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Countdown to Lift-off and Visitors from Another Planet

semi-overcast 32 °C
View Round the World Baby! on Dodgey's travel map.

Our last couple of days in the Keys were spent relaxing (you may be surprised to hear). We had a little explore around the area, going North for half an hour to find somewhere to have a go on a Jetski. We found this place ....


Not bad hey!?! - anyhow - after our briefing about where to go and where not to go, we had a blast on a Jetski. The water is only a few feet deep in most places - it's a "Keys thing" - so it can be a little nerve racking doing 50kph over sand bars and the likes. Superb fun, and Kirst spent most of the time terrified and letting out yelps of terror.

After that we went off searching for a proper beach, and found one...


Other than that, it was chillin' time. I eventually worked out how to overcome the lack of shade problem on our sea deck. I up-ended two sun loungers, then attached one of our bed covers.

Job Done!!

Phew - I could play poker during the day too :-) - talking of which, once we left the Keys we headed back up to Fort Lauderdale. My poker friend there had received our passports and a watch I bought mail-order so we dopped in for a BBQ lunch and a swim.


Having a watch is cool - we started to notice not having one was becoming a major pain. It's no fun having to fish your camera out and go through all the menus to find out the time frequently. I got one for half price on the Internet - it has no batteries - it's solar, and it receives the time via radio from 5 atomic clocks around the world - so you never have to set it and it's never wrong. Waterproof too. All for £40. Bargain.

Moving on from lunch we set off on the remainder of our journey to Orlando, to the villa we have rented. It's in a lovely spot, right on the edge of a golf course. As we are discovering, everyone lives on a golf course here.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention... on the way to the villa we picked up..... Mum & Dad! :-)

They had a good flight with no problems, except being sent the entire length of the airport by a member of staff, to the wrong car park to meet us. Got there in the end.

So all tucked into our new villa....


.....we got stuck into what Orlando has to offer - starting with "GatorLand". I don't think I have to explain much about it really, only to say, well, it's a little lame. Sure it was cool seeing some aligators, but to be honest, once you've seen one, you've seen them all.

(Nice snap hey? - I know, I know)

Finished with Gatorland we went in search of some decent food. Problem is, in Orlando, the food joints are pretty much all fast food / burger houses. It's bloody tricky to find anywhere nice to eat. We were not giving up though - we read about a place near by called "Celebration" - "lovely restaurants by a lake" etc etc. so off we went.

The best way to describe Celebration is, well, have you seen the "Truman Show" film? - it is most exactly like being on set. We plumped for lunch at an Italian by the lake. The service was hillarious. Our waiter was 100% drunk or on drugs. He'd take an order from one of us, then literally 5 seconds later, ask what we'd chosen. At one stage he delivered two of the ravioli dishes and told us they were Calzones. wtf!?! How can you serve food from a 10 item menu and not see the difference between a calzone and a plate of ravioli? He got worse and worse. Don't know what dad tipped him but I hope it wasn't much.

After lunch we took a stroll around the lake.


There was one spot where water jets out of the pavement at random intervals, you know, like the kids like to run through at theme parks. Kirstin and Mum plucked up the courage and ran through, fully clothed, handbags and all, and got away with it. Dad, was WAY cooler. He walked though, taking his time. How we prayed the water jets fired up, but alas, he got away with it :-) The onlookers seemed most impressed!

I got a frickin' ticket there too! - and the offence? Parking with my left wheels by the pavement. That's right, it's an offence in Celebration to park on the "other" side of the road facing oncoming traffic. I assume it doesn't look "tidy" enough. Sigh.

The next day we went to the Kennedy Space Center. No, not Cape Canaveral, the Cape is there, it's stuck on the end , but it's an army base. They used to test military rockets there, but all the space rockets are launched from Kennedy, next door. There you go - a new interesting fact learnt, though try convincing the press that the shuttle luanches not from Cape Canaveral but the Kennedy Space Center......


First on the agenda was the coach tour. You get shuttled round the site and get off here and there to gawp at stuff. Our timing was superb, as there was/is a shuttle currently on the launchpad. Launchpads without spaceships are pretty dull.


You can't see the shuttle itself, only the fuel tank and boosters as it is rotated 180 degrees until launch day - to protect it. Still a mighty impressive sight.

(On the left are the gravel tracks for the giant crawler that transports the Shuttle to and from the Vehicle Assembly Building - there are not two gravel roads, just one, per se. The machine straddles the grass and puts a track on each one)

Which brings us onto the VAB....


This is the building they assemble the shuttle in, the doors to the left slide all the way up to let it out. Well, only a little way up, the shuttle is actually a tiddler compared to regular type rockets, which interestingly, they are switching back to as the shuttle has proven too dangerous and costly.

(This posing might take off...)

The whole tour was fascinating. We saw the clean room where they prep and load satellites, various launch pads, and loads of wildlife. The whole island is a nature reserve, and teeming with aligators, and a handful of bald eagles.

We also walked under the Saturn V rocket. It's bloody huge!!!


(The engines shot from below - amazing they work - looks like a mess to me!)

(We're off to Button Moon, .....)

We grabbed lunch midway, happening accross the viewing seats for astronaught's wives during launch. Mum and K , somewhat disprespectfully played the parts of mourning widows....


No Oscars there then.... mind you, Dad fared little better....

(note the authentic-from-the-shop NASA hat)

The Jetsons

You could get inside a lunar module mockup, whcih was fun in itself...


But far more fun watching K and Mum trying to get out. Mum kicked K in the teeth.


Another highlight was going into the original misison control room, which is still all 100% in tact, and then they do a full "re-inactment" of a launch. All the screens firing up, all the computers doing their things, and the whole room vibrating to the deafening noise of the launch. Much like standing at the back and watching it all happen as if you were there, in the past.

The rest of the day was no less fun. We went in the shuttle launch simulator. A standard affair simulator that moves about etc, but they put a huge amount of effort into the build up and presentation. The sim is fun too, it shakes the hell out of you, and the seats deform to emulate G-forces. They say the real astronaughts rate it as very close to the real thing. We were not quite so convinced.

Even more mind blowing was a 45 minute iMax 3-D film all about the shuttle launches and the building of the International Space Station. the screen was HUGE, the sound HUGE and the 3D "real". I can tell you, there is no way you could watch the launch of a space shuttle any closer. It is shot right by the engines with remote cameras. Forget anything you have seen on TV - this was amazing. To top it off, you got a pilot's view (in 3D remember) of the launch , sat in the cockpit. I've seen good films and simulations before, but there is no way you could get any closer to the real thing other than doing it. Truly fantastic and not to be missed.

It carried on in the same awesome vein, with the rest of the film spent in and outside of the space station. I now have as close to I'll ever have, the experience of looking down from a space station to Earth. Trippy man :-)

An amazing day out. We all loved it, and it will really add to the experience when we watch the launch this Saturday.

The following day, K and I went to Seaworld (Mum & Dad have been before). I had some reservations about Seaworld - I mean, anyone that knows me well is aware I'm not really "nature's child". I don't collect whale music and rub charm beads, I've never knit my own yoghurt.. you get the picture - I like action.

We headed straight for the main attraction - the Whale show (He's called Shamu apparently, but with 3 Seaworlds I guess they are all called Shamu) and grabbed prime seats.

I have to be honest, that one show is worth the $65 alone. We were gobsmaked. The whales behave like people. The play up to the crowds, launch the actors in the air, come up for stroking, jump out of the water onto dry land. Incredible! A cheesy, to be fair, but amazing show. You really don't get it until you are there. Telly does it no justice.



(Shamu! - and yes, he gets out of the water)

We had a butchers round the aquarium - pretty satndard fare afer the one in Bangkok, though the weird sea-horses were great...


..and we had a look at some native Manitee's - very odd things....


.. and then we sat down to watch the dolphin show, and the inevitable happened, the thing Florida weather is famed for - RAIN! - lots of rain, so much that the pavements were ankle deep rivers. We sat with everyone else, cowering from the downpour and lightening until we got bored, and ran to the shelter of the nearest gift shop.

Fortunately, a very kind member of staff gave us two huge plastic shopping bags which we adapted to become rain coats :-)


They worked a treat and we fled the park before eveyone else would surely do soon after.

Another great day out.

We have tickets to go to Busch Gardens next - a top park with 6 huge coasters and lots of wildlife. We are holding off until Tuesday though - it's Memorial weekend here so all of America is on vacation and none of us are up for queuing for rides with millions of screaming kids and rednecks (the theme parks attract all the rednecks and fatties - don't know why, but they do)

T-Minus 1 week and counting.... :)

Oh - p.s. I entered a free game and have won a seat in the grand final for a World Series of Poker Main Event - a seat worth $215. If I win, I get a $12,000 seat in a game where I go to Vegas and play against about 7000 others for a 1st prize of about $14,000,000 - tall odds and to be honest, if I win a seat I'll take the $12k :-)

Update: Played the game last night. 5 hours. Was chip leader for some time. 3 seats to Vegas ($12k each) up for grabs. I came 5th :-( - one hand I lost that did it. Had I won that hand I'd be $12k better off and in Vegas playing the main event. Ahh well. PLayed a good game.

Posted by Dodgey 14:59 Archived in USA

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