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.