Two and a half days at Disney World

Got to spend two and a half days wandering around parts of Disney World over the weekend.

Drove down to the Orlando area Saturday, stopping at IKEA in Jacksonville on the way to check out cabinets that we’re planning on putting in the laundry room at some point.  Of all the IKEAs we’ve been to, the one in  Jacksonville is a bit of an oddball, since it’s only a single level.

Stopped at Skycraft Parts & Surplus in Orlando to browse.  Really wish there was a store like that here in Charleston.  I’d probably end up spending a lot of time there.

After checking in to the hotel and getting unpacked, we headed off to Disney Springs to pick up my Epcot ticket and trade in Connie’s old 4-day Park Hopper pass with one day left from back when they didn’t expire for a new ticket.  Spent most of the evening wandering around Disney Springs and had a good time. 

Tasty tip: Stop at Cooke’s of Dublin and get the Hog in a Box.

The next day (Sunday) we went to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort.  We had tickets for the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue later in the afternoon so they let us in to park early.  We spent our time before the show resort hopping to check out and wander around some of the nearby resorts.  Took a boat to the Wilderness Lodge, and then to the Contemporary Resort.  From there we hopped on the monorail to the Polynesian Resort where we had lunch, and then the Grand Floridian Resort (very fancy place).  Finally, we got back on the monorail to go to the Magic Kingdom where we walked around the entrance a bit (didn’t go in) and then caught the boat back to Fort Wilderness to meet up with friends.

The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue show is an entertaining hour and a half or so of music, song, and dance accompanied by an all-you-can-eat dinner of fried chicken buckets, pails of ribs, bowls of baked beans, corn, and mashed potatoes, and topped off with strawberry shortcake.

We all quite enjoyed the show and the food.

The next day, Monday, was Epcot Day!  Epcot is our favourite Disney park.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot
Spaceship Earth at Epcot

Epcot Day started off bright and early with us arriving at the parking lot gate at 7:30 AM, right when the parking lot opens.  The parking lot Cast Member asked us how we were doing, and Connie responded with an enthusiastic “We’re awesome! We’re at Epcot!”  I guess Connie’s enthusiasm was contagious, because she waved us on by and we didn’t have to pay the $25 for parking.

After parking close enough that we could walk to the entrance, we waited for the security lines to open, then hopped on the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Center and back.  The ride offers a nice view of parts of Disney World and on the way back makes a loop through Epcot’s Future World.

About 10 or 15 minutes before the rope drops, the gathered crowd is entertained by the JAMMitors, a percussion trio playing on trash can lids and pails.  Then, at 9AM the rope drops and the crowd rushes into the park.

Any way you do things, spending the day at Epcot is tiring.  We took it easy, weren’t rushing anywhere, took breaks, enjoyed rides, and were still exhausted by the end of the day.

The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival was happening while we were there, so we got to sample a few dishes while we wandered around.

Pro tip: If you’re buying stuff at Epcot, you can have them delivered to Package Pickup (located at The Gift Stop by the park entrance) and pick up your goods on the way out.  That way you don’t need to lug things around while you’re exploring the park.  The cut-off time for getting purchases sent to Package Pickup is 6PM but if you’re going to do it, have your last purchase sent to Package Pickup well before that.  If you’re staying at one of the Disney resorts, you can have your purchases sent to your resort which makes things even easier.

Wrapping up the evening was the IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth show.  Last month there was an announcement that the IllumiNations show was going to be retired in 2019 and replaced with something else.  It was important enough to Connie that we see the show together that we cancelled the cruise we had planned for May 2019 to make the trip to Epcot instead.  The show was a fantastic spectacle of music, fireworks, lasers, video, water, and fire.  Really big fire.  It’s a pretty awesome show and definitely worth waiting around for.

Spaceship Earth at night
Spaceship Earth at night

Stopping to smell the roses

When you’re road-tripping, it’s usually worth taking those little side trips and stops rather than just powering on through to your destination. They’re often the things that memories are made from.

Breakfast stop

After our stay in Portland, OR, we road tripped through Oregon and Washington, and stopped in Post Falls, ID so that we could add another state to our list of Visited States.  With Montana so close, we drove through the mountains along I-90 and stopped at a neat little spot 16 miles past the ID/MT border. Lincoln’s 50,000 Silver Dollar Bar and Gift Shop is a neat little family owned stopping place with a good sized gift shop, restaurant, inn, gas, and camping ground. Pretty much everything you need when looking for a road-trip stop.

Lincoln's 50000 Silver Dollar Bar and Gift Shop
Lincoln’s 50000 Silver Dollar Bar and Gift Shop

We got there early in the morning, browsed around and picked up a couple of state Christmas ornaments for our collection, gazed at the massive number of silver dollars mounted on display in the bar, and had breakfast in the restaurant. It was a very nice and enjoyable stop.

Stop in, browse the gift shop for some souvenirs, check out the 50000+ (and growing) collection of silver dollars on display in the bar area, and grab a bite to eat at the restaurant. Get something with bacon in it.  Make sure to pick up the sheet of paper that tells you the story behind the place.

Scenic views

Somewhere along I-90 in the middle of Washington State is a very nice place to stop where you can get some scenic views of the Columbia River. We stopped for a while to enjoy the scenery on our road trip back to Seattle.

Stop a bit, go for a bit of a walk and stretch your legs, and enjoy the scenery.

Visiting Space Center Houston

Last weekend we were in Houston and paid a visit to Space Center Houston, the visitors center for NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC).

NASA Johnson Space Center
NASA Johnson Space Center

Like Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Space Center Houston (SCH) is a pretty fun place to visit. It’s not quite as large as KSC, but it’s got some pretty sweet exhibits including Independence Plaza that features the Boeing 747 that ferried the space shuttles across the country.

Independence Plaza
Independence Plaza at Space Center Houston

I highly recommend the 90 minute tram tour that will take you into NASA JSC. If you go early and catch the first or second tour (SCH opens at 9 or 10 AM. See the calendar for hours), you’ll avoid the long line. The tram tour takes you into JSC where you’ll get to go into the Christopher C Craft Mission Control building, the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility, and Rocket Park.

At Rocket Park, you’ll see some of the rocket engines that powered the Saturn V, rockets used for the Mercury and early Apollo programs, and the king of rockets, the Saturn V.

The Saturn V at SCH is one of three remaining Saturn V rockets and was restored fairly recently.

From the SCH website:

There are only three Saturn V rockets on display in the world. The rocket at NASA Johnson Space Center is the only one comprised of all flight-certified hardware. The other two rockets are made of flight hardware, mock-ups and test components. The three segments, called stages, contain the powerful engines needed to lift off, entering orbit to reach the moon. In total, 13 Saturn V rockets launched into space.

When you’re back from the tour, head over to Independence Plaza where you can wander through the NASA 905 SCA (Shuttle Carrier Aircraft) and the Shuttle Independence, a replica space shuttle. This is another one you probably want to get to early in the day so that it’s not too crowded. We went first thing in the morning on our second day visiting SCH, and had the shuttle and 747 pretty much all to ourselves.

Make sure to stop in the food court where you can have lunch sitting next to the Galileo shuttlecraft (NCC-1701/7) used in the Star Trek episode Galileo Seven. This is the actual set prop that was used in the episode and fully restored. You can read about the Galileo’s history and the restoration at startrek.com.

Before leaving SCH (or before the doors open if you got there too early), make sure to walk the scale model of Solar System. It starts over on the left side of the parking lot near the SCH building and goes around the perimeter of the parking lot toward the main entrance.

Of course, the rest of the exhibits at SCH are pretty cool too. Lots of great shows, interactive displays and an impressive collection of space and space program artifacts. It’s a great place to spend a couple of days exploring while you’re in Houston.

Mammoths, alligators and butterflies. Oh my!

One of the stops we made on our trip last week was a stop in Gainesville, FL to meet up with one of our friends who just started a post-doc at the University of Florida. After having lunch together, we all headed off to the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus.

Mammoth!
Mammoth!

It’s a pretty nifty museum with a lot of neat interactive displays. Great place to take the kids.

One of these is not like the others
One of these is not like the others

Part of the museum is the Butterfly Rainforest, a really cool place to get up close with hundreds of butterflies. Watch them fluttering all around you, landing on flowers, and even you if you stand still long enough.

Then we went for a walk to the Lake Alice Conservation Area where we were treated to some very nice views of the lake, turtles and an alligator.

UF is a pretty big campus, and seems like a pretty nice place to walk around.

Back to Kennedy Space Center

The Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex is one of those places I never get tired of visiting. We road-tripped back there over the weekend to get in one more visit before  the multi-day passes we purchased last year expired.

You'll need a pretty big tree for this ornament
You’ll need a pretty big tree for this ornament

On this visit, Connie noticed that the Welcome sign above the door to the Space Shop welcomed visitors in 9 languages, including Klingon.

yI'el
yI’el

We went there over two days, and spent the second day at the Saturn V exhibit building. The bus tour takes you past the gigantic Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Next to the VAB they’re working on building a new launch platform that will be used by NASA’s SLS rocket. It’s an impressively large structure and even larger than the launch platform used for the shuttle.

The bus then takes you past Launch Pad 39A. The last time I was on the bus tour, the pad was one of the stops and people were able to get off the bus and go onto the launch platform. 39A is being used by SpaceX now, so it’s not a stop on the tour anymore. I was on the wrong side of the bus and couldn’t get any decent photos when we went by.

The Apollo/Saturn V Center is always impressive, and it’s pretty easy to spend 2 or three hours exploring all the exhibits here. Next to the Atlantis exhibit, it’s my favourite exhibit at KSC.

Saturn V main engines
Saturn V main engines

A new exhibit (new since my last visit to the Saturn V building anyway) is a memorial to the Apollo I astronauts (Ed White, Virgil Grissom, and Roger Chaffee) who died when a fire started in the command module. It’s a nice exhibit featuring personal items belonging to each of the astronauts as well as the hatch from the command module.

Apollo I hatch
Apollo I hatch

Next time you go, make sure to reserve plenty of time for the Apollo/Saturn V Center.