Monday, August 31, 2009

Animal Kingdom Pics

We did Disney's Animal Kingdom on our 2nd day. Lots of people don't like it as much as the other parks, but it has quite enough to make it worth a day if you are there for more than one. All the grown-ups enjoyed the "It's Tough to Be a Bug" show, but it freaked out Sam big time. I guess he was expecting just a plain movie, but got a much more physical experience. They've got a neat-o Mt Everest themed roller coaster which goes backward for a stretch and also a soak you-through-to-your-underwear river rapids ride. The time traveling dino experience scared the crap out of the kids.

Nicholas was thrilled to ride a train up and back to the conservation center and petting area. Much of the park is set up like a zoo, but the African area especially is set up cleverly to make it like a Safari. You ride in the back of a large truck past enclosures set up to make it seem like you are actually in with the animals, and you get to chase poachers. If you are prone to motion sickness, try to sit near the front where it's less bumpy.

Another large section is devoted to dinosaurs and has some carnival type rides and a large play area.


In the shady forest walks there are lots of places for kids to climb around.

This is so typical of my dad, "Make it look like it's eating his head!"

Maybe because the park is less crowded/popular, it a lot easier to get your pictures taken with characters. There was hardly any line.





Nicholas LOVES Donald Duck. Unfortunately, the day had gotten the better of him.

The park closes at 6pm, which is the earliest of all the places at WDW. We had supper at the RainForest Cafe on the way out (with reservations for our huge group), then hitched a Disney bus back to the hotel where our loaded cars were ready to take us to an Orlando hotel for our next stop (SeaWorld- pics next time). We were all pretty tired, sweaty, and content.



Until this picture. Shortly after this photo was taken, Sam told Mike he felt sick. Then he hurled all over the bus floor. The half-full bus became empty of all other passengers at the next stop. The driver was really sweet about it, though. Wonder if we ended his shift early.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dizzy Whirled Pictures

So a couple weeks ago we hit DisneyWorld with the grandparents. I might note here that because our family is so large (and young) Mike and I would hardly dare to go without extra cattle wranglers. It makes everything so much easier. Also Disney is running a promotion where military service members get a 5 day passes for themselves and up to 5 dependents/friends for $99 each, which is a huge steal. I think it ends in December, so you can pass on the info if you know someone who can use it.

We stayed at Saratoga Springs resort on site. Their suites were awesome- 2 rooms, 2 bathrooms, full kitchen (and they will wash all the dishes for you), washer and dryer. It's so nice to have a place to come back to in the middle of the day to crash with little kids, let alone to wash all the sweaty clothes. But this post will be mostly pictures, later I'll write a list of various reasons that DisneyWorld is awesome.

We were there 2 days this time, and on the first day we did the Magic Kingdom:


Sam and Patrick at the hotel.
All our ducks in a row.
Too cool.
You think Nicholas would be more excited to be riding on a train.
Natalie, too.
Natalie in in Minnie's house.
Our kids can turn anything into a thrill ride:




Natalie at the mosaics in Cinderella's castle.





Waiting for the Haunted Mansion:
Two minutes later:
The kids were thrilled to see all the princesses and characters in the afternoon parade:


I think the mouse was bigger than she expected.


Boys at Buzz Lightyear's Experience. You get to compete and shoot at badguys with laser guns during the ride. Guess who scored the most points?
That would be Gramma.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Kingsley Plantation National Park

In an effort to increase the educational quality of this summer and find something to do, we packed up the kids and visited Kingsley Plantation National Park. This is the oldest preserved plantation in the country, dating back to the late 1700s. It's on a narrow dirt road off of A1A just north of Jacksonville, several miles from I-95. Hours are 9-5 daily, closed major holidays.

The place is pretty small, and you can do a full visit in just a couple hours, which would leave the rest of the day free to go to one of the cluster of state parks in the area- Big and Little Talbot Island, Ft George, Amelia Island, etc. Those are mostly beaches and picnic spots with some hiking. There's also the Timucuan National Preserve nearby.

The history of the plantation and the Kingsley family is unusual in their views on slavery (as more of a class system than a color issue), and also since for the beginning of the farm it was part of Spain. Because of this, Florida was unique in its cultural blending, though once it became a state a lot of that changed. Yet even through the Civil War, Florida, while part of the Confederacy, still had major differences with the other southern states.

You enter through the semi-circle of slave quarters- some restored, some not, but they ask you not touch or climb around. All the structures on the plantation were built with an oyster shell cement, and you can see how over the years the cement part has eroded away. This area was also plagued with mosquitoes as it was shady and away from the breezy waterway. Bring repellent!



A small garden plot displays the many plants grown on the plantation- indigo, oranges, cotton, sugar cane, beans. There's also a butterfly garden, and if you're lucky (and quiet) you might spy one of the tortoises that live in burrows around the plot.



Unfortunately the plantation house is off limits as it had a huge termite and beetle problem. The rangers said a federal grant had helped them stop the infestation, now they are waiting for the funds to repair the damage. Hopefully it will be open to the public in a couple more years. Meanwhile you can go inside the kitchen house, though it's pretty sparse. Mostly it has displays of info about the family. Info outside the house and in the visitors center shows the layout and pictures of the home.

The barn is pretty small. There was a ranger inside giving details of how they processed the sugarcane and the slaves' workday.


The house is right up by the water, more for transportation factors than view considerations, though it is rather pretty. Most of the original farmland was reclaimed by forest starting in the late 1800s, so the place appears smaller than it was back in the day.



A nearby visitors center has a bookshop and restrooms, otherwise it's a pretty sparse arrangement overall, but the whole thing is free so I'm not complaining too much. It was definitely worth the drive and time spent there, though when I asked the kids that night what they saw that day, they replied "Shrek 2," which they watched in the van on the way back. So much for education.