May 25, 2012

Dolphins Bumping My Junk

Whittled down the summer vacation wish list to three:

  • Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
  • A driving trip west through the Badlands, Mt. Rushmore and Yellowstone
  • Someplace in Florida

Myrtle Beach was the top pick.  I wanted Pigtails to relive my favorite childhood family trip.  Some quick Google searches showed flights to SC are close to $600 per butt.  Forget that, we'd have to drive it or bust.  The idea of burning four days of vacation for travel wasn't appealing, so I looked at Yellowstone.  

A Yellowstone road trip would consist of my kid ragging me for 2,500 miles about snacks and pee breaks and 50 are we there yets.  Plus driving that far isn't relaxing, so I looked at Florida flights.  Curls suggested Allegiant Air.  I carefully bit together my teeth in prep' to grind 'em at ungodly prices, when Google came back with $230 a seat round-trip.  We have a winner!

You blue hairs that live in Florida and Mickey Mouse SMEs, I'd like your help nailing down the plan. 

Which 3 would you pick: 

     - Magic Kingdom
     - Epcot Center (Pigtails will be 10, too young to appreciate the 'cot?)
     - Animal Kingdom
     - Disney Hollywood Studios
     - Sea World
     - Universal Studios

Discovery Cove is expensive but looks fun.  Who's been there, was it worth the coin and did the dolphins poop on you?  My last experience with a "dolphin encounter" in the Bahamas was 500 pounds of gray blubber randomly bumping my junk.  Then me handing over a hundred bucks.  The end.   

We'd like to spend 4 days on the sand, 2 days on 2 different beaches.  Should we park it on the Gulf side or the Atlantic?  Initial leaning is the Gulf, maybe Fort De Soto or Siesta Key.  

We'll build in a free day to relax and shop.  Any recommendations for local-owned restaurants and shopping joints in the Orlando, Tampa or Sarasota areas?

What else you got?

-Beard

81 comments:

  1. Well, I'm not a blue hair, but I've lived in Central FL my whole life (30 years.)
    Absolutely go:
    -Magic Kingdom
    -Universal
    -Sea World-(wear your bathing suit)

    I wouldn't do Discovery Cove.

    GULF SIDE!!!!

    I'm personally not a fan of Fort De Soto.

    Clearwater/ Bradenton/ Anna Maria Island/ Holmes Beach are worth checking out.

    My favorite beach is St. Pete Beach. It has a lot of fun Mom & Pop restaurants, but they can be pricey. Depending on where you decide to stay I can give more info on restaurants and beachy shops.

    Malls:
    Bradenton/ Anna Maria Island-There is an outlet mall 20-30 minutes away.
    Tampa-Westshore Mall & International Mall (VERY nice.)
    Orlando- Mall at Millennia, VERY nice. (right next to IKEA), Florida Mall and Premium Outlet Mall (outdoor mall.)

    Things to consider:
    I would check out St. Augustine & see if it's anything Pigtails would enjoy. It's on the Atlantic side. I LOVE St. Aug. Lots of history. It's got a little bit of everything. It's easy to walk, lots of shops & eating establishments (Flavors-best salsa of my life), beach within driving distance, lighthouse, bus tour, Flagler college (it's gorgeous!) The Fort is only about $8 & a must see, if you go.

    Tampa:
    BUSCH GARDENS!!! So much fun. Rollercoasters, zoo, a couple of water rides and shows. Not NEARLY $$$ as Disney. Sometimes they have a deal where you can get into Busch Gardens and Sea World OR Islands of Adventure.

    Islands of Adventure water park (Next to Busch Gardens.)

    MOSI- Museum of Science & Industry

    Good Luck & remember LOTS of sunscreen!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent info, thanks Emily! You provided a more useful summary than what I've gotten online with the research I started.

      St. Pete's is on my beach list, and supposedly Siesta Key was ranked top sand in the nation, whatever that means. I give great preference to lower crowds, but that may not be possible when traveling to the Sunshine State in August.

      Agree on St. Augustine on the Atlantic side, they have one of the oldest Catholic Churches in America and a lot to explore by foot.

      My family did Busch Gardens when we drove 24 hours to Florida growing up. I vaguely remember it, I'll give it a second look since you recommended it.

      This pasty boy's gonna get fried.

      I appreciate your help, may ping you for some other questions I have, thanks!

      Delete
    2. Sure thing! :)

      Delete
  2. I went to Disney World at ages 4, 10, 12, and nearly 14. You definitely have to go to Magic Kingdom (I got to have my 12th birthday lunch inside the castle!) I always enjoyed epcot, especially at night because of the firework show over the water. I only got to visit Animal Kingdom a couple of times, because it is a fairly new park (or it was over a decade ago...). As long as you are in the Disney area, the Marketplace is free to go to and is always a good place to shop and look at awesome LEGOs and eat!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What did you think about Animal Kingdom? It's probably near the bottom of my list right now, mostly because I don't know much about it. Epcot was my favorite park when our family went when I was 12 or 13, will need to think about that to see if it trumps Sea World or Universal.

      Thanks for the note, hope you enjoy your summer!

      Delete
  3. Took my kids to Universal last summer. They were 12 and 8 and they LOVED it. Actually, we all loved Universal and would go back. When we went to Disney the kids were 5 and 8. I'd say Magic Kingdom and Epcot maybe. We didn't walk around all the countries, but they liked the Epcot rides. Universal was by far, much preferred though. :) Have fun.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We did Universal and MGM when I was a kid, but I have a hard time remembering which one was which. I liked one more than the other, I think it was Univ > MGM. The movie rides are fun, and Studios is a park where adults and kids are equally entertained.

      Delete
  4. Great info from Emily! Completely agree on Magic Kingdom thumbs up, as well as Epcot over Animal Kingdom (too hot in the summer with all that vegetation it's steamier than any other park). Can't comment on other parks, just don't know them that well. Awesome planning websites to check out for Disney: allears.net and mousesavers.com. That marketplace Kelly mentions is called Downtown Disney and is (free) entertainment in itself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emily is a Florida info powerhouse, I should pay her to plan the trip for me, I know it'd turn out right.

      I like free, I like entertainment, checking out Downtown Disney now on the pad.

      Thanks for the Disney website tips!

      Delete
  5. Also agree with Emily's recommendations - not a blue hair either but was in Disney last year and also as a child. Universal and Magic Kingdom are absolute musts and for the third I would decide between Animal Kingdom (which I love but is much more expensive than going to a zoo and not the $75 (at least) extra worth it), discovery cove (which I actually like but also really depends on what Pigtails usually likes - from your trips to the water park this may be really fun?), or sea world. Agreed she may be too young for the 'cot (and it was also underwhelming to me last time I was there - even though I'm 28!). When are you planning to go? One big thing for me about going to the gulf over the atlantic side is that the gulf has much much warmer water. I would not really go swimming in the Atlantic (at least not for an extended stay) until later in the summer while the gulf may be warm enough to swim very soon.

    Basically I think your trip sounds amazing and I don't want to question it - but have you considered flying into Miami instead? Probably Pigtails really wants to go to Disney World so if that's the case your trip sounds amazing, but if not - you could do some really nice outdoorsy stuff (canoeing/camping/etc) in the Everglades which in my experience was amazing plus combine it with a few days in the keys (where there is also great camping and beach). Might be more of a low-key and less insane vacation (though if she's going to be sad about not going to Disney, then obviously it's a terrible idea). Just a thought.

    Have a great trip!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emily says no blue hair, you say no blue hair, but by golly, I'm doin' blue hair when we head south.

      Magic Kingdom and Universal are probably locked in, still on the fence on the 3rd park. Leaning towards Sea World, I want to watch a whale belly-flop salt water on the masses.

      We'll travel in August, I'll look-up predicted water temps on the Atlantic side to see if that helps us decide. Gulf side is winning so far, although St. Augustine on the East side is in the running.

      Allegiant Air is a no-frills econo company that does 2 direct flights to Florida per week. And only to and from Orlando and Tampa Bay. Miami is out.

      I'm personally not a big fan of Disney and all the commercial crap. If it were just me, I'd ditch the ears and only do beaches, camping, Everglades, anything nature and away from people. The trip will be a good compromise between crowded Disney parks for the kid and breezy beaches for the adults.

      "Insane vacation", I like it and should print up t-shirts with the motto.

      Thanks vron!

      Delete
  6. My sister lives down in Orlando and my absolute favorite place to visit when I'm down there is a charming little town called Mt Dora. It's about 45 minutes north of the city and has adorable mom/pop shops, which seem to be a rarity in FL. You can also take a boat tour of Lake Dora from the small dock, I've never done it but think it would be a nice break from walking around town in the Auguat heat!

    Something else that might be a break from the Disney crowd is taking an airboat ride through the lakes and swamps that are south of Orlando. I did this a few years ago and it was alot more fun then I thought it would be. I think the place I went was called Wild Willies - we saw a ton of alligators and all kinds of birds. Speeding on an airboat and getting splashed would also feel refreshing in August!

    Hope this helps! Have a blast!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're looking for a fill-day on vaca' to wash laundry, recharge and shop a little. A day-trip to Mr. Dora will work nicely, I'll add it to our list.

      Ripping through swamps on an airboat sounds sweet, and would cool us off after two days forming armpit sweat-rings at a hotter-than-Hades Disney. I'll sneak a couple chicken nuggets in my pocket to feed the alligators from the fanboat, that'll keep things interesting.

      Delete
  7. No idea on FL suggestions, but have you looked into Priceline? If you were able to find $600 plane tickets you could probably find them for half that with Priceline's bid system. (If you don't care about what hour you travel, airline, etc and are ready to eat the price of your ticket if you end up not traveling) And I swear this is not an ad... I've used them in the past mainly for hotels and I've gotten some great deals.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I Pricelined tix to Myrtle Beach just now, they are $635 a seat. Flights to Orlando through Priceline are $350, but I can get them for $230 booking directly with Allegiant Air. No clue why taking a bird to South Caroline is so expensive, dang. I'll check prices again next year for SC, hopefully they'll tank.

      Delete
  8. I've heard Destin, FL is nice (that's gulf side). Katie from the Bower Power blog just went there and mentioned some good eating places (Stinky's, etc.)

    As a kid we did Disney, MGM, Universal, and Sea World. I did not enjoy Disney world much (but my dad made us do everything and stay on a schedule and march in the heat until we got blisters on our feet, so he could get his money's worth out of the overpriced park:), but the other places were fun, though I lost a pink ice ring in the dolphin tank at Sea World.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great minds, Curls sent me the Bower Power blog link yesterday for the recap on their trip to Destin. Just seeing the pics is getting me pumped, looking forward to escaping cows and drilling toes into white beach.

      Ha, your dad sounds like my dad growing up. Our family of 5 had one of those "park saver" passes, it was stressful. "HURRY IT UP AND SEE IT ALL KIDS, GET YOUR MONEY'S WORTH AND HAVE FUN RIGHT NOW OR ELSE!!" We also had to return to the car to eat sandwiches for lunch in the 102 degree parking lot to save money, "good times".

      Just the thought of the "It's a Small World" ride at Magic kingdom is making me puke a little in my mouth.

      Delete
  9. Anonymous5/26/2012

    Hi Beard:

    I'm a lurker and read your blog all the time. I thought I would comment since I have lived in Central Florida (St. Petersburg) for 30 plus years (no blue hair). There is sooo much to do in Florida. Emily gave you fabulous information and I thought I would provide you with my input too. St. Augustine is a beautiful old city with lots of history. There is a fort there, an old schoolhouse, an old jail and the beach is absolutely gorgeous. I absolutely love St. Augustine. It is one of my fave places. St. Augustine is about 3 hours drive from St. Petersburg. For Pigtails, I recommend Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Universal Studios has two theme parks side by side: Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure and has lots of terrific restaurants (Emmeril, Jimmy Buffet) in the area outside the parks called Citywalk. Ft Desota is a wonderful park, its near St. Petersburg. There is an old fort (duh) and a nice campground. Siesta Key has beautiful beaches and there is a terrifc area called St. Armand's Circle full of shops and little cafes and is really nice. Also, you might want to look into swimming in some of the springs, depending on where you decide to go. You can google it. There are fresh water springs everywhere and are pretty darn cheap and it's a fun day to have a picnic lunch and splash around in the cold water. Some of them also offer tubing down the river which is so wonderful and relaxing...sitting on a tube, looking at the wildlife and floating. It is sooooo hot here in August and the water in the Gulf is like bathwater so the fresh water springs at 72 degrees is more refreshing to me. Hope this helps and if you have other questions, I will be glad to answer if I know or will try to find out. Me and my Pigtails are planning on a trip to Savannah in November. Can't wait. Take Care - Kim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Kim,

      I was curious where folks that live in Florida travel to for vacation. Now I know, Savannah's got it going on (old town, established in the 1730s).

      You're on fire, your beach recommendations are at the top of my list: St. Pete's, St. Augustine, Ft. Desota and Siesta Keys. Your tip about marinating in a fresh spring or tubing a river isn't something I'd considered, but that type of thing is something I'm interested in and is a smart way to cool off after a week of heat. I'll add this to the itinerary, thanks for your help!

      Delete
    2. I agree! ST Augustine is AWESOME too! There is so much to see!

      Delete
  10. Anonymous5/26/2012

    Went to Discovery Cove in January with mom. It was on her bucket list to swim with the dolphins. We both had a great time. Expensive but worth it. Not only do they have the dolphins but a lazy river to snorkel through, a salt water area where you can snorkel with sting rays and all kinds of tropical fish, and an aviary. Food and drinks are all included in the ticket price it was great not to have to whip out the wallet every time you wanted something to eat or drink. Also I've been staying on the Atlantic side since I was a kid in Cocoa Beach Florida. Nice beaches, smaller town a little less busy. And its only about 35mins away from Kennedy Space Centre, which is a great day trip spot. Even though it wasn't on your list I thought I'd suggest it. Fun and educational it doesn't get better than that. Anyways hope this helps with the planning. Erin

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shhh...I'm keeping the trip a surprise for Pigtails for now, when I do let it out, I'm curious what she'll say about whether we should do Discovery Cove. It'd definitely be a splurge, I'm on the fence due to the price and the dolphins bumping my junk.

      We did Kennedy Space when we traveled there as a kid, it was awesome! If we decide to do the Atlantic side vs. Gulf, we'll add the Space Center to our list.

      Thanks!

      Delete
    2. I'm too distracted by your dolphin story to offer any useful advice....except to say "You paid 500 bucks to have your junk bumped? Dude, shop local!..Ha!"

      Delete
    3. I think that "swim with the dolphins" encounter was mis-marketed, felt violated.

      Delete
  11. Anonymous5/27/2012

    Hi Beard; I'm also a lurker but since I live in Ft Myers- I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents.

    If you have the chance- check out some of the older parts of Orlando. The Science Museum and the Menello Museum of American Art are both great and The White Wolf Cafe is great local flavor.
    http://www.whitewolfcafe.com/
    Here is another link to "other Orlando"
    http://www.southernliving.com/travel/south-east/budget-vacation-orlando-00417000069569/
    Finally- if you really do want to venture to something neat and off the beaten path:
    Check out ECHO in our neck of the woods. Its a farm & sustainable agriculture educational center.
    http://www.echonet.org/


    I'm partial to the Gulf side beaches. The water is beautiful and warm right now and Siesta Key is fantastic. Actually the Sarasota and St. Pete area have a ton to offer. There is a world class Dali Museum in St. Pete and the Mote Marine research center & Aquarium near Sarasota is also really neat. It feels more like a science center than a commercial aquarium and you can talk to the researchers as they go about their work. There is also the famous Ringling Circus museum.

    As for the Orlando attractions bit- I have to put a vote in to stay at the Animal Kingdom lodge. It can cost a pretty penny- but it is an incredibly peaceful hotel void of the usual Disney commercialization. Where else can you site out and observe a family of giraffes sleeping peacefully right outside your window in the moonlight? We actually spent sp much time at the hotel that we didn't use up our park tickets- so we'll have to go back. We also love Sea World- you don't wait on lines to see the incredible shows.

    Have a wonderful time! I never thought I'd be living in this state but due to recession related circumstances- here we are and I'm learning to love all of the amazing things that Florida has to offer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd like to do something off the beaten path since we'll have a filler day in there to recover. Looking at the links now that you shared, thank you.

      St. Pete looks top-notch, but I wonder about the crowd factor since everyone else will likely think the same. I'm almost willing to shop a slightly less comely beach if it means half the crowds.

      Hadn't thought about staying at the Animal Kingdom lodge but skipping the park, smart! Sea World is nearly for-sure, we can't miss that one.

      Glad you enjoy living in Florida, I appreciate your help!

      Delete
  12. Anonymous5/28/2012

    Hi Beard, So excited for you and pigtails. We did Discovery Cove with our daughter many years ago. It was definitely an expensive day, but so worth the price. Swimming with dolphins was a dream of our daughters, she loved it. My husband and I did the lower priced option of not swimming with the dolphins to save a few hundred dollars. It actually worked out really well as we were right there to observe her with the dolphins and not distracted with our own experience of swimming with the dolphins. Something to think about. It was so much fun for us to see the excitement and awe on her face. The snorkeling was awesome too. It really is more than just swimming with the dolphins. My parents live in St Augustine so we've done that many times and with all age groups of kids. Everyone loves it every time! There is a swim with dolphins option at Marineland south of St Augstine, which my niece did last year. It's not a full day adventure like Discovery Cove, but another option to research. We've done Magic Kingdom, Universal, MGM, Sea World, Bush Gardens over the years. Sea World is definitely a favorite of ours and we've gone multiple times and always enjoy it. Of course Magic Kingdom is a classic and must see for the Disney experience.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Discovery Cove is getting high marks on the customer review sites like Trip Advisor and the like. The online consensus seems to be expensive but worth it. I'm not sure about this one, we'll wait and see. I don't need to be flipped in the cash and prizes by a dolphin again, so your recommendation to only have the kid swim with the fishes while I watch is likely the route we'd take.

      St. Augustine keeps coming up again and again in the comments from people that live there or travel frequently, so it's moving up to my top-3 beaches. I didn't really plan on swimming in the Ocean on both sides of the coast, but might be worth it to see St. Aug' plus St. Pete.

      Magic Kingdom, Universal and Sea World are the parks I'm eying right now.

      Thank you, and take care!

      Delete
  13. Arlene5/28/2012

    I've lived in Orlando for all of my twenty-something years and I would recommend all of the parks you listed except Epcot and Hollywood Studios. I've been to both in the past 8 months, and there's just not as much to do there as there is at the other parks. Epcot is very cultural but there isn't a lot for kids, Hollywood Studios is just the Disney park with the fewest activities.

    Magic Kingdom is definitely the best for that classic Disney experience! Have fun on your trip!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My parents took us 3 kids to Disney when I was about 13. Epcot was one of my favorites back then, although I think you're right that Pigtails will be too young to appreciate it.

      We'll scratch off Hollywood Studios for sure, thanks for the advice!

      Delete
  14. Anonymous5/28/2012

    Hi Beard,
    I live in Orlando and have a kiddo. I haven't done Discovery Cove, but I have several friends that have done it and LOVED it! Some have even said it was one of the best experiences of their life. My own kiddo isn't old enough to go, but we did do a week of Seaworld Camp last summer and based on the quality of the camp I would expect nothing short of perfection for Discovery Cove.
    I would also recommend a multi day park hopper for Disney. You can go to to all of the parks and switch back and forth between the parks. My son has always LOVED Epcot. He is only 5 and it ranks above Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom for him. I personally love the Magic Kingdom. You can easily spend 2 days in MK alone.
    Finally, I would recommend St. Augustine. We take field trips there with students at the school I teach. Pigtails is at the perfect age to go there and love the history. There are also beautiful beaches and great sightseeing.
    Finally, I would skip Universal. I just went there recently for the day. The lines were long for the rides. This was much to be expected. What I didn't expect was the INSANE line for food. We actually waited in line for a combined total of 2 hours for ordering our food and standing and waiting for it to come to the counter. This was not table side service. I still don't know why we didn't leave other than the thought that perhaps the lines were longer in other places. We had several other similar experiences during the day. At one point we waited in line for 20 minutes to buy a few bottles of water. We actually gave up and left the line after 20 minutes in search of a water fountain. The only saving grace of the day was knowing we were given the tickets for free.
    Finally check out the Living Social deals/Groupon deals for FL prior to going. There might be something you would want to do at a good price. I have seen a deal for swimming with manatees recently among other things.
    Enjoy your trip to FL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Interesting, the first knock I've seen against U. Studios on this thread. Crowds and over-commercialization bug me, two things that I'll have to grit and bear it on the trip. The beach days are interspersed to detox from Mickey and the greasy crowds. I'll follow online updates from visitors to Universal for the weeks leading up to the holiday to see how the crowds are shaking out.

      St. Augustine is getting as many votes as St. Petersburg on the Gulf side, so we may end up driving to both.

      Haven't looked for Groupons or Living Social deals, hadn't thought of that, but will now.

      Thanks anon!

      Delete
  15. 2 years ago we went to both Siesta Key and to Anna Maria Island. Anna Maria Island was far better...better yet, it was gorgeous! Beautiful sands, water and friendly people!

    We met a group that protects the sea turtles. They took the time to tell us about the areas they roped off and explained all of their markings and various things about the turtles and their hatchings (much to my daughter's delight who is now 3). We took an early morning walk on the beach and collected shells and saw manatees and dolphins swimming off the beach.

    We rented a house that had a saline pool and nice sized kitchen for packing lunches and making meals (lots of money saved). I loved it and hope to go back next year. Sadly, this is year is out already because we got roped into going to a family wedding on Clear Water beach at the Grand Plaza Resort! Worst money I have ever spent on a hotel. So if St. Pete/Clear Water ever makes the list stay away from that hotel. Not to mention if you aren't into the overly commercial like vacation you might not like their beaches because it is lined with hotels and the like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We'll probably fly into Orlando, looks like the drive-time to Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island are about the same (2 hours). Since you were at both beaches and give the nod to Anna Maria, I'll put that up there in my top 3 beach list. St. Pete and Clear Water get positive feedback from travelers, but like you mention, I worry about the crowds and dozens of hotels littering the sand there.

      Emily up there in the comments also recommended A.Maria Island, and it sounds like she knows what she's talking about.

      A rental house near the water, collecting shells and watching the manatees and dolphins off the coast are exactly what I want, thanks!

      Delete
  16. Ok, my sister follows your blog (and i will too now that i love it) but she sent this to me bc I live in Orlando and have done it all. haha. Here are my suggestions. Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Sea World. I think Hollywood and Universal Studios will be too old for pig tails. The shows are GREAT, but more for adults. Epcot is where I hang out bc there are not many strollers bumpin me. That's where I go to get away from the crazy sticky fingers... and I enjoy it bc i'm 30. Discovery Cove IS worth the money. My friend is a trainer for them and it's super cool. You hug and kiss the dolphins, you get to command them like the trainers and swim with them. It's not just standing in a pool getting bumped. You actually direct and talk to them and they respond. It's suhweet! For beaches I'd go gulf side even though I personally love the atlantic.... (i surf and there are rarely waves in the gulf). The gulf is super blue and super pretty and soft sand. While your in the disney area eat at the Rainforest Cafe. It's good food and the kids will enjoy the atmosphere. Ok, there's my 2 cents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell your sissy thanks for sending on the post. :-)

      Animal Kingdom is getting a kicking in the comments, so I've moved it down near the bottom. Perhaps we'll stay overnight at an Animal Kingdom hotel to see the wild beasts, for sure will do M. Kingdom and Sea World. Undecided on the 3rd park.

      Since St. Augustine on the East and Anna Maria Island on the West are getting equal votes in the comments, we'll probably bite it and drive to both.

      That's a cool picture of you surfing, looks difficult but I'll sign up for a lesson if we have time. I'll bring a bike helmet.

      Thanks for your 2 cents!

      Delete
    2. Anonymous6/01/2012

      you might also just want to dine at Animal Kingdom. It seems like you guys are game for more exotic tastes (Indian food) So you if don't do an overnight- you could plan to spend an evening eating and wandering the property. I liked the sanaa restaurant the most.

      Delete
  17. Wow - these comments are a wealth of information! I'll be going back through and taking some notes :)

    It's always nice to get information from "locals".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree! I can't believe the amount of info people are sharing/helping, you guys are the best.

      Delete
  18. Hi - I don't have much to add beyond a response to your question about Epcot. I've taken my girls twice (we live in GA, easier than crossing multiple states). First time they were 3 & 5; second time 5 & 7. Would an older child get more out of Epcot? Sure. Can a younger child still get a lot of it and have a blast at the same time? Absolutely.

    I wandered over here from YHL; stayed because your writing style is so entertaining and your perspectives thought-provoking. Thanks for all the entertaining lunchtime reads. I'm sure my neighbors on the cube farm wonder what I'm laughing at sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Epcot is hovering in 4th place right now on the list. If we don't go this time, maybe an excuse to head south again in a few years?

      Thanks for reading B&P, I'm glad traffic on the blog is finally picking up after banging in silence on this thing for a long time.

      Delete
  19. Gulf Side Beach - go to Sand Key (just south of clearwater beach - but fewer crowds by far). Try Frenchy's for the best grouper sandwich and key lime pie you'll ever eat. If you rent a car (and it sounds like you will be) about 40 min north of the clearwater area, you guys can check out the Sponge Docks in Tarpon Springs - an old Greek fishing and sponging area with great food, fun (touristy) shopping and some inexpensive but enjoyable 1-2 hr long "cruises."

    I loved Epcot as a kid so I don't think Pigtails is too young to appreciate it. But, Magic Kingdom, Sea World, and Universal are really must-sees. If ya'll enjoy roller coasters, water rides and animals, check out Busch Gardens in Tampa (there is a great water park called Adventure Island next door if that type of thing floats your boat.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Have you done Sand Key and Anna Maria Island? I'm curious how these two stack up with crowds and surf.

      Googled Frenchy's grouper just now, you're making me drool.

      Busch Gardens looks sweet, I'd be up for that, but Curls maybe not so much.

      Thanks for the info, you're helping me build the plan.

      Delete
    2. Lived in Pinellas County for the first 20 something years of my life - done all the beaches Gulf Side. I'm partial to Clearwater Beach; but, if you want a quieter atmosphere, Sand Key is perfect. Well maintained, easy to access, and beautiful.

      If you decide to hit up the Atlantic Side, try the Canaveral National Seashore. It's a little out of the way (but well worth the drive.)

      Delete
  20. Also - not sure whether they fly in your area - but Southwest always has the best prices on flights to Florida.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Allegiant Air > all other airline rates from this town, at least right now. Roughly $125 per seat each way.

      Delete
  21. Hey Beard, I think I might be the first guy to comment on this. I am a beard as well, but have two pigtails. My wife and I loved the St. Augustine area when we came to Florida. We stayed on Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach. They have state park beaches where you pay to park and there is literally you, the sand and the ocean. We could look left and right and not see a single person. Loved the peacefulness of it. If you have time check out Fernandina Beach or St. Augustine. Beautiful area. Good luck with Disney, I don't like all of the commercialization either. My favorite parks were Islands of Adventure and Busch Gardens. Busch Gardens is neat due to the combo of zoo and theme park. And it also was way less crowded than the major theme parks. I'm jealous of your Florida trip, we are having to save money for remodeling the house. Hopefully we can make a return to Florida next year or so. Enjoy.

    - Josh (fellow Beard reader)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The first dude in the history of the blog reading this thing, welcome!

      St. Augustine is #1 or #2 on the list now after the positive feedback here in the comments. We'll have to do both the Gulf and Atlantic sides to nibble at the best sand. Haven't looked at Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach yet, but will do that since you say they're devoid of humans. I put great priority on getting away from the crowd.

      Thanks for the tips, and Busch Gardens is starting to creep up the park list into the top 3 or 4.

      Delete
  22. Anonymous5/29/2012

    We used to live in Kissimmee and here is what our daughter loved at 10 years of age, EPCOT was and still is her firt choice, then Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios but she didn't like Animal Kingdom. We went to Discovery Cove and, yes, it is expensive but it is so worth it as people have mentioned above. Others have said to skip Universal and they are correct, it's crazy there and the rides are for older kids.

    We no longer live in Florida but when we go we always stay at one of the Disney hotels becaude it makes it so much easier but then again, there are hundreds of hotels that have free shuttle service to Disney, Sea World, basically all of the tourist areas. We also go to Sannibel Island, the water is so blue, the dolphins go by every day at basically the same time, lots of great shells to collect and just a nice place to relax. The Gulf is definitely the way to, the water is so much warmer and calmer than the Atlantic.
    Those are my thoughts, hope they help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha, some responses above suggest age 10 is too young for Epcot, you say otherwise. It probably depends on the kid and what they are interested in. I think Pigtails would enjoy exploring all the different countries, and I'd personally rather do Epcot than Magic Kingdom. But Epcot is having trouble moving beyond the #4 spot on my list right now.

      We did Sanibel Island when I was a teen, so quiet and relaxing. Took a windsurfing lesson and recall the smooth, warm water. Probably too stiff of a drive from Orlando though, eying St. Augustine and Anna Maria Island.

      Looking at budget hotel options on and around Disney property. $85 a night will get you on the grounds, but no free breakfast. Something like a Hampton Inn is also $85 a pop and free breakfast, with free shuttle. Hmm...

      Thanks for the help, Anon!

      Delete
  23. Hi Beard. We have lived in Orlando for 6 years and have been to Sea World 9 times! They have a dolphin feeding/petting area,Shamu and doplhin shows, a dolphin nursery where you can see the babies and the new Turtle Trek exhibit is open. It has a 3DHD movie and two habitats. We also loved Universal/Islands of Adventure and I don't even do roller coasters. There are enough other things to do and see. We like Epcot...if you go check if they still have the Kim Possible Scavenger Hunt. My friend's daughter loved it when she was about 11.

    My favorite Gulf beaches are Bradenton/Anna Maria. Every time I have seen dolphins swimming and jumping.
    There are a few places to go out on airboats and see alligators...call ahead, some of the water levels are too low in the summer, but we have gotten a little rain, so it might be OK. Check out Black Hammock (about 45 min north of downtown Orlando) or Wild Florida Airboats website.

    Where do Floridians go on vacation? We have been to Miami and Key West, Amelia Island, Sanibel Island, Clearwater Beach. Savannah GA is only a few hours from Orlando.

    If you fly Allegiant you may be flying into Orlando/Sanford...it is about an hour north of Disney. Orlando International is closer. We always fly Southwest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sea World is locked in for the trip, so fret not. Magic Kingdom is probably in the mix, undecided on #3.

      Anna Maria and St. Augustine are top 2 right now, your advice is spot on. Do you get a discount on the airboat ride if a gator eats a foot?

      I NOTICED YOUR VACATION LIST DOESN'T INCLUDE IOWA, IS THAT A TYPO?! :-)

      Southwest comes to town starting this September, so we're stuck with Allegiant Air. They have low fares, but as you say, they don't fly into the main Orlando airport. Which means no free shuttle to Disney hotels. Rats.

      Enjoy your Florida sun, thanks L.M. Sunshine!

      Delete
    2. Let's keep in touch. My email is beetlebabe572000@yahoo.com Put BEARD AND PIGTAILS in your subject line so I'll know it's you.
      If I'm in town I may be able to pick you up at the Sanford airport (only 20 min from here) and take you to your Disney hotel. I'm serious. Keep me in mind.

      Delete
    3. Also...I have a childhood friend who owns a condo near Anna Maria. She does short-term rentals. You want her contact info?

      Delete
  24. Anonymous5/30/2012

    Love love love Discovery Cove! Yes it’s expensive but you have to remember that the price includes all your food and drinks for the day, your snorkel, mask and use of the wetsuits etc. It also includes entry to Sea World in the price so you don't have to pay for a separate entry to that park. The only things that cost are the separate dive and obviously the gift shops and extra photos.

    The only thing you need to think about is if pigtails will get scared of the rays etc. when swimming with them. Our 8 year old took a while to get used to having the rays come swim past you and even brush against you. It’s a great experience though and you also get to interact with the dolphins and my son love getting pulled by the dolphin (you swim out to the center of their area and they pull you back in).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pigtails doesn't know about the trip yet, she's never heard of Discovery Cove. But I'm pretty sure if I ask her "would you like to go to a swimming hole where you hang with dolphins and watch stingrays flap around your knees", we'll have no choice but to go. In other words, if we decide D. Cove is not in the cards, I'm not even gonna tell her about the place.

      Glad you loved the Cove, thanks!

      Delete
  25. Your trip sounds great! If you ever decide to bite it and head out to SC (and you really should, it is a great state with really wonderful beaches), please let us know so we can keep you from going to Myrtle Beach. From reading your blog, I think you would hate it (no offense, MB-ers), and SC has much more calm/uncrowded/untouristy/unneon beaches to offer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell the airlines to stop gouging us with $600 a seat, and we'll hit SC lickety-split.

      Delete
  26. Ok, after reading your original vacation post and the comments, let me be more specific about the anti-Myrtle post. There are some lovely places very near Myrtle Beach, that to non-South Carolinians are probably thought of as going to Myrtle Beach. But as a native SC girl, the actual Myrtle Beach is one of the more neon-clad, touristy beaches we have, and not nearly as peaceful, nature-filled, and beautiful as some other beaches in SC.

    I don't want to be a hater, and it's cool that you loved your childhood trip there. Camping (which I think you mentioned) is the opposite of what I think of when people say "Myrtle Beach", so I just had to offer 2 cents.

    You may now resume planning your actual trip, far from Myrtle Beach. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Either Myrtle was less developed 25 years ago when we visited or we camped on a beach a ways from Myrtle like you mentioned. I remember seeing only a few people on the sand each day, including a hairy fat man wearing a g-string thingy.

      What beaches in SC do you recommend for someone looking for thinner crowds and a low number on the gaudy scale?

      Friends don't let friends do MB.

      Delete
  27. Don't quite know what you're looking for in terms of places to stay, but check out Air BnB http://www.airbnb.com/. They're rentals from people and can end up being a lot cheaper than hotels, etc. Sounds like you're going to have a great trip no matter what!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haven't shopped beds yet, I'm open to anything. Looks like the airbnb site has good photos and reviews of the rentals. I tend to trust feedback from common travelers more than professional recaps by travel writers. The site you shared is now bookmarked, will keep you posted on what we find.

      Thank you!

      Delete
  28. Hi Beard! True Floridian here (there aren't many of us), so I'd like to weigh in on your vacation. First, I'm SO glad you're coming to Florida! I was going to highly recommend Sea World, but then read it's locked-in for sure. Remember to WEAR your bathing suits, comfy flip flops, and carry as little as possible. You WILL get wet, you won't need a towel to dry off because it will be so hot, and you don't want to have to put stuff in a locker every time you go on a ride. Also, you can save a ton of money on food by just snacking on popcorn and such and eating only one meal, outside of the park if you can help it. I would recommend Islands of Adventure for your second park because of the Harry Potter world. I know she's a little young, but it's super cool, and even just the experience of being in the restaurants and drinking Butterbeer, etc. is cool. The parks get tiring/expensive/annoying bc of crowds, so I don't know how many you're planning on, but I wouldn't do more than 2 full days worth. If you end up doing Disney, or even Downtown Disney, which is free, google "hidden Disney" and find a "scavenger hunt" of sorts before you go. There are tons of them that give you clues to hidden Mickey heads and stuff throughout the parks that you'd never notice or see if you weren't looking. It adds a little more adventure to the day. There's even a book with all the clues that you can buy, though I'd suggest to buy it before you go to the parks because it'll be 4x cheaper online.
    Not to go on and on, but every single year my family goes on vacation to Siesta Key. You really will not find a better beach anywhere in the state of Florida, and if I could pick any beach to go to, it'd be Siesta Key. Anna Maria island is amazing, and we've gone camping at Fort Desoto 10+ times. The Gulf has better beaches, and you're likely to see dolphins at any of the 3 mentioned beaches. Correction, you WILL see dolphins. The Atlantic is going to be much closer if you're staying at Disney, though, so I would suggest Canaveral National Seashore if you're looking for a more quite, non-touristy day. The drive out to the water is phenomenal, and you can see Kennedy Space Center in the distance (though no shuttle :( so sad)
    I'm not sure where you're planning on staying, but you MUST try 4Rivers BBQ sometime during the trip. Honestly the best brisket in the state, and I know you're a brisket connoisseur. Other family/small restaurants I would suggest are Jeremiah's Italian Ice, Tijuana Flats (mexican franchise started by a local UCF grad), Dandelion Cafe (amazing teas and vegan assortment of meals in DT Orlando), the ice cream place in DT Siesta Key, and Crabby Bill's (near Fort DeSoto). And Flippers pizza is amazing as well, which I heard apparently started as a restaurant in Sea World, so if you're at SeaWorld, eat at Flippers. I know these might all be out of the way, but hopefully you can make it to at least one.
    I hope you guys have an amazing trip and the afternoon showers don't put a damper on your fun. Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help with anything else! :)

    Kindra

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent info Kindra, thanks!

      I was curious how the beaches stack up between Siesta Key, Anna Maria and Fort Desoto. They sit close enough on the map (~50 miles) to possibly offer a similar experience. Crowd control and a lack of hotels in your face on the sand are high priority. I'll dig a little on these 3 to see if one beats out the others on this front.

      The Disney scavenger hunt thingy you mention is news to me, another reader commented above on it. Pigtails loves scavenger hunts, I'm planning a hunt with clues to reveal the trip to her in a few days.

      Jotting down your restaurant recommendations now, that's a big help providing not only the names but the dishes the places are well-known for. I always say it's not enough to find good places to eat, you have to dig and find out which specific dish or drink they are known for, then stick to that.

      The showers won't slow us down and will soften the edge off the heat.

      Enjoy your summer!

      Delete
  29. It's Josh again. I highly recommend not going to Myrtle Beach. WAY too overcrowded. You know it's bad when you run into more than a few people from my hometown every time I've been. In WV, we like to call Myrtle Beach, WV beach due to everyone going there. I highly recommend going to outer banks in NC or Carolina Beach in NC. If you want SC, there's Charleston, or Hilton Head. Both are much quieter than Myrtle. Myrtle was the only beach my family wanted to go to when I was growing up, so I much appreciate peaceful beaches where you don't have to fear finding a spot to lay on the beach. There's my two cents on Myrtle. Good luck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on your note and the comment above from ck, Myrtle Beach sounds like pure hell. My desire to return is driven by nostalgia, it was great 25 years ago when we camped off the beach. From what you are saying, it appears to have gone gaudy Vegas-style since then.

      My folks did Outer Banks a few years ago and loved it, we did Charleston growing up and enjoyed the history. We'll definitely do NC and/or SC within a couple years, will solicit your help when the time comes.

      Later!

      Delete
    2. Anonymous6/01/2012

      Dude!? zombies everywhere right now! Stay. away. from. Florida!

      Delete
    3. We'll bring the zombie apocalypse weapons, will the TSA be cool with that?

      Zombietools.net/tools

      Delete
  30. Denise6/02/2012

    Okay, since you asked for 2cents of advice, I will give you mine.

    I have been a lurker on your blog for a few months it seems to me that you are a basic guy that loves his kid, and she seems pretty easy to please so you should have no problem finding stuff to do in Florida.

    Florida in August is HOT, not just sweaty/humid/oppressive, but burning. Plan your activities with that in mind.

    I know kids love the parks, but all of that asphalt cooks you during the day. I have no doubt you have done your homework on the parks and multi-day passes, so think about a hotel close by so that if you get over heated you can escape for a few hours to the pool. And on that note, pick a hotels with great pools, it will make your vacation. Especially with a 10 year old.

    I live in Orlando, and we went to Destin this past holiday weekend. We hit Destin beach at 10am with umbrellas, beach cabanas and enough sunblock to keep us all pasty white, and we could not hang past noon. It was about 92 degrees with not a cloud in the sky and that white gulf coast sugar sand reflects the sun even more, so beware of the beach plans.

    Personally, I would choose things that kept me in a pool, getting spalshed with water or in air conditioning. Thats me.

    I have not observed any Zombies in this area yet, I will keep you posted closer to August ;)

    Denise

    (sorry if this redundant advice, didn't have time to scroll though everyone elses)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Denise6/02/2012

      btw...keep your eyes on the Orlando Groupons, they always have tons of deals on local activities.

      Delete
    2. What if we cruise Disney on Rascals equipped with 1 gallon buckets of cherry Coke to keep cool? That's how they roll at the Iowa State Fair.

      Delete
  31. Anonymous6/07/2012

    And my two cents as a Florida Panhandle resident (and parent of 3): Destin is amazing, but pretty touristy -- think Condominiums as far as the eye can see. Pensacola Beach on the other hand, is pristine, white sands, emerald waters, with dolphins frolicking as far as the eye can see! There are certainly condo areas, but there is also a lot of federally protected seashore that is untouched. So beautiful!! That said, ya gotta take your girl to the Magic Kingdom. And of course Sea World.

    And yes it's hot, but it's hot in the Midwest too. (I've lived in the Midwest too -- Yeah Stam Chocolaterie in Des Moines!!). And there is ALWAYS a breeze coming in off the Gulf which keeps you cool while you are on the beach. (Keep lathered up with sunscreen - the breeze can make you forget how much sun you are getting!)

    You're gonna have a blast. It will be a trip Pigtails will never forget!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I brought up a couple Google satellite maps of Pensacola Beach just now, you aren't kidding when you say miles of protected virgin beach. Wow. Alas, that thing of beauty will be too far from the epicenter of where we'll fly in, so maybe another time.

      The Midwest heat is humidly stagnant, nothing like coming back from a red-face run in 90 degree heat and 85% humidity. Then it dips to -20 come January.

      What do you suppose the internal temp of the Donald Duck costume at Magic Kingdom hits on a hot August day? Imagine handing that sweaty thing off for the next person to put on when your shift is done.

      Delete
  32. Myrtle Beach is a small airport, which likely explains the ridiculous airfare. Next year you could consider flying into Charleston, SC which might be a tad cheaper. It's about 2 hours away, but one beauty of a drive. I live about 4 hours from MB, so it was a childhood vacation destination of mine as well. I went again last year with friends, and very little has changed since the 1990's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everybody up there in the comments is trying to talk me me out of MB SC. We'll the N/S Carolina in time and will keep Myrtle Beach on the radar.

      Delete
  33. You need to go to Disney and go to all 4 parks. Pigtails will love them all. Took my 9 and 5 year old in January and it was awesome. Hollywood and Animal Park are my favorite, then Epcot, then Magic Kingdom. Epcot has coolest ride (Soarin), with Hollywood and Animal Park tied for other coolest rides. Skip Sea World and Universal this time. Make it a Disney trip all the way. You won't regret it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We are tapping out of Disney after 3 days, unsure I can handle hyper crowds and commercialization for longer than that. Magic K and Sea World are likely a go, still undecided on which park for day 3.

      Delete
  34. Ignore the people that say Hollywood is a bust. It is AWESOME and has some of the coolest rides. Tower of Terror, Rockin Roller Coaster. Also has Star Tours, and cool outdoor shows. Animal Kingdom has Expedition Everest, which is a great coaster, and a really fun Dinosaur ride among other things (oh and a great bird show). Trust me, you will LOVE Animal Kingdom (my kids did) and Hollywood (my 9 year old loved Tower of Terror) and Epcot and Magic Kingdom. I will say that August might be really hot though. January was perfect (moderate and not crowded).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. TO HADES, YOU HOLLYWOOD HATERS!

      Delete
  35. Honestly Magic Kingdom has the worst rides of the 4 parks. . many are geared towards little kids. It is usually the most crowded park as well. The plus, you get to see the castle and that is awesome and it totally "feels" Disney.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure anyone does Magic Kingdom mainly for the rides, that's certainly not why we're going. If you want real coasters, Cedar Point in Sandusky is probably my top pick. One day of the Kingdom will do, just enough of a taste that Pigtails should be happy as a clam. The beaches will fill out the rest of the trip, looking forward to that the most.

      Delete

Thanks for the note, check back for my response!