Background Comedy: "Florida" by Jerry Seinfeld.
From his 1998 album "I'm Telling You For The Last Time"

Hey, did you know that there’s other stuff to do in Orlando besides Disneyworld? Judging by the amount of people that we saw in Disneyworld, and then outside of it- not many people do. Not that these other places were deserted by any means, but we didn’t see nearly the crowds.

This next bit is Universal Studios, (still a theme park, but not as crowded as Disney here), Gatorland, The Kennedy Space Center, and a couple of tours through some natural areas or “Real Florida”, as they called it down here. While we enjoyed Disney quite a bit, we enjoyed the nature and educational stuff a little bit more- and there’s a lot of that here too. Really, if you haven’t been here yet, you have got to come and see this place!

Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure- If you’ve been to the Universal Studios in California, you’ve pretty much been to the Universal here (although the one here doesn’t have the back lot tour, which is one of the biggest draws at the one in California- at least in our opinion). What you don’t want to miss here is Universal’s Islands of Adventure. It has some really great, fast, loopy, steep and scary rollercoasters. Wheee! Also, they have Seuss Landing which is more for the little kids, but the whole area is done up like you’re in a Seuss book- so neat! At least, I thought so (Heather), Trav may disagree…but anyway, on to the next thing!

Kennedy Space Center- If you really love space stuff, you gotta come here (and one of us definitely does! Guess who? ). This is the place most people think of when they hear “NASA”. The exhibits aren’t as in-depth as the Space Center in Houston, but you can see where the shuttle takes off, and the tour guide will point out all the alligators he sees along the way to the launch site. Also, we were able to take part in a shuttle take off simulation, where you can feel what it’s like to be launched into space. There are some pretty intense g-forces and shaking going on!

This happened while we were back at our campsite, but around 8:30 one night we heard a huge “BOOM-BOOM” outside. It sounded like someone had slammed into our trailer with their car. Amazingly, our first thought was not, “Someone slammed into our trailer with their car”, but, “Holy crap, someone blew up Disneyland!” Weird, huh? We could analyze that, but that’s not the point. What actually happened was that The Space Shuttle Endeavor had just come back from space and what we heard were the sonic booms as it made its way to Kennedy Space Center. Neat stuff, huh? See heavy g-force rides, big booms- space isn’t as nerdy as you thought. (By the way, we can see and hear the fireworks from Disneyworld every night, and if something did blow up there, we would hear it, but it would maybe be 1/50th as loud as that sonic boom. No worries, though, Disneyworld is just fine and dandy).

Cocoa Beach- Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. What can you say about a Florida white sand beach with warm, turquoise water, the evening sun glinting off the waves? To borrow a phrase from our own Mr. Kelly McGee: “Freakin’ thinga beauty”. Except he doesn’t say, “Freakin’”. We stopped at Cocoa Beach after a long day at Kennedy Space Center, so didn’t have much time there. Travis tried to trick me into staying to see the sunset on the water. Har, har- I wasn’t fooled. That’s a “first time to the Atlantic” kind of joke. I’ve been to the East Coast a couple of times before. Luckily.

Gatorland- Three guesses as to what this place is all about? That’s right- alligators! We were surprised to find that it has much more as well. This time of year is nesting season and the birds were building nests and laying eggs. Many of the nests are right next to the boardwalk, so close that you could probably just reach out and grab a bird or an egg- if you’re a big jerk. Obviously, the birds are very used to people, most of them not big jerks. There were hundreds of alligators, bigger and more active than the ones we’ve been able to see in the wild, and still people let their children teeter on the very tops of the railings to see them. Maybe that’s why the alligators are so big.

Boggy Creek Airboat Ride- Like many of you, we’d seen these airboat ride things on TV, and it sounded like fun. It really was fun, actually. Unfortunately, the ride was pretty short, so we didn’t feel like we got much for our money- especially since much of the ride was about seeing alligators and we’d just come from, uh, Gatorland- oops. So, once again, not so hot on the planning, but the ride alone is worth it if you can find a good deal. Plus, when are we going to get a chance to do this again- Vernonia Lake? Ha!

Blue Springs State Park- Another beautiful place in Florida, dubbed “Real Florida”. This is what Florida looked like before all of the Goofy Lots went in. There are big moss covered oaks and palm trees and a natural spring, 72 degrees, that turns into a clear blue river that’s full of manatees. During the winter (January-March), the manatees stay in the warm water of the springs. When the manatees move into the deeper, colder river later in the year, the spring waters are open for swimming. Fortunately, we caught the manatees while they were still hanging out in the springs. There’s something really calming about just sitting on the dock and watching them move around in the water.

So that’s our Orlando adventure! We thought this would be an action packed two weeks, and it surely was. This is also the half-way point through our long trek around the U.S. Now we’re headed back home- taking the scenic route!

From the NASA web site:

A view of space shuttle Endeavour landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: NASA TV
Heralded by its trademark twin sonic booms, space shuttle Endeavour returned to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 8:39 p.m. EDT, concluding the STS-123 mission with a smooth touchdown on Runway 15.

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