Monday, April 28, 2014

Adventures in Orlando: Florida: Wet 'n Wild

The last day of our trip to Orlando, Florida, we spent at Wet 'n Wild. When we bought tickets online for the Universal® theme parks, we were offered the option of buying two days and getting one day free. We opted to use our free day at Wet 'n Wild rather than spend a third day standing in line at another theme park.

A big drawback to buying tickets online is not knowing what the weather will be like the day you're actually there. The weather over spring break the week we were there was mostly in the 70's. Perfect for theme parks; not so great for water parks. We checked the weather ever day and found that our last day was expected to be in the mid 80's with a high probability of rain showers in the afternoon. Since the water park was within walking distance of our hotel, it wouldn't be a huge problem for us if it did rain so we took the gamble. We walked to the park with just our towels, swimsuits and flip flops so we wouldn't have to rent a locker. Locker rentals were very expensive and our towels and flip flops were safe on a beach chair. We got to the park very close to the time it opened. It was cloudy all day but the water ended up being warmer than we thought.

Cloudy days at the water park aren't all bad. Clouds keep the crowds away so we never waited for more than five minutes for the slides. There were slides for all adventure levels. My favorite was The Black Hole: The Next Generation, a two person slide that is a completely enclosed dark tunnel with lights and sounds along the way. Probably a little scary for younger children but our teenager liked it.

Several of the slides had tubes for four so the three of us were able to ride together. This made it more enjoyable. We also had fun floating in the lazy river, though it was colder than the slides so we didn't stay long.

We have water parks close to our home so most of the attractions at Wet 'n Wild weren't anything special. However, one thing we didn't have at home was the cable park for knee boarding and wake skating. For an additional $12.00 per person, you could wake skate and/or knee board all day. When we factored in the cost of gas just for our ski boat, twelve bucks seemed cheap. Both Mike and Caden signed up while I was content to watch. For two solid hours, they took their turns going around the cable park and had a blast. We stayed until lightening closed the park. I don't know if it ever reopened since we were done anyway.

As predicted, it didn't rain until the later afternoon. It worked out to our advantage to take the gamble as we enjoyed the park without fighting huge crowds. Unfortunately, you can't get into the cable park without paying the full admission to the water park but if you spend part of the day on the slides and the other part at the cable park, it's worth it. I'm not sure if we would have felt that way if it had been a busy day. When I asked Caden what was his favorite part of the trip, he had a hard time choosing between the cable park at Wet 'n Wild or his wild boar hunt.

The water park ended up being a fun and relaxing way to end our trip.

This post contains affiliate links.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Adventures in Florida: Wild Boar Hunt at Omega Ranch

I have only been hunting once in my life when I was a young teen. After watching my clean out a deer and promptly passed out, I decided hunting was not for me.

However, I have a son who has loved guns and knives since he was a toddler. I have no idea where that came from as both my husband and I never talked about it. I was always having to follow the little guy around as he had a knack for finding pocketknives hidden in the garage in toolboxes and anywhere else we had forgotten about. It came as no surprise at fifteen, my son felt he was ready for his first hunt. Fresh off taking the written portion of the Hunter Safety Course, Caden's thoughts of when he could do his first hunt.

My husband, Mike, spoke with some colleagues at a conference who suggested he take his son on a wild boar hunt while on our recent trip to Orlando, Florida.

Of course, Caden jumped at the chance while I ran from it. Standing in lines at Disneyworld®icon sounded better to me but alas that is not what we did.

Instead we trekked out towards the Omega Ranch in Volusia Country at nine o'clock at night for a late boar hunt. Our guide suggested rubber boots or hiking boots that could get muddy so if you go, plan accordingly.

Caden trying to claim his dad's boar.
 After dropping the guys off, I managed to escape  to a nearby Starbucks iconto read until closing time. Thank you Starbucks for letting me hide out with hot chocolate and a muffin. When I returned, it felt eery sitting in the dark car waiting for them. I tried to distract myself by transferring photos to my computer. Then I heard a shot ring out and I thought, "Oh no, they actually got one." After another shot about five or ten minutes later, I got this pit in my stomach that settled in for the long haul.

That means I would have to figure out how to get wild boar meat home and how to cook it. I have told my son for years that hunting is not a sport and if you kill something you have to eat it. Now I would have to make good on that word.

When the boys returned to the car in the side by side ATV their guide had taken them out in, I found out I not only had to worry about one wild boar but two.

The guide cleaned and skinned the hogs and passed off the larger pieces of meat to the guys. The rest of the meat would be donated to somebody else. I had to remind myself that wild boars are not native to Florida and are considered an invasive species that needs to be cleared out and not cute little piggies that wouldn't harm a flea. That way it made it easier to know that hunting and eating the meat of a wild hog is not a bad thing.
Mike with his boar

The guys had a great time. They loved using the night vision scope to find their wild hogs. Caden has been looking on the internet ever since trying to figure out for which scope he should save his money. The night hunt was more expensive than the day hunt. At $300 each I thought it was a bit much but after the guys reminded me of how much it would cost to buy hunting rifles and equipment, the cost didn't seem that bad. Besides, the guide did the work of cleaning the hogs and he made my son's first hunt memorable.

The fun part (NOT) was trying to get the meat from Florida to Utah. We had a small refrigerator in our hotel and was able to get the meat frozen solid before our return trip. We were not able to find dry ice though we tried. Airline regulations do not allow regular ice to be packed in a cooler. That meant we had to hope the airlines did not lose our new cooler checked in as luggage (yes, we had to purchase a cooler). Thank you Southwest for having on time flights and for making sure our cooler made it. The meat stayed frozen except for a few spots on the outside and we were able to get it into our freezer in time. Now I have to figure out how to cook it. I am not a fan of wild meat. I usually only eat chicken and sometimes pork so I have a huge challenge ahead of me. Help! I need help.

Do you cook wild boar? Share your tips, tricks and recipes with me in the comments section, please.

Adventures in Florida: Bike Riding in Winter Garden, Florida

We love going on a bicycle ride when we go on vacation. It   is a fun way to see the beautiful areas while traveling.

On our recent trip to Orlando, Florida we took  day to get away from the busy theme parks and head to Winter Garden to go on a ride.  We found an awesome bicycle shop in Winter Garden called Wheelworks Bicycles.

The staff member at Wheelworks in our photo was great to work with. She took the time to explain where to go and which way on the West Orange Trail would be the most scenic for us. She took the time to make sure we had the right size bikes and helmets. I would definitely give the shop five stars for excellent customer service.

We were pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive it was to rent a bike. At $6.00 per hour, it was by far the cheapest activity we did all week for the most enjoyment. The staff was fair with us when we went over two hours and we were happy to pay the difference.

We were given hybrid bikes to ride. The bikes were well maintained and in excellent condition for riding. Interestingly, I am an avid road biker and my son and husband love to mountain bike, but none of us had ever been on hybrid bikes. They were amazingly comfortable and durable for sightseeing.

We rode along the West Orange Trail which is part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy. We took the South Lake Trail (a.k.a. Lake Minneola Trail) to Lake Minneola. The South Lake Trail has more hills and turns than the West Orange Trail which was great for giving us a good workout. It was also a nice destination to make it to the lake. It ended up being an almost 30 mile round trip for us which took a little over two hours.

Our selfie at the lake.

On the way back, we battled some strong winds so ended up stopping and resting. It was actually nice to get off our bikes and take a rest along the beautiful tree lined area where plenty of park benches awaited us. We also passed by Briley Farm where we saw what appeared to be gazelles. I didn't know the farm was there so it was a pleasant surprise to see the exotic animal out. We stopped and took some pictures of the zebras.

Unfortunately, we had left our cameras at home and only had our cell phones so we didn't get the best vacation photos. We had a great time on our bike ride and I would highly recommend trying it out.

**Post contains affiliate links.**

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Restaurant Review: Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill in Cape Canaveral, Florida

After a fabulous Segway experience around Port Canaveral, we took our tour guides advice and tried Fishlips Waterfront Bar and Grill. Of course, for those who don't live near the ocean, who can pass up the chance at seafood along the beach? 

We sat ourselves upstairs in the more casual area. I wanted to sit outside but unfortunately, the only empty table were next to people smoking and I can't take the smell of cigarette smoke, especially while eating.

Instead, we sat inside near the entertainment area. We had a great view of the ocean. The cruise ships had left right before we got there so the restaurant wasn't too busy with tourists. Our waiter acknowledged us quickly. 

Okay, they weren't happy about being in a photo while eating.

I ordered the Mahi Mahi sandwich, Mike ordered the fish tacos and Caden had fish and chips. Our food arrived in a timely manner and was the right temperature upon arrival. I like white fish, not too fishy tasting and the Mahi Mahi was just the way I like it. I ordered sweet potato fries instead of the regular and they were so good I ate almost every one of them. The fish tacos were also good, though not outstanding. Caden liked his fish and chips and we all liked the casual environment since we had just finished playing on the beach after our Segway tour and weren't dressed for a nicer restaurant. The food was fairly priced for what we received and expected at this type of restaurant.

In the end, we had to get our server's attention to get our bill but we weren't in a big hurry so it didn't bother us. He kept our water cups refilled which mattered more.

We did get to experience the entertainment. The singing wasn't bad but I have to admit, I was fine without the entertainment but those around us seemed to be enjoying it.

If I were in the area, I would go back again but wouldn't go out of my way to find the restaurant.

Rating:  ★★★★☆

Adventures in Orlando, Florida: Unviversal Studios®

While visiting Orlando, Florida on our recent vacation, we wanted to spend a few days at theme parks but not every day of our trip. After spending our first day at Universal's Island of Adventure® fighting the massive spring break crowds, we weren't excited spend another day at a theme park. However, the next day at Universal Studios® ended up being a welcome relief. Though busy, it wasn't nearly as busy as Island of Adventures. It also had a nice mix of rides and shows that gave us a chance to rest in between rushing from ride to ride.
In the early part of the day, the streets were open enough that characters came out in cars and vans to greet guests. It was fun to see Scooby Doo and Shaggy show up in their Mystery Machine.

With map in hand, we found the best way to see the park was to find the show times and plan the shows accordingly while going to the rides in between. This way, we were able to see all of the shows we wanted and get on the rides. We did purchase an express pass which helped get us through the lines quicker. However, I think the express pass was overpriced for what we received. They can only be used once at each attraction. For popular attractions like Revenge of the Mummy® and Despciable Me Minion Mayhem® the express pass made a difference of at least 30 minutes of wait time. For less popular attractions, the express pass was a waste of money.

Many of the rides at Universal Studios® are in 3D. While it is cool the first few rides, I found the 3D got old and annoying. When we finally went on the E.T. Adventure® toward the end of the day, I found myself enjoying the older technology on the ride through a very neat forest much more than the 3D videos in the simulators like The Simpson Ride®.

I do have to mention that Universal has done a fabulous job recreating the scenes from the Simpsons in Krustyland as well as capturing the magic of Dr. Seuss on Mulberry Street.

My favorite ride was Revenge of the Mummy® not just because it was a thrilling roller coaster but because it held an element of surprise.

We had a great time at the shows.
The Blues Brother's music show was a lot of fun and had us clapping. Loved how they pulled up in their famous car.
The only thing I was bummed about is that the extension to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter®, Diagon Alley, won't be completed until after our visit. While we had a good time, we didn't love ourvisit enough to spend the money to return again to see the Harry Potter extension. With the cost of almost $200 per person with the express pass, we can think of a lot of other things to do on our next trip. If visiting, I would suggest bringing a small day pack with water and snacks as well as a rain poncho. Even with a rain poncho, we got drenched when there was a downpour.

Rating: ★★★★☆

**Post contains affiliate links.**


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's National Park Week: Go Wild

Bryce Canyon National Park

Our family loves visiting the national parks. We take a family trip to Glen Canyon National Park and Recreation Area every year to enjoy water skiing and swimming. We also camp near Bryce Canyon every summer. We are lucky enough to live in a state full of national parks, from Canyonlands to Zion National Park, there are plenty of places we can enjoy the outdoor activities we love some much. Hiking, camping, swimming, waterskiing, wake boarding and more await us in our national parks and that is just in our home state.

Glen Canyon National Park

Waterskiing at Lake Powell in Glen Canyon National Park

I remember one year I asked my children what trip they liked better,  Lake Powell (Glen Canyon National Park) or Disneyland® and all three chose Lake Powell. That's a pretty impressive win for out national parks

However, if we get bored of what we have at home (like that will ever happen), there are plenty of trips to take from New York to California to see more national parks.
We have visited the Statue of Liberty, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, Golden Gate Bridge, Hovenweep, the Grand Canyon, Canyonlands, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Glen Canyon, Yosemite, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and many more.

Our national parks are truly national treasures. Be sure to go wild and find a national park this week you will vow to visit before the end of the year. Try a hiking tour of the Grand Canyon or book a hotel stay in New York.
Statue of Liberty
Golden Gate Bridge

 What are some of your favorite National Park memories? Be sure to leave a comment. I can't wait to hear about more parks to put on my bucket list.

** Post contains affiliate links. Your purchase from these links help support the content on this site.**

Monday, April 21, 2014

10 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day April 22

Naturally as an outdoor enthusiast, I support Earth Day on April 22, 2014.
A few small changes on our part can have a huge impact on future generations of our planet.

Here are ten ways to celebrate Earth Day:
                                                      Join a carpool.
                                                Plant a tree or flowers.
                                           Skip a shower for one day.
                                        Plant a vegetable or herb garden. 
                                   Go paperless and set up online bill pay.
                                 Ride a bike instead of a car to run errands.
                             Change your light bulbs to energy efficient ones. 
                          Replace disposable water bottles with reusable ones.
                      Take a walk to the park and pick up trash along the way.
                 Donate old clothes to thrift stores instead of throwing them away.
    Also, be sure to check out your local Earth Day activities. Near me, Salt Lake County is hosting an Earth Day Festival.  Hogle Zoo is also having an Earth Day celebration on Saturday April 26, 2014

    Adventures in Florida: Space Coast Segway Tours

    I have been on Segway tours before bu my husband and son had never tried them. I've always had so much fun that I wanted them to give the Segways a try. On our recent trip to Orlando, Florida we had the good fortune of finding a discount coupon to Space Coast Segway Tours  in Cocoa Beach, Florida. I checked out the reviews and realized that we would be in an industrial area much of the tour. I wanted to ride along the beach and worried the area wouldn't offer what I was looking for. However, it ended up being exactly what our small group needed.

    After a quick training session for the two who needed it, we were off. Our tour guide was awesome. She let the boys go as fast as the Segways would let them. They ended up being much more interested in having fun on their machines than seeing any scenery. I stayed by the guide and asked questions along the way which she was always happy to answer. I've been on other tours with large groups where we spend a lot of time learning how to ride the Segways and only going as fast as the slowest group member. On those tours, I've had earphones and have learned a lot about what we rode past. Honestly, my boys would have been bored if our tour in Florida would have been like that. It worked out perfect that they were given a bit more freedom to really get going on the Segway.

    We still got to see some great things along the beach. It was fun seeing the cruise ships as they were getting ready to leave. I also loved watching the pelicans. I don't get to see them at home and I got to see the difference between a male and a female. Of course the males are better looking. Isn't that how it always is in the bird world?

    We had a great time and with the coupons, the tour was cheaper than others I've done. I still would have done it without the discount and would have been happy.

    I definitely recommend Space Coast Segway Tours. The fact that they limit the group size is a big plus. I was told that they don't usually put more than four on a tour unless it is a larger family group. We only had the three of us and it made our ride time much more enjoyable. Even if we had wanted to ride along the beach, we found out the Segways were banned on the boardwalk. It made for a very relaxing day compared to some of the other things we did on vacation. If you go, be sure to call ahead and verify your reservation, especially if you use the discount coupons. It is a little over an hour drive from Orlando which is too far to go if you don't have verified advanced reservations.

     Rating: ★★★★★

    Book your stay in Cocoa Beach or Orlando, Florida.

    Sunday, April 20, 2014

    Adventures in Orlando, Florida: Universal Islands of Adventure

    When my family traveled to Orlando for spring break, it wasn't because we were excited to go to all of the theme parks. We only planned part of our trip around the parks. However, as huge Harry Potter fans, we did want to spend a day at Universal Island's of Adventures just to experience Hogwarts at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I do have to admit, Universal has done some amazing work in recreating a realistic creation of the book and movie.

    Of course we had to choose a very busy spring break to go since that is when our son is out of school. That means we waited in lines and fought crowds for hours which lessened our pleasure at the theme park.

    Universal has come up with a very expensive way to avoid the lines. In addition to the almost $100 we paid for the regular pass to get into the park, we also added an express pass for another $79.99. This made our trip very expensive but we did get to bypass the one and two hour waits for some lines. Unfortunately, the best ride in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey™ is not included as part of the very expensive express pass. That means we still waited an hour each time we went on the ride. The ride was truly amazing but with the disappointment of the money we spent and still having to wait in line, we probably won't make the trip again.

    If you plan on going to Universal Islands of Adventures, I would suggest you call ahead of time to find out when the least busiest time of the year is and go during the week. This way, you would eliminate the need to buy an additional express pass and won't be as disappointed as we were with the cost to pleasure ratio.
    When visiting theme parks, I know before I even walk in that the park will do everything to extract more money from me from overpriced food to overpriced souvenirs. That is why we like carrying small packs with our own water and snacks. However, we were excited to try Butterbeer. Luckily, we were satisfied with sharing one cup. It was much like I expected it would be, a cream soda flavor for the soda. However, the butterscotch flavor foam made the drink stand apart as something unique and worth trying.

    While the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was our favorite part of the park, there are many other themed areas to see. The park also boasts three water rides, all of which will get you wet. My suggestion is to bring a pair of water shoes to wear on the rides with a pair of dry shoes to change into. Also, a rain poncho is a big plus and will help keep you dry while enjoying the rides. The Jurrasic Park River Adventure® is worth getting a little bit wet. Universal has done a great job with the sights along the ride and has made it full of thrill. The Dudley Doo Right Rip Saw Falls® also has a great drop off at the end but you will get wet.

    For older children and adults, the Hulk roller coaster offers a thrilling roller coaster ride. For younger children, the Seuss area will keep them entertained for hours.

    While the attractions at Universal's Island of Adventures are top notch, I do have to comment on their customer service as it has a long way to go to match that of their competitors. If visiting the Universal Theme Parks, you must know that though the multi-day passes are good anytime within seven days after the first use, the express passes must be used on the day purchased. Unfortunately, it was hard to know how we would feel after our first day at the theme park. We were tired and wanted the option of using our Universal Studios pass a few days later. However, we purchased an express pass online weeks before our trip to go with our Universal Studios pass. We went to the guest services office to try to change our express passes for one day later. It was really a simple request which would not have cost them anything. However, we were told we would have to pay $30 per pass to make the change. This was a weekday to weekday request, not a weekday to weekend or holiday. Seriously! We had already paid a fortune for several days at the park. Not only that, we had to wait for help for quite sometime. As we were being helped, another guest came into the office to complain about harassment. The guest service worker helping us stopped in the middle to take care of the other guest. In the meantime, several guests coming in after us were greeted by other workers while we stood waiting and waiting. My husband finally asked if we could be helped by somebody else. Our experience with guest services was a real deal breaker for us. Our other two adult children are huge Harry Potter fans as well and we had hoped to take them on a trip to Universal when the second Harry Potter park was completed. We have decided against this and will consider an international trip instead. Sad what poor customer service can do for future visits. I would think after spending so much money on passes and express passes, guest services would have tried to be more accommodating. All in all, Universal's Island of Adventure has awesome attractions worth visiting if you are prepared to fork out the money.

    Attraction Rating★★★★★
    Customer Service Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
    Price Rating without express pass:★★★★☆ (on par with other theme parks)
    Express pass price rating:  ★★★☆☆

    THEME_Last Minute Vacations-Orlando_250x250