Florida Vacation

I can’t say I haven’t had any fun lately. I went to Florida for a week, and even though it wasn’t that warm by Florida standards it was a nice change from
Minnesota winter. I definitely needed something to improve my mental health.

Homosassa

We first visited the Homosassa Springs wildlife park, where you can see manatees and other Florida native wildlife. I even got to pet an alligator. :-) Okay, I’ll admit it. It was only a baby, and it was being held by a park volunteer.
When I was little I visited that same park and that time I got special permission to pet and feed a manatee. I kind of wanted to again, but decided I shouldn’t be a pest.
You wouldn’t believe the amount of highest grade lettuce they buy to feed the manatees.

The Gulf coast

In all the places we touched Gulf water it was extremely cold. It made my ankles hurt. I didn’t think I would end up swimming in that cold water, but should have known better. I just can’t resist water.

Sarah getting soaked in the cold seawater
I decided not to put my swimsuit on when we visited Venice Beach, because of the cold water and the annoyance of the changing rooms. I thought I’d just wade in my shorts and look for shells. I got wetter and wetter until I just flopped down in the water and started swimming. I nearly got hypothermia, but at least I wasn’t a bored and boring person. LOL I also got kind of sore feet. I’m not used to walking bare foot in February, especially not on crushed shells.

Jayden standing in the water at Venice beach

That same day I did something else I found extremely enjoyable. I climbed a banyan tree. They are so cool! they are a natural jungle-gym. They not only have many limbs, trunks, and roots to climb, but have very smooth bark, so you don’t scuff your bare skin.

Four people up in a banyan tree

I feel right at home here

Evening excitement

After our day at Venice Beach we drove pretty much to the other side of Florida. We learned that there isn’t much around when you’re on toll roads, and almost ran out of gas.
While we were eating our extremely late supper in our motel room we were startled by a bang that rattled the door. People popped out of their rooms and demanded to know why someone was pounding on their doors, and wondering what was wrong with the neighborhood. Dumb move if you ask me. LOL Patrick and I were both sure the boom was not caused by a person banging on doors, because it produced a distant echo. Soon we were told that the boom was caused by a space shuttle take-off. It was actually the shuttle’s return, which was great, because that meant that we had experienced all there is to experience of a space shuttle return. Patrick would have been disappointed if he had been so close to a shuttle take-off and hadn’t seen it.

Kennedy Space Center

The next day we went to Kennedy Space Center. It’s expensive but interesting. If you’re a blind visitor I would recommend bringing a sighted reader/describer. Your companion gets in free, and they will most likely be a better companion than the audio description device provided. The device I got was kind of large, heavy, and not of much use. It didn’t help that I had to wait in a slow line to get it, and then was told they take your credit card info and make you sign a paper allowing them to charge you $500 if you break the device. I was also given incorrect directions for using it. The woman gave me directions for using the non-English versions that are provided for translation, which have more entries than the English one does. Maybe it would be okay if you weren’t freaked out as I was when I discovered her directions didn’t work. I was hoping that the dysfunction was not something they could blame me and charge me for. I still believe a companion is necessary for describing things and reading the correct numbers to enter in to the audio device at each point in the tour.

The simulator was mildly interesting, though of course it wasn’t as exciting as they made it sound. I’d like to experience a simulator that could really make a person feel both the G forces of take-off and the weightlessness of space. :-) Yes, I know that the creation of such a thing is highly improbable.

The size of the Saturn 5 rocket is truly amazing! I also found the videos interesting. Don’t expect much from the piece of moon rock they let you touch, though. It hardly even feels like a rock–more like a piece of smooth plastic. :-) I don’t know if it was always that way, or if it’s been touched way too much.

As well as a lot of interesting facts about putting people in space, there are many animals to see in their natural environment. From the windows of our tour bus people saw alligators, armadillos, birds, manatees, and wild pigs. I had no idea eagles nests could get as big as a king-sized bed!

Atlantic coast

Another day at the beach, this time on the Atlantic side at Daytona. I love the sand there! The sand is soft and free from nasty surprises whether it is the deep untrampled sand people sit on, the wet sand lapped by the waves, or the smooth packed sand that is the road on the beach.
Again the water was cold, though I think it was a little warmer than the Gulf water this winter. I was smart and put on my swimsuit this time. I tried to body surf with and without a life jacket, but I spent more time under the waves than on top of them. That’s pretty amazing considering the extra buoyancy salt water provides.

Patrick saw a whale way out on the horizon. I Think he got a picture of it’s tail and of it spouting.

Jayden absolutely loved playing in the sand. He made simple sand castles and watched them “melt” in the waves. He didn’t mind getting wet either.

St. Augustine

The last day before the day we had to come back home was not a pretty day weather-wise. In the afternoon it got cloudy, the wind was blasting, and it was only in the 50′s. I still had a good day, though I was afraid I wouldn’t. I had scheduled a swim with dolphins that afternoon, and I was afraid that a wetsuit wouldn’t be enough, since my fingers go numb very easily in even slightly cold weather, and I get earaches from the wind.
But before I write about my dolphin swim I have to write about what Patrick and I did that morning.

We explored the fort at St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was built by the Spanish from 1672-95, and is made out of an interesting rock called coquina. Coquina is tiny shells compacted into rock, and it absorbed cannon shells without shattering. I was able to feel a bronze model of the fort. I could really understand how the shape of the fort was different from older castles, because it was made to withstand attack by cannons and flintlock rifles instead of archers. While there on that particular day I forgot how hot Florida can be, and was only reminded by a plaque talking about the uniforms that the Spanish soldiers on guard duty had to wear despite Florida’s heat. They were made of leather and wool. Awful! I wondered how many died of heat stroke.

My Dolphin swim

By the time we arrived at Marineland it looked like it might rain. Their material said they let people swim rain or shine, but would cancel if there was a storm. We were early for once. I got colder and colder as I waited for 1:30 to come. Before getting in the pool we were given a short presentation about dolphins. We were told that Marineland cares for their dolphins in every way. They give them any medical care they need, and the dolphins will let their trainers do whatever is necessary to them. The dolphins will lay with a fin in the trainer’s lap and let blood samples be taken. The dolphins are given fish and attention when they do what the trainer wants them to do, but are ignored by the trainer if they don’t do what they are supposed to do. That kind of proves that dolphins really do like people. Being ignored is just fine with many animals.

I was given a wet suit and told it would be kind of uncomfortable and hard to put on. I actually didn’t find it bad at all. I was certain it wouldn’t fit me decently, but it was fine, even though the legs were a bit long for me. I almost wish I owned one. :-)

I was told that the pool water is sea water, and that it wouldn’t be heated, but it felt quite warm to me. Down in the pool we were out of the wind, too.

The minute I got in the pool and a dolphin came over to us I got a big smile on my face that didn’t go away for the rest of the day. I knew I would enjoy swimming with dolphins, but I didn’t know just how much I would love it. They are so incredibly smooth and gracefully shaped. It seems they sluff off all of the outer layer of skin covering their body every 2 hours.
Their mouths are directly connected to their stomach, and have nothing to do with their breathing. Still I thought they would smell fishier than they do.

the trainer told us about hand signals to try to give our dolphin, named Phoebe. She responded to all of our hand signals. The squeaking sound she made with her blow hole was very cute. Another dolphin made the sound that reeling in a fishing line would make when you pretended to do so with your hands. We rewarded them with formerly frozen small intact fish.

Marineland’s dolphins aren’t trained to tow people at any great speed through the water, but Phoebe did tow us slowly to the middle of the pool. There we put our ears under water to listen to the sound she made to echo locate people, objects, and other dolphins. It made me wonder if I could get any object location data from the sound with my head under water if I were to practice. It sure didn’t tell me anything then. :-) Even in air I’m unable to get anything like the information a dolphin can get under water, but I do “hear” walls and other objects close to me. Even with practice it could be impossible for a human to echo locate anything under water, since our ears were designed for hearing in air. Dolphins don’t have what you would call ears, but instead hear with their jaw bones, which amplify sounds underwater.

I felt extremely awkward in the deep water next to a dolphin. A dolphin would always out swim a person, but I was extremely unwieldy in saltwater, with a wet suit, and life jacket. I also nearly drown myself in my face mask. LOL For my safety I gave it to the trainer. Too bad I couldn’t have done the same with the life jacket. I think there might be such a thing as too buoyant to swim, because I’m normally very at home in deep water.

I didn’t want to leave when our half hour was up. I gave Phoebe a hug and a gentle pat goodbye. Even if you aren’t usually the sentimental animal loving type you just might fall in love with a dolphin if you got the chance to swim with one. I know I didn’t expect to, but did. :-) I would definitely recommend the experience. It’s well worth the price.

Nathan and Sarah petting dolphin Phoebe
I’m really happy that Patrick and Jayden got to interact with the dolphins a little bit, too. They threw their balls out of the pool at us, and Dad lifted Jayden up so he could throw the ball back.

I won’t bore you with the trip back home. :-)