Florida, in midsummer? Are you sure that’s a good idea? Hm. In Maryland we’re already experiencing the worst humidity outside of Indonesia anyway, so why not? How much worse can Florida be? None worse at all; in fact I enjoyed the weather more.
One soggy, hot Friday afternoon, I went to the Baltimore airport and got on a plane packed with happy mouse-eared travelers. After a few hours and some waiting, I met my friend at the Orlando airport, we rented a car and we tried to find the hotel. The roads in the vicinity of Disney World get pretty confusing, or we would have been there quite a bit earlier. My getting lost is not limited to the Beltway, it would seem, and has extended all the way to Mouseville. Eventually, though it was nearly 1:30 AM, everyone got settled. Reconnecting in the middle of the next morning, droopy-eyed but childishly excited, we boarded the hotel bus and headed for the Happiest Place on Earth. After buying some expensive entry tickets we put away our money and regressed a few decades on our way through the gates.
I’d never been to Epcot Center before, or Disneyworld for that matter – only Disneyland in Anaheim, California (the original). In the Disney tradition, everything was beautifully manicured, spacious and somehow made into a place where you don’t need to worry about anything. I don’t know how they do that, but it’s awfully nice.
Soon into our park time, we tried the astronaut training mission ride. It is now, to my sorrow that I must report I will never make it through real astronaut training. This is a disappointment for me, even though I am flabby and over 40 and had mostly given up on going to Mars. Still, there was still a sliver of hope in my imagination until this experience. Disney gives you the option of a rougher experience or an easier one, and I in my ignorance chose the rougher ride. I figured since I had never been motion sick, I’d be fine. Nope. Nuh uh. The G-forces of the ride made me so disoriented and sick, I had to sit down for about 30 minutes afterward. Then, since I looked woozy, my friend suggested we go have some water and some food. Neither of us was feeling very good and we were kicking ourselves for not taking the easier ride. I had lost my dream of space travel… sigh.
The only place not serving fried whatsit was a restaurant upstairs in the French district of Epcot. Turns out that Epcot is made up of many slices of culture, each made to look and feel a lot like other countries around the world, complete with foreign workers from the country in question. So, we met French Algerians and Parisians in the restaurant, and enjoyed what was a surprisingly decent and reasonably authentic meal. Later, I met a nice woman from Morocco (did you know Morocco was the first country to officially recognize the United States? I learned that at Epcot.). We discussed my love of her country and she told me about her home town. We moved on to Norway where I asked for snacks of dried cod. My oldest boy liked those when I sent them from Bergen, so I had hoped to get him some more. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any and the Norse fellow working there was lamenting it as well. Meanwhile, time was pressing on and it was getting dark. Before long, the amusement park would be closed. We had seen plenty of Epcot all day so it was time for a change.
We took the monorail, transferred at one station, and hurried on to the amusement park. After some favorite rides, we finished the evening just in time for the electric light parade. I was reminded of the times I’d been here with my mother and my own boys, and it was a lovely way to end the day. If I had to only have one day in Disneyworld, Orlando, this was a fine one.
The next day involved a drive over to Naples and a bird park in Sarasota. To be correct, it was a bird and reptile park, but I had heard it was more about the birds. Still, the reptiles turned out to be pretty cool, and I saw a Burmese python and a young crocodile that you could pet and photograph if you wanted to. They had a bunch of beautiful parrots, too. But the big draw for me? They let you feed their flamingoes OUT OF YOUR HAND! Does it get any better than that? I don’t think so! I bought a bag of food with my admission ticket, watched the reptile show, took some pictures of the parrots, and then walked the trails until I found the big pink flock. I took some pictures before getting the food out, and then I fed some ibises nearby. The next thing you know the flamingoes were upon me. It was just the neatest thing. I photographed their very interested faces and tried to keep them in focus while not losing all the food in under a minute. Turns out my office mate had been here years ago and when I told her about my adventure, she remarked that she’d had flamingoes all the way into her pockets seeking out the food pellets. I could imagine that: they were not exactly aggressive but they were very interested. It was the best $5 I spent all year, no question about it. The next time I am anywhere near Sarasota, I am going back to those flamingoes, for sure.
Laughing and happy, I got into the car to meet my friend for dinner. We both agreed it had been a wonderful time and to heck with concerns about humidity! We ate Cuban food on the water until we couldn’t anymore and headed for the airport like a couple of fat cats: birded and well-moused.