Tinker Bell’s Butterfly Garden at Epcot

What a wonderful way to celebrate all things Tinker Bell.  As we made our way out of the park to catch the airplane home, my mom and I noticed Tinker Bell’s Butterfly Garden.  I am so glad that we decided to stop while we were guests of Disney at the Traveling Mom retreat.  The fairy houses, butterflies and more were just wonderful.  My daughter would have adored this spot in Epcot.  It was the perfect taste of spring after spending a winter knee deep in snow and brown plants.

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Stop by Delicious Baby and Friday DayDreamin’ for fun travel posts!

Disney World without Kids

When one thinks of Disney World, they don’t always think of a place to visit without the kids.  I did exactly that recently on a sponsored Traveling Mom retreat and I had a blast.  My mom drove down to see me and we wandered the parks doing whatever we wanted.  Disney World with kids is lots of fun, but I present to you some reasons why should think about hitting Disney World without them (shhh…don’t tell the kids!).

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Eat whatever you want and you don’t have to share.  Want a dole whip or an ice cream cone?  Go right ahead and eat the Mickey Mouse ice cream.  Nobody is going to want yours and you don’t have to share.

Ride what you want and skip the lines of the rides you want to skip.  Sure, Winnie the Pooh is a fun ride and I love watching my daughter’s eyes light up as we hop in the honey pot.  To be honest, I am glad my mom was okay with skipping the 75 minute line.

Getting ready to ride Peter Pan, our favorite ride!

Getting ready to ride Peter Pan, our favorite ride!

Leave the parks when you want to.  When you are only paying for one ticket, it is easy to justify a shorter day at the parks.  My mom and I left before the fireworks show one night and headed to Downtown Disney to watch a movie we both wanted to see but didn’t have anyone to see it with back home.

Carry your purse or don’t even carry a bag at all.  The whole time my mom and I were walking around Disney World, we both felt like we were forgetting something.  We only had our small purses with our cameras and wallets.  We didn’t have water bottles, snacks, Camelbaks that needed refilling, toys to entertain during lines, and souvenirs bought at every gift shop.

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See that bed? I don’t have to share!

Go to bed early.  Or go to bed very late.  When at Disney World with my family, I always feel like we have to get our money’s worth.  We plan to get there when the parks open and we shut them down.  If we leave before the parks close or get there a few hours after they open, I always feel like we missed out.  On the flip side of that, when my kids are tired and ready to go home we might not be.

I can take all the pictures I want because I am not carrying all that stuff.

What is your favorite part about going to Disney World without the kids?

*Some of my expenses were sponsored my Traveling Mom, Disney or Chevrolet during this retreat.  As always, opinions are all mine.

 

Mermaid Shows at Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida

If you grew up in Florida, you probably remember the Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Show.  When I announced to friends that I was taking Little S to the Mermaid Show in Weeki Wachee Springs, a number of my friends began to recount fun memories of their road trip adventure to see the mermaids themselves.  The Mermaid Show is a little piece of  old kitschy Florida.  There have been some additions since it first opened in the 1940s, but it is still a quintessential roadside attraction.

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The mermaid show was the brainchild of a former Navy man who trained SEALS to swim underwater during World War II.  He cleaned the trash out of the springs, found some girls, and trained them to swim underwater while doing tricks.  They breathed through air hoses back then and still do in today’s shows.  Because there was not much traffic passing by the springs, the girls would run out to the road in their swimsuits when they heard a car coming.  When the passengers in the car decided to stay for the show, the girls would jump into the springs and put on their performance.  Over the next few years, the show grew and it became an honor to be a mermaid at Weeki Wachee.  Weeki Wachee became a Florida State Park in 2008 and that will hopefully continue to preserve this little piece of Florida history.

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The mermaid show is held in an underwater theater that was constructed in 1960.  The shows vary but there are currently two, The Little Mermaid and Fish Tails Mermaid Show.  We saw The Little Mermaid.

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Things To Know Before You Go

The line for entrance into the theater begins to form about 45 minutes before the doors open.  If you want to get in at a certain time, line up early.

Sit as close to the front as possible.  We foolishly thought that the closer we sat, the less we would see because of the way the theater is set up.  It seems as if you will be able to see the whole show from the back of the theater but, unfortunately (as you can see from my pictures), it is difficult to see around the different windows of the theater.

Wet swimsuits are not allowed in the theater so if you have visited Buccaneer Bay, be sure to give yourself time to dry off completely.

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Though Weeki Wachee has more than just two lanes connecting it to the world, there is still not much around it.  We stayed at a very inexpensive roadside motel, the Springhill Florida Quality Inn.  It cost us less than $50 for the night and is located across the street from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.  The hotel is old and kind of beat up but we had a clean room and it served its purpose as a stopping point in between the Florida Keys and our home in Pensacola.  We woke up early, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed across the street to begin our day.

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Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is not just home to the mermaid shows.  When you pay your entrance fee, you get access to everything in the park.  Plan to spend an entire day there.  You can take a river boat cruise, learn about the animals that live in the park at the Animal Show, have a picnic and play in Buccaneer Bay.

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Things to Know Before You Go

Buccaneer Bay is a small water park that has been built over the natural springs in Weeki Wachee.  You will not only be swimming with people but also fish, turtles and the occasional manatee or even an alligator.  For the record, all we saw were fish and turtles.

There is an area to swim in, a couple of flume rides, and a lazy river ride through the springs.

The springs are cold!  The springs are 74 degrees year round.  It was a little overcast when we visited and the water was very chilly.  We didn’t last too long.

Because these are natural springs, the bottom changes very quickly.  Stay close to your little ones because the ground can quickly disappear out from under their feet.

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You can’t beat the price tag for this day long adventure.  Adult entrance fee is $13 and it is $8 for children ages 6-12.  Children five and under are free.

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday with Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels.
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Not the Key West of My Dreams

Key West has been one of the Florida hotspots that I wanted to visit for a long time.  We lived in Florida for fifteen years so you would think that we would have already made it to Key West but we lived in the Panhandle.  We could get to Virginia in the same amount of time that it took us to get to Key West.  When we were invited to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, just north of Miami, we decided to tack on Key West.

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I have to admit that Key West in real life was a bit lackluster compared to the images that I had painted in my head from books, movies and friends’ tales.  I don’t know if it was because it didn’t entertain my kids like I wish it had or if it was because everything was overpriced.  I had a hard time reconciling what I imagined with the Bourbon Street-like atmosphere that I was seeing in Key West.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love New Orleans and visit often with my family.  We just stay away from Bourbon Street.

Did you know this isn't even really the southernmost point in the Continental US?

Did you know this isn’t even really the southernmost point in the Continental US?

Even the drive to Key West left a lot to be desired.  The drive to Key West is very pretty and each causeway over the water was interrupted by fun little towns but everywhere we stopped was either closed or too expensive.  Part of this was poor planning on my part but it was also only about halfway through our week-long trip around the coast of Florida.  We felt like we had already spent a lot of money and didn’t want to keep spending it.

We arrived at our hotel and got checked in.  The hotel was about the only redeeming quality.  And it was a Comfort Inn.

We used the next two days to tick through the list of things I had planned.  We spent a ridiculous amount of money for entrance into a shipwreck museum and an aquarium where we spent only an hour or so.

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We spent most of our time in Key West going from shuttle stop to shuttle stop while dodging thunderstorms and listening to our kids whine about how darn hot it was.

Am I glad that we went?  Yes.  Key West was somewhere I wanted to visit and chances are slim that I would get to go now that we don’t live in Florida anymore.  Would I go back?  Maybe, but I think I would plan a mom and dad only trip.  There are things that my husband and I wanted to do but we just couldn’t justify the cost of four people, like taking a boat to the Dry Tortugas National Park.  Only time…and budgets…will tell.

Have you ever visited something that you planned and planned for and then were disappointed when you finally got there?

Looking for Cats at Hemingway’s Home

The Ernest Hemingway home was a non-negotiable thing on my list of places to see when we were in Key West, Florida.  I am an avid reader and I taught Old Man and the Sea for five years to ninth grade students.  For four weeks each year, we lived Ernest Hemingway as a class.  Lucky me, I got to discuss the book five times a day during the four weeks.

I was worried that one more tour of an old house would make my kids rebel but we were going anyway.  We paid the entrance fee and started to wander.  Little did I know that both of my children would be entertained the entire hour we explored the grounds of the Hemingway home.

By cats.  Lots and lots of cats.

My 5 year old daughter immediately spotted the cats and asked in wonder why there were so many cats around.  I told her the story about Hemingway’s cats and that there are over forty cats that live on the grounds.

We talked about how many of them are polydactl, which means that they are six-toed cats.

While I explored the Hemingway home and gardens, my children counted cats.

It was one of the most peaceful hours of the entire week-long trip.

 

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida

There is a small stretch of beach town in South Florida that maintains its town square appeal.  You drive down four and six lane highways and past numerous business centers before arriving at the little town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Florida.

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Accommodations

Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is just minutes from the excitement of Ft. Lauderdale but it offers lots of great activities of its own.  The hotels are within walking distance of many of the main attractions.  We stayed in the Away Inn for our two night visit.  This hotel is exactly the type of hotel that I would choose for our beach vacation.  The room we stayed in was a one bedroom efficiency.  There was a bedroom with one bed, a living room with a pull-out couch and a kitchenette.  There was a washer and dryer available for public use and a small pool in the courtyard.  While this was not the closest hotel to the main square, I liked that it was set off from everything.  We could enjoy the beach and low key party atmosphere surrounding the restaurants and then head back to our room at the Away Inn for a quiet evening.  Because it wasn’t the closest hotel, we did find ourselves driving to restaurants and activities every once in awhile because it was so very hot and humid.  The rates at the Away Inn are reasonable and begin around 159 dollars.

Dining

Fresh fish, straight off the boat, abounds in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.  We ate at restaurants with so many delicious choices.  This was truly one of these weekends where we ate our way through vacation.  I tried my first bowl of Caribbean Conch Chowder at Aruba Beach Café.  We ate tasty peel and eat shrimp and seared sesame Ahi Sashimi.  When our order at the Village Grille arrived, I was a little worried that my son wouldn’t be interested in eating his grilled cheese.  This grilled cheese was no bread with some American cheese slapped between it.  This was a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich.  My son gobbled it up and declared it the best grilled cheese he had.  On our way out of town, we grabbed lunch at Keese’s Simply Delicious Gourmet for lamb gyros.

Activities

For once, my kids didn’t complain about anything we did during our visit to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.  If you know my kids, this will surprise you because they can be world class complainers!  For once, they couldn’t come up with their one favorite activity because they loved it all.

We started our visit out with an evening dip in the hotel pool.  The next morning we started our day with a chocolate making class at Kilwin’s.  I have been to a Kilwin’s before, the chocolate shop known for its ice cream and fudge that melts in your mouth, but I did not know that they held tours and chocolate making classes (be sure to call ahead to find out if any classes are scheduled).  During the class, the kids made delicious chocolate covered marshmallows coated in colorful candy sprinkles.

After our chocolate making class, it was time to hit the beach.  We counted turtle nests and watched the surfers catch waves.  Both of my kids participated in the last day of skimboarding camp with Alley Oop (follow that link to see a video of my son successfully skimboarding!).  The instructors were great with the kids and managed to not only wrangle a number of children ranging from elementary to high school but also to teach them how to stay on their skimboards.

You can take diving lessons, go snorkeling, take art lessons, learn how to belly dance and the list goes on and on.

I usually prefer the slower paced sleepy beach towns and I thought Lauderdale-by-the-Sea would be more reminiscent of my college trips to Miami and Fort Lauderdale.  We were wrong.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with Lauderdale-by-the-Sea but we did and we can’t wait to return.

 *Thank you to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea for hosting my family for two nights during LBTS Events.  We paid for transportation, some meals and activities.  My opinions are always my own with no outside influence.

Photo Friday: Taking a Break

On our trip to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, my kids joined a skimboarding camp with Alley Oop.  Big S immediately fell in love with the sport and is begging for a skimboard of his own.  After three hours of running around, falling down, and getting back up, he needed a break.

This is, by far, one of my favorite pictures of him.

This post is part of DeliciousBaby’s Photo Friday. Stop by to see other submissions.

Traversing the State of Florida – Help us plan our stops.

*If you stopped by the site yesterday, you might have wondered what the map of Florida was doing on the site with no information and no post. That would be me and my stellar WordPress skills. Here is what that map is for!

We are getting ready to embark on our first big trip of the summer. We were invited to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea to explore this cute little town right above Ft. Lauderdale. When we were planning the trip, I mentioned to my husband that the Florida Keys weren’t all that much farther south and wouldn’t that be a fun addition to the trip? I have always wanted to visit the Keys and I think that it would be a shame to be so close and not be able to go.  We have added the Keys to the itinerary and removed them twice. The Keys are back in the itinerary and we have a hotel booked in Key West.

After we visit the Florida Keys, we are going to travel back north through the Everglades to Weeki Wachi Springs State Park where we will get to meet the famous mermaids (my  daughter is beyond excited!). From there we will return home.

Here is where I need your help. I have lived in Florida for 15 years and we have traveled much of it. That being said, most of that travel has been on the Gulf Coast and to central Florida. I have been to Miami twice, once for a brief conference in college and once to go on a cruise. Other than that, my knowledge of south Florida is limited. Also, I am pretty sure we haven’t been on I-95 (in Florida) for very long if at all.

Where should we stop? Is there anything that we absolutely should do while we are in any of these places? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.


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Joe Patti’s Seafood

The Pike Place Market is one of those things that I hope to see someday. After reading Keryn’s Travel in my Town post about Seattle, I realized that my kids and I hadn’t yet made it to our very own fish market in Pensacola. I had been years ago but haven’t been since I had children. A few weekends ago, we made the trip downtown and Joe Patti’s did not disappoint.

The kids cracked us up about how they thought the place smelled (um…like raw fish!).

They loved trying the bread samples and we picked up some piping hot bread fresh from the oven.

They tried to talk us in to some gelato but we had already had a treat that afternoon so the answer was no. I guess we will just have to go back soon!

We picked up some mahi mahi that became the most delicious fish tacos!

Read more about my visit at TravelingMom.

Stop by Delicious Baby to see other Photo Friday submissions!  I am also participating in Friday Daydreaming over at R We There Yet.

 

7 Things to Buy BEFORE You Get to Disney World

Disney World can be an expensive vacation. Because we live in Florida, we are lucky enough to be able to take advantage of the Florida resident discounts offered throughout the year. We are also able to make the trip in a long weekend without having to take 7-10 vacation days to make our trip worth the money spent. Before you make the trip to Disney World, buy these few things to save some money. Sure, Disney World has stores everywhere and you can certainly purchase them there, but you will be glad that you saved money on these items by purchasing them before your trip.

Ponchos – Go to your local dollar store and purchase a stack full of ponchos. They are packaged perfectly for travel and cost one dollar. You will be glad you have them because it always rains at Disney World.

Souvenirs – You may be wondering why you would buy your souvenirs before your trip! Head to any store that carries Disney items and pick up a few ahead of time. You will find many of the same items at the theme parks and at a much higher price. The Orlando Targets and Walmarts also have large displays of Disney merchandise. We go shopping ahead of time and surprise the kids with little souvenirs throughout the trip. If they find something in the parks that they just absolutely have to have, we discuss it then. My kids know that this is the case and the begging every time we come out of a ride and get dropped into a gift shop does not bring out the “I want this now’s,” thankfully.

Sunscreen – I forgot my sunscreen and bought a bottle of spray sunscreen for $12.99 at the hotel. Enough said.

Batteries – If your camera takes batteries, be sure to pack extra. They will cost you more just as the sunscreen does.

Spray Bottles or Fans – These are sold all over the theme parks. You can find them sitting in ice filled coolers. Florida is hot. And humid. Buy your kids a spray bottle or fan for just a few bucks before you go.

Snacks and Drinks – This is one of our biggest money savers when we head to Disney World. You can bring in a soft-sided cooler full of drinks, snacks and even lunch. Purchase them ahead of timeand bring them to the park. Freeze water bottles and use them as ice packs. When the bottles defrost, drink them.

What do you bring with you on your Disney World trip?

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