Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Great Day at Universal Studios

We spent our first full day in Orlando at Universal Studios. It was our most enjoyable day on the vacation as Kai was happy all day.

We went to the park relatively early to go to the very popular Harry Potter ride, Escape from Gringotts. The wait was already over an hour long when we got there, but Kai was able to wait very patiently. It was probably good that we made that our first stop, as he was full of enthusiasm whereas he tends to get more cranky as he gets tired. Universal also does a good job in making the wait in line entertaining so the time passes relatively quickly.

The ride itself was great. It was thrilling, creative, and we all enjoyed it.

Afterward we walked around Diagon Alley, pausing to enjoy Butterbeer.

Universal did a fantastic job of recreating the world of Harry Potter. Here's a photo of the dragon on the top of Gringotts Bank breathing fire.

There was plenty of souvenirs for sale, of course. One of the more interesting was the wands; you could select wands of any of the characters from Harry Potter. The cool thing was that there were several places throughout the Harry Potter area of the park where you can use the wand to cast spells. Here Kai is casting a spell to make it rain from the umbrella that Mom is standing under.

There were many other areas of the park that we enjoyed. Next to Harry Potter, the Minions were probably the most popular part of park.

We stayed at the park until late afternoon, going on a wide variety of rides, and then we returned to the hotel to take a break and use the pool.

For dinner, we went to a burger sushi restaurant that featured burgushi, which is a bento box of a mini hamburger and sushi, along with edamame and sweet potato fries.

My wife and I enjoyed a blackened tuna nachos appetizer, and then had sashimi.

After dinner we returned to the park and rode Revenge of the Mummy, which turned out to be much scarier than Kai expected. It is an indoor roller coaster in a dark setting. As you ride, you're surrounded by huge fireballs, swarms of scarab beetles and an army of warrior mummies. This was my favorite ride in the park. Kai was terrified but he also enjoyed it. Afterward we gave him many kudos for riding his first real rollercoaster and handling it so well.

It was a really great day all around.

I only wish that every day could be like this.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

2016 Florida Vacation - On to Orlando

After two plus days with Mama Dell and Papa Earl, it was time to move on. We had breakfast with them and one final photo.

Our first destination was the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home to Winter, the star of the Dolphin Tale movies. We had enjoyed seeing the film that told the true story of an injured dolphin who washed ashore in Florida and was rescued by the folks at Clearwater, and eventually fitted with a prosthetic tale that saved her life. We looked forward to seeing Winter in real life.

The drive to Clearwater was to take no more than two hours, but we again encountered very heavy traffic and it added nearly an hour to the trip. It seemed even longer than that as Kai was constantly obsessing over the predicted rainstorm. In his mind, a tornado was sure to come despite our telling him (over and over) that it was just a regular rainstorm.

When we got to the aquarium, the parking lot was full so we had to park at an auxiliary lot a couple miles away. We went to the first building that told the story of the movie and had props to help bring it to life.

After a quick lunch, we went to board the trolley that would take us to the aquarium. We went outside and found a line extending down the block. It took about a half hour to get on a trolley.

Once at the aquarium, we found an area that was a viewing area for Winter. The stands were crowded so we figured that there would be some type of show. After several minutes of waiting, I asked a worker if there was going to be a show and she indicated that a naturalist would come out and speak. After several more minutes of waiting, I asked another worker who indicated that there was no show; this was just a place to sit and watch dolphins. Which would have been fine except there were no dolphins swimming around and there was no sign of Winter.

We quickly went through the rest of the aquarium and got in the line to take the trolley back to where we parked the car.

We then got on the road and headed to Orlando. We had tickets for a 6PM show of Blue Man Group and I was stressing out that we would not make it. Between all the bad traffic earlier and the extra time catching the trolleys back and forth and waiting in lines, we weren't going to have much time to spare.

Traffic to Orlando was very heavy, which did not do much for my stress. I was preparing Kai that we might not make it in time for the start of the show, but that we would still get to see most of it. I was relieved when we pulled into the hotel shortly before 6:00, and we were able to hustle over to the Blue Man Group with a minute or two to spare.

The show was terrific! All I really knew about the show was that there would be guys with blue heads playing percussion, but it was really a lot more than that. The music was great and the show was very funny and entertaining. Kai loved it, too.

Afterward we had a good dinner at Hard Rock Cafe.

After a stressful day, we had enjoyed a fun evening and we were looking forward to three good days at Universal Orlando.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

2016 Florida Vacation - A Mostly Good Day

Our second and final full day with Mama Dell and Papa Earl started out with a visit to Myakka State Park where we first stopped to look in the Myakka River. It is hard to see in the following photo, but there were a few alligators resting in the water.

Nest we went on a short nature walk.. no gators here!

The highlight of the park was a canopy walk.

We climbed up a short tower and then made our way across an unsteady walkway amongst the trees.

Once across, we climbed an even higher tower where we were well above the trees and could see for miles around.

The following picture gives you an idea of the height of the tower as seen from the bottom.

In the afternoon, we went to try another beach in the area. Kai gave it a thumbs up.

The beaches in the area are apparently known for being a good place to find shark's teeth. Someone had built a sand shark.

We found a sign that reminded us that we were over 1200 miles from home.

We took a walk to the end of a fishing pier.

And had an ice cream.

So, most of the day was good.

But not all.

There's nothing like staying with relatives that reminds you of how much your child doesn't behave the way you'd like him to.

There are the times when Kai spills milk - an accident he says, but when when it happens more than once I consider it carelessness.

There are the poor manners during meals when he puts the food on the table instead of on his plate.

But by far the most frustrating are when he can't stop with the iPad and insists on having everything on his schedule.

The past two evenings, we had dinner late. But on this evening dinner was ready shortly before 6PM. Kai was in the middle of doing something on his iPad and was not pleased to have to stop for dinner. We told him to take a break and he could finish up afterward, but he didn't want to stop. And when we insisted, he said things he shouldn't have said, using language we don't permit.

He lost his iPad privileges for the rest of the evening.

And that made him more mad.

He got angry at everyone and said that he has a miserable life. He went on and on so we sent him to a bedroom while the rest of us started eating.

We explained to his grandparents that one of Kai's biggest challenges is flexibility, and he has a difficult time when things catch him by surprise. In this case, he was not expecting that dinner would be ready much earlier than on the other days. And for a boy who craves a schedule and a routine, that was tough.

But it did not excuse his anger or his bad language.

The good thing was that eventually he did calm down. And he did come back to the table to have dinner with the rest of us.

And after dinner Papa Earl showed him how to play Hearts.

Kai actually won that game, though it was as much due to luck and my own bad play. Still, it was a nice way to end the evening.

The ups and downs of our life.

I don't think we've seen the last of it on our vacation.

But for now we have a happy boy again.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Sunday in Florida

It was Easter Sunday on our first full day in Florida. Mama Dell had not forgotten and had a box of Easter goodies for Kai.

Kai had wanted to hunt for Easter eggs first thing in the morning. Mama Dell had gotten two dozen eggs for Kai to color, but the night before Kai got upset when he found out that the eggs would not be ready to hunt so early in the morning. It is frustrating for us when Kai does not deal well with his disappointment; in this case he expressed anger toward his grandmother who was trying hard to make his stay so enjoyable. But rather than get exasperated as I would have been, Dell responded beautifully, cutting up paper eggs for Kai to decorate, and telling him that we could hide those eggs.

He liked that idea and did a nice job of decorating those eggs, which we hid for him to find.

After the hunt for the paper eggs, it was time to color the real ones.

Kai enjoyed experimenting with various mixtures of colors.

Later in the morning we went to a nearby park.

And then after lunch, it was time to go to the beach.

In past years, Kai was afraid of the ocean waves, but this time he enjoyed battling even the big waves.

It was a good way to spend an Easter Sunday in Florida.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Break Vacation - Back to Florida!

It is Kai's spring break and we have returned to Florida where we had some fun times last year. This year we decided to drive down.

It was a long two days.

We got off to a relatively early start, leaving the house at 6:30 in the morning. Traffic getting through Chicago was remarkably light. And we made pretty good time through most of Indiana, though we had some heavy traffic near Indianapolis and beyond . We got to the Kentucky state line around lunchtime.

And since we were in Kentucky, we decided to have KFC for lunch.

Lunch would be the highlight of the afternoon.

We had several slow areas in Kentucky, between construction zones, accidents, and just heavy traffic.

We were happy to get to Tennessee.

Though Tennessee turned out to be the worst. It seemed to take forever to get through this short state. Who would have thought that Chattanooga would have far worse traffic than Chicago.

Kai didn't mind though. He was enjoying watching videos in the car.

By the time we got to Georgia, it was starting to get dark.

And when we reached our motel in Marietta, it was after 9PM.

My wife took Kai for a quick swim in the pool. (I could not go as I had sliced my finger with a sharp knife the day before). And we had dinner before finally going to bed at 11PM.

The next day, we got on our way to complete our drive.

The drive through Georgia was not bad at all. The biggest delay was trying to get lunch at a Wendy's where the line of folks waiting to get the meal they had ordered had filled up the waiting area. After waiting about 10 minutes without being able to even order, we left and went to a different fast food outlet where they messed up our order but at least we got to eat.

We made it into Florida after lunch.

It was after 6PM when we reached our destination. Mama Dell, Papa Earl, and their feathered friends greeted us.

Mama Dell had a delicious dinner ready for us. After dinner and some conversation, my wife and I wanted to go to sleep and rest up after the long drive. We were tired, but happy that we were in Florida and ready to enjoy a couple days with family.

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