Florida Fun

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Ken Brooks photo

Visitors to Disney’s Epcot Center can explore the far reaches of the globe, or just go due north to a replica of Canadian highlights.

Only a few days ago we returned from a two-week trip that included several days in Florida as well as a week’s cruise in the Caribbean. I’ll first describe the Florida portion of the vacation.

We flew directly to Orlando, which, as you know, is the home for several Disney Theme Parks along with other attractions.

Our first day was spent renting an automobile and getting somewhat acquainted with the rather large city that Orlando has become.

Our goal here was to visit Disney’s EPCOT Park, which is part of Disneyworld. It is dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, namely international culture and technological innovation. It is the second park built at the Disney Resort.

To give you an idea of how large the Disney Park is, I discovered it employs some 65,000 people and is spread over 33,000 acres. EPCOT is an acronym of Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow and was named by Walt Disney himself before he passed on. It was constructed for $1.4 billion and took three years to build. At the time, it was the largest construction project in the world, covering an area of 300 acres. It was opened Oct. 1, 1982.

Some have described EPCOT as the greatest of World Fairs. After visiting, I would agree with that statement. For many years it was considered to be an adult park, but as time passed it was recognized as a park for all ages.

We parked outside of the Boardwalk and had a wonderful breakfast in a restaurant that came right out of New Orleans. We then boarded a boat on the lake that sailed us to EPCOT itself. This was only a 10-minute ride.

Norma and I rented electric 4-wheel scooters to get us around the large premises. EPCOT is really two themed areas, Future World and World Showcase. Future World features attractions that focus on energy communication, the land and our environment, the ocean, imagination, transportation and space exploration. The center structure in the park is the “golf ball” and houses the history of communication. The “Universe of Energy” features Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Nye the Science Guy heading back to prehistoric times to find the origin of energy. Over at “The Land” EPCOT’s most popular ride “Soarin” is featured. Timon, Pumba and Simba are your hosts at the Circle of Life film and the Living with the Land boat ride takes you on a tour of greenhouses and fish-production.

The Seas of Nemo and Friends is a fun-filled trip into the underwater world of Nemo. The action centers on the 5.7 million gallon aquarium that is home to thousands of fish including sharks, sea turtles and dolphins. This pavilion features all the characters from Finding Nemo. You can ride on the “Clam-Mobiles” and have fun with the hands-on activities. Don’t miss Turtle Talk with Crush.

At Imagination you can take a look at the senses on your “Journey Into Imagination With Figment”. This is the perfect ride for the days when the park is busy and you need a break.

Test Track is the perfect ride for Dad and the boys. It is said to be an unforgettable ride - fast and furious. We didn’t take this. Too fast for us older folks.

Mission Space simulates a realistic launch into space as you and your crew pilot your capsule to Mars. There are two versions to choose from - of you have an inclination to motion sickness, pick the tamer option. We didn’t do this ride either as I am a claustrophobic.

Innovations is a mish-mash of sorts with different hands-on-activities featuring the latest technology. There are two locations East and West and you’ll find that they aren’t very crowded.

Centered on a beautiful reflective lagoon is EPCOT’s World Showcase. Each country features entertainment, dining and shopping unique to their culture. Showcased are: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom, and Canada. All offer shopping and restaurants. Norma and I decided to have lunch in “France”. The restaurant was a perfect replica of a typical one found in Paris. We were seated and selected French onion soup and another dish I forget the name of, but it was rich and delicious coated with goat cheese and eggs. We chose ice cream for dessert. It is interesting to note that the wait staff comes from France and are employed on a one-year contract. You really get the feeling you are in France here. The buildings that surround the restaurant are a copy of those found in Paris.

Every evening EPCOT presents llumiNations: Reflections of Earth. This a great show and should not be missed.

There is much more to EPCOT than I have described here and by renting the electric scooters you can easily able to cover the park in one day. Rental fees are $50 per scooter plus a $20 deposit, which is returned when you turn in your scooter. Yes, it is expensive, but this park is so large that you have to be almost a youthful athlete to be able to visit every pavilion in one day. Get there at least by 8 a.m. if you plan to have breakfast in the park.

I think if I were visiting Disney again I would stay in one of their resort hotels. I found the streets in Orlando to go in various directions and had some difficulty getting around even with maps.

After EPCOT we drove our rented car down highway I-95 some 200 miles south to Ft. Lauderdale. After a night here we drove 30 miles south and then west into the Everglades to visit the Everglades Safari Park. For years I have wanted to travel in one of the Air Boats across this swampy preserve that is inhabited by over a million alligators along with turtles, birds of all kinds, snakes and whatever else hides in the water grass of this vast area.

The Safari Park offers numerous Air Boats to speed you over the area with a very informed guide to explain what it contains. This unique ecosystem and native wildlife is a real thrill to the average traveler and should be visited once in ones lifetime.

During our visit here we were able to see many, many alligators in their natural setting, even babies. The area is loaded with wildlife almost everywhere you look.

Following the Air Boat ride we were treated to a nature walk and an explanation of how alligators live in such surroundings.

We enjoyed lunch in the park’s restaurant and were somewhat surprised at how many of the visitors were from different countries. The Safari Park is 10 acres with trails surrounded with typical Everglades’ vegetation. The Air Boat ride is a must and quite thrilling as it is maneuvered in every direction, skimming over the water and grass at more than 30 miles per hour. The experience is not expensive and well worth the time and money. You may contact the Everglades Safari Park by phoning (305) 226-6923 for reservations and more information.

If you are into beach activity and perhaps getting a Florida tan, Ft. Lauderdale is a good place. There are many fine hotels and resorts here and it is easy to find a location to suit your budget.

We departed here on an MSC cruise ship bound for the Caribbean islands. Next week we will outline this fine cruise experience.

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