So after spending a really great week in Miami and Naples, we headed north to spend some time with family in Central Florida. We had planned to stop in at Sanibel Island, just outside of Ft. Meyers, but the traffic was beyond insane. Really. It’s like the entire state decided to cram on to that one little road. An hour to go 16 miles? No thank you. So we grabbed lunch and hopped on the highway, heading up the west coast of the state.
Honestly, I-75 is really kinda boring. Like, insanely boring. The only saving grace is that the speed limit is 70 – and this adorable little manatee haven south of Tampa Bay. There was a little sign for the “Manatee Viewing Area” on one of the roadside signs, so we decided to stop and see what it was, expecting some hokey, over-priced touristy place. Driving into it from the highway doesn’t exactly make you feel all warm and fuzzy – it’s kind of a podunk rural “highway” with a school, a few buildings, and smokestacks off the in the distance. Well, those smokestacks are what you’re aiming for, believe it or not. It’s the Tampa Electric station, which keeps the near-by water ways warm – just like manatees like, especially in this colder-than-average winter we’ve been having all up and down the east coast. The parking and admission was fee (although I’ve heard that parking can be a bit tight) and you were free to walk about as you wanted. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures – but check out their site because it’s really quite cool.
While in Central Florida we visited Cocoa Beach and the Jetty Pier on the east coast.
Apparently sea turtles are quite common along the pier, but the waves were very heavy that day and the water was quite cloudy, so we didn’t see any of them, but we did get to see a dolphin sliding between the waves near the Pier! 🙂 The Jetty beach was nice (and the sand was super soft!), but Cocoa Beach wasn’t my cup of tea. Check it off the list, move on.
The next two days were spent in Disney! Okay, so I’m not really a huge Disney person (if you choose to overlook that fanatical Little Mermaid phase in 2nd and 3rd grade), but there is something kitschy-fun about Disney as an adult. We went to Animal Kingdom first, where we froze our butts off! Oh my gosh! Not only was it cold, but the wind just whipped right through any layers you had on.
Animal Kingdom was pretty cool and I’d actually like to go back when it’s less crowded to explore it some more. Expedition Everest was lots of fun, but that was pretty much the only ride I did there because the line for the safari was way too long. Oh, and we did the Bug’s Life show in the Tree of Life, mainly just to get out of the cold and see the cute bug-themed movie posters they have in the waiting area 🙂
Believe it or not we actually had some pretty decent food there! The cinnamon almonds are amazingly addictive (I’m going to try making them at home) and the chicken curry in the African section was surprisingly good – although they didn’t give you nearly enough flatbread to eat it “properly,” so I ended up breaking out the fork half way through the meal. Oh, and the pineapple whips! Mmmm…. The pineapple whip is good, but I highly recommend getting it with coconut rum – super yum!
Later in the afternoon we found our way over to the Magic Kingdom. Like I said, totally not a Disney person, but dammit, if we’re going to Disney, this princess wants a tiara! 👸 And I found one! Well, really, I found like twenty. 😉 But I got one.
And yes, I wear it around the house when no one is looking.
We wandered around there a bit but it just got too cold when the sun went down, so we called it a day and drove back home.
The next day we spent the whole day at Epcot! This was my whole reason for going to Disney – I am a huge international nerd and loved the World Showcase area when I was a kid, so I definitely wanted to see it as an adult.
We went to each and every country, except the USA, and had enough time to really spend wandering around each one. Some are better than others, but in a surprisingly un-Disney way, they manage to pull each one off without being overly cheesy or offensively cliche. No, it’s not even close to being a suitable substitute for visiting each country, but it’s a really great introduction for those who may not have thought of visiting one of those countries or trying the cuisine, or a really great way to experience the world for those who may never get the chance to go abroad.
We had lunch in Morocco (I highly, highly recommend Restaurant Marrakesh, especially the goat cheese with crispy bread, which we recreated when we came home, and the sultan sampler – way more food than any one person should eat, but who cares?? you’re on vacation!) an afternoon snack in France (the strawberry tart at Les Halles Boulangerie and Patisserie was honestly to die for). If you’ve never tried Moroccan – or any Middle Eastern cuisine, for that matter – I highly recommend you check a good book out of the library and give it a shot. The recipes are super simple, but loaded with flavor!
Then we had dinner – on Chinese New Year – at the Nine Dragons Restaurant in the Chinese village. I was admittedly disappointed that Epcot didn’t do more to celebrate Chinese New Year, but unfortunately being in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year (aka Spring Festival) pretty much ruined any other celebration for me. It was okay though because the food was quite good. And I got to use a little bit of my Mandarin with the waitress 🙂 Something I don’t get to do very often anymore. 😦
Yes, I was massively stuffed by the time we had to roll our way back to the parking lot, but it was so totally worth it. Like I said, I really only came to Epcot for the international section and, of course, the food.
I’m hoping to run the Disney Princess Half with one of my Hopkins classmates this upcoming winter, but one of my goals in life is the run the Wine and Dine Half and then gorge myself at the Wine and Dine Festival – I’ve heard it brings out some top notch chefs and you can really get some of the most amazing foods there. If I could afford to do both in the same year, I totally would, but I think the latter goal is going to have to be put off for a year or two.
All in all I’m really glad I went down south this winter. I’m slightly less ashamed to admit that I might be slowly becoming a Florida-in-the-winter kind of person… as long as the cold promises not to follow me like a lost puppy next time!