Revisiting Summer Vacation

So, it’s been nearly a month since our family vacation to Florida, and I’m just NOW getting around to writing about it. It’s amazing how quickly details slip from your mind, and I am grateful for the 500+ pictures I took to remind me of how amazing this trip truly was.

Florida Vacation 2011: July 15-21.

Part 1, Clearwater Beach, FL.
Day 1: Spent most of the day traveling, but thankfully, we had a direct flight to the Sunshine State. Our greatest fear was that Florida would live up to its reputation of rainy summer weather, and our fears seemed confirmed when we were greeted by thunderstorms and showers. Not a great way to start…but then the clouds parted to reveal the sun, glistening peacefully on the sparkling ocean waters and shining warmth into my heart. My spirits lifted instantly.
We drove across the causeway, blasting Lonely Island’s epic “Jack Sparrow” and screaming the lyrics at the top of our lungs. We made our way to Mandalay Avenue, home of the hotels along Clearwater Beach, and checked in at the beautiful Hilton. Our balcony opened directly onto the ocean, and we all scrambled to take in the view.

Mom had enough of the viewing, and pushed us to get IN the ocean. However, dinner came first in my mind, and we enjoyed a lovely meal at the hotel restaurant. THEN we all jumped in the ocean, which was wonderfully warm— 80 degrees! What a great first day.

Day 2: Exhausted from our travels, Kristen and I tried our hardest to sleep in, but we only made it until 9:00 a.m. (Dad had commenced his ritual of rising at 7:30 a.m. for his trip to the gym. Oh joy for the rest of us, who longed for sleep). We headed down for breakfast, and I enjoyed the first of my daily Muesli French Toast– a whole grain toast containing raisins and nuts, covered in various fresh fruits and pure gloriousness.

After making a quick stop to a nearby surf shop, where I got a much-needed sun hat, we ran to the beach and set up camp: beach towels, beach books, beach hats, and general beachiness. I was thrilled that we had a cloudy day (I burn VERY easily), and I commenced re-reading my Jeff Shaara book, “Rise to Rebellion” (he is a superb author of historical fiction!).
Later on, Dad, Kristen, and I embarked on a bumpy banana boat ride, which, if you haven’t done it yet, is rather like riding a bucking bronco…with salt water in your eyes. For some reason, I think it is a fun experience. haha 😉 I always regret not wearing goggles during the rides, and I still haven’t learned the lesson. But salty eyes and all, it was still a great time.
I returned to my reading, alternating chapters with dips in the water. And around 2:00pm, the sun decided to make an appearance. And I wasn’t prepared.
Engrossed in the Revolutionary War, I ignored the sun for half an hour. Half an hour too long. Later that evening, I peeled off my bathing suit to reveal extremely bad burns. Total. Agony. Aloe Vera was slathered on in generous amounts, needless to say.
We had an excellent dinner at the Clear Sky Cafe, and we enjoyed watching the sunset from the nearby sand dunes. Following dinner, we explored the strip of shops along the beach, and we picked up a few pool noodles for the next day. I believe my prolonged exposure to the sun made me a bit slaphappy with noodles in hand.

Day 3:
Okay, not taking chances, Mom and Dad kindly rented a beach umbrella and two beach chairs, and I lounged in their shade for the better part of the day. I slathered on the SPF 100 (my savior) and watched Kristen and Dad gleefully take off in rented jet skis, WHICH I had planned to do, until the sun so rudely burned my backside. Still in agony, I half-heartedly tried to read about the Boston Tea Party. Too much pain, I had get in the water. Ahhh. The ocean soothed the burns.

We enjoyed a mid-afternoon snack poolside, and I was grateful to find shade under a few palm fronds. We enjoyed another fine dinner at the Clear Sky Cafe, and we again climbed over the dunes to enjoy the sunset, this time, taking a multitude of photos.

All four of us strolled down Mandalay Avenue, and we each enjoyed scoops of delicious ice cream. Then, we walked the short distance to the Clearwater Pier, the hub of local nightlife abuzz with vendors and tourists. We crossed through the playground to the main pier and eyed the handiwork of the artisans who gathered nightly to display their wares. A solitary man played the blues on his saxophone at the far end of the pier, mixing the sounds of jazz with the soft rhythm of the breaking waves. It was a very cool atmosphere.

Until…we made our way back to the land, and the real show began.

A Jack Sparrow impersonator was entertaining…er, scaring the crap out of….little kids by clanging his [real] sword on the pavement, sending up sparks with the metal. He looked pretty legit, and many tourists eagerly paid to get their pictures with him. We moved on, and then, we saw the strangest thing in this world…actually, OUT of this world. It was this old guy on a scooter (with basket, boombox and Christmas lights attached), gliding around, and making eerie sounds into a synth microphone. A tattered cardboard sign attached to the scooter read, “Alien,” and he was seriously grooving to some disco music. We gaped at the strange hippie alien scooter man, and then…he made a beeline toward us. Kristen and I RAN.
creeped on, all you need to do is run like Johnny Depp. It will definitely keep those creepers away. 😉

Day 4:
Sadly, time to leave Clearwater, but not before a final breakfast of the celebrated Muesli French Toast and a final viewing of the beautiful ocean from our balcony. We packed up our exploded suitcases and trekked inland to Orlando, where Disney World awaited the annual invasion of the Boye family. Look out, Mickey!
Part 2, Disney World, FL.
We finally arrived in Orlando and checked in at the Polynesian Resort. And…we got leis!  =) I was so excited. Perhaps a bit too excited, but Disney World and I had been separated for far too long, and I was ready to conquer the World once more.

Day 4, continued:
Surprisingly, we were able to check into our room early…and, we had been upgraded to a lakeside view of the Magic Kingdom (Although the constant horns of the ferry boats became annoying really fast, the fireworks displays at night definitely made for a good trade-off). After admiring our view, we made a beeline for the pool, which was complete with a volcano and a fantastic water slide. We spent the better part of the afternoon at the pool, and then we made our way to Downtown Disney, where Kristen met up with friends she had met on her recent trip to Germany and the rest of us made a frantic pass at the shops before we had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe. Our ‘Jungle Guide,’ Chris, was the craziest host I’ve ever met at a restaurant, and he provided endless amusement as he led parties of diners past our table during our meal.

Following dinner, Kristen, Mom and I made a dash for the carousel and enjoyed a nostalgic ride on our respective horses. We continued to explore the Marketplace until it closed for the evening, and then we returned to our hotel.

Day 5: The Magic Kingdom!
No rest for the weary, we trekked toward the main lodge and had breakfast…I ordered a fruit platter containing WAY too much fruit. But it was VERY good.

As we waited for Dad to purchase park tickets and transfer our Disney points, I noticed a family checking in. The patriarch of the family was a WWII veteran, as evidenced by his hat (our grandfather always wears his WWII hat, too). Kristen and I decided to thank him for his service, which he greatly appreciated. I’d like to think that we made his day a little more special.

Park tickets in hand, we jumped aboard the monorail, which ran directly through the main lodge. We sped around the lake, past the Grand Floridian, and…we had arrived in the happiest place on earth.

The day was a whirlwind of ecstatic fun and sentimental moments as we revisited our favorite rides and experiences: we hit all three mountains (Splash, Big Thunder, and Space), relished Mickey-shaped ice cream, watched both parades, rode our beloved rides,  had lunch overlooking the “It’s a Small World” ride, enjoyed MORE ice cream at “Auntie Gravity’s,” and had dinner at “Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe.” Also noteworthy: Kristen and I cast wishes into the waters of the “Small World,” I got the high score on Buzz Lightyear’s laser ride, Kristen gleefully sped around the Indy Speedway, Mom loved the traditional Philharmonic experience, and Dad got singled out (again) in Mike’s Laugh Factory. Kristen and I also discovered that we could make a pretty good team doing voice-overs for the monsters “Sam and Ella.” (you had to be there). 

But with nightfall came the best moment of the day: the fireworks display. For the first time in all of our years spent at Disney, we were close enough to the castle to see Tinkerbell actually emerge from the top turret and fly down as she heralded the celebration of fireworks. For years, we had assumed it was merely a white flare coming from the castle, but to see the actual person flying over us with pixie dust…well, it was magical.

Day 6: Epcot! 
Although the day began rather slow (we rode the monorail for an hour…a combination of delays on the track and our own mistakes in figuring out the proper routes), we quickly picked up the pace by leaping headlong into the worlds of Epcot.

We went from landing on Mars to finding Nemo to circumnavigating the Earth…in 8 hours. Although we accomplished our objective with Mission Space, and Kristen and Dad took on Test Track, we failed yet again to conquer Soarin’. The park quite RUDELY closed at 9:00 p.m. before we could embark on that particular ride. I mean, what park closes at 9:00 p.m.? The Magic Kingdom is open until 1:00 a.m.! The injustice of it all. Sigh.

However, we were able to go around the entire World Showcase, taking pictures in front of each country’s monuments and taking in the sights/sounds/entertainment each had to offer. Germany was quite fun in particular, as Mom and Dad enjoyed their wine-tasting, and Kristen and I relived our tours of that beautiful country and its neighboring states. We also had quite the fun fjording experience at Norway, as always! Our day quickly turned scary, though, for as the sun began to set in Mexico, we emerged from the Mayan pyramid to the shocking sight of mammatus clouds and swirling skies; thankfully, the eerie weather held off until we saw the “Illuminations” show.

And, I found out, after all these years of debating the merits of each park, I had finally converted Kristen to an Epcot-lover. Mission accomplished.

We returned to our hotel room just in time to view the fireworks soaring over the skyline of the Magic Kingdom. What a thrill.

Day 7: Last Day.

Dad had been lucky to find us a flight at 9:30 p.m., so we were able to enjoy the entire last day…until, the monsoon struck.

After packing up and checking out, we grabbed a quick breakfast at Captain Cook’s, where Kristen relished her annual Mickey Waffle.

We then headed down to the pool area for one last splash. Dad, Kristen and I rented mini-boats, speeding around the lake bordering the Magic Kingdom, the Grand Floridian, the Great Wilderness Lodge, and the Contemporary Resort. We had SO much fun, despite the over-zealous lake patrol people who tended to criticize Dad’s boating skills. They failed to spoil our fun, in any case, until we came ashore, straight into a torrential downpour.

Now, we managed to go down the water slide half a dozen times, but eventually, the rain just became too much. After a few hours, the lifeguards spotted lightning and closed down the pool, leaving us…stranded, since we no longer had a room to retreat to. So, we waited. And waited. And waited, until FINALLY, a little after 4:00 p.m., they reopened the pool, and we were able to change in the locker rooms under the volcano. Grateful to finally be dry, the four of us enjoyed our final Disney meal inside the warm main lodge, savored our last moments on the “Big Island,” and waved good-bye to our family vacation.

So, Disney World, I bid you farewell until next year…when I will hopefully have a job working within your magical borders, or have the opportunity to visit again! Your eternal Mouseketeer, Kayla.

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