Day 8 – The Florida Aquarium

Florida 2011 036Florida 2011 051Florida 2011 031Florida 2011 011Florida 2011 067Got up at 06:30 having had a good nights sleep and did my blog. Jan was up at eight but was not feeling very well. We had breakfast in the villa but delayed going out as Jan was still having stomach pains. She made herself busy getting a couple of washes done while I helped out playing games on the iPad! Eventually the pains subsided and we headed off to Tampa to visit the Florida Aquarium. Of course I managed to miss the turning off the motorway but eventually we arrived there. We bought a combo ticket which included admission to the Aquarium and also a boat trip out to Tampa Bay to look for Dolphins. The Aquarium itself was very good although because we got there late and the timing of the boat trip we missed all the feeding shows. I spent quite a long time watching the sharks a creature I find fascinating. All too soon it was time for the boat trip and we headed off into Tampa Bay. We were very lucky as we followed out a large tanker. The guide said that the dolphins love to bow ride these big ships and sure enough a number of dolphins appeared jumping out of the water in front of the ship. Jan also saw some flying fish plus there were a load of different sea birds in the tanker’s wake. Eventually we turned round and headed back to port. We were both glad we went on the trip. The boat was anchored right next to a massive cruise liner which left to go on a cruise as we were leaving. We walked up the road and found a shop where I bought a pair of loafers to replace my decaying sandals which have given me sterling service since I bought them in Orlando 8 years ago. I will give them a ceremonial burial before I leave! On the way back we stopped at Outback for Dinner where we both had beautifully cooked steaks, mine with sweet potato and Jan’s with baked potato. Suitably refreshed we headed to Holmes Beach to enjoy the sunset. On the way back to the villa stopped off at Publix to replace my chocolate milk which somebody has drunk again – when I catch them there will be trouble!!. Tomorrow we are off to Myakka State Park to see some Alligators and possibly we might hire a couple of bikes and try and burn off a few pounds.

Day 7 – At the beach

Florida 2011 008Slept in this morning until 08:30 – late for me. After a good nights sleep felt much better than yesterday. Jan got up soon after and we had breakfast. The weather forecast was good – little chance of rain and 90 degrees in the afternoon so we decided it was time we went to the beach. For the amount of money we are paying for the villa the beach equipment provided was meagre to say the least – two chairs one of which collapsed when you sat in it and two umbrellas one of which was broken. We managed to do a bodged repair on the chair so we could sit in it very carefully but the broken umbrella was unusable. Undeterred we headed in to the water which was lovely and warm. We spent about an hour at the beach by which time we both had sore backs from the awful chairs. We decided that we would look into renting some equipment but it worked out at 20 dollars a day so in the end we bought two chairs and a large umbrella for 85 dollars which is more cost effective as we will be here for a further 2 weeks and hopefully they will still be in one piece if we return next year. We headed back to the villa and Jan cooked some poached eggs. Unfortunately when she removed the eggs from the pan she discovered a dead baby lizard floating in the water. We had no idea how it got there as the pan was upside down in the cupboard. At this point we lost our appetite for the eggs and just had toasted muffins! Whilst Jan had an afternoon siesta I headed out with my cameras to take a few shots of the area. In the evening we headed to the Beach House restaurant where we had a lovely meal by the beach and watched the sunset – wonderful.

Day 6 – Relaxation

Florida 2011 001After the fun and games of yesterday woke up this morning feeling decidedly under the weather. My feet were really sore and I had a touch of the shivers. I tried to write the blog but it was a real struggle. I phoned up Dollar Car Rental to complain about the car and they said to bring it back to the airport and they would change it. So after breakfast in the villa we headed off to the airport. They still didn’t have any Dodge Chargers like we had last year but instead gave us a Chevrolet Impala 3.5 V6 which is of similar size and performance. The car is much better all round than the previous one and on paper should give us an extra 5 miles per gallon. From there we headed off to Bradenton to try and find the camera shop. In the best tradition as I discovered later I managed to drive right past it. As we were in the area we headed off to Best Buy to return Jan’s game. This took us nicely up to lunch time and as iHop was close by we headed there. Luckily they had wi-fi in iHop so I was able to recheck where the camera shop was. I was started to get the shivers again so we sat out in the sun for a while to warm up. We then headed off to the camera shop which this time we found and I managed to get the part for my camera at last. We headed back to the villa and I said to Jan that I didn’t fancy eating out so we stopped off at Publix to get some eggs and beans which Jan cooked in the villa. I was starting to feel a bit better but I still dosed myself up with medicine and had an early night. Hopefully tomorrow I will feel better as the weather is promising to improve.

Day 5 -Sea World

Florida 2011 252Florida 2011 273Florida 2011 272Florida 2011 269Florida 2011 236Got up at 06:00 having slept quite well even though the thunderstorms were still rumbling on when we went to bed. After having breakfast in the villa we set off to Orlando at 07:00 in a thunderstorm which carried on until we were well clear of Bradenton. Eventually the rain stopped and the sun made an appearance. The journey went without incident apart from some idiot in a pick up who despite me moving to the middle lane to let him on the motorway decided to come straight in to the middle lane. I was forced to take immediate evasive action. It was at this point I discovered a shortcoming of our hire car in that it can’t handle sudden changes of direction and I thought for a second I was going to crash. I was lucky that there were no other cars close to me. Shaken but not stirred I carried on and the truck dropped back. We arrived at Sea World at 09:00 in bright sunshine. As we were making our way to the entrance we saw Gary and Paula from work with their youngest daughter Amy, whom we had arranged to meet. Our first port of call was the water ride Journey to Atlantis. The girls all wimped out so it was left to Gary and myself to get wet although sitting in row 4 we were OK. After that we headed to the Whale & Dolphin Theatre for the Blue Horizons show which was a wonderful mixture of Dolphins, Flying Acrobats and Birds (the feathered kind). It is a wonderful show and a must for anyone visiting Sea World. Jan and I then headed for the roller coaster Manta but it was a 20 minute wait so we headed over to the SeaLion and Otter Stadium for Clyde and Seamore take Pirate Island show. The best bit of this show is where one of the cast stands at the front and takes the mickey out of the people arriving – it is very funny. The next port of call was the Shamu Stadium for the One Ocean show. On the way we visited the Shark Encounter which is an underwater viewing tunnel where you can get close up to the Sharks protected from them by very thick glass. The Shamu show is not so good anymore, as since the fatal accident last year the trainers are not allowed in the water with the whales. It has also got very cheesy. Having said that it is still a good show and lots of people got very wet. We had a bit of time before the next show so we headed off to Manta. Jan and I got on very quickly – this is one of my favourite roller coasters and it was great to get back on it again. After that we headed off for lunch and a chat. Gary and Paula’s eldest daughter Laura who is training to be an Air Traffic Controller had been interviewed on the local TV programme South Today during the opening of the new National Air Traffic Service’s training centre at Whiteley – she is the only girl on the course so they suspect she lost the raffle. Jan and I wish her the best of luck on what is a very tough course. Their other daughter Amy is undecided at present although she is very keen on animals and horses in particular. After lunch Gary and I headed back to Journey to Atlantis for a second go and this time we were really ‘brave’ and sat in the second row. We got wetter than the first time but it was actually quite refreshing. Our final show was Pets Ahoy at the Seaport Theatre. This is a favourite of all of us and involves rescue animals who have been trained to do amazing tricks. As Gary said training a cat, an animal that normally does what it likes, to crawl along a rope commando style takes some doing. Jan and I still had to do the roller coaster Kraken so we headed off there stopping at the Penguin Encounter and Sea Lion enclosure. When we got to Kraken there was a technical Problem with the ride. It turned out that the ride had left the start without all the seat beats fastened and it just stopped on the initial climb. To make matters worse for the people on the ride there was a nasty looking storm approaching. We both wondered that if we hadn’t stopped to see the Penguins and Sea Lions we might have been on that ride.The staff started to get the people off but at this point we all decided it was time to leave as it looked as though we were going to get very wet. It was disappointing not to get on Kraken but there was no point staying. What was really funny was Gary trying to convince us all that he was just about to run after Jan and I and come on the ride at the very moment the ride was closed down. We had a lovely day with Gary, Paula and Amy and wish them a safe journey home on Thursday. After saying our goodbyes and heading to what I thought was our car – wrong! – same model same colour but not ours. After wandering around for a few minutes we heard a car alarm going off – yes it was our car and the boot was wide open – I must have pressed the boot opening and the panic buttons! I just shouldn’t be let out in public. Just as we left Sea World the heavens opened. After a brief detour for more petrol we headed out on to the I4 to join the rush hour traffic. On the subsequent journey back to Anna Maria Island I drove in the worst driving conditions I had ever encountered in nearly 40 years of driving. It was like the night in 2003 when we got separated from Del in International Drive only worse and it lasted for nearly 50 miles. Having been critical of an American driver earlier on this page the standard of driving from the other road users was exemplary. It was very scary at times but I didn’t feel in any danger from them. About 20 miles from home the rain stopped for a while and we were able to pick up speed a little bit. We stopped off at Appleby’s for dinner which as you can imagine after the journey we had, tasted wonderful. Whilst we were in the restaurant it started raining again but by then we didn’t care. We made it home in one piece and hit the sack just after nine. Although the journey home was a nightmare we had a great day at Sea World with Gary, Paula and Amy. Tomorrow I am going to ring Dollar and try and get the car changed for one less dangerous! Finally a big Happy Birthday to my daughter Dominique – 30 years young today. Have a wonderful day.

Day 4 – Rain and Relaxation

Florida 2011 233Got up this morning at 05:30 – my body still hasn’t adjusted properly to the time change. Once it got light I decided to go for an exploratory walk of the neighbourhood. I saw some shoals of flying fish down by the river and a fairly close encounter with a red squirrel near the beach. I started walking along the beach but noticed a rather ominous black cloud heading towards the Island. I tried to get off the beach but there were no exits back to the road. When I eventually came to one the cloud was right overhead and sure enough it started to rain and boy did it rain – I got absolutely drenched walking the two miles or so back to the villa, but at least there was no lightning. The rain put paid to our plan to go for a swim in the sea so we had breakfast in the villa and then headed off to the camera shop in Sarasota. Unfortunately they didn’t have the bit I wanted but said the Best Buy store down the road might. The layout of the Best Buy was very similar to the one in Hedge End but they didn’t have the bit either. Jan bought a game for her DS but when she tried it back at the villa it didn’t work. The bad news is that we will have to go back to the store and try and get a refund – the good news is that the store is next to iHop which is where we had lunch today – Burger and Chips – handsome! After lunch we visited a very good bookstore – we could have spent a fortune but have no room in our cases thankfully. By now the clouds were starting to look very threatening again so we decided to head straight home and cancel the visit to Kilmin’s Ice Cream Parlour (sob sob). Soon after we arrived home the heavens opened again so we chilled out. This evening Jan cooked a nice Chicken and Rice meal. Tomorrow we are off to Orlando to meet up with Gary and Paula from work at Sea World – our first Theme Park of the holiday – I can’t wait.

Day 3 – Relaxation

Florida 2011 230Florida 2011 229I got up this morning at 05:45 having had a goods night sleep and did the blog. I called Jan at 08:00 and after getting ready we headed off for our first visit this year to Denny’s for breakfast. 500 calories each later we headed off to Walmart to get a few things and on the way there the heavens opened for about 5 mins and then just as quickly as it started it stopped again. We dropped off the shopping and then headed off to the beach for a walk. The water was so warm we regretted not bringing our swimming gear so on our return to the villa we headed to the pool for a cool off. I was just about to get in when I noticed there was a crab in the pool. It wasn’t that big and I eventually managed to fish it out with a net – we both wondered how it got in there! Crustacean removed we both enjoyed the swim. After all that exercise we retired upstairs for an afternoon nap. In the evening we had dinner at Outback. I had steak and sweet potato and honey with a side salad and I can honestly say that was one of the best restaurant meals I have ever had in my life. To round it off we shared a 1000 calorie dessert comprising of chocolate brownie, chocolate sauce, cream, ice cream etc etc – well you get the picture. We just about managed to walk back to the car. Stopped off at Publix to buy some ingredients for dinner tomorrow which Jan is cooking, and also to get another large carton of chocolate milk as some greedy swine had drunk all the other one! As it is Sunday tomorrow Jan is having a lie in so we also having breakfast in the villa. We are also planning to go for a swim in the sea as the water is so warm(sorry). After that we are heading off to Sarasota as I need to find a camera shop. On the way back it is 100 per cent certain that we will divert to Kilwin’s Ice Cream Parlour for some more medicine!

Day 2 – St Armand’s Circle & Anna Maria Island

Florida 2011 210Florida 2011 214Florida 2011 221Florida 2011 224I got up at 06:00 having had a good nights sleep. It was still dark outside so I decided to finish off my blog which I had started on the plane. As soon as it got light I took some pictures of the villa and then went for a walk to the beach. I really enjoy the first morning of a holiday exploring the area. I came back, uploaded the pictures to my blog and as it was by then 08:30 I gave Jan a call. She had slept well – these American beds are big and comfortable. We both got ready and headed off in beautiful sunny weather to iHop for breakfast – a first morning tradition in Florida. The food was wonderful (don’t mention the calories) as always and whilst we were there we started talking to an American guy named Terry who turned out was a massive Top Gear fan so we ended up laughing about some of the things they got up to. He also gave us directions to get to a Post Office to post Dominique’s card. Unfortunately he told us to turn left at the next junction when he should have said right but we got there in the end. With still bloating stomachs we headed off to St Armand’s Circle where I had an appointment with Kilwin’s Ice Cream Parlour. We went for a walk round the other shops first and then it was time to indulge – 12 months I have waited and it didn’t disappoint. Suitably refreshed we headed off on a lovely drive up Longboat Key in the direction of Anna Maria Island. We parked up and walked on to the Historic Pier. We went there on our first day last year and Jan wanted to do the same this year. The locals were really friendly and there was a lot to see in the water – a dolphin in the distance, pelicans, egrets, thousands of fish and even a group of Manta Rays plus one odd spotted one. It was still very hot so we decided to head back to the villa for a swim to cool off. The water in the pool was lovely – you could walk straight in. The pool itself is a bit small but for somewhere to cool off it is perfect. After all that exercise we both had a nap and in the evening headed for dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill – just as good as we remembered. All in all a great first day and to top it all it didn’t rain.