Animal Kingdom

My mum doesn’t like zoos but she does like Animal Kingdom and so do we.   Part of the Walt Disney World offering but very different from a traditional theme park.  Animal Kingdom has a lovely relaxing feeling.  The focus is on conservation.

Animal Kingdom doesn’t have loads of rides – there are some but the focus is on the animals.  We always head straight to the Kilimanjaro Safari as you are most likely to see lots of animals when it is cooler, it is a narrated safari ride over the African savanna.  Go early and see the animals while they are active. Animals that you may see are giraffes, lions, antelope, rhinos, warthogs, zebras and other stunning species roam the land  – no 2 safaris are the same.

Next we like to catch the train and head over to the Conservation Station on board the Wildlife Express – a rustic African train that runs 1.2 miles between the Harambe, Africa and Rafiki’s Planet Watch areas. You get to see the animal housing and care areas for rhinos, elephants and other species on your journey across the savanna.

At the Conservation Station you have the opportunity to meet the animal handlers, see animals up close and learn about the veterinary care, research and food preparation that are part of the daily activities in Animal Kingdom.  You may also get to meet some characters and there is a petting zoo.

After the train we like to head across to Everest.  Everest is a roller coaster train – it has drops and turns and a Yeti but the bit that makes me feel sick is when it goes backwards.  This is my niece’s favourite ride in the whole of Orlando and she can keep on riding it until all the adults surrender.

If it’s a hot day you might want to ride the Kali River Rapids – this is the usual raft water ride with the usual waiver – you will get wet!

Next we generally head across to Dinosaur – with this ride you have a mission and set out in your Time Rover going back to the time of the dinosaurs – it is a bumpy and I think fun ride with some unexpected twists and turns.  You can fast pass this ride so there is no need to queue.

Also in this vicinity is Primeval Whirl which is basically a fairground style spinning roller coaster.  Personally it scares the living daylights out of me, however, it has me shrieking with laughter and going back for more!

There are some great shows here which also deserve a mention – the Lion King Show is an absolute show stopper – interactive, great costumes, great music – a really fantastic show.  My sister-in-law loves the Flights of Wonder which is a 25-minute live show that features 20 species of birds including hawks, macaws and eagles.   Finally I would also call out the It’s Tough to be a Bug show which is held within the Tree of Life – the centerpiece of Animal Kingdom.  A 3D show with those special glasses – great fun and also a lovely cool haven during the middle of the day.

There are other wildlife trails which you can walk – my hubby loves to see the Gorillas and I like to see the Meerkats and Tigers.  There is also a character trail down near the Lion King Show – when my niece was younger she loved to visit the characters here and if you are visiting in the Fall it will be decorated for the Harvest Festival and you may even get candy!  She also loved the Jungle Jammin parade when she was younger.

Animal Kingdom – a zoo that is not a zoo – all the family agree a really good day out

Ocean Drive, South Beach, Miami

South Beach (SoBe) is the southernmost 3 miles of Miami’s Beach.  Its filled with pastel coloured beautiful Art Deco buildings – there is even a walking tour available from the Art Deco Welcome Center, we love Ocean Drive.  Wednesdays through Sundays, join members of the MDPL staff for a 90-minute walk around the hotels, restaurants and commercial structures that make up the Art Deco Historic District.

Each year in January, the MDPL hosts Art Deco Weekend and closes Ocean Drive to traffic for a 3 day block party with food, fun, antique cars and craft sales. There is live music, dancing in the streets, lectures about Art Deco and a classic car parade.

Any time of the year though there is an unbeatable buzz, flashy cars, cigar sellers, cuban music and dancing, pop stars, models and tourists.  It’s a great place to hang out and people watch and you can get some fantastic cocktails (mega mojitos).

We usually stay on Collins Avenue which is one block west and is lined with hotels and retailers.  Rooms are generally small and expensive (by Florida standards) but its still worth the visit.  There is nothing better than breakfast at one of the many pavement restaurants after the night before and before a day at the beach.

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge

This refuge is on Jupiter Island, north of West Palm Beach and is an extraordinary sea turtle nesting ground during the summer.  The Refuge is open daily.  During the summer turtle hikes are available (May-July Tues, Thurs & Fri evenings).  The center is one of only a few organizations in the state specially permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct these nighttime walks. Reservations are required.

Reservations begin April 1.  30 people can sign up for each walk and there are waiting lists in case of last minute cancellations.  The center opens at 8.30 with your orientation beginning at about 9pm.  After the presentation, participants drive from the Refuge to the Public Beach where scouts go ahead of the group to locate a turtle.  The walks are usually over by midnight.

Call 772 546 2067 for reservations, office hours are 9am to 3pm Mon – Fri.

Silver Springs

One mile east of Ocala you will find Silver Springs.  I like to think this is what theme parks used to be like.   Apparently 6 of the original Tarzan films were filmed here!

The best part of the day for me was riding in the glass bottomed boats,  not that there was much to see, clear spring water, fish and weed.  There is also a Jungle Cruise and a Jeep Safari.  There are also animals here – the Big Gator Lagoon, there are Bears and a Florida Panther.  There is a Lost River Voyage to round off your day.

When we visited it was at Thanksgiving and they had just put up the Christmas decorations and lights – this made the day really.

All in all, Silver Springs is ok – it can’t compete with the theme parks in the Orlando area – it isn’t really cheap for what is on offer either but if you are in Ocala for a few days it might be worth a trip.

Discovery Cove

Discovery Cove is quite an expensive day, however, it is a wonderful experience.  Modelled on a hotel experience, you ‘check in’ at reception on arrival rather than going through bag checks and turnstiles.  

There are a limited number of spaces per day so it is totally possible to find your own space.  I’ve been a few times now and have never experienced any crowds or queues.  It is a full day experience although you only get to swim with the dolphins for 30 minutes, there is so much more to do.  You can wade with the rays, snorkel with beautiful tropical fish and hand-feed tropical birds in a free-flight aviary.  

When you want a rest there are lovely white sand beaches to relax on or you can take a float along the lazy river.  You can’t sunbathe close to the Dolphin bays, you’re only interaction with the Dolphins is during your allocated time.  Photos are taken by Discovery Cove so if you want to have photographic memories of your swim you will have to buy the official photos.

Lunch and beverages were included in our package and the food was fresh and nicely presented.  One year when we visited we were able to do a cheaper package where you visited later in the afternoon, had your swim and then had a Caribbean style dinner – not seen them advertised recently but worth keeping an eye out for.

Life jackets, wet suits and Dolphin friendly sun lotion were provided.  If you are fair skinned like myself, I would recommend getting a wet suit that covers you up as much as possible to avoid sunburn. for more info

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs State Park is in Apopka is another favourite spot to see more of natural Florida.  It was originally an area populated by Timucuan Indians, its now home to lots of wildlife – alligators, Florida black bears, river otters, fox and lots of different types of birds.

There is approx 7000 acres with the spring being the central point of interest.  Apparently 42 million gallons of water are pumped into the main spring each day!  The Springs feeds into the Wekiva River.

There’s plenty to do at the park – swimming, canoeing and kayaking (rental available), picnicking, hiking, cycling and horse riding.    The park is open between 8 A.M. and sunset every day of the year (including holidays).  Admission is only $5 per vehicle for up to 8 people or $3 for just the driver.

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

The Epcot Flower & Garden Festival 2012 opened today.  It really is a great festival held at Epcot at no additional entrance fee.  There are some wonderful topiary characters and beautiful display flower beds to see.  Even the little railway lay out near Germany is flower & garden festival themed.  Starting today the festival goes on through to May 20th.

There are some ‘educational’ presentations – I’ve never attended any of them, there aren’t enough hours at Epcot for me.

You’ll find more than 100 topiaries throughout Epcot theme park—including more than 75 Disney character topiaries! This year, highlights include character topiaries representing Buzz, Woody and Lotso from the Disney•Pixar film Toy Story 3, Lightning McQueen and Mater from the Disney•Pixar film Cars 2.

At the weekend there are flower power concerts held in the America Gardens Theatre featuring music from the 60s and 70s.