The Retirees in the South East USA – Key Biscayne et al

Although we only had 3 days in Fort Lauderdale we still managed to drive down to Key Biscayne (Key Largo and the drive to Key West was just that little bit too far) on our way to Miami. We had hoped to see the launch of the SpacEx rocket from Cape Canaveral, but this proved too hopeful. We stopped at somewhere for coffee and cake and found a beach (with meter maid charging for entry to the beach), a pier with café (there was a charge to walk on the pier and the café was unable to serve us any of the items we ordered from their menu) but we did get some great photos of what should have been a delightful beach side stopover.

We reached Key Biscayne drove over the bridge stopped for a restroom break and lunch finishing up the supplies we had carried from Orlando sitting in the car in the carpark by the beach. However, as we continued to drive into Biscayne we found a fabulous park by the ocean from where we hoped to see the launch. Here was a carpark for thousands of cars with access to partly open grassy areas leading to the beach – only $5 to enter. The beach was littered with thick layers of seaweed washed ashore from the beds just 25 metres off the beach. Kerry braved the crossing to stand in the water to view the launch that we were never going to see from so far away. But it really is a beautiful park and in summer I guess it will be standing room only. We headed for home to pack to move down to Miami as we had to be at the airport by 4.00am. Then onto New Orleans Tennessee.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum of the Seminole tribes of Florida

After the Gator show we drove deeper into the everglades to the Seminole Reservation at Big Cypress to visit Ah Tah Thi Ki Museum of the Seminole tribes of Florida (the Seminole are not only found in Florida and were not the only native tribe inhabiting these everglades, but they are the “undefeated “tribe).

The word “Seminole” is derived from the Creek word simanó-li, which may itself be derived from the Spanish word cimarrón, meaning “runaway” or “wild one”. Seminole culture is largely derived from that of the Creek; the most important ceremony is the Green Corn Dance; other notable traditions include use of the black drink and ritual tobacco. As the Seminole adapted to Florida environs, they developed local traditions, such as the construction of open-air, thatched-roof houses known as chickees. After the United States achieved independence, its settlers increased pressure on Seminole lands, leading to the Seminole Wars (1818–1858). Perhaps fewer than 200 Seminoles remained in Florida after the Third Seminole War (1855–1858), but they fostered a resurgence in traditional customs and a culture of staunch independence. In the late 19th century, the Florida Seminole re-established limited relations with the U.S. government and in 1930 received 5,000 acres (20 km2) of reservation lands. Few Seminole moved to reservations until the 1940s; they re-organised their government and received federal recognition in 1957 as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

The museum starts with a video history of the tribes and how they avoided being forced into government reservations in the west like the Seminoles of Oklahoma. They have a number of static displays of the Seminoles life at the time of Europeans moving into the everglades. There are some other garments displayed created by the Choctaws and Cherokee tribes. There is also a bush walk where you can see the remains of a Seminole camp and information on the native plants and animals.

This was a big day of driving made even bigger by Kerry’s desire to travel back to Fort Lauderdale the long way around by travel beside a lake. Unfortunately, the lake was surrounded by levee banks so all we saw was grassy slopes of levees. I did not photograph these features.

The Retirees in the South East USA – the Everglades and Big Cypress Reservation

Our apartment was one of many in a complex of at least 3 towers surrounding pools and other entertainments. However we were not half way round the world to swim in a pool. From our apartment we planned our next assault – a visit to the Everglades with a jet boat tour and alligator show and a visit to the Seminole Reservation and Museum.

Kerry and I had been to the everglades previously and ridden in an open jet boat but I am certain the alleged alligator was of the stuffed variety.

This tour we were about to embark upon was a far superior experience. The drive to the Gator Park itself was an experience viewing the different countryside. the HQ at the Gator Park was different. Log buildings with wide verandahs both set 3 feet off the ground. The first thing I noticed was the long queue of jet boats down on the water. The jet boats are partly enclosed and  carry a lot more people. We saw many live and kicking biting Alligators, along with fish, vultures, eagles, water lilies and water plants, and grasses which keep the water filtered of pollutants. The everglades is actually a very slow flowing river which the Army Corps of engineers were instructed to drain so they dug deeper channels through the everglades but fortunately the decision was reversed and these channels have made the everglades more accessible. Despite the prolific numbers of alligators swimming through the everglades some brave souls thought nothing of doing a spot of fishing.

One of the black birds inhabiting the everglades is a “grackel”. I will talk about this later. After the tour of the everglades finished we decided to visit the Gator show which was most enjoyable with a “Steve Irwin” type presenting, pushing, pulling, kissing and demonstrating the Seminole method to tie an alligator. After watching the show we spoke with Paul who said he had visited the Northern Territory doing crocodile capturing so he was familiar with both critters and that he found the Australian crocodile more aggressive. So, we then went and nursed a baby alligator for a photo.

Time for some lunch. The menu is not so flash at the Gator Park but then you are in the everglades and there are dangers. David ordered gator bites (pieces of alligator deep fried) and fries and immediately on collecting the food he was swooped from all sides by hungry grackels. Sensibly I did not order any fries.

The Retirees in south east USA – Its a “Grand Celebration”

Our trip to Daytona was but only a few days long before we drove down to Fort Lauderdale and boarded the “SS Grand Celebration” bound for the Bahamas. After finding the wharf we took a photo of the car and it rego plate(so we could find it when we get back) and left it in the hands of some rather rough looking locals passing off as parking attendants.

Leaving the port of Fort Lauderdale, the presence of the coast guard could be seen in the harbour side houses, amongst the mangroves, and in the water ways. Grand Celebration is a full size cruise ship making the voyage on an almost daily basis from Fort Lauderdale to Freeport in the Bahamas.

We sailed over night to be greeted by the Pilot boat and a curious entry into the harbour – the vessel parked (docked) like a car reversing into it’s spot. We had risen early to view the docking. As with all cruise ships food was available even at 5.00 am so we grabbed two croissants and two cups of coffee and headed for the observation deck.  Before we could reach the rail one of the local gulls had swooped and stolen a croissant. I got a mug shot for the wanted poster.

Arriving at Freeport we were rather disappointed. The available tours took us to resorts on the Island or you could catch a local taxi to the commercial centre. The resorts were of no interest and the local taxis proved difficult. We could not get a firm price from any of the taxi drivers to take us to Freeport. As a result we stepped ashore at the dock and visited the few vendors by the dock and then returned to the boat – the Bahamas are still recovering from Hurricane Larry. One of the likely original things at the port was the hut selling drinks – they chopped the top off a coconut put a straw in and you were done.

So we spent most of our time on the ship which was enjoyable of course until it came time to return and disembark. The Bahamas are independent and part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. So there is a full on custom clearance to be undertaken. I don’t know how long it took but we left the ship straight after breakfast and by the time we were back in the car it was almost lunch time and we had to find our car then our accommodation. This proved to be quite easy with the vehicle being brought to us (they were in a hurry to empty the parking lot for the next cruise) and the gps finding our apartment – a lovely apartment with pools games and lots of things.


The Retirees in south east USA – Daytona Beach to Ponce De Leon Inlet

Having travelled north to St Augustine, the following day we travelled south to Ponce De Leon Inlet. Driving the length of the island was unremarkable. Resorts and beach house accommodation lined the route. It was not until arriving at Ponce De Leon Inlet that the scenery changed to some beach type scrub with roads winding through it. Despite being the highest lighthouse in Florida the lighthouse was not visible due to the other structures obscuring it. As it hove into view, we were impressed with the lighthouse and the facilities preserved around it.

The Ponce de Leon Inlet Light is a lighthouse and museum located at Ponce de León Inlet in Central Florida. At 175 feet (53 m) in height, it is the tallest lighthouse in the state and one of the tallest in the United States (the Cape Hatteras Light in North Carolina is taller at 207 feet (63 m)). It is located between St. Augustine Light and Cape Canaveral Light. Restored by the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse Preservation Association, the lighthouse became a National Historic Landmark in 1998.

Completed in 1887 and located on the north side of the inlet, then named Mosquito Inlet, the tower was completed and the lamp, which could be seen 17 nautical miles; 32 kilometres (20 mi) away, lit in 1887.

The original lamp burned kerosene; in 1909 it was replaced with an incandescent oil vapour lamp. In 1924 a generator was installed to provide electricity in the keepers’ dwellings and to pump water, replacing an old windmill pump. The lighthouse beacon was electrified in 1933 with a 500-watt lamp. The first order Fresnel lens was replaced with a third order rotating Fresnel lens at the same time.

In 1927 the name of Mosquito Inlet was changed to Ponce de Leon Inlet. The lighthouse was transferred from the abolished Lighthouse Service to the United States Coast Guard in 1939, which would oversee it for the next three decades. In 1970, the Coast Guard abandoned the old light station and established a new beacon at New Smyrna Beach. The abandoned property was then deeded to the Town of Ponce Inlet. At the urging of concerned citizens, the Town of Ponce Inlet accepted the Light Station property from the Coast Guard in 1972, and the Lighthouse Preservation Association was formed to manage the museum.

My Achilles was still painful for walking so we did not venture to the top but we did visit all of the outbuildings and the remnants of “boat people” boats and rafts that made the journey from Cuba. The buildings included the Light Keepers house , the assistant Light Keepers residence , a modern administration building and a museum of the various types of lamp used in the lighthouse.

Just as we are looking for a comfortable placed to dine we found that the local Mustang car collectors were having their local meet across the road sponsored by the Lions Club of Ponce Inlet. Just beyond was Hidden Treasures with its miniature light house and its water side bar and grill. Just the thing for lunch. Great lunch and the bar was handy too. The restaurant has picturesque views of the waterways and its bird life – in this case Pelicans and a lone hawk.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Lakeridge Vineyards

I almost forgot about our visit to Lakeridge Vineyards. Whilst editing my photos I came across a few snaps of reminder. I did not enjoy the wine which probably explains my forgetfulness. However we must take the good with the not-so-good.

Kerry had done some research and found this winery. It’s website stated “Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards opened its doors in February 1989 in Clermont, Florida and sits on a 127-acre estate in gently rolling countryside some 25 miles west of downtown Orlando. This area was once the center of the State’s grape industry. After years of phenomenal growth, Lakeridge ranks as Florida’s largest premium winery, and remains a pioneer in the development of premium and sparkling wines from the native Muscadine grape varieties Noble, Carlos and Welder, as well as Vinifera varieties to include Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon. This excited us to visit the “birth place of the American wine industry” as claimed on it’s website.

We travelled to the winery in our Ford Taurus with Kerry at the wheel. Spotting what I as navigator thought was the turn to the vineyard, Kerry took us down to the “cell door”. We had come to the local goal (jail for any American’s reading this blog). Backing out and going 500m further down the highway we came to our destination.

The cellar is in a Spanish style with vineyards spreading over the hills behind it. It looked quite impressive. So we entered to sample the wares.

We joined the winery tour which was bit different. We first of all watched a 10 minute video on the creation of the winery then took a tour through the vat room out to a rear deck and then back through the wine storage room (not in casks by the way) and then through the gift shop to the tasting bar. Now I had never had Muscadine varietal wine previously and quite frankly I found it unpalatable. Although disappointed with the wine, I was taken by a San Sebastian Lighthouse – a fortified wine in a bottle resembling a lighthouse. I am yet to sample the wine but the lighthouse looks pretty good on the bar at home.

We ended the visit with a picnic. Our neighbours in the vineyard picnic area were celebrating something with cake and sparkling wine (dread the thought of sparkling Muscadine and sugary cake ekk). They had far too much cake so we were offered a slice each but passed on the wine.

I have tried a number of Californian wines none of which used Muscadine grape and found the wine in some respects comparable to our own Aussie wines but the Florida wines must be an acquired taste.

The Retirees in the South East USA – St Augustine

Daytona Beach is on an island. Most of the coast of Florida is sheltered by fringing islands providing protected waterways for leisure boating. Although our accommodation was directly on the beach there seemed little local activity around the beach apart from the abundant pelicans circling around. On our 2nd day in Daytona we visited St Augustine claimed to be the earliest settlement by Europeans in the USA (1520 AD). The Spanish occupied the locale and built a fort to combat the privateers and buccaneers of the other European countries trying to steal the wealth the Spanish stole from the locals. The old town changed hands to the French and back to the Spanish and then the British burnt it to the ground then it was rebuilt then the Americans purchased it from Spain. The old town does contain historical remnants as the photos below show.

The old town has been retained but a new town has grown up around it prospering from tourism. We took the local version of the hop on hop off bus and saw a bit of both sides. The tour included passing by the St Augustine winery and the distillery, the harbour and Flager College formerly a fantastic hotel for the rich and famous created by Mr Flager.

The big draw card is the old fort which we visited of course. It reminded me of Fort St George in Invernes Scotland – star shaped. They have a lot of educational material and historical artefacts, re-enactment of the firing of the canon and shows demonstrating the operation of muskets and flintlock rifles. I was amazed at the time it took to prepare and fire the cannon – it must have been close to five minutes before they were ready to fire. The same with the rifles. the musket is fired by igniting gun powder using a burning cord and the flintlock struck flint against a hammer to create a spark – sometimes!

The day ended in Scarlet O’Hara’s pub where surrounded by posters for the movie “Gone with the Wind” we had a few drinks and some local foods. More atmosphere than culinary excellence. It had been an excellent day at St Augustine and the day ended with a walk on the beach with some of the feathered locals and having drinks with some of the other persons (some Aussies also) around the pool.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Winter Park to Daytona Beach

We rose the next day to leave Summer Bay Resort and drive to Daytona via Winter Park. Kerry had found in her research a museum containing the works of Louis Tiffany which she thought would be interesting. Arriving at Winter Park, we quickly found The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. Parking at the rear of the building we suddenly noticed that a nearby electricity pole had a platform atop of it and nested on the platform was a bald eagle chick (so much for seeing the 60-year-old nest at NASA her in the main St of Winter Park the eagles had landed and nested).

We entered through the rear door (being none the wiser) and we were surprised with the interior that greeted us. The reception is manned by volunteers who were so helpful. It was cuppa-tea-time so they guided us to the fastest and the finest coffee shops. We chose the finest and enjoyed the most decent expresso coffee and cake we had enjoyed so far. This is a wealthy area with clean footpaths well designed roads and buildings all in good condition. Interesting shops (including a second hand /antique shop we explored) but time was short and we had to return to the museum.

Inside the museum. Charles Hosmer Morse was a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist living between 1833 and 1921. He created the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. It houses the most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany found anywhere, a major collection of American art pottery, and fine collections of late-19th- and early-20th-century American paintings, graphics and the decorative arts.

The museum was founded by Jeannette Genius McKean in 1942 and dedicated to her grandfather, Chicago industrialist Charles Hosmer Morse. The museum’s first director was her husband, Hugh McKean.

In 1957, Hugh McKean learned from Tiffany’s daughter that Tiffany’s estate, Laurelton Hall, had burned to a ruin. McKean, who had been an art student at Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall estate in 1930, remembered Jeannette’s exact words at the scene of the devastation: “Let’s buy everything that is left and try to save it.”

Among these acquisitions were parts of Tiffany’s 1893 chapel for the World’s Columbian Exposition; award-winning leaded glass windows; and major architectural elements such as the poppy loggia, which was donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Museum moved to  Winter Park, in 1978. The museum opened at its current location on Park Avenue in 1995, and now has more than 19,000 square feet (1,800 m2) of public and exhibition space.

The museum is broken into a number of galleries. The original museum pieces from the Morse Foundation and the added collection of Tiffany. Charles founded the jewellery company Tiffany ad Co which exists today but his son Louis did so many other things in the world of art design and interior design. Ultimately Louis inherited Tiffany and Co but it is all the other artistic endeavours which he undertook which this museum celebrates. Louis had created at his estate Laurelton at Long Island a foundation for artists. When Tiffany died about 6 months after his design companies went into bankruptcy, the assets of Laurelton and the foundation were broken up and sold but the house was engulfed in a fire. Jeanette Mc Kean who was related to Tiffany visited the ruins and together they started to gather together everything they could from the ruins (including furniture and parts of the building – Daffodil Terrace and the Chapel). Mc Kean added these to the Morse collection creating the museum of today. The remarkable thing is the glass Chapel and baptismal font was saved and reconstructed in the museum. The photos that follow each have a short explanation but as a museum of the everyday and Tiffany who was anything but average, the museum is unusual and very interesting.

We spent most of the day here finishing our trip to Daytona late in the afternoon. When we arrived at the resort, it was closed with a temporary fence surrounding it. We entered and suddenly Bobby appeared. He stated he was the representative of the organisation through which we had booked the accommodation and his job was to relocate us as they had just started a refurbishment of the resort following a hurricane. So with no concern we took his directions and drove further up to Ormond Beach and our accommodation for the next 3 nights and 2 days. On finding Coral Shores we sensed trouble ahead. This looked like a resort from 1960 Gold Coast not a slick modern 21st century resort. When we registered and obtained our key to our apartment, we found a single bedroom bungalow with no amenities. Some serious toing and froing followed and some 3 hours later we were informed that they had arranged two bungalows one with a kitchen and the other being the first bungalow shown to us. Very disappointing and ultimately we were promised a refund in respect of this part of our trip.

After all is said and done the accommodation was not too bad and we were graced by the squadron of pelicans flying overhead and across the ocean.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Animal Kingdom at Disney World

The return bus trip from Cape Canaveral was long and tiring but nothing compared to what lay in store at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Others were more excited to visit Animal Kingdom but I had my space fix so its Animal Kingdom today.

We had sought to catch a shuttle to Animal Kingdom, but we could only pick up a interim shuttle at the maingate of a resort close by. We could not find this resort. Until we learned that the name of the resort was Maingate. That was the start of a testing day. The interim shuttle collected guests from various non – Disney and Disney resorts dropping us at the drop off with strict instructions to be there no later than 10.30pm as that was the last shuttle. We transferred to the Disney shuttle and retraced most of the trip we had made to the bus station and were dropped off at the front gate of Animal Kingdom – curious but it did not ring any alarm bells yet.

After entering we went straight to Lion King. A mixture of Cirque de Soleil and the stage play it was a very sedate start to our visit. (It would also prove to be a mistake as we had fast tracked this rather than others). After Lion King we moved onto a bird show (an open air programme of birds performing on command from the trainers)

Then we went to Gorilla falls which is a walk through a park viewing animals (particularly gorillas enjoying the sun). On the way we saw a very busy squirrel ransacking prams for food. People would park their prams with lunch in packages left in the prams and this what happened.After visiting gorilla falls we visited the environmental centre and this included a mock African train (complete with sundry chattels decorating the roof of each car) trip to the centre.

Lunch was somewhat delayed as we decided to try and do the Avatar ride which involved two hours queuing (during which we passed through some weird mock ups of laboratories and a tank containing an Avatar floating in fluid attached to an umbilical cord). Once we finally arrived at the ride station the ride had broken down and we were returned to the queue until another station was available.However, once we got to the next station and mounted our bikes (the ride involves sitting on a bike which connects you with your Avatar/ a Banshee which is one of a group flying through the wilds of this imagined planet). The ride starts with a technician detailing the ride via video link. Whilst it is only visual with the bike tipping side to side and front to back to simulate the scene you are watching your mind gives you all the sensations of long free falling dives rocking and rolling actions between rocks trees other banshee opponents a leaping whale size carnivore and a breaking monster wave. No time to take any photos. Exhilarating!

It was finished too quickly, but you felt exhilarated and relieved it had finished at the same time.

This emboldened us to try the other Avatar ride. Again we walked through a weird landscape to gain entry to the ride. This time the queue was only 90 mins long. I was expecting a water ride similar to the wild rapids rides I had enjoyed at Anaheim, but instead it was a water ride like “It’s a small world” – slow sedate and viewing imaginary scenes. A disappointment.

We finished the afternoon with an African Safari. We had fast tracked this so no delays in the queue were expected but my tennis injury and scooter injury had caused me trouble walking which led to David and Veronica splitting with us. Whilst we found a table for lunch near the entry to the African safari they went the long way around during which they made enquiries about the light show in the evening. As a result they met us with Veronica in a wheel chair. They had decided I was disabled and needed a wheel chair (secretly it was a plan to gain access to the light show as disabled persons and their carers were given priority seating. So plonking me in the chair we jumped the queue for the African safari. After posing for a Facebook photograph we made our way to the safari truck and boarded. It was now coming on dusk and all the animals were out and active. The driver was rapidly firing dialogue at us whilst I was clicking madly with the camera. Most enjoyable.

Returning to the safari base we dismounted form the truck and I resumed my seat in the wheel chair along with all the paraphernalia everyone one had been carrying and our caravan moved on toward the evening light show venue. One part of the park we had not intended to visit was dinosaur land as this is the children’s amusement park with the rides modelled on dinosaur rides. We arrived early and were told by the attendants to enjoy a ride or two as the gate did not open until 7.00 pm. So we took a stroll (I am still in the wheelchair) through the park which gave the crew time to set me up again for a stupid photo at the driving wheel of the clown’s car. Oh well they enjoyed themselves.

Satisfied that they had humiliated me sufficiently they now wanted to be seated at the light show and me in a wheelchair was their ticket. Now my feet were very tired and sore and the strained Achilles was also sore, but I did feel a Trojan horse until we joined the queue which had now formed containing two motorised scooters at the top of the queue. David being a skilled disabled person’s carer/wheelchair driver positioned us near the head of the queue insight of the guards of the gate so we weren’t pushing in but we were strategically placed to be invited to enter by the guards. Then from stage left came the villain. Another motorised scooter pushing forward to the head of the queue. How dare she! The two scooter riders at the top of the queue challenged the interloper and engaged her in verbal combat. She stood her ground. The two edged forward two cut off the advance of the villain – she would not get past them. I quietly prayed that David would not throw me into the fray to maintain our position. As I said David was experienced. He waited his chance. The guards opened the gate and whilst the scooters collided and shoved at the front of the queue David pushed me onto the rear flank and then straight past on the right beating all combatants through the gate. Our entourage unable to contain their mirth followed us giggling about our victory. Consequently, we were first to be offered seating and took pride of place in the centre of the back row close to my parked wheelchair for a fast getaway.

The getaway was smooth until the crazy Japanese woman on the motorised scooter crashed the scooter into the sidewall blocking the exit for escaping wheelchairs and exiting pedestrians who were trying to climb over this road block. Extricating ourselves we made a dash for the buses. This all seemed straight forward with me remaining in the wheelchair right up to the queue for our bus where like Lazarus I rose and walked again. The bus ride was going smoothly until we noticed the scenery had changed. Not because it was night-time, but no one remembered going this way to get to Animal Kingdom. The bus stopped and we all tumbled off in front of another Disney park. After making enquiries we found out that non-Disney buses came here and that we had to pass through security board a ferry and sail to our bus park. Time 10.30 pm the last bus for Summer Bay Resort left in 5 minutes and we were definitely not going to be on it. Not happy Jan!

With no other choice we followed instruction and ended up looking at an empty bus station. The last bus had gone and it was 11.00 pm However we did see an Armadillo rooting in the grass for ants – big deal – as it then cost us $30 for a cab (Kerry called an Uber for $17.00 but her phone went flat before she could confirm the ride).

So we made it back to base safely but I cannot help but feel that a higher being took revenge on our Trojan Horse.

The Retirees in the South East USA – Cape Canaveral Space Centre

Cape Canaveral Space Centre is just outside Orlando on the east coast of Florida. Our research for this trip indicated that we could visit the space centre and have lunch with an astronaut. An opportunity not to be missed.

We drove to Maingate Resort and waited patiently for the shuttle (bus not the space shuttle) to pick us up. By the way, the American love affair with guns has no limits. Everywhere there are signs to visit “Machine Gun America” to shoot real machine guns with real bullets. As we waited for the shuttle I spotted this billboard.

The driver of the shuttle was from Porto Rico and opened the conversation asking us to name the first Porto Rican astronaut. Of course, we could not and that is because there has not been one other than those travelling to clean the windows of the space craft. This led to a discussion about the Disney influence in town and he stated that the Disney company owns 60,000 acres in Orlando and has built resorts and fun parks which has changed the town from a small unimportant township in the 70’s to a bustling metropolis in the 21st century. We were to hear more of the history on the bus trip to the Cape.

We stopped at a shopping centre where we off loaded onto a double decker bus to travel to the space centre which is due east of Orlando across the typical swamps and forests that define Florida. Flat and very green with the typical soils being sandy.

As the Kennedy Space Centre Visitors Centre loomed into sight we could see the Saturn V rocket with its solid fuel boosters standing high over the centre. The bus parked and we walked through the entrance into the shuttle building to see the decommissioned “Atlantis” displayed as it might have been seen delivering to the ISS (International Space Station). Behind the shuttle a huge screen displayed other out of this world images seen from Atlantis. We could see up close the booster rocket used for the shuttle, the shuttle cockpit, a reproduction of the “Hubble“ telescope. We were also able to inspect the sleeping quarters for an astronaut and other daily used facilities. We found it hard to pull ourselves away from this display but lunch with an astronaut required us at the dining room by 11.45 am so we pulled away to return later for the simulated shuttle launch.

Lunch with an astronaut was not quite what I had expected. Sure, we had an astronaut John-David Bartoe talk to us, but it was very impersonal and the buffet not that flash. On the positive side we were in a small group (the dining room was only 1/3 full) and we did get a group photo. John – David was not familiar with Wollowiczs as an astronaut (the character out of “the Big Bang Theory”) as I got a growling scowl when asking the question. Wile waiting for lunch room doors to open we took a stroll through the rocket park – old rockets assembled in a park.

After lunch we took the bus to the launching pads 37, 39, 40 and 41. The everglades continue around Cape Canaveral and provide some of the security for the installation as the canals are home to alligators. One of the launch pads – 37 I think was the launching pad for the shuttle expeditions, so we had a video on the bus of the history of the space programme followed by a visit to the shed where they assembled the Saturn 5 rockets (the worlds tallest single storey building). Inside was a Saturn 5 rocket (without its solid fuel boosters) and some of the history of each mission by some of the shuttles focused on the moon landings. Also there we models of the landing craft and a lunar rock you can touch. We then continued the bus trip to each of the other launch platforms each being used by different commercial entities – Boeing and Elon Musk’s company SpacEx – vying for the commercial rights to fly to Mars, I think. Anyway a Falcon 9 rocket was launched from pad 40 on 11/5/2018 carrying cargo to the ISS (International Space Station), I think.

On the way to and from the centre both bus drivers were at pain to talk about the bald eagle nest that has been revisited by the same eagle pair for the last 30 years. We thought this was great until we visited Winter Park (dealt with later). Anyway, here are the photos of the eagles nest.

The trip was good and worthwhile which made us want to return to the simulator for a simulated launch of a shuttle but it meant we missed a video presentation on the new telescope to replace the Hubble telescope. Unfortuately, everyone was disappointed by the simulator as it was “dumbed down” to replicate a 2 g launch as opposed to the actual 5 to 6 g launch experienced by the shuttle crew. A visit to the gift shops and the ice cream shop and we were done. Really enjoyable and informative but I am sure there is a lot more too it than we saw.