information about the places I mentioned in this blog, please visit the following links:


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