2012 (Hot) SUNNY SOUTHERN FLORIDA
the STORMY SUNSHINE STATE

Cosmos 8405


This "short" trip takes in several places I've wanted to see in Florida: Cape Kennedy, Everglades, Key West, and even a day or two in Disney World. However that may sorta go down the rain drain. By early weather forecasts of a 30% or better chance of rain each day, they need to change the nickname of the state. Hopefully we don't get rained out (or in).

Tropical Storm Alberto, the first of the Atlantic hurricane season, formed off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday (19th). As of 5 p.m. Saturday, Alberto was about 140 miles east-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. It had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph with higher gusts and was moving southwest at 3 mph. It is expected to continue moving southwest through Sunday before turning toward the northeast Monday. Maybe that will be "it" for us and tropical storms / hurricanes for this trip. However a couple of other storms show up as well.

Day 1, Thursday, May 24: Fly to Orlando
I moved the trip up from 2013 to make use of a $250 travel certificate. Cheapmos(t) doesn't do (group) air anymore so I have to make my own reservations - which worked out well since they would have probably routed me through Atlanta. With a 10:30 flight, I'll get the StuporShuttle about 7:20 - not a bad time. The pickup was on time, but by the time the driver had made many wrong turns while picking up the other passengers, it took about 1:45 to get to the airport. Then by the time I got my bag checked and got through security, they were starting boarding (10:10) the aircraft. That's cutting it Close!!

United UA 1529Houston - Orlando10:41A - 2:03P2:22

As far as the city itself is concerned, there isn't much of interest here. I am looking forward to visiting a couple of the main tourist attractions (Disney and Universal) later in the trip since I've heard so much about them but never visited them.

I'll take the Cheapmos(t) shuttle service from the airport to the hotel. Cheapmos(t) doesn't provide a meet-and-greet transfer, but a voucher I take to the airport shuttle service to hop a multi-stop shuttle to the hotel. There was the usual long wait for "my" shuttle (correct route) but then everything went smoothly.

Enjoy time at leisure (boredom) to relax or to do some independent exploring of the hotel. There isn't time for much else if I don't get to the hotel until 3:30 or so. The Tour Director (Georgina Tonner) is on hand this afternoon to round up the herd of 50 cattle, and answer any questions. There was no Welcome Deception or dis-Orientation meeting. I did make us of the hotel "Attractions" staff and went ahead and booked my Orlando excursions for when we get back: 2 days at the Disney parks (EPCOT and ??) and one day at the Universal Islands of Adventure. There is a free shuttle service to Universal, and a not-too-expensive shuttle to the Disney locations with good departure and return times.

As expected with Cheapmos(t), there are almost no meals included, and only three breakfasts: B, CB, CB, (i.e.: CB, snacks, snacks) but being in the US, that's not a huge problem. I do wish that they included all the breakfasts, however. Usually there will be some fast-food places around and I can take some breakfast stuff along. There is a McBarf Burger place and a BurgerPeasant across the street, a nice "Perkins" 24-hour restaurant there also, and a "Golden Corral" almost next door to the hotel. These will be very "handy" during my extra days in Orlando at the end of the trip. The hotel does have a wireless network, but my room is apparently too far away from the server to access it. Hotel: Wyndham Orlando Resort subsequently renamed (by me) as Motel 6 . (F MF/ST??)


Day 2, Friday, May 25: Orlando - St. Augustine - Cocoa Beach
This morning, we leave at 8 and head north to picturesque St. Augustine, the oldest European city in the United States, founded by Juan Ponce de Leon while he was on his search for the legendary "Fountain of Youth." The visit is only about 4 hours We visit the OLDEST HOUSE in the U.S. and the 17th-century CASTILLO DE SAN MARCOS NATIONAL MONUMENT, the oldest masonry fort in the country. I'll also take the optional Trolley Tour of St. Augustine which is about an hour non-stop. Then spend the rest of our time for lunch and wandering up and down the pedestrian street, St. George which I renamed St. Pillage and Plunder (the tourists) Street.

This is interesting so far today, but then about 2:30 we head back south arriving in Cocoa Beach a little after 5. We can end the day with a walk on sandy Cocoa Beach and get all kinds of grit in my shoes (grumble) to have to clean out. Of course, no meals were included today so I settled for a deli sandwich from the grocery store across from the hotel. At least the hotel is much nicer than the basic facilities of the Wyndham in Orlando.. We also have to sign up for, and pay for, all our optional excursions. Hotel: Best Western Ocean Beach Hotel & Suites (MF)

OPTIONAL: Old Town Trolley Tour Of St Augustine. Sit back and let an expert guide share with you the history, attractions, and sights of America's oldest city. On and off boarding at 20 stops. $23 Yes

About 10:45 tonight, I received a phone call (supposedly) from the Hotel main desk saying that their computer had crashed and that they had to re-enter all the guest information manually. They started asking questions but it sounded "phishy" to me so I referred them to Georgina. They never called her but did call some others on the trip. It was of course, a complete scam.

Day 3, Saturday, May 26: Cocoa Beach - Cape Canaveral (Bad Day at Black Rock) - Ft Lauderdale
Wow, a real breakfast is included this morning! Cape Canaveral and its KENNEDY SPACE CENTER is the only place in the world where one can experience an unforgettable and inspirational journey through space and time. Its one of the highlights of the trip for me; I've wanted to see this for many years.

Unfortunately my visit got restricted fairly quickly (make that totally wiped out) when I tripped over a concrete planter box. I spent the next 1 - 2 hours in the first aid center, then just sat around for the rest of the time here. The fall also broke my camera and my glasses (but at least I have a backup for them) .At least I did salvage the battery and SD card which I can use in my other good camera. Destroying the camera also means no pictures from the trip except for about a dozen from St. Augustine unless I buy a cheap point-and-shoot one.

I never got to see the Saturn V, the VAB, or anything out in the actual launch area - that is about a 2 1/2 hour bus ride at least. So much for getting to see anything of the main sights (number 1 priority) I wanted to see on the trip. Sad.

After my very disappointing visit, we headed south to Fort Lauderdale, arriving about 7:30 and where we stay for the next two nights. (B) Hotel: $heraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (F) - 2 nights

Day 4, Sunday, May 27: Ft Lauderdale - Miami Beach Excursion
This morning, we leave about 9:30 on our included blah/ho-hum/can-I-skip-it excursion to Miami Beach to drive along Ocean Drive with its colorful art deco buildings - Oops, Ocean Drive is closed due to Memorial Day activities. We next stop at Miami's lively (?) Bayside Market. It is a semi enclosed, semi open air shopping mall right on the harbor/bay front. I'm taking the excursion just to have something to do today rathern than just sit around the hotel. At least, other than a miserable sandwich for lunch, I managed to find a not-too-expensive small camera to use in place of the one I smashed yesterday. It was 45% off which means it was only slightly overpriced instead of really a rip off. (The price sticker says $200; "on sale" for $110 but I could have gotten it on Flea-Bay for $70.)

Afterward, return to Fort Lauderdale by about 3:30. We had some scattered rain along the way but no other rain except scattered short showers. It's just been very hot (above average) and humid. Since the rest of the day is at leisure (boredom), take a nap - or maybe do some laundry. I've been in Ft. Lauderdale before on the HAL Caribbean cruise and taken the local tour, so there's nothing more to see here.

I went across to Days Inn for supper - got wet. Why Days Inn? Because at the $S$S$S$heraton, 2 fancy tacos cost $20 PLUS 7% sales tax PLUS 18.5% service charge (tip) which totals over $25 for two tacos.

We had heavier rain late this afternoon and evening. I hope this doesn't mean a major change in weather. In fact, at one time, with lots of dark clouds, thunder and lightning, everyone had to flee the beaches. It seems that Florida is the lightning capital of the US and it gets quite dangerous.

Day 5, Monday, May 28: Ft Lauderdale - Key Largo - Key West, Conch Republic
MEMORIAL DAY TODAY; I wonder if we will see any special Memorial Day events. No - just more traffic.

By one method of evaluation, we are no longer in the United States, but in the Conch Republic. Back when there was lots of concern about the Cuban refugees (Castro's undesirables), the Customs & Immigration Department set up a major road-block at the north end of the Keys determined to check out every vehicle and person going through the check point, either north or south. This of course cut down drastically on tourism and commerce in and out of the Keys. So the officials in Key West and other towns tried to get Customs & Immigration to shut down the check-point. No luck. So they wrote up official documents which they delivered to Washington saying that they Seceded from the Union. If the US was going to treat travelers as if they were going/coming to/from a foreign country, then that's what they were going to be. Shortly thereafter, C&I shut down the check-point. Since the papers have never been officially responded to, by some evaluation, the Conch Republic is still independent from the US. Their motto is "We Seceded and Succeeded."

The coach drops us off in town, goes to the hotel to drop off our luggage, and returns for us at 3PM. There is just enough time for one non-stop round trip on the Trolley to get oriented to the island. Hopefully no hurricanes are forecast for the next couple of days. Dinner is at Denny's (onsite) tonight - and probably tomorrow night. I renamed the hotel due to the awful beds. Hotel: Dis-Comfort Inn (MF) - 2 nights

OPTIONAL: Old Town Trolley Tour Of Key West. Sit back and relax on an open-air trolley and view some of Key West's most famous sights including Ernest Hemingway's home; Fort Zachary; the Audubon House; and the southernmost point of the United States, situated less than 90-miles north of Cuba. Local Guides will combine colorful anecdotes with well-researched historical information. This is a two-day ticket so I can use it both today and tomorrow. $29 Yes

OPTIONAL: Schooner Appledore Sunset Booze-Cruise Sail. Sail on the 85 ft. classic wood schooner, Appledore. Savor the warm breezes and a spectacular Key West Sunset while enjoying complimentary unlimited Premium beer, wine, Champagne, and cheese platter. $52 No thanks.

Day 6, Tuesday, May 29: Key West
After switching beds from a rock-hard, non-adjusting "Sleep Number" bed to one that almost worked, somewhat, I still had a fairly awful night sleep (?) and wake up with a real back-ache. This morning it's a Continental, i.e. Snack, breakfast and again tomorrow, though since this is at a Dis-Comfort Inn, it is almost decent, just very limited. We go in by coach at 9AM, spend however long we want to, then either mid-afternoon or later, take the trolley back to close to the hotel (100 yards from the stop), or catch the coach on one of its periodic trips. We can take the trolley (unlimited off and on privileges) tour any time during that period.

On this morning's sightseeing tour, thanks to yesterday's quick tour, I know what I want to do today - see Truman's Little White House (just another house), Ernest Hemingway's home (can't see anything but the brick wall); Fort Zachary (ok); Southernmost Point (only for the contiguous 48 states), situated less that 90 miles north of Cuba; the Key West Butterfly and Nature Center (ours in Galveston is better), and the Audubon House & Gardens (less than expected). My back gave out and I had to come back to the hotel just a bit earlier than I had planned.

Mel Fisher's Treasures Museum is also intriguing but most of the "souvenirs" were way, way too expensive for my budget. However I did buy (the cheapest) one of the Atocha coins - real, not a reproduction. This day turned out far more interesting than I expected. I definitely had to also sample the delicious chocolate dipped frozen key-lime pie (wonderful but oh those calories) for which Key West is infamous, but I skipped the Cuban food.

Note: Both yesterday and today, chickens and roosters (particularly roosters) are to be seen everywhere. It seems that back in the earlier days, the Cuban workers, mostly in the cigar trade, would bring lots of roosters from home (Cuba) for Cock-fighting. After it was finally "outlawed" the chickens and roosters were released - it was easier to do that than continue feeding them. Now that the "Keys" are a natural wildlife sanctuary, it's illegal to kill any wildlife and since the chickens / roosters are running wild, they are considered "wildlife" and they cannot be trapped / eaten / killed / whatever. So they are "everywhere." The chickens (hens) aren't so bad, but the roosters can't tell time and crow all day and night. The locals "hate" them.

No, I'm not taking one of the Booze Cruises. I'm going back to Denny's (very convenient and not too expensive) tonight for dinner. McBarf Burger is only a block away but I'll stick with the on-site Denny's. In fact, we have more afternoon and evening showers which will probably "mess things up" for our Booze-happy sailors. (CB)

OPTIONAL: Champagne Sunset Booze-Cruise Sail. Just as famous as the Coral Reef is Key West's sunset. This two hour catamaran sail will delight those who have come to watch the sun sinking into the Gulf of Mexico. Enjoy all the complimentary beer, wine, champagne you can drink. $42 no thanks.

Day 7, Wednesday, May 30: Key West, Conch Republic - return to the US - Everglades - Naples
It's still raining heavily northwest of Orlando - at least that's what shows on the 'net weather maps and there is a 30% chance for where we are going. But at least we're finally escaping that hotel with those (censored) horrible, "Sleep-Number" beds.They are awful!!!

After another "continental (almost) breakfast" which is included again today (our last included "breakfast"), we leave at 9 and head back to the mainland.

After a couple of rest-stops we arrive about 1:30 at to the subtropical wilderness of the NEVERGLADES for our 'Glades ride. The company Cheapmos(t) uses is on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation and is owned by Chief Buffalo Tiger, the last true Chief of the tribe. He's 93 and when he's "gone" there won't be an actual traditional Chief of the tribe.

There we board our AIRBOAT for a "thrilling" (that's what the propaganda says) sightseeing ride through the extensive swamplands. The ride was supposedly going to be about 60 minutes but actually was only about 30 which was the first 2 minutes repeated 14 more times. Sleepy alligators swimming out to the boats for a handout are a common sight. This was supposed to be another highlight (well at least I've seen it now), another place I've had on my "to see" list for a while. We get to the hotel about 5:30 and spend overnight in Naples. It's been interesting but not as great as I had hoped. (CB) Hotel: Courtyard by Marriott Naples (F)

Day 8, Thursday, May 31: Naples - St. Pete Beach
Today is a "short day." We leave about the hotel about 8 and get to our next hotel about 3:30PM. During that time we do the usually driving and "all" our local sightseeing including a visit to famous inventor THOMAS EDISON'S WINTER HOME & LABORATORY which should be quite interesting. Step through the always-open "Friendship Gate" to visit HENRY FORD'S WINTER HOME. Don't miss the enormous banyan tree in the garden. The houses were nice to see but we spent so much time there that there wasn't nearly enough time to really see much of anything in the Museum. Grumble, grumble, growl and gritch!!!!

After that we stop in St. Petersburg for lunch at "The Pier." They have some decent "fast food" but the only thing to see here is the "Peccalins" as someone called them. Then it's just a short drive across the bridge to St. Pete Beach.

There's not anything to look forward to tomorrow except that optional Busch Gardens excursion. However it's a "Kid's" theme park and my back still hurts from those **** beds in our Key West hotel so I may have to "pass" and just "stay in" and try to recover. Dinner tonight is at IHOP. Hotel: Sirata Beach Resort (F) - 2 nights

Day 9, Friday, June 1: St. Boredom Beach & Storm
Early this morning a storm blew into town with heavy rain, and very strong winds. The winds were blowing things (equipment, odds and ends) around the hotel. I even had water come in under the door - not much but enough to get the carpet by the door somewhat soggy. It's going to be a "hibernation" day. No way will I get out in this. Of course it might clear later, but this morning I'm very glad that I'm NOT doing the Busch Gardens option. The people who went on it wish that it had been cancelled. The only good thing is that if we have to have a day rained out, this is the day to have it since nothing special is pre-planned.

This morning we have put on our rain-gear in order to get down to the lobby (outside corridors, not inside) to turn in a bunch of paperwork to Georgina (the usual end of tour stuff). Unless we take an (added) optional tour to Busch Gardens, we have a full day to relax in total boredom at our seaside hotel (I'm NOT a "beach person") in a resort city that offers a fine selection of warm-weather (or rainy weather????) activities - but it's too hot (and wet) for that already.

Wasted Day - unless I take the optional excursion to Busch Gardens theme park! However that idea was deleted due to continuing back problems from both the fall at the Space Center and also those awful beds in Key West. The storm put a definite seal on that as well. Due to the rain, those who chose to take the Busch Gardens option wish that it had been cancelled. So it's just stay around the hotel, mostly inside and hibernate, due to the storm and the heat and humidity. I'm NOT a beach person. Boring! Boring! Boring!

Tonight maybe (not) take an optional booze and dinner cruise (I'll pass).

OPTIONAL: Busch Gardens all-day excursion. Take a full day trip over to Busch Gardens. At least it is something to do rathenr than just sit around the hotel all day But it's a "kid's" park so do I want to do this? For $120? After all, I'll be visiting two (three?) "kids" parks in Orlando.

OPTIONAL: Starlite Princess Booze and Dinner Cruise. Here's your chance to enjoy an elegant night out aboard the Starlite Princess. Treat yourself to a delicious five-course meal and plenty of free booze, and then kick up your heels on the dance floor to the sounds of riverboat music from a live band. Ship and menu are subject to availability. $60 No Thanks.

Day 10, Saturday, June 2: St. Boredom Beach - Orlando
Today is the last day of the basic Cheapmos(t) Florida trip and several people are staying on in St. Boredom Beach. But the Cheapmos(t) extended version I signed up for continues for two more nights in Orlando. This morning those who aren't staying over here head back to Orlando leaving the hotel about 11. So finally after about 44 hours of "nothing," we manage to "escape" our "incarceration" at St. Boredom Beach.

When we get to Orlando airport, some of the "Cattle" are "sold at auction" to the airlines, but those of us who signed up for the extended version return and check into our (same) hotel, the Wyndham Orlando Resort Motel 6 about 2PM, for the next two make that four nights. I had also signed up for two more extra days giving me 3 full days to spend all my money at the theme parks - if I have any left but at least the tickets are already "paid for."

More bad weather today but it's clearing and tomorrow is supposed to be dry so I'll shuffle my schedule around some. For now, it's back to Motel 6 , the worst (except for those Key West beds) hotel on the tour and I'm stuck here for four more nights!!!! Also, as before, the **** lousy so-called "Free Wi-Fi" doesn't work. Crummy (and other censored words) hotel. Even more bad words!!!

Here's what I have to look forward to seeing: Universal Orlando: Islands of Adventure with Harry Potter; Disney World: Magic Kingdom; and EPCOT

Day 11, Sunday, June 3: Orlando - Universal "Islands of Adventure"
After those 44 hours of boredom in St Pete, then another 2 hours of travel and 21 more of boredom in Orlando, I finally have a chance to do/see something. (3PM Thursday to 10AM Sunday is 67 hours.)

With so many attractions to choose from, our local host (Brian) at the hotel helps with shuttle reservations. As noted earlier, I went ahead and booked three days of excursions. Since I like the "Harry Potter" series, I'll spend today at the Universal Studios "Islands of Adventure."

I was going to take the 8AM shuttle (free) for the 5-minute ride to the Universal Studios Park, but was told that the Park doesn't open until 9:30. So rather than stand around for over an hour waiting for the park to open, I'll wait for the 10:30 shuttle which will still give more than enough time since the earliest return isn't until 6:15. I'm glad I went with the later shuttle - there was indeed plenty of time, plus the weather was bright sun and very hot. The park itself was about as I expected - very nice for a one-time-only visit but still, somewhat disappointing. Some of the Harry Potter area shops were either closed or had VERY long (too long for me) lines to get in. Still, it was a decent visit today. I'm glad I came..

Day 12, Monday, June 4: Orlando - "EPCOT"
The extended Cheapmos(t) trip ends today with guests departing on individual schedules. However I'll be here for a couple of extra nights, which gives me time to start my two Disney visits - starting with EPCOT. Judging from yesterday's timing, and the fact that the park doesn't open until 9, I'll again take the 10:25 shuttle ($15) rather than the 8AM for the 20-minute ride, and the shuttle doesn't return (leave the park) until 5:25. That gave me plenty (way more than enough) of time (about 6 hours). There will still be full sunlight to go across the street for dinner.

The best attraction in the park is "Spaceship Earth" which is presented in that large geodesic ball - the park icon. Its excellent, but the lines to get in were VERY long. For me, second best were the several nations, each with large pavilions and several other buildings in the "World Showcase" section. The exhibit pavilions themselves were usually quite interesting and even the associated shops often had some nice items for sale. That much was quite good, but the rest of the park seemed much more "kids" oriented and was disappointing.

When I get back to the "hotel," it seems that Motel 5 (I just demoted them even more) had fouled up my reservation for those extra two days (beyond the extended trip) and I had to go back to the office - a long walk since there are about 20 buildings in the complex - and re-register. They didn't even manage to link the reservations even though Cheapmos(t) made both of them, and both at the same time.

I had again considered the optional Space Center / Airboat Safari visit for today in order to ffinally see the Space Center, but the visit would be much shorter than our earlier one, and the Airboat Safari would be mostly a repeat of earlier activities on the trip and definitely not worth repeating - so it isn't worth it to give up on a Disney ticket that's already paid for, and spend lots more money for such a short visit to the Space Center - even though it was the #1 priority, almost the only priority, of the trip..

OPTIONAL: Space Center & Airboat Safari Your chance to explore space travel and experience history in the making! Includes round-trip transportation, guided tour through the Kennedy Space Center complex, a MAXIMUM ACCESS BADGE and a visit to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. All this plus a forty minute airboat safari ride. $125

Day 13, Tuesday, June 5: Orlando - 2nd Disney Park - "The Magic Kingdom"
This is the second of 2 extra days in Orlando to visit various entertainment sites. Today will be the second Disney Park, "The Magic Kingdom." I chose the 10:25 shuttle ($15) which returns at 5:15. Since this is definitely the most "kids" oriented of the various Disney parks, that is definitely more than enough time. There is quite a bit of cloud cover early today, but it's still hot and miserable. However in the afternoon it turns stormy with heavy rain, thunder and lightning but clears up after an hour or so. Not a great day. Maybe it's the fact that today is the 13th day of the trip. Triskaidekaphobia??

About the only reason I came today is to be able to say that I had (finally) actually made it to one of world-infamous "Mickey Mouse" parks. Otherwise it was pretty much of a wasted day for me. The only unexpected bad thing - I forgot to take my camera so now I can't actually "prove" that I made it there. It would probably have been a much better day if I had gone to one of the other parks - or just gone on home. As on the other two days, there is plenty of daylight left to go across the street for dinner. This evening I went "next door" to the Golden Corral for their "Senior Buffet." The food was decent but not great.

Day 14, Wednesday, June 6: Orlando - Escape
It turns out that my transfer to the Orlando International Airport IS provided by Cheapmos(t) which saves me about $19. I have to be in the hotel lobby at 8:15 for the noon departure. That leaves time for breakfast - on my own; it's not one provided by Cheapmos(t). Due to Motel 5's non-Wi-non-Fi, I can't even check in early for my flight and have to go through the long lines at the airport. The flight runs about 30 minutes late due to rainy weather on the east coast.

United UA 1552Orlando - Houston12:18P - 1:48P2:30

Home by 4PM. Due to that fall at the Space Center, this hasn't been one of my better trips.

Trips summary highlights and LOWlights.
St Augustine: nice but the trolley ride went too fast and we didn't see that much.
Space Center: Number one (almost only) priority went totally down the drain.
Miami Beach: Ho-Hum.
Keys drive: ok but didn't have the impact I had expected.
Key West: Excellent days - except for that hotel and its (many words censored) beds.
Neverglades: Two minutes was enough. Nothing special.
St. Boredom Beach: the name says it. Totally wasted day(s).
Edison / Ford estates: Nice but no where near enough time in the museum area.
Orlando - Wyndham Hotel: Motel 6 or maybe just Motel 5.
Orlando - Islands of Adventure: quite good but could have been better.
Orlando - EPCOT: nice, about as expected. No disappointments.
Orlando - Magic Kingdom: or maybe I should have just gone on home.

Selected pictures
Click to enlarge

St Augustine
Keys & Key West
Neverglades
Edison / Ford Houses
Islands of Adventure
Hogwarts
EPCOT
EPCOT


Hotels - look to be better quality ones(except for two which turn out very poorly - and it means that 7 of the 13 nights are in much less than desirable hotels)::
Day 1: Orlando - Wyndham Orlando Resort aka Motel 6 (F MF/ST??)
Day 2 Cocoa Beach - Best Western Ocean Beach Hotel (MF)
Day 3-4: Ft Lauderdale - $heraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel (F)
Day 5-6: Key West - Dis-Comfort Inn (MF)
Day 7: Naples - Courtyard by Marriott Naples (F)
Day 8-9: St. Pete - Sirata Beach Resort (F)
Day 10-13: Orlando - Motel 6 (F MF/ST??)