fter our uneventful flight from Treasure Cay to Miami and a short drive with the courtesy bus, we picked up our car from the Alamo location near the airport. We filled in the paperwork and 10 minutes later we put our luggage in the trunk of the Oldsmobile Intrigue that we were going to drive for the next two weeks. Even though it was already late afternoon we went on our way to Orlando, a 250 mile drive, to the Hampton Inn Westgate close to Disney World . We expected a smooth drive since it was Friday evening but about halfway we were hit by a heavy thunderstorm and downpour. At around 10 PM we unpacked in our hotel room and enjoyed a good night's sleep.

On Saturday morning after we had breakfast and bought our 4-day passes in the hotel we made a short drive to Disney World . We planned to take it easy in order not to overdo it on our first day of "theme park hopping' so we visited EPCOT. From what we remembered from previous visits, EPCOT was to be the 'less busy' park of the four Disney parks. Temperature was about 37 C (99 F) and it was hard to keep moving all day. The main attraction in EPCOT is still the Showcase lagoon, a lake surrounded by pavilions of 11 different countries. We visited Mexico, Germany, Morocco, Italy, Norway, Canada, England, France, China, Japan and the US in just a few hours. Most of the pavilions present entertainment from the country of origin. China had acrobats, Morocco had singers and in England there was a street theater.

Epcot - Showcase Lagoon

The Universe of Energy took us back to the time when dinosaurs roamed free. We took the ride through time with Ellen de Generis (from the TV show 'Ellen').

After the evening fireworks and laser show IllumiNations we headed back to the hotel. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated. There was heavy traffic leaving the parking and the road signs to I-4 were not all that visible. This resulted in us missing the exit and wandering off in the wrong direction. On top of that we didn't have a map in the car. We found no more road signs and in complete darkness I tried to find the way back to the hotel using my sense of direction. To our surprise it worked, we went back on I-4 only one exit away from our hotel.

Animal Kingdom entrance

The next day, Sunday, we followed the same procedure as the day before. We had breakfast and went on our way to the newest addition to the Disney theme park, Animal Kingdom. This park is set up as a mixture of a zoo and African wildlife park with some Disney magic to top it off. The Tree of Life can be seen from all of the park and is covered with carved out animals. Inside the tree there's a theater with 3D 'It's a bug's life'. This is a multi sensory show featuring different kinds of cartoon insects. Hearing the screams of the spectators it seems that this attraction is very well liked.

MGM StudiosOn Monday we continued our park hopping and visited the Disney/MGM studios. We entered through Hollywood Boulevard straight to Mann's Chinese Theater, house of the great Movie ride. We got to see the artists at work making the Disney characters come to life. An all time favorite is the Back lot tour with the so called 'hot set' of the exploding truck.

Just like in 1993 we went to see the Indiana Jones stunt show. This time we knew what to expect since this show hasn't changed in all this time. Our 7-year old son liked it a lot though. The 'Honey, I shrunk the Audience' show made us feel very small. It's a multimedia attraction where you really don't want the dog to sneeze... but he does anyway... Every afternoon (weather permitting) people come to the parade featuring Mulan.

The evening ends with another fireworks and laser show called Fantasmic, starring a giant resident mouse.

Tuesday was Magic Kingdom day. We've seen the park 3 times already in Florida, twice in California and twice in Paris. They all look alike except that the Orlando park is by far the largest.

Magic KingdomOur son wanted to take a ride in the Tomorrow land Speedway So we went there first before the park became too crowded. The lanes were not too long and we made our way to the cars very quickly. Another 'must see' (according to our son) are the houses of Mickey and Minnie. Apart from visiting the houses you can also meet the Mice 'in person'. At 2 PM we started looking for a good spot along the parade route for Disney's Magical Moments parade.

We went on to Adventure land and climbed the Swiss Family Tree house and after that to the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square.

At 9 PM (and 11) daily there's the Main Street Electrical Parade. We've seen this every time since our first visit to Disneyland, CA, in 1986 and it seems it's still the same as it was then.

In between the two electrical parades there's the 'Fantasy in the Sky' fireworks at 10 PM, a perfect end to a very busy day.

NASA's rocketgarden
After four long days of fun we needed a day with less running so on Wednesday we didn't set our alarm clock and slept in. After breakfast we drove to Disney Village for some shopping. Although most things are expensive around the Orlando theme parks we just had to buy a fluffy animal. We took our dinner in the Planet Hollywood and returned to the hotel a lot earlier than the previous days. That way we could get ready for our tour north the following day. We drove to Cape Canaveral first. We only went to the rocket garden since we have done the tours before. Last time (1993) there was a shuttle on the launch pad scheduled to go up the next day. Unfortunately 29 seconds before launch the mission was aborted.

Oldsmobile at the beachWe continued north along the coast to Daytona Beach, one of few places where, for a small fee, you can drive your car on the beach. The speed limit is 15 mph in order not to run over the sunbathers.

I brought my Diamond trunk lip mount and Outbacker Perth so I could make some QSO’s from Florida

Oldest schoolhouseAfter a short stop at the beach we were on our way again to St. Augustine. When we arrived there late afternoon we visited the Spanish Quarter, the oldest wooden schoolhouse in the US, Flagler College and the Lighter museum.

LighthouseWe stayed in the Hampton Inn , St. Augustine Beach, only a 10 minute drive from Historic downtown where the major tourist attraction is, the Castillo de San Marcos. Twice a day a demonstration in musket firing is given, a big difference with today’s rifles and guns. A small distance away, across the bridge from the Castillo there's the St. Augustine lighthouse and museum. After climbing 219 steps you're up 165 ft and you have a nice view of the city and surrounding area. It was well worth the effort.

Jacksonvillle LandingAfter all this we drove North on Hwy. 1 again to Jacksonville where we went to Jacksonville Landing and the river walk and then to our next destination, Amelia Island.

We stayed in The Inn at Fernandina Beach, the only place we found that still had a room for us, and that was only because of a cancellation (next time we'll make reservations). The next morning we went to the historic downtown of Fernandina Beach and then on to Tallahassee, Florida's capital city. Since it was weekend, the city seemed deserted. Enough parking spots and we could take photographs without having to many cars in front of the State Capitol.

Dolphins playingThen it was on to Tampa where we took a trip on board the Sea Screamer , the largest speedboat in the world, to 'hunt' for dolphins. The captain sure knew his job well... after a calm and easy way out the marina, he went full speed straight towards a known dolphin area. within minutes we spotted a few swimming 100 yards away.

The captain then changed his engine settings so that a large wave formed along the back of the boat. This attracted the dolphins and they started to jump through the waves giving us a close up encounter that was to be one of the highlights of our trip trough Florida.

Tampa to Orlando is only a short drive so we stopped at Gatorland for a visit. they have several alligator wresting shows daily they also give some background information about the habitat and life of these animals. By evening we went looking for a hotel room with easy access to Sea World and Universal Studios. We had a booklet with vouchers and decided to try the new Sheraton. The hotel was brand new (not even officially opened) and with the voucher a real bargain.

Because of our visit to Sea World we had to get up early so we would have enough time to see this theme park in one day. We planned our day around the times of the main shows like the Shamu and Clyde and Seymore. The day ends with yet another fireworks extravaganza.

The last theme park of our holiday was Universal Studios . Build around well known movies like E.T., Back to the Future, Jaws and Indiana Jones, this is a real treat for movie lovers. During the day you can meet lookalikes of the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy and may others.

Our last day we spend shopping for some souvenirs and by late afternoon we were back in the hotel to pack our bags.

On Friday the 13th we returned our car to the Alamo lot and we were taken to the airport by their shuttle bus. Then Delta Airlines took us to Boston were we transferred to a Sabena airbus for our final flight back home.

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