Tampa mini-vaca

Trip Start Nov 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 10, 2005

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Friday, October 22, 2004

16 Oct 2004

I left today for a road trip to meet with Christine, Toni and Stefan in Tampa. On the way, I stopped in Wahington, D.C. for a little sightseeing, but the weather turned nasty, so I didn't stay for long.

Before that fun turn of events, I experienced an unpleasant distraction. Just as I was arriving into town, the car started making a really disturbing noise while I was moving down the interstate at about 60 miles an hour. I pulled over after a few minutes to see what the problem was, but couldn't find anything out of the ordinary.

I proceeded into downtown D.C. and the noise only got worse. I pulled over on the side of the road, and just out of curiosity I checked the lug nuts on the front tire, where the noise seemed to be coming from. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that three of the lug nuts were so loose that they were nearly off the bolts! The day before, I had had my brakes changed, and the mechanic apparently didn't tighten the nuts all the way after replacing the wheel. Needless to say, I was paranoid for the next two days of driving, just waiting for the front wheel to go flying off on the highway.

Here's a good travel tip: On the way to Florida, I stopped at a rest area and saw some coupon books for local hotels - I found one outside Rocky Mount, SC for $25 and stayed the night. The room was exactly what you would expect for $25, but it was better than sleeping in the car!

17 Oct 2004

More driving today - I downloaded "The Life of Pi" onto my iPod before leaving for this trip, and I listened to most of it today during the drive south. What a terrific book! I almost didn't want to stop driving just so that I could hear the rest of it. Unfortunately, I was pretty tired after 10 hours on the road, so I stopped to get another coupon book for central Florida and found some decent prospects. As I was driving, I saw a sign along the road for $30 at a decent hotel, so I stored it in my brain in case I didn't feel up for driving anymore.

After another half hour of driving, I was ready to stop for the night, so I turned around to find the hotel I had seen. I was sure that the sign had been outside a Hampton Inns, and I thought I knew the exit where I had seen it. It took me three tries going back and forth on the interstate before I realized it was a Howard Johnson's that I had seen, and of course when I got there around midnight, there were no $30 dollar rooms left. I settled for the $50 room and spent the night.

18 Oct 2004

I left this morning for Tampa to meet Christine, Toni and Stefan at the condo. I got good directions from Christine's father-in-law, and made it to the condo before they did. Turns out they missed their flight and had to take a longer one, and then got lost along the way. Their delay let me hear the end of "The Life of Pi" that morning, and it was incredible - I highly recommended it to all!

We spent the day getting settled, and then went to dinner with Craig at a place across the street. We plan to meet him again on Wednesday for a day at the beach.

19 Oct 2004

Today we went to Lowry Park Zoo, not very far from the condo. The zoo claimed to be the "#1 Rated Zoo for Families," but we found that a little hard to believe. The kiddie part of the zoo, with its Australian theme, was excellent, and looked like it was pretty new. We had at least one good laugh - at one of the displays, there was a bat and bird exhibit that was accessed thru a double-doored vestibule. We went inside and saw the bats hanging upside down in the corner, about four yards away. I looked a little more closely, and realized there was no barrier between us and the animals. When I pointed this out the girls, Christine screeched and bolted for the door. Toni and I had a great laugh at that - eventually Christine came back for Stefan and we left for the next exhibit.

The rest of the zoo was a little bit sketchy, but there was a decent variety of animals to see. Stefan especially enjoyed the aquatic animals - he pet the stingrays and was very excited to see the display that replicated a Florida river, including a pair of manatees. Another stand-out was the lorikeet enclosure - outside the entrance was a sign that said, "Warning, birds may land on you." We bought a small cup of liquid food and entered the enclosure. Toni held the cup of nectar, and as she approached the birds they came to cup and fed from it. She managed to coax one of them onto her hand to eat from the cup, and within a few seconds she had five birds on her arms and head, all trying to get at the cup of nectar. It was quite a sight, and she eventually handed the cup off to Christine, who was next to be covered with birds. She was sure that they we going to poop on her head, so she got rid of the cup pretty quickly. Stefan was a little afraid of the birds - they could be a little aggressive - so once the nectar was gone we left for the rest of the zoo.

After the zoo, we went to dinner at a local joint called Skipper's Smokehouse. Marc and his father both insisted that we had to eat there, and it was a good suggestion. The place was like a run-down roadhouse, and all of the food was deep-fried and plentiful. We ate hardly half of what we ordered and left the place stuffed and satisfied.

20 Oct 2004

Today was a beach day, and it was quite nice. We headed for Tarpon Springs to meet with Craig, and he took us to a beach on Caladesi Island, a short ferry ride through the mangroves. Christine was freaked out again - this time by the presence of rattle snakes on the island. We never saw a snake (they keep to the covered areas off the beach), but we did hear a rattle as we crossed over the walkway on our way back.

That night we met up with Craig's partner, Matt, and went for Greek food at the Spongedocks, which are exactly what the name says. For some reason, the docks are dominated by Greek restaurants, and there's ample opportunity to purchase natural sponges.

Following dinner, we went to a local park to watch the sunset, and it was really beautiful. We were out a little peninsula, water and palm trees all around. There were only a few other people, and I was able to get some really pretty photos of the setting sun.

21 Oct 2004

We had been planning a trip to Seaworld, especially after Stefan's reaction to the marine life at the zoo on Monday. Earlier in the week, Christine had seen a show on the Travel Channel about Busch Gardens, just a few miles from the condo. According to the program, Busch Gardens had a dolphin show and marine displays, so we decide that B.G. would be just as good as Seaworld, but without the 2 hour drive to Orlando.

We arrived at the park and paid our $50+ each. Once inside, we looked for a map so that we could plan our day. We searched the map pretty thoroughly, and couldn't find any sign of an aquarium or marine show. After asking a park employee, Christine discovered that all of the aquatic attractions had been moved to Seaworld, which apparently has some kind of connection with B.G. Needless to say, she wasn't too happy - the rest of the park was basically an African-themed zoo with rollercoasters sprinkled here and there. She's newly pregnant and so can't ride coasters, and we had already been to the zoo a few days earlier.

Toni had never ridden a "real" rollercoaster before, and she was reluctant to try. The first one we came to, Gwazi, was a large wooden coaster, and I convinced her that it was probably a good one for a first timer - no upside-down twists, and wood coasters tend to be a little slower than steel ones. Since it was a Thursday in October, there were no lines, so we were on the ride within a few minutes. The coaster was fun, with lots of big drops and that wood coaster shakiness. She enjoyed the ride, but wasn't looking forward to another. When we got to the next ride - the Scorpion - I convinced her she needed to try a steel coaster, as well. It wasn't until we were in line that she realized that this one had two loops, but by then it was too late! The ride was very short, and when it ended it was a little disappointing. I didn't think she would ride anymore, especially when I saw the next one on the map - Kumba. It has seven loops and went over 60 miles an hour. Surprisingly, she agreed to ride - it was possibly the best coaster I've ever ridden, and she even enjoyed it (but not enough to ride a second time). The last coaster, Montu, was also excellent - a floorless ride, very much like the Batman ride at Great Adventure, but longer and a faster.

Overall it was a fun day, but we spent over $50 each for about five hours of entertainment, and the kid's area was smaller and less fun than the one at Lowry Park Zoo, which was only $10 each!
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