Exploring Space

During the husband’s business trip to Orlando, we tried to pack as much as possible into our three personal days. I’ve already reviewed our visits to Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which were fun, but also a little disappointing. However, we were both excited for our visit to Kennedy Space Center, and I’m happy to say it did not disappoint in the least. In fact, the only issue we had with our visit was one of limited time.

We arrived just shortly after 9 a.m., when the gates open, and took a few pictures. This was a little difficult due to the extreme humidity. The lens of the camera would fog up just about as quickly as we could wipe it dry.

Since we had some time before the Shuttle Launch Experience opened or the tour buses began running, we walked through the Early Space Exploration exhibit. Lots of cool stuff to see and read, including the original Mercury mission control consoles.

We only got about halfway through before we needed to head over to the Shuttle Launch Experience, a shuttle launch simulator. I was hoping to get a little G-force  to smooth out some wrinkles, but that didn’t happen. However, it’s about as realistic as it can be without launching into space. They provide a lot of good information about the space shuttle program in a very engaging way.

Next on our itinerary was the Astronaut Encounter at 11 a.m. The only other time for the encounter was 3 p.m. and we wanted to see the Space Station 3D IMAX® film at that time. The astronaut for our encounter was Bob Springer. His 20 minute talk was very informative and entertaining. There was also a short period of Q&A before a photo op, which we skipped to jump on the next tour bus.

The tour buses run about every 15 minutes and take you away from the visitor complex and out to the Apollo/Saturn V Center and the LC-39 Observation Gantry. The bus drivers provide you with a little background and direct you to points of interest along the way.

See me (bottom, left of center) for scale.

Our first stop was the Apollo/Saturn V Center. You’re immersed in the culture of the mid-1960s prior to entering  mission control to watch the taped launch of Apollo 8. It was very cool! We exited mission control and entered a HUGE hanger that housed a real Saturn V rocket.  You know these rockets are large, but standing beside them you really understand just how large!

Next stop was the LC-39 Observation Gantry where you have a panoramic view of the space shuttle launch pads 39A and 39B. We also passed by the massive “crawler” that moved the shuttle to the launch pads.

Me inside a Mercury capsule

We headed back to the visitor complex, but arrived a little early to enter the IMAX® theater, so we opted to finish our tour of the Early Space Exploration exhibit and visit the Rocket Garden.  From the very small to the very large, all the rockets are on display. You can even climb into a Mercury capsule, if you’re not too big!

We were able to catch both Space Station 3D and Hubble 3D IMAX® films, which were filled to capacity. We waited too long to get in line for the Space Station film and had to sit a little too close. We didn’t make that mistake with the Hubble film.

There was more to see, but the complex was closing. We had a great experience and we hope we can go back someday to see the things we missed, as well as the new Atlantis exhibit set to open next summer 2013.






Zoo, Disney-style

With only three personal days to enjoy on the husband’s business trip to Orlando, we really narrowed down our entertainment choices. My choice for one of those days was Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

We read some great tips in preparation for our Animal Kingdom visit on Undercover Tourist’s website (a must-read if you’re headed to Orlando!). It also didn’t hurt that I worked at a zoo for 15 years and understood that animals run on their schedule, which is not always in sync with visitor hours. Animals are usually most active when they enter their exhibits first thing in the morning, so we planned to be there when they opened at 9 a.m.

We got on the road a little later than we’d hoped, but were still on track to arrive before 9:30 a.m. Unfortunately, we realized that we’d forgotten the camera, but if we went back to get it we might miss seeing and photographing the animals when they were active/awake. We decided to forge ahead and take pics with the husband’s phone.

We went straight to the Maharajh Jungle Trek in the Asia exhibit. We checked in on the Komodo dragon then on to the bats, which were active and impressive, but I was anxious to see the tigers. We were able to see two tigers, but they were sleeping. I was a little surprised that they were already napping and hoped the other two tiger viewing areas would be a little more exciting. We saw a herd of Blackbuck and Elds Deer, then more tigers napping.  I was disappointed. Big cats nap as much as 20 hours a day, but I thought they’d be more active at least until 10 a.m.

We quickly headed over to Kilimanjaro Safaris in the Africa exhibit hoping to catch a few more animals before they began to nap.  We followed the tip from Undercover Tourist to sit on the left-hand side of the vehicle to get the best view of the animals, which proved to be true. We saw a lot! Unfortunately, the husband’s phone did not take great photos.

All we have are memories and blurry pics of addax, cheetahs, crocodiles, African elephants, flamingos, reticulated and Masai giraffe, hippos, lions, okapis, black and white rhinos, wildebeest and zebras. Not all of the animals were active, but enough to make it well worth the visit!

After the safari, we visited the Pangani Forest Exploration next door. We were greeted by Colobus monkeys and watched them for a while before checking out the duikers, which were hiding (typical).  We bypassed the naked mole rats and birds, choosing to move on to the underwater viewing of hippos (pretty neat!). We stopped briefly to see the meerkats, then onto the lowland gorillas. The zoo where I worked had orangutans (which I love!), but no gorillas, so I was very anxious to see these guys. The females and youngsters were asleep, but close to the viewing window. However, the silverback males were awake and magnificent!

The humidity in Orlando really wiped us out, but we wanted to take in a couple of rides before leaving the park. We headed back over to Asia to grab a fast pass for Kali River Rapids and ride Expedition Everest, which is basically at roller coaster. It was fun and quite similar to Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Matterhorn. Not too scary, but going backwards in darkness was a little unsettling.

At the end of the ride we had some time before our fast pass was good for Kali River Rapids, so we went to DINOSAUR. This wasn’t something we really wanted to ride, but it was a good choice to get out of the humidity. The entire queue is indoors and we really needed the air conditioning!

We saved Kali River Rapids for the end of our day due to the likelihood of getting wet. The husband and son went on Disneyland’s California Adventure version, Grizzly River Run, on our 2005 trip, so we were prepared – or so we thought. Seating is kind of the luck of the draw. Our “raft” had only two spaces when we boarded, so that’s where we sat. Within the first minute of the ride we were not just wet, but SOAKED! It was as if someone had poured a bucket of water over our heads, drenching us down to the skin. This is why we wisely saved this ride for the end of the day!

This was a fun day with some disappointment. Disney has a lot more money to spend on animal exhibits than most zoos, so I was expecting more. The employees stationed at the exhibits were only knowledgeable on a surface level. I didn’t see a single keeper the entire day. While it was fun, I felt it could be so much more. That said, the only thing I regret about choosing to visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom was that we forgot the camera.

Universal fun

I enjoy theme parks as much as the next person, but as empty-nesters, they’re not high on our vacation destination list. However, when the husband’s business trip took him to Orlando, it just made sense for me to tag along and add a few days for pleasure.

We were in Orlando 20 years ago when our kids were five and nine and had a lot of fun at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney MGM (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios), and Universal Studios. We visited Disneyland seven years ago with our son and did the whole SoCal theme park tour, including Six Flags, Universal, and Knott’s Berry Farm.

Without kids, we didn’t see a reason to do the full-blown theme park experience, and since this was a business trip we only had three free days. In addition, this was an extra vacation for which we had not budgeted, so we wanted to keep our entertainment dollars to a minimum.

The husband really enjoyed Universal Studios in Orlando and Hollywood, so that was his top choice. We chose not to get the “park-to-park” ticket because we really didn’t think we’d have the stamina for two parks in one day and settled on Universal’s newer theme park, Islands of Adventure. That decision saved us $70. We also chose to forego the Universal Express Pass, which allows you to skip lines at $30 per person. The pass may be a timesaver during peak season or a good investment if you have small, impatient children, but it really wasn’t necessary for us. We breezed through most of the lines – even those with a posted 30 minute wait time.

We got in line for The Incredible Hulk Coaster, but it was temporarily shut down due to inclement weather, so we moved over to Dr. Doom’s Fearfall. I cannot express how unprepared I was for this ride. They should really consider selling Depends at the entrance! We got wet on Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls and Jurassic Park River Adventure, but dried out on the Dragon Challenge roller coaster. We were pretty disappointed in the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Lots of jerking.

We took a break to get away from the crowds and rehydrate as it was pretty humid and we were doing quite a bit of sweating. Both were easy to do in The Lost Continent area.

Hairstyle courtesy of Orlando’s humidity.

We walked through Seuss Landing and I couldn’t resist having my picture taken in front of If I Ran the Zoo. I think most people who have worked in zoos contemplate the thought of how operations would change if they were in charge. I know I certainly have!

We circled back to The Incredible Hulk Coaster, which was up and running, but we had had enough roller coaster rides for the day. We decided The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man would be our last ride. It was better than Harry Potter’s Forbidden Journey and had some good effects.

If I were grading Universal’s Islands of Adventure park, I’d have to give it a C. If we had small children they might have enjoyed Seuss Landing, but overall I wasn’t that impressed. When we’d visited the Studio parks in Orlando 20 years ago and in Hollywood seven years ago, we enjoyed them much more. Those rides seemed to be well-masked in a theme, and we were caught up in the story. These seemed rides seemed, well, like rides. It was kind of like visiting a State Fair, only much more expensive.

Regardless, it was fun to be away from the day-to-day routine and our DIY projects and just spend some time together. I’ll review our visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Kennedy Space Center in future posts.

Fear of flying

I know people who have a fear of flying. They’d do and risk almost anything to stay off an airplane. When they are forced to fly, they have a white-knuckle grip on the armrests during take off and landings. Their blood pressure is elevated even on a smooth flight. A little turbulence and they begin praying to any and all deity.

I have a fear of flying, but not for the common reasons. I fear coming down with a migraine while in flight. I have written a few posts about my struggle with migraines. My Imitrex medication works, but only if I take it at the first sign and immediately lie down in a dark room for at least an hour. That’s not practical on a plane. I tried just popping the pills and closing my eyes on a trip to Phoenix in April. The migraine only increased in intensity. Fortunately that flight was only two and a half hours.

It’s not surprising that I was more than a little concerned about my Alaska Airline flight to Orlando. My itinerary was to fly out of Portland at 5:30 a.m., land in Seattle about 30 minutes later, then fly to Orlando at 8:55 a.m. I wouldn’t land in Orlando for five hours. If a migraine attacked any time within the nine hours I would not have access to a dark, comfortable place to rest, I was going to be in a lot of pain – maybe even to the point of vomiting. Fortunately, I was migraine-free during the flight. I had taken my injections just in case, but I’m not sure if they would have worked any better than the pills.

Why risk it? I guess I’m only willing to let migraines have limited control over my life. They caused me to resign from a job I loved, and have robbed me of time (sometimes days), so I wasn’t willing to let them rob me of a chance to travel with the husband.

Am I concerned about the flight home? Absolutely, but the only other option is to not travel, which is not living life as I’d like – with *finesse!


*finesse (skill, flair, grace elegance, poise, assurance)

Mom’s 80th

I’m not a professional event planner, but I know some very talented event planners and have worked on some pretty large scale events. So it’s not surprising that when it came time to plan my mom’s 80th birthday party, I was thinking large scale. Nothing elaborate, but something more than our usual family barbeque.

My sister was perfectly happy to stick with the usual and add in a few of mom’s closest friends, but our mother isn’t the type of person to only have a few close friends. Logically, she’s going to have a lot of friends just because she’s been accumulating them for 80 years, but her ability to make and keep friends goes well beyond the logical. She has friends from childhood, high school, work and church. She has family – LOTS of family! She genuinely loves all her friends and family, and does her best to stay in contact with them all.

It became apparent in the early planning process that the guest list could get out of control, and quickly.

“Mom, only invite those who legitimately call you Grandma Dee, not those who only do so out of respect.”

“Really, Mom? When was the last time you spoke to that person?”

Several invitees had to decline due to weddings, family reunions, etc., but we still had close to 100 people present to celebrate mom’s milestone birthday. All three of us kids were there with our spouses, five of her six grandchildren, nine of her 13 great-grandchildren, her two siblings and many of their children and grandchildren.

Her relationship with God is the most important thing in her life, but following a close second is family and coming in third is music. She was thrilled to have all three rolled into one, as my siblings and I sang “Until Then.” We also got her on video playing her signature songs, “Meeting in the Air” and “Goodbye, World, Goodbye.” Boy, those 80-year-old fingers can still run up and down the ivories fast and flawlessly! We also got an impromptu group of family to sing a somewhat less than perfect rendition of “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”

Her party is not what I want for my 80th birthday, however, it’s exactly what she wanted (okay, she would have liked every single family member present, but that just wasn’t possible). She’s still overwhelmed with the notes and cards, and just that people took time out of their busy lives to be part of her special celebration.

To still hear her talk warmly about the day nearly three weeks later makes us happy. She’s done so much for all of us through the years, it’s the least we could do for her.


I’m baaack!

There are times you have to choose what’s important over the goals you set for yourself. That’s been my challenge since my last post nearly a month ago. I’d set a goal of posting Monday through Friday, so I’m feeling a little disappointed that I’ve fallen short. However, the things I’ve accomplished by not posting were of a higher priority.

The week following my last post was filled with wall-to-wall migraines. Every single day of that week I had to medicate and rest, which was pretty frustrating. The next week I was playing catch-up as my mother’s 80th birthday party was approaching and a LOT needed to be done. I was also surprised by the arrival of my daughter and fourteen-month-old granddaughter (more on that later). Last week was filled with a few more days of daughter/granddaughter time and preparation for our trip to Florida.

Now that I’m away from home and all the things that are screaming for my attention (dishes, laundry, bills, etc.), I finally have time to get back to writing. Hang on, ‘cause I’ve got a LOT to share, and as always, would appreciate your feedback!