Thursday, March 10, 2011

Becky Does Orlando: Part Four (The Thrilling Conclusion!)

Day Four (pedometer count:  11,688 steps)

It was Megan who suggested that I wear my pedometer on this trip.  Truth be told, our step counts weren't as impressive as I thought they'd be, but step counts don't take into account long minutes of standing in line.  By Day Four, I was ready to sit down for a while.


(And now for something completely different...)

It was just Sam and me at breakfast the next morning, Alex having safely made it back to Tampa to go back to work.  We had a bus to catch and it wasn't picking us up at our hotel, so we made the half mile or so walk down the street to the Quality Inn and managed to walk around the entire perimeter of the hotel before finding the lobby and our bus in front of it.  A few more hotel stops later, we were cruising down the highway watching a video on the Kennedy Space Center.

The tour had been advertised as an all-day adventure to the Everglades and Cape Canaveral.  We were supposed to leave at 6:30 that morning, but when Sam called to confirm the day before and our departure time was changed to 8:20, I had a feeling we weren't actually going to make it to the Everglades.

Sure enough, when we stopped only 45 minutes down the road, we were nowhere near the Everglades.  Instead, we were at a river, the name of which escapes me, and about to get on an airboat driven by a guy named Chuck who looked every ounce the Florida native that he was.

Chuck pointed out an alligator within five minutes of us climbing into the boat, but that was the first and last that we would see during our half-hour ride.  Because I'm occasionally dense, it took me a while to catch on that the point of the tour was to see alligators.  But personally, I just enjoyed the boat ride.  It was a nice change of pace after three successive theme park days. 

Back on the bus, we drove another 45 minutes or so before arriving at the Astronaut Hall of Fame.  At first we couldn't get in because the tickets our guide had given to us were actually tickets for a shuttle launch the week before.  But he cleared things up and soon enough we were walking around looking at all sorts of interesting space-related memorabilia...

And then it was time for our primary destination of the day, the Kennedy Space Center.

It was past noon already, so Sam and I headed straight for food at the Orbit Cafe, ate quickly, and then jumped on a bus tour of the facility.  The bus stopped twice, once at an observation gallery where we saw a crawler, the largest land vehicle in the world, creeping its way back to the Vehicle Assembly Building after the aforementioned launch that we missed the week before ("This is VERY RARE!  You're really lucky to see this!" our bus driver told us)...

...and once at the Apollo/Saturn V Center, where we watched several sequential videos on the space program, including one from the actual mission control room where the Apollo missions were launched.  Ah, history...

The only "ride" at the Space Center was the Shuttle Launch Experience which, unlike the rides at the theme parks, had an extensive introduction and many, many, many opportunities to back out.  "This is the most realistic shuttle launch simulator I've ever been in," a real-life astronaut confidently told us while we were standing in line.  There weren't many of us there, but of those who were, more than one decided not to go through with it.

When it was over, Sam and I decided that it wasn't nearly violent enough to be like a real shuttle launch.  (After all we'd done that week, we had high standards for simulated rides.)

Just outside the launch simulator building was the Shuttle Explorer (double meaning intended), which was advertised as a chance to walk through a real space shuttle.  We were both a little disappointed, though, that only two "rooms" were open to the public and, all and all, we didn't get a good feel for what it would really be like living in cramped quarters in space.

We had an IMAX movie to catch at 4:30, but with a half an hour to kill, we went to the Meet-an-Astronaut room where an astronaut talked to us about solar flares and, er, some other things that were maybe a little too technical for the general public but fairly interesting nonetheless.  But we ducked out a couple of minutes early to rush across the complex to catch one of two 3D IMAX movies that were playing.  We chose not based on subject, but rather on who was narrating the film (Leonardo DiCaprio beat out Tom Cruise) and that worked out well for me because the movie was on the Hubble Space Telescope, and I'm a bit of a Hubble whore anyway.

3D IMAX-sized images of space?  Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

The last major attraction was the Rocket Garden, where rockets of times past come to rest.  Our aimless wandering was narrated by a man standing in the middle of the garden, whom we originally thought was a recording.

After swinging through the gift shop so Sam could expand her magnet collection, we got back on the bus for the two hour (two hour!) ride back.  The bulk of the journey was filled by watching Old Dogs - a movie I had never seen but was surprisingly hilarious - but when the movie ended and we were still on the bus, we started to get a little restless.

And we still had to walk back to our hotel once we were dropped off, so we stopped at IHOP along the way and grabbed some dinner.  And then it was time to pack.


We took a shuttle to the airport the next morning and by pure coincidence, a fellow passenger happened to be from Brisbane and had lost her house in the recent floods.  She told us awful stories for most of the ride to the airport, which created a strange bond in the van, such that when Sam was dropped off first, and me second, the remaining passengers called out for us to "take care!" and "have a wonderful flight!" and "nice to meet you!"  I can honestly say I've never had that happen while riding an airport shuttle...

Sam and I didn't say goodbye because we both assumed that I would be able to make my way back to her gate once I got through security at my terminal.  Her flight left four hours before mine and the plan was for me to meet up with her and wait for her flight with her.  Except I couldn't.  On complete opposite sides of the airport, I couldn't get back to where she was without going back through security and explaining why I was going to wrong gate while I was at it.  So instead of a leisurely farewell, we had a two minute phone conversation and a text exchange once she got on her plane.

It was a pretty lackluster ending to an otherwise awesome trip.

And then I came home.  To the real world.  Where there is no butterbeer and even my blogs are woefully boring in comparison.  (No, for real, these blogs have been pretty grueling to read, I know.)  But it was a really good trip.  A true escape.  No running, no writing, no deep thinking...Orlando's powers of distraction surprised me.  And hats off to two of the best travel companions ever. :)


  1. Okay I admit it first: I didn't read the 4 days diary O.O Sorry - but not tonite ...
    BUT I gazed at all the pics with joy and a bit of jealousy to be honest ...

    For lack of knowledge I just say I think you enjoy(ed) your trip very much :)

    and I hope you forgive me todays lazyness

  2. still experiencing Deep Envy - espcially the distraction getting away from it all part. x

  3. What you experienced on the shuttle to the airport Becky, was Aussies! I didn't find that strange at all, for me it was normal and refreshing cause I had been on many shuttles in those 3 weeks and no-one spoke on any others!

    I still can't stop thinking about what happened at the airport. The fact that the last you saw of me was my big fat bum trying to scramble over the old lady next to me, no really it was a strange feeling leaving and not saying a proper goodbye.

    And yes, throw that last line right back at ya!!! Xxx

  4. Sasha, it's a hell of a lot to read. You get the gist of it with the pictures anyway!! ;)

    Leslie, it's done me a world of wonders, let me tell you. :)

    Sam, I guess you guys are just friendlier than we are! :D In those situations, most of the time no one really talks to each other (as you found out!). I look forward to more entertaining shuttle rides when I come to visit you!! And as weird as it was with the lack of goodbye, in a way it's weird to think that you're back to being on the other side of the world. I think maybe that was the lingering effect on kinda feels like you're still in the US... :-/