This is a tale about a non-Disney-oriented trip to Orlando (though we did spend a day at SeaWorld). It all started when Jeff decided at the last minute to attend a conference there. Even more spontaneously, we decided to tag along.
I'm convinced that the act of my purchasing plane tickets spurs the universe to react in the following two ways: creating horrendous weather conditions for the travel day and causing one or both my girls to develop an ear infection the day before travel. The universe did not make an exception for this trip, but somehow we made it down to Orlando rather uneventfully.
Until our sad retreat home, we had a wonderful trip. Since we had so many adventures, I wrote separate posts about two other animal-packed highlights: nesting egrets at Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park and manatees at Blue Spring State Park.
Above: Dolphin emerging from the water at SeaWorld.
The conference hotel was already booked, but leave it to Jeff to find a room at the hotel across the street...which happened to be the Nickelodeon Suites Resort...which happened to have a Dora the Explorer suite...which happens to be the only show Cricket watches...which makes Dora her favorite character of all time. (Plus Cricket and Dora could be twins. The first time Cricket saw a picture of Dora, she thought it was a picture of herself.) So, yes. The Nick Hotel happened.
Above left: First Dora sighting. (Our accommodations were a surprise.) Above right: Dora high five. Below: A resident swan swims in a Nick Hotel pond, with the hotel's neon walls(!) reflecting in the water.
This heron was keeping the swan company one evening.
A friend who grew up in the Orlando area gave us several ideas of "local" activities that would be manageable for me to do with the girls while Jeff was working. On the list was Dr. P. Phillips Community Park, which was a huge win. The lakeside park had swings, unique play equipment, fields for romping, a dog park for dog watching and a paved rec path.
I'm not typically a theme park person, but I always thought it would be fun to check out SeaWorld, especially with the girls. It was! We arrived as they were opening the gates Saturday morning, which worked well because the crowds were too intense for our shy Cricket (and me) later in the day.
The dolphin tank was a particular favorite for all of us. Take a look at the detail of this dorsal fin; most of the nicks are from the dolphins nipping each other as part of their social interaction.
Sometimes you get so excited about dolphins you just have to dance.
I was so astounded by the immensity of the walrus that it made me question whether I've actually ever seen a walrus outside of nature documentaries. This guy was unbelievable.
We had a great time at the shark tank, too. (And for the photogs among you, here's what happens when crank up the ISO to 6400—very grainy but worth it to capture the moment in a dark setting.)
Below top: Cricket also loved seeing Shamu and Baby Shamu, as well as the seals and sea lions. She got a kick out of watching Jeff throw fish to a couple of hungry sea lions. Below bottom: Falling immediately asleep in the car (with souvenirs in hand) is the sign of a successful adventure.
P.S. I’m not making restaurant recommendations for Orlando, since I came down with food poisoning the last night. Thankfully the rest of the family was spared. Here's to a husband strong enough to lug his infant, toddler and wife through two airports!
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.