Friday, January 04, 2008

To Florida and back

Needing a little sunshine, we made a quick trip to Florida after Christmas to visit our friends who live near Orlando. We took Jet Blue for the first time and were very pleasantly surprised by the friendly staff and the fact we had leather seats and lots and lots of leg room. Friday was devoted to mimosas and catching up on their sun-washed deck beside the swimming pool. The next day saw us dining in a German restaurant at Heathrow where the hostess was delightful, the red cabbage so-so, and the homemade Wurst (German sausage) horrid.

An excursion to see the schools of West Indian manatee who leave the cold waters of the ocean in January and February for the warm waters of the St. John's river and Blue Spring State Park proved disappointing in that there were no manatee to be seen. However, Rick entertained us on our way to the "Boil"(a natural pool in the crystal
clear waters where scuba divers can submerge into the abyss of a huge underground cave) as he told us stories about how, as a kid, he and his school mates swam here with the manatee as kids and picnicked, etc.

A trip to Universal Studios was great fun in that we were with our friends, but the entertainment provided was extremely boring and therefore a bit of a rip-off in my opinion given the entry price. We've got absolutely no qualms paying whatever the price is when the entertainment is good, but when it's mediocre that's a problem. It cost $102 and change per person for entry into one park--either the Island of Adventure ride park or the studio as we didn't wish to do both--that included a requested upgrade they call 'speed pass' which enables one to skip the long queues snaking toward entry for each feature. (With Speed Pass, they mark off your pass as you enter each of the features, which seemed to mean you can't use speed pass twice for the same ride and must join the long queue, some waits for which were up to seventy (70) minutes). Shrek 4 was mildly entertaining, Men in Black mildly entertaining, Terminator a big yawn, and they need to get rid of the ET ride. (They did get rid of 'Back to the Future' which was a virtual ride and one I found really good the first time I visited the park seven years ago.) At one point I found myself in line to ride an indoor roller-coaster (which I hate) called The Mummy which I'd thought and been assured (by the gang) was to be a pleasant jaunt rather like a ghost train ride. Too late, I couldn't turn back and was sent careening into the darkness. It provided much non-Universal generated entertainment for Larry, Scott and Rick to see my reactions during the ride--though a real roller-coaster enthusiast would find the ride most prosaic if not unmemorable.

Some of the features don't permit one to bring one's backpack and lockers are provided--the first two hours are free and then the costs start to escalate. Lunch consisted of soggy fried food that is apparently trans-fat free--if you're a Brit who likes fish and chips, skip them--at Finnegans, which together with two beers per person brought our bill to over a hundred dollars for four after tip. All in all, I don't know how an average American family would be satisfied with their trip given the prices.

The weather changed yesterday, becoming as inhospitably chilly as Pennsylvania winter weather. before lunch, Rick had the foresight to suggest a return to Blue Spring park and what a great idea it turned out to be. The manatee were in. And there wasn't just ten or twenty or thirty. There were hundreds of them--adults and calves, some with algae permanently imprinted on their backs. They were magnificent. Such docile, beautiful, trusting creatures. No longer is one allowed to swim or pet them. As I watched them feed on the algae and play--turning and rolling over and over in the warm spring water, coming up every now and then to breathe air because they're mammals, quite a few scarred due to the acts of heedless and/or drunk people on speed boats, I felt an immeasurable connection to nature. It's right we're protecting these creatures who have no natural enemies except man. (The greatest number of deaths caused by idiots--think 'new money' types with beer and jet skies or the latest speed boats--disregarding the law as to speed limits while on the ocean in places where the manatee are swimming.)

Check out the baby manatee--one on its back--swimming among the herd.


Rick and Scott said...

wonderful blog Damian, loved your visit! Love you guys! Rick and Scott

Damian McNicholl said...

Thanks guys.
Had a wonderful time.