Hectic Orlando followed by relaxation on the beach--we love it!
by berky on August 12, 2010
We try to do one kayaking tour every place we go on vacation and had chosen Marine Discovery Centre for our outing from Daytona Beach. Marine Discovery Centre is located in New Smyrna Beach, which took us close to an hour to drive to. When we arrived at the site, we assumed we would be going on our tour with the four other people who were there, but they were locals doing a cleanup of the island across the channel—it seems this was part of a Sea Scout project.Marilyn, whose name we learned later, was supposed to go out with them, but ended up being our guide as there was some confusion about our reservation which was eventually found for the following month. So it was just the two of us and our guide who went on the tour, which was great as we could get close and hear everything she had to tell us. (Kayaking in the past with larger groups, we often miss information, as we cannot all be right beside the guide.)We went out along the intercoastal for a bit and I got wet as the wake of a passing boat sloshed over the edge. As we were holding ground looking at the birds on Bird Island, Marilyn could identify each species and even what stage of life the pelicans were by looking at their feather colour, etc. We saw a few dolphins playing but had to move along through the marina and into the protected mangrove. Our guide knew a great deal about mangroves as well and gave us some of the history of the New Smyrna area—this area was populated at the same time as St. Augustine, but did not end up as a permanent settlement—there was room and provisions for 500 and 1500 started on the journey over. Kayaking is a wonderful way to enjoy seeing the wildlife of the area. I always enjoy being a bit physical as well, as we tend to eat more on holiday than at home, so anything to burn a few calories.
Not far from where we were staying and right next to Publix which we visited frequently. Not being from the area, I wonder if it is a chain. We very much enjoyed the food—of course we are rib lovers. It was reasonably priced and you did not have to dress up or wait long to be served. My husband and I shared a full rack of baby back ribs—yummy. Sides were French fries, sweet potato fries and cinnamon apples (another one of our favorites.)
The Bartender at the Wyndham says he eats regularly at the Charlie Horse Restaurant. Bonefish Grill, Olive Garden, Barnacles and a defunct Bennigan’s were right nearby. The parking lot was full of cars and an assembly of motorcycles and their leather outfitted riders. There was lots of noise and activity both inside and out, but only a few minutes wait until we were seated in a booth. It seems this is a place locals hang out, as everyone seemed very familiar with the bartender and other servers. The big sign out front advertised margaritas for $5 so I ordered one of those. . it was quite delicious. For my main meal I had the 10-ounce sirloin steak with garlic red potatoes and coleslaw and fried mushrooms and my husband had the chicken and rib combo with coleslaw and fries (even though he complains he has eaten way too many fries lately) The food was good, filling, reasonably priced and quickly served. The mood of the place was fun, uplifting and contagious. When the waiter came by and asked if I wanted another margarita, my head nodded yes and lo and behold another one appeared. Yum!
Ponce Inlet Museum and Lighthouse is a great place to spend some time learning about the history of the area and the life of lighthouse keepers and their families. The presentation of material was well thought out, with readable information distributed alongside items of interest all housed in a number of buildings on a well kept lawn crisscrossed by red brick paths, the same which comprise the lighthouse itself. Two hundred and three steps to the top going round and round like the inside tracks of a snail rewarded one with panoramic views of Ponce Inlet and the surrounding areas. There is an adjacent nature trail and large gift shop with a lovely variety of treasures.
The concierge at our hotel had a pamphlet on this scenic cruise out of Ponce Inlet. The word manatee attracted my attention and what I liked was that the times, duration of the cruise, and prices were right on the brochure. The concierge did say that another cruise was, in her opinion, the best of the three in her repertoire; however, it was only going out on the one day we were making a trip out to the airport. The third option had no washroom on board, and my choice was made. We reserved the ten o’clock tour and were advised to call at 830 to confirm. When I did so, I was not overly surprised to be told there were not enough people booked and we could come along at one o’clock instead. Since we had a young child who sometimes will nap at that time, it was not ideal, but we decided to go ahead since our party was keen to go on a short cruise (2 hours) to spot some wildlife and admire the mansions along the waterfront of the Indian River. On arrival at the embarkation point, a long line snaked in front of the check-in hut. I was relieved to see that at least some of them were going deep-sea fishing on a different boat. Nevertheless, our boat was completely full. We got on promptly to choose our seats and started out sitting indoors on benches, but quickly moved out of that location when we discovered that the windows were sliders and so if they were open for one person they would be closed for the person behind or in front of them . . . cooperation would be required for all to be able to stick their cameras out and take pictures. So our party of four moved onto the front of the boat which had a hard ledge to sit on . . . this became narrower by increments the closer it got to the bow at which point there were only about four inches under one’s behind. The hull of the boat was high enough to protect us from falling in and protect us from water spray and we could stand up with the top at our waist to lean over the edge and take pictures. It was mostly windy (tie up your hair and secure your hat under your chin) and refreshing, but it did get quite warm when the wind was behind us and we were moving very slowly.Captain John, a weathered ex-marine, piloted the boat out of the berth promptly at one o’clock. His first mate, Sandy, was our guide and told us about the history of the area and pointed out the wildlife long before we spotted it for ourselves. Although the word manatee was on the brochure, we did not spot a single one. Sandy did say it was a bit early in the season for them and for the most part all you would see, in any case, would be a tiny snout come up for a second and then disappear. We did see many, many dolphins and some obliged by jumping up so close to our boat, we could hear them breathing. There were some spectacular waterfront homes to admire . . .one of them was for sale at 4.2 million dollars. The highlight for our grandson was when the drawbridge was raised so a sailing vessel could sail underneath. Sandy did indicate that drinks and snacks were available for $1 apiece on the honour system. There was a washroom on board, but we did not use it. The boat was clean, however I noticed the cabin smelled like cigarette smoke and then later it smelled like someone was smoking. I was thinking to complain when I noticed it was the first mate who was holding the cigarette. She had at least 3 cigarettes during the 2-hour tour. There was a seat for everyone, however, most of those people wanted to be outdoors when the dolphins were being spotted and crowded those of us sitting on the ledge in the bow area.
With all the lands of Disneyworld, Seaworld, and Universal Studios to visit, it would be easy to overlook a small attraction such as Gatorland. We discovered it has a great deal to offer for a much more reasonable price than that of the big name parks. As it is relatively compact, it is eminently suitable for small children or those with mobility issues. Large areas of the river were cordoned off into fenced pens housing hundreds of alligators. Signs everywhere advised you not to carry children on your shoulders or hold them over the rails. A wide walking path brought one along exhibits of snakes, parrots, and albino alligators. It also led you to the petting area where you could feed the goats and llama. Located on the property is a bird sanctuary and there were hundreds of nesting birds in the trees, many with their fluffy chicks, and others sitting on eggs of various colours. We were told that birds often like to make their nests where alligators congregate as the alligators keep other predators, such as raccoons, away. Alligators, of course, do not climb trees, however they are delighted when one of the chicks lose their balance and fall to the swamp below. Along the bird sanctuary is a boardwalk, which also is one of the entrance points to a covered observation tower. On our visit there we saw a number of photographers with very expensive cameras adding to their collection of bird pictures. Throughout the day three short shows are repeated at regular intervals. We enjoyed the comedy team of Morgan and his partner as they wrestled alligators. Once they were the clear winners in this game, they taped the mouth of one alligator and you could have our picture taking sitting on the back of this huge dangerous beast.Another entertaining comedy act was the gator jumping. You wonder if these guys have missed their calling. . they really were very funny as they tried to entice alligators to jump out of the water for food. Sadly we missed the third show which featured other indigenous animals . . . I bet there would have been a lot of laughs at this one as well.Gatorland’s personnel clearly had several roles, as our alligator wrestler later was our train driver as it made its way around the property. Morgan pointed out highlights and when the train’s wheels started to spin, jumped out and sanded the tracks so they could get a grip and keep on going, à la "the little engine that could".Of course there was a gift shop with tempting souvenirs to bring back for those poor souls left at home. A snack shop offered food to eat and close by you could have your picture taken holding a small alligator (his mouth was taped also) and/or have a snake draped around your neck. While we watched one family doing this, the alligator peed on the one teenage boy—everyone watching thought this was hysterical!There was plenty of shade, but it is Florida and could be hot, so there was a small water play area and misting station. A canopy covering the picnic tables and Adirondack chairs kept the sun out and allowed the adults to rest while kids got soaked!
The north tower of the two tower Ocean Walk Resort is the tallest building on Daytona Beach Shores. We drove up a small circular driveway to register amidst the pandemonium of many new guests arriving. One could quickly bring luggage up if you wished to pay a bellhop. There are only eight luggage carts for those who prefer to bring their own belongings up and I waited 20 minutes to get one. You must hand over your driver’s licence, which ensures the luggage carts are returned and not left in the hall outside your room. Our two-bedroom unit was on the south side of the south tower directly opposite the Ocean Walk Shoppes—far into the night we could hear the music emanating from the clubs. We could see the ocean, but ours was not an ocean front unit. When I inquired, I was told that ocean front rooms were for actual owners not those who exchanged in. It seemed that there were empty ocean front rooms, so this seemed rather silly. Although the temperatures were in the 60’s to 80’s, for the most part it was too windy and chilly to use the balcony. It also came without chairs, although they did arrive promptly when I called the front desk.There were many items missing from the kitchen as well; glasses, cutlery, cooking implements. When we called these items were brought without delay, but I wonder if we would have been charged for losing them if we had not noticed, as often happens in timeshare. . one must do an inventory upon arrival. The cutlery was mismatched, there were stains on the couch and the dishwasher was a dinosaur. The sheets did not fit the bed properly and when we called they brought up different ones altogether. Is housekeeping not on the ball here? There were however three large flat screen televisions, a large Jacuzzi tub, and two bathrooms. Our area of the beach prohibited private vehicles, although there were patrol cars, beach rental vehicles, bicycles and so forth. The beach is the "most famous beach of the world" as proclaimed by at the big sign at the foot of International Speedway Boulevard. The packed sand is great for building sandcastles, driving bicycles, jogging and is easy to walk on. The water at the end of April was 65-69 degrees Fahrenheight. Many people braved these cold temperatures to try out surf riders. Lifeguards had the orange flags flying indicated a high risk of rip tides and advising swimmers not to venture beyond waist level. The beach was dotted with yellow and green umbrellas and lounge chairs. I was told these could be rented for the day at $30—this could include a pair of surf riders and a little table. We had our own chairs and umbrellas. The pool area was lovely; two free form pools, a lazy river and a kiddie area. The pools were not heated and in April most people preferred to lounge in the chairs rather than frolic in the water. The tall towers of the resort casts shade over the pool in the afternoon. I suppose this is welcome during the heat of the summer months but in April we were looking for the sun and had to go to the beach to find it.On the main floor are the reception desk, a small store and eatery, and a bar. There are numerous tables and booths. Internet is not available in the rooms so there were usually a fair number of people down in the lobby with their laptops. On the lower lobby level, there was an activity room, a gym, an Internet room for those who did not have laptops, a shop and restrooms. Each tower is service by a bank of four elevators. There are two seven-story parking garages, one for each tower. Everything is accessed by the room key, which is a great security feature. Outsiders cannot get into the pool area or beyond the lobby or gain entrance to the garage. There is no biweekly housekeeping service, however our unit had a washer and dryer. We had to sign out our pool towels, for which we would be charged $15 each if they were not returned. We signed a piece of paper indicating we understood this and found we could exchange the towels one time only in our week’s stay. To me it would make more sense for Wyndham to exchange them and wash them in industrial washers and dryers upon demand rather than have everyone put the sandy towels in the unit appliances, which would thus need replacing more frequently.
Wyndham Cypress Palms is located close to Disney World, just north of the Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway. There were enough shops and restaurants within walking distance, however blocks are large and walking would be challenging in hot weather. The bus does come along 192, so one could take public transportation to the local grocery store and take a cab back if one did not have a car.The buildings are 3 to 5 stories tall and there are elevators. The rooms were a good size, but whoever designed the kitchen clearly was not thinking. As we find in most timeshares there is very little room to put groceries—I guess most people do not cook much. We tend to cook many of our meals as I have allergies, we are health conscious and find that most restaurant meals do not even taste as good as our own cooking, contain way more calories and are full of ingredients that are unessential and not particularly good for you. There was very little counter space and one set of cupboards could only be reached by tall people or climbing on the counter. The dishwasher did not slide well, but my husband eventually fixed it. Our unit was well stocked with supplies and one could exchange room towels just by calling. Our two-bedroom unit had two bathrooms, a large living area, two bathrooms, a sectional sofa our daughter loved and a dining area with booth seating and two chairs. There was a balcony, enclosed by concrete walls on three of its sides and screened on the fourth. Keeping out the elements also meant keeping in the disgusting odour of cigarettes smoked by all those smokers who were forbidden to smoke indoors. We did not use the balcony at all because of this. We were fortunate to be located adjacent to one of the two small pools. Many people used them and we found it hard to find free chairs any time after 1100. There were a few umbrellas for shade and the hot tub was pretty popular. From the activity centre beside the pool, one could sign out pool noodles and various pool toys. Pool towels could just be taken and returned to the bin . . . there was no one counting them. The activity center put out a small publication and children (and adults) could be kept busy making a variety of craft items (cost extra). There was a big screen to watch movies and a manager’s reception one evening where the activity centre personnel informed the guests of what was going on that week and the concierge told us about shuttle service, theme park tickets, etc. Drinks and appetizers were served and door prizes were given out.
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