Published: October 7th 2009January 1st 2009
Miami - Orlando
Tuesday 7th October (Day 43)
Today we were checking out and heading for Orlando, so we stopped for one last time at Walgreen’s. It had certainly been helpful for cold drinks and decent snacks (and awesome air conditioning) during our stay in South Beach. We picked up some fresh fruit salad and other items for breakfast, and ate them on the way to the Everglades National Park, which we had decided to detour to. We headed west for a while and blasted down freeways and past everglades and swap areas - I felt bad that we were using the very roads that were contributing to the degradation of the everglades, but didn’t really see much of an alternative since we were already on our way. We drove for about 45 minutes and found the Everglades Safari Park, where we stopped off for an airboat ride. We didn’t have to wait too long, so we had a coffee in the café while we waited - the whole thing was totally aimed at tourists, but I really wanted to go on an air boat and see some crocodiles, so I was really excited. I remember watching some show
on TV when I was younger (possibly Flipper) where they got to ride around on air boats and I always thought it would be awesome! Finally it was time to get on board the boats. There weren’t too many people so we had heaps of room. The boats were quite big (much larger than I had expected - they could probably fit about 50 people in total) and they were so noisy, with the fan spinning around behind us, but you could still hear the guy driving the boat, who was giving a bit of a commentary. It was awesome - sometimes we would go really slowly and he would point out birds and other things about the everglades, and other times we would tear along as fast as we could. It was pretty cool, and Vaughan looked like he was really enjoying it as well. I got lost in about 30 seconds - I don’t know how those guys know where they’re going, even if they do it every day. We zoomed around and cruised through lillypads, eventually finding three crocodiles (not together), one of them just a ‘baby’- it was really fun and interesting. After about 40 minutes
it was time to go back and we decided to stay for the croc show, where this guy came out and told us all about crocodiles and other animals that live in the everglades. He had a baby crocodile in his arms, and also bought out some other animals at the end, and people could have their photo taken with the baby croc. Then there was a bit of a nature walk, but it was still pretty hot out there so once we got back we pretty much just headed for the car to get back on our mission, rather than milling around there and looking at some of the other displays. It was fun though, and we talked about it for ages while we were driving north, now heading directly for Orlando, via an inland route.
The journey was quite interesting - small towns in amongst everglades, and later we passed some nice houses set around small random lakes that seemed to pop up every few miles. We stopped off for some mandatory coffee before continuing on. The trip probably took about 4 hours after leaving the Everglades National Park, so it wasn’t too bad. We arrived on
the outskirts of Orlando and found our hotel quite easily. We were staying near Disney World, where the whole surrounding area was pretty much set up for the tourists - hundreds of hotels, freeways, restaurants, swimming pools, etc. It was actually a lot cheaper to stay in this part of the city due to the high competition between hotels, but unfortunately it meant that we never actually saw Orlando itself as such. Our hotel was awesome and we had a massive room with all kinds of luxuries. After our hot, tiny, older room in Miami, the room in Orlando seemed like a palace! There was a large tourist shop as part of the same complex, so we did some shopping there (mostly for Charmayne’s two boys) and then headed to an area across the other side of the freeway that we had seen when we arrived - there was about 6 large restaurants all together in one main area, and a few other stores around the outside. There seemed to be loads of these complexes all over the place - everything was definitely tourist-orientated. We stopped at a buffet place (which was chock full of people and had loads of
excellent food to choose from) and Vaughan managed to eat enough for about seven people before finally rolling out the door about two hours later. Back at the hotel we paddled around in the pool (there wasn’t anyone else there, which was nice), although it wasn’t as hot as it had been in Miami. I was enjoying the hotel a lot and made sure I used the spa bath before jumping in bed for a sleep.
Wednesday 8th October (Day 44)
We jumped up in the morning, excited and keen to be on our way, because we were spending the day at the Kennedy Space Centre (NASA) on Cape Canaveral. We had breakfast at a dodgy (but awesome) waffle house which was next to the car park at our hotel, before heading off just around the corner to pick up our tickets for the space centre (I had managed to score some tickets online that were a bit cheaper than usual). From there we headed directly for Cape Canaveral - the drive was about an hour or so. We hadn’t realised that our hotel actually had a shuttle bus all the way out there. Most hotels seemed
to have shuttle buses to most tourist attractions, but we had expected that Cape Canaveral would be too far away. No worries - a stop for coffee along the way and we were nearly there. The time went quickly and we only took one wrong turn. The weather set in and it started to rain, sometimes pretty hard too. We started to get a bit more excited when we had to stop at the causeway across to Cape Canaveral, as part of the road spins around so that boats can fit past in the gap. We could see dolphins in the water and American bald eagles in the trees. The whole area is a ‘no fly’ zone, and they have made it into a national wildlife refuge type place to protect all the animals - the land owned by NASA is so huge. It was pretty awesome! Just as we pulled up it stopped raining for us, so we managed to get into the complex without getting too wet. So many things to look at - rockets and spacecraft, rides, movies, museums, etc. There were three sites which you travelled between by bus - the main site with all of
the above, the viewing tower site (where you could see the launch pads for the shuttles) and the space station centre (where you could see all kinds of rockets, and also people preparing to send more stuff out to the space station). We started off by watching the two 3D films about space - one of them I had seen before at I-Max in New Zealand, but that was OK. They were both really good. When we got out of the theatres, it was absolutely pouring with rain, and an electrical storm was rolling in from the coast. We made a dash for it over to a full scale replica of (I think) the Endeavor space shuttle before scarpering to the next building where there was some type of flight simulator ride. We went on the ride which wasn’t bad (it simulated take-off in a space shuttle), although it wasn’t a very realistic simulator. We spent a few minutes in the gift shop there - I wanted to buy ponchos but Vaughan didn’t want to spend the money. It was still totally teeming down outside so we dashed over to one of the other museum display areas for a look
- there was so much to see and it was all so interesting. We found out that all tickets were actually valid for two days and I wished we had another day to keep looking around, as I could already tell that there was far too much to take in in one day, without rushing around at top speed. The rain didn’t help either.
We made it over to the bus area, ready to venture off to the other smaller sites - they were all still within the NASA complex, but some distance away. We had to wait a little while for the bus but finally made it onboard. We had quite a good driver who told us all about the national wildlife refuge there, as well as about NASA and the space centre. It was really interesting, and the 10 minute drive went by in no time. We went past the giant NASA building that people will know from TV and movies (a huge building with an American flag painted on the side of it, used to assemble the space shuttles), and eventually stopped off at the viewing area. The driver explained that there was a huge machine
that moved at about one mile an hour, which transported the shuttles from the big building to the launchpads. There was a display/museum there about space shuttle launches, and a big platform that you could go up about five or six stories and see both launchpads (Launchpad A and Launchpad B) which were in the distance. Unfortunately the severe weather meant that both launchpads were completely obscured by cloud, but I made Vaughan climb the tower with me anyway. We had all been told on the bus that we were visiting the space centre at a very special time because it was the first time in history that two shuttles were both up on the two launchpads at the same time - they get put up about a month in advance. We waited up on the viewing platform until Vaughan got bored. He went back down to look at the displays, but I stubbornly waited at the top of the viewing platform for the clouds to break. I would have been there for a good 45 minutes, knowing that it was going to happen - I didn’t know how I knew, but somehow I got the feeling that I should
stick around, so I waited patiently at the railing. There was no way it should have happened, looking at the extreme clouds, thick mist and crazy rain all around us, but my perseverance paid off, and for just a few minutes, the clouds and mist parted enough to get to see both launchpads (first one, and then the other one as well). I tried to take some photos but they didn’t represent the view very well, and it was much clearer to see it with your own eyes. I was stoked that I’d been able to see shuttles on the launchpads - not just one, but TWO! How awesome, and kind of humbling in some sense. I felt like I’d achieved a great goal - after all, I hadn’t travelled 13,500km to just look at bad weather. I stood at the railing for a while, by myself (most other people had given up looking for the launchpads in the previous gloom) and just looked out at everything. The clouds and mist came back together and once more the launchpads became obscured. I had managed to get my moment, and I headed back down the stairs to see Vaughan. I had
a quick look at the display area, but Vaughan really wanted to look at the next area and we had to get back on one of the buses as we would miss the last opportunity of the day to get to the third site. So, back on the bus the driver pointed out some more eagles in the trees and crocodiles in the ditches on the side of the road. We made it to the final site and Vaughan leapt out to see some of the huge rockets that were housed there. What he really wanted to see was the building where people were assembling supplies and materials to send to the international space station. Some of the parts would be used to connect together and make a new section of the station. I made sure we got to spend some time looking at that area (from the viewing room) because Vaughan had waited so long for me earlier. If only we had realised just how much there was to see there, we would have gone really early in the day, or planned to go back for a second day.
After looking at some more rockets and watching a
short film about the international space station, we headed back for the main site on the bus. Once back at the main site I made sure I bought something each for my parents, and we ventured out in the drizzle to take some more photos of the things around us. Vaughan had a look inside the Endeavor replica and by then it was time to go. On the way back out of the complex in the car (about a mile down the road) we saw that there was another space museum that was part of the complex, so we stopped off. They were closing for the day as well but we convinced them to let us in, and we got to see heaps of memorabilia from some of the space missions, and Vaughan had a go on another type of simulator. It was quite interesting and I could have spent much longer looking at all the different things, but it was time for them to close, so we jumped back in the car and started our drive back to Orlando. As we joined the freeway we both noticed that although the sky was already dark with clouds and there was a significant amount of rain coming down, we were actually driving next to a REALLY dark cloud that seemed to be full of lightning, and it was moving along at the same speed as we were driving, almost along the same route. The thunder accompanying it was tremendous, and the lightning was like nothing else I have ever seen in my life. The whole giant cloud would light up one solid colour, and within it we could see multiple sets of fork lightning, all at the same time. It was incredibly impressive and it was so constant - for the whole time we were driving back we were next to this cloud. As it became fully dark, the lightning was that much more impressive. I couldn’t believe how many sets of fork lightning I saw. I lost count when I got to about 200 after about 20 minutes! After we made it back to Orlando we stopped off at a mall that had a whole pile of outlet stores in it, looking for shoes for Vaughan. After parking the car we saw a snake on the way into the building - it was moving across in front of us, to the gardens at the side. It was the first time either of us had seen a snake in the wild. It was still raining so we got inside as soon as we could. Unfortunately after about an hour we still couldn’t find anything suitable for Vaughan. There was a food court there though so we managed to grab some dinner pretty easily, before heading back to the hotel. We had been going to go for a swim in the pool but didn’t really think it was a good idea in the lightning storm. We had a fairly early night in our large comfy room - it had been a full on day and we were both stoked that we had been able to go somewhere as special as the Kennedy Space Centre. Nice! Tomorrow we were bound for the West Coast, with more adventures ahead!